THUNDER RANCH PRE-1900 COURSE
October 1, 1881
To: Adjutant General John B. Jones, Austin, Texas
From: Captain George Baylor, Co. A., Texas Rangers, Commanding, Isleta, Texas
You will remember when I learned my old friend John McClure was teaching a course in fighting with the tools of a Rangers trade, the six-shooter, the lever-action rifle, and the shotgun, I told you about it, and you asked me to take the course and report on its suitability for training prospective Texas Rangers. Herewith is the report:
The course is 5 days long and takes place on Johns outstanding facility, Thunder Ranch. Thunder Ranch is in the beautiful Texas Hill Country just down the road from Capn Shreiners YO Ranch between Kerrville and Junction. Students who have applied and been accepted arrive at 0800 Monday morning for sign in and Johns excellent lecture and orientation. Students at Thunder Ranch must prove theyre not bad guys to be accepted. Teaching a John Wesley Hardin wouldnt be a good idea.
Make no mistake. John teaches people to fight with these weapons, not just to shoot them. When I was talking about this course to a friend of mine, a known gunslinger (who has not shown up on our fugitives list despite the fact he is a professional gunman), and he said he didnt want to pay money to John to teach him things he already knows. Well, some pretty fair gunslingers have gone to John, such as Bill Wilson and Massad Ayoob. They knew how to shoot but wanted his fighting techniques.
Johns orientation lecture is unforgettable. He talks as fast as he can, getting as much information out as possible, always giving the impression that there just isnt enough time for him to get it all out. Every word is a gem. Some examples:
"Your brain is like a parachute. Both work best when open."
"Theres not one of you who would want to fight you in five days."
"You didnt get as big as you are without being able to read and find food."
"The reason we call it school is I can get you to do things you wouldnt do yourself."
"Most gunfights are won by the last round fired.
"People who miss say, I scared him. If you want to scare em, wear a scary mask."
"True killing in a fight doesnt start till one side turns to run."
"People have said, well, I took him with me. I dont want to take em with me. Want em to go ahead, and Ill join em later."
"Luck is a red haired woman."
If John says, "I dont know nothin about shootin or fightin, but " whatever follows that statement is usually one you want to write down and engrave on your memory.
After that the 17 students, including 4 women gunslingers, went to the Red Range. John has a range for pistols, one for rifles, one for shotguns, plus more, simulators which put you as close to a real firefight without the incoming fire as possible.
The first two days was basic shooting, moving, and communicating, using six shooters. John teaches you to "get out of the hole." Close up everyone is an excellent marksman. You want to put distance between you and your opponent.
So we would back up and shoot or move to the right or left and shoot. Then we added barricades to hide behind and shoot from, and we had to back up to them. We worked in teams.
I had the most interesting partner, Pastor Tom, ("Marrying, burying, and evangelicals" it says on his business card). When the rest of us would challenge the targets with, "DROP THE WEAPON!" or "DROP THE GUN!" Pastor Tom would say, "PLEASE, DROP THE GUN!"
Unfortunately his Remington 1875 laid down the first day, and he had to borrow a six-shooter from a shooter who had three. Then Tom had two Rugers, and Ive never seen one of them break.
By Wednesday afternoon we switched to tactics. John has this huge cinder block building with over 400 combinations of rooms inside using movable walls called "The Terminator". One at a time we had to go through each side looking for bad guys and trying not to shoot good guys or get shot. It was very realistic training. It brought up the hair on the back of my head as if I was hunting Apaches again. We did one side with the pistol, the other side with the lever-action. Maneuvering the lever action in some of those little rooms was a new skill, especially for those of us with 24" barrelled rifles instead of carbines. One of Johns instructors, Bill Mclennan, had given a demonstration of how to handle corners and doors and how to expose the most of the bad guy and the least of yourself.
Then we went through Thunderville with the rifle, the damnedest town you ever saw. There were bad guys all over the place, bank robbers, guys escaping from jail. But they went down when hit well. The guys and gals with the small caliber weapons might have had problems, just like real life.
Thursday started with more of the same plus a visit to the near by town of Villa Tormenta. This was a dangerous place. You couldnt go anywhere without getting into a gunfight which required all three weapons, from the Alpine Restaurant to the Corral to the famous Bucket of Blood Saloon.
But Villa Tormenta was nothing compared to the Thunder Stage Line. We made several runs, and each time we encountered more bad guys than most of us had bullets for. I shot at bad guys from every position, inside, shotgun (meaning the shotgun position, not that I used one that time), and from the roof. And on the several runs I used shotgun, rifle, and pistol. I liked the roof best, using pistols. I could hit them as well or better than with the long guns. We kept running through Friday. The high point of my week was when I was on the roof and two bad guys showed up side by side just shooting as fast as they could. The stage was going at full gallop, and the horses were weaving back and forth. I center punched both of those varmits using Johns "negative lead" technique. We had been shooting moving targets on the range, and the training really helped.
Thursday night we had a night shoot using lanterns. With my old eyes lanterns arent enough. I sure wish someone would make something brighter I could carry in my pocket. But amazingly I could hit, and so could everyone else, even though we couldnt see the front sight or the target worth a darn.
We did the rolling thunder exercise twice, once with pistols in the dark, once with shotguns Friday morning. Heres how it works. You have several shooters in a line. Shooter 1 fires one round. Then shooter 2 fires one round. Then shooter three, etc. When the last man fires one round, he yells "OUT!" Then Shooter 0ne fires 2 rounds. This goes on until everyone fires five rounds. With the shotgun it was 5 targets, too. This means keeping the weapon gassed up with rounds. With the six-shooter it also meant reloading and indexing in the dark. All along John taught us to reload eyes up and at the target. Now we had no choice. When we did it with the shotguns the instructors were yelling in a friendly way to add pressure. Everyone got to where they could shuck those shotguns pretty well.
John was right. By the end of the 5 days none of us would want to fight us. We had learned or re-learned of the problems of shooting in 1880s clothing, watch chains getting caught in hammers, suspenders interfering, hats coming off on the stage, and the pain of wearing boots meant for horseback riding walking on hard gravel. I finally put away my 1876 pattern US Cavalry boots bought while chasing Apache from a sutler at Fort Davis and put on townie boots which didnt hurt so bad. But it was difficult taking the class picture. We were all smiling too much.
A Labor of Love
What to Bring