“Texas Red had not cleared leather when a bullet fairly ripped.
“And the ranger’s aim was deadly, with the big iron on his hip,
“Big iron on his hip.” — Marty Robbins, “Big Iron”
First off, the classic country song “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins is talking about a different Texas Red than the one who lived in Franklin County in the 1930s. But their stories have a few similarities.
On Monday, an audience of about 40 people gathered in the upstairs courtroom of the Franklin County courthouse in Meadville to learn the latest on the outlaw who was gunned down in 1940 after a month-long manhunt. That nearly forgotten story is about to get new life with the forthcoming release of a book and a movie on Texas Red.
Author Don Simonton of Fayette said his book is in its final stages and hopefully will be published early next year by University Press of Mississippi.
Filmmaker Travis Mills of Brookhaven will start making his movie in late January and hopes to release it in 2021.
Simonton first heard about Texas Red decades ago and began his research in 2015. He made a presentation on his findings at the Franklin County Museum in 2017 to an enthusiastic audience, some of whom were old enough to remember the outlaw.
Mills was at a fundraiser with Franklin museum director Jennifer Griffin when she told him the story, and he recognized movie material. He and Simonton got together and agreed to coauthor a script.
Mills has produced 13 low-budget movies with an emphasis on the local, the latest being “If Porches Could Talk,” a comedy mystery set in Brookhaven.
“Texas Red” will be part of an ambitious project Mills has for next year in which he plans to film “12 westerns in 12 months.” While “Texas Red” isn’t a true western since it’s set in Mississippi in 1940, it has all the elements of the genre. Mills calls it a “story of prejudice, survival and courage.”
n n n
Texas Red and his partner the Oklahoma Kid operated a juke joint in the Franklin County community of Free Woods in the 1930s. Simonton describes Red as “a mixed African-American Native American man.”
No one is even sure of his real name. Possibilities include Levi George, Ed Flowers and Red Williams.
Red and the Kid reputedly ran a gang of outlaws responsible for robberies in Mississippi and Louisiana.
In 1939 — an election year — Phillip Shell was elected constable and Cliff Herring was elected sheriff. The prior sheriff hadn’t done anything about Red, so Shell asked Herring to take action. Herring agreed but said he needed to get settled into office first.
Shell didn’t wait. On the night of Jan. 1, 1940 — his first day in office — he rounded up a posse and went to Red’s shotgun shack at Free Woods, located near the town of Knoxville off Highway 33 south of Roxie.
Gunfire erupted and a deputy was killed, probably by the Oklahoma Kid.
The two men fled and later split up. The Kid reportedly managed to flee across the Mississippi River. Red, who was barefoot in one of the coldest winters on record, hid out in the woods and swamps of southwest Mississippi.
The ensuing manhunt involved sheriff and police departments, the National Guard and the FBI.
A month later a professional tracker named Coochie Massey used bloodhounds to catch Red at Bayou Pierre and wounded him with a shot from his .351-caliber semiautomatic rifle. The posse arrived soon after and finished him off.
n n n
For the movie, Mills is in the process of hiring actors, though he hadn’t cast Red himself as of Monday night. He’s also been scouting locations, like the McComb Railroad Museum, an old shack in Free Woods, a historic country store at Carlisle, a juke joint outside Natchez, Wright’s Bridge over the Homochitto River, plus rural swamps and woods.
He’s halfway through getting funding for the film and still needs period costumes, props, vehicles and extras.
Mills plans to start filming in late January in various locations across southwest Mississippi and take 20 days to wrap it up, then release it in February 2021.
The film will be shown at special events and be available for sale on the Internet and for rent in movie stands. Mills posts updates on the Facebook page, “Texas Red: One of 12 Westerns in 12 Months.”
“I think this is such a powerful story,” Mills said. “Everyone who has read the script has been moved by it, sometimes to tears.”
Simonton pointed out that there’s no proof Texas Red was guilty of a crime, and the fact that he was hunted down and killed rather than arrested denied him a fair trial. It’s even possible some of his pursuers were motivated by jealousy because his juke joint was a success.
“Our movie never officially answers the question of whether he was robbing places, because it was never clear,” Mills said.
After Red’s death, his body was put on display at the Jefferson and Franklin county courthouses. Simonton said Charles Evers told him that he and his brother Medgar were among spectators.
In Franklin County the body was initially laid out in the basement.
“There were so many people that they took it outside and put it on a cot on the courthouse lawn,” Simonton said.
A woman showed up and said the body was that of her brother, Ed Flowers, and took it away. The burial site is unknown.
Mamie Halford, 88, was in the audience Monday and recalled seeing Red’s body as a child.
“That seems very cruel the way he was hunted,” she said. “They should have tried to bring him in instead of shooting him.”
n n n
“He was here to take an outlaw back alive or maybe dead
“And he said it didn’t matter that he was after Texas Red,
“After Texas Red.” — “Big Iron”