Cussin' sired 16 children in all, and three of his sons—Jack, now 67; Bob, now 51; and Henry, Roy's father, now 48—became the out-ridingest, out-fightingest general all-round hell-raisers in the Big Thicket.
Some of the brawls the Harris brothers had were so titanic that they became legends. On one memorable occasion Brother Bob took an ax handle and in 10 minutes flat sent 16 men to the hospital. Another historic free-for-all occurred one night when a group of neighbors got together for a shindig and, presumably to insure the peace, sent word to Brother Jack that he wasn't invited. Stung by this slight, Jack rounded up Bob and Henry and went anyway. Jack then went around the dance floor and asked every lady present to dance. When they all refused, he walked to the middle of the floor and announced: "Thar ain't a lady heah wants to dance. I done asked them all, and afore I'll let any of you make 'em dance I'll die and go to Hell."
In the general melee which followed, one man rashly drew a pistol on Jack. Jack took it away from him and beat it to pieces on his head. Another man attacked Jack from behind with a fence rail—which Jack used to break his assailant's back.
An even more serious episode occurred one night when 11 men tried to bushwhack Bob. They called him out on the road and offered him a drink of moonshine. When he lifted the bottle, one of the men slugged him with a car jack. Another man jumped on Bob and stabbed him 13 times before Bob managed to open his own knife with his teeth. He almost decapitated the man, who got up and ran in a circle before he fell down dead.
OIL AND TROUBLED WATERS
But the Harris clan made its greatest name for fighting back in the early '30s, after oil was discovered in the Big Thicket. The first well was brought in in 1932 and it turned out to be a major strike. Everybody seemed to want in on the bonanza. Almost overnight the population of little nearby Conroe swelled from 2,000 to 15,000. Folks in the Big Thicket didn't know anything about oil and cared less. They resented the hordes of furriners who invaded their privacy. Besides, when the oil companies leased land they fenced it off. They laid roads where trails had been, cut timber, scared off game, were always stumbling into hollows where moonshine stills had been safe from prying eyes for generations.
The Harrises led the fight against the invaders. They headed gangs of horsemen who rode hell-for-leather all over the area, pulling down fences, waylaying oil crews, bringing road building to a halt. Sometimes they would ride right up to a well site, pull the drillers off the platform and flail the daylights out of them.
Brother Jack was the first Harris to realize the futility of trying to halt the growing army of oilmen. He decided to jine them. He hired a crew of toughs and contracted to dig slush pits for the oil wells. "Jack was allus kinda partial to ex-convicts," declared an old acquaintance. "He got together the meanest, orneriest bunch you ever seen, an' I reckon he could lick 'em all."
Jack struck up a warm friendship with one of his mule skinners named Roy Tipton. Tipton was on the lam from Chicago, where he was a cohort of Machine Gun Kelly. In fact, all the Harrises became fond of Tipton. When Henry's second son, the future heavyweight contender, was born on June 29, 1933, he was named Roy after the gangster.
Eventually, Texas Rangers had to be called in to restore law in the Big Thicket. Their job was made somewhat easier by the fact that the insurrection was waning. Oil wells were multiplying so rapidly that even the most stubborn landowners realized that they were fighting a losing battle.