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Remembering the ‘Shootout at the XIT’

Posted by: tdt -

Remembering the ‘Shootout at the XIT’

The great XIT Ranch of the Texas panhandle was in operation from 1885 until 1912. This ranch is celebrated for more than three days in early August of each year in Dalhart. There is a parade, three rodeos, dances and a free barbecue that feeds thousands of people. On Saturday, August 7, 1971, during this celebration, gunshots were heard. Some thought it was a reenactment of old west days, others didn’t even hear it because of all the other noise going on around them.

Two men, Wayne Harrison Forest and Daniel Otto Lewis, had been incarcerated in Illinois for various crimes. The two escaped and managed to steal a car to make their getaway out of the state. They made it to the panhandle of Texas and drove through the town of Dalhart on Friday, August 6. Not noticing any more cops than usual, they kept in mind the small town just in case they needed to backtrack.

Forest and Lewis continued on their way around thirty miles southwest on Highway 54 to the roadside park on the north side of the Punta de Agua Creek (Point of Water). There, they spent the night in their stolen car. While there. they did some target shooting.

Around noon on Saturday, Mr. and Mrs. Loyd Robbins and twelveyear- old son pulled into the park to have their noon picnic lunch. They had been to Kansas and were on their way back home to California. Mr. Robbins saw the bad men approaching his car and grabbed a large screwdriver for defense. Mrs. Robbins had the foresight to throw the car keys in the trunk. When Forest approached the car, he slammed the trunk shut. When questioned about the car keys, the Robbins both answered that the only set was in the trunk. Actually, Mrs. Robbins had some in her purse and Mr. Robbins had a spare set in his pocket.

When the crooks could not get the car, they tried for money. They were able to get two hundred dollars from the Robbins, but they were still almost out of gas. The closest place to buy fuel was Dalhart and they headed back that way. This is where the story gets interesting.

The crooks first stopped at the W. S. Smith home and were able to only get part of a pack of cigarettes. Then they went to the Taylor Ranch headquarters and were able to get enough gas to get them back to Dalhart.

In the meantime, the Robbins decided that the best thing to do was also head back to Dalhart. Because of the crooks making two stops, the Robbins arrived in the then busy town first. They saw several Texas highway patrolmen coming out of the Hickory Inn on the west side of the city limits and told them their story. One of those cops radioed Othela Chandler, the dispatcher, and an all points bulletin was radioed to all lawmen in the vicinity.

E. F. (Red) Byrd, Dallam County deputy, was several miles southwest of Dalhart when he encountered the crooks in their stolen car. Officer Byrd followed the car back to town. The car thieves and escaped convicts pulled over into a motel parking lot and appeared to be cooperative. Byrd ordered Forest to get out of the car and put his hands on the trunk, which he did. Meanwhile, city cop, Carl Scofield pulled up in his patrol car. Lewis was getting out of the car but keeping Forest between him and Deputy Byrd. All of a sudden Lewis got the drop on Byrd and Scofield and got their guns. Forest and Lewis hopped back in their car.

The escaped jail birds then headed east down Highway 54, better known to locals as 7th Street. The exciting chase was on. Officers John Hood and Jerry Burgtorf were ahead of the crooks and got out of their patrol car. Afraid that they were going to be run down, they quickly got back in their vehicle. C. L. Sanborn and Jack Abla joined in the pursuit. Sanborn had a six shooter and Abla had a sawed off shotgun. Both fired at the crooks. Forest whipped the stolen car right onto south Denrock. He then lost control and spun into the yard of a vacant house.

Forest had met his doom. He had received a gunshot wound to the back of his head. He was transported to Coon Memorial Hospital where a doctor pronounced him dead. It was never known for sure just which bullet took him down. Lewis was not injured but he was charged with robbery and attempted murder. The grand jury met the next week and officially charged Lewis with all his crimes and declared that the law men were innocent of any wrongdoing. So, the excitement of XIT, 1971, was over. It was almost like a live show of Gunsmoke.

The story will live on for many years in the minds of those who were involved.

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