On August 4, 1949, celebrating the wild west got a little too real in the Big Spring rodeo arena that was once just off 11th Place immediately west of today’s Howard College campus. Most of the 2,500 fans missed the drama of the night at the roughshod wooden bleacher arena, but the script of the night would be one of the most unnerving dramas in the Big Spring Rodeo’s history.

In 1947, bad blood had started between bad-ass 38-year-old Henry Preston (Buck) Jones and 32-year-old Herbert Frizzell when Jake Monroe had dragged Frizzell into a conversation over Jones’ timing calls during rodeo events. Buck Jones, a rodeo judge working for Buck Steiner had borrowed some money from Frizzell that apparently Jones never intended to pay back, took the anger over being questioned in the direction of Frizzell. The heated conversation started a series of threats toward Frizzell at rodeos when Frizzell and Jones crossed paths.

Buck Jones had a history of bullying and fighting. People were afraid of him and avoided him as much as possible. He had lost an eye in a fight from a beer bottle broken over his face and had a mean and violent personality. Frizzell was but one of his many victims of his threats and did as much as possible to stay away from him. For over two years, Jones would dog Frizzell, threatening to cut him up or shoot him dead. The final straw would come on the second night of the 1949 Big Spring Rodeo and Cowboy Reunion.

On Opening Night of the rodeo on August 3rd, Jones saw Herbert Frizzell and walked up to him and told him he was going to kill him, “if not tonight, then tomorrow.” The next day Frizzell avoided him by going to the country and visiting relatives, returning to the rodeo that night when there were lots of people around. Frizzell borrowed a gun as there was something very unnerving about Jones this time around.

Before the night’s performances, Jones approached Frizzell while he was sitting in his truck with his niece, Vera Frizzell Myers. Witness J. B. Bradshaw saw Buck Jones extend his hand to Frizzell supposedly to shake, then opened the door of the truck and pulled Frizzell out of the truck and started whacking him with a bulldogging bat as Frizzell struggled to get away from him. Jones, who liked knife fighting for some reason told Frizzell “Why don’t you get your knife out, and we will grasp hands and just start cutting to see who comes out the winner!” Herbert Frizzell told him to move on and he did not want to fight him. Harold Cudd, testifying of the event further said that Jones cursed and made some insulting sexual remarks to Vera still in the truck. As Jones walked away, he told Frizzell. “Next time I see you, I’ll kill you,” and “You better get your gun, I’ve got mine and I am going to kill you.”

With many pulls of the trigger, Frizzell’s borrowed .38 caliber Winchester pistol would fire four rounds, leaving two bullets undetonated and showing evidence of the firing pin hitting them. According to early reports and near the judge’s box and roping chutes, Herbert Frizzell had lunged at Jones from the back firing with a first shot to the shoulder that turned Jones around. Now face to face, Frizzell commenced to empty the gun with two more rounds blasting into Jones’ body and head. Jones, 40, would die two hours later. The other round would go tragically astray.

Buck Steiner witnessed the shooting while the likes of Charlie Creighton, Hoyle Nix, and others in the judges’ box thought the shots were part of the clown act. As the rodeo played on, announcer Dittman Mitchell smartly just continued his commentary and kept the crowd from being unaware of the slaying. Jess Slaughter, Juvenile Officer and former Sheriff rushed towards Frizzell who was standing over Jones just snapping the gun and wrenched the gun away from Frizzell. Frizzell was turned over to a Deputy Sheriff and was whisked away. The bully Jones was dead as a mackerel and found to be carrying a loaded revolver of his own. Not exactly Hollywood gunplay style, but the fight was over.

Carl C, (Sonny) Myers, a 23-year-old cowboy and married student at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene had hoped to pick up a little cash at the Big Spring Rodeo. Carl was an outstanding student at Hardin-Simmons and was the leader in starting the Hardin Simmons Rodeo Association and a founding member of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. A stray bullet intended for Buck Jones had found its way to snuff out the life of a promising and popular young man of rodeo.

When hit by the misguided slug, a falling Myers was caught by Louise Bennett (the future Dr. Louise Worthy, a much-loved physician in Big Spring) who first thought he had been kicked in the groin by a horse, never realizing he had been shot. The bullet traveled upwards to lodge in his back. Louise held Sonny Myers in her arms until help came and he could be taken to the hospital. But the internal damage was too much, and the young cowboy would innocently and tragically pass away. The shooting near the roping chutes would now be a double homicide.

In March 1950, the double murder case trial would take place in Midland at the 70th District Court with Judge Charlie Sullivan presiding. The now 35-year-old Herbert Paul Frizzell would be joined by his wife, Dorothy, a rodeo trick rider, and eight-month-old son, Clarence. The infant would keep the trial on a good guy level with his coos, gurgling, and in and out visits between crying. Defense attorneys Dallas Scarborough from Abilene and Clyde Thomas from Big Spring would play the good guy/bad guy card throughout a very fast and short trial. It is probable and speculative that baby was a distraction and image of intent.

From the beginning the state prosecutors were on their heels. The defense had no problems finding cowboys and others who had similar stories of Buck Jones. After over twenty-five witnesses that attested to Jones’ meanness and violent nature, Judge Sullivan capped it off and the prosecution turned to actual witnesses who all saw it differently. Some saw Jones cowardly shot in the back, and some saw it as a scuffle in which Jones was going for a gun and Frizzell pulled a quick trigger with long-time fear built up.

The swing vote as to character and top eyewitness was probably from the famous rodeo producer Buck Steiner who adamantly claimed he saw the whole scene unfold and Jones reaching for his gun split seconds before Frizzell started popping him with lead. Steiner also told that Buck Jones had once told him, “I am going to kill that boy (meaning Frizzell) and if you interfere, I am going to kill you too.”

The problem was that a lot of the court room testimony had not matched the earlier statements given by Vera Myers and Herbert Frizzell in the immediate hours after the shooting. But in the end, Buck Jones had been painted as Beelzebub himself and the prosecution couldn’t beat law abiding Herbert Frizzell, his wife’s supposedly stricken comment from the witness seat about “please letting him go,’ and the baby that melted the atmosphere with love and innocence. After two hours of celebration and at 6:20 PM on March 15, 1950, Herbert Frizzell walked out of the Midland County Court House a free man.

Due to the acquittal and flavor of the trial, the case for killing Carl C. (Sonny Myers) would be dismissed. There was simply no appetite for pressing further prosecution and the killing of Sonny Myers was considered a companion case to the verdict. Sonny Myer’s death would be collateral damage and the real tragedy of the whole shooting. Carl Myers was in the wrong place at the wrong time and at the hands of fate, and more so due to his Christian faith, he would have called it his time to go.

Herbert Frizzell would later join Carl C. (Sonny) Myers in that fate happenstance or Providential plan. He would be killed in an auto accident a few years later.

In April of 1950, and a month after Herbert Frizzell’s acquittal, another eight-month baby appeared at the dedication of the Carl C. Myers Memorial Arena at Hardin-Simmons University’s new 3,000 seat rodeo arena in Abilene. Carl Clayton Myers, Jr. would never know his dad, but it was up to him and that arena to carry on the best of life and hope.

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