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2017-08-10

Dan Coffman: a Rough and Tough Texan

by Raymond V. Carter, Jr. Research Historian ©2017

Daniel G. Coffman was my Grandpa Pete’s uncle. Uncle Dan was liked by some and hated by others, but generally seen to be one tough hombré — Texas tough. Grandpa Pete told me that Uncle Dan had killed 23 or 24 men during his lifetime and that he knew Pancho Villa, personally.
I know very little of Uncle Dan’s early life. He was born July 21, 1871, in either Kaufman County or Frio County, Texas, or somewhere in between. Uncle Dan was the oldest of 5 children raised in Big Foot, Texas, in the 1870s and 80s on a 160-acre spread.
I know very little of Uncle Dan’s early life. In 1898 he married Margrett Winslow in La Salle County, where “Maggie” and her family lived. The couple moved to Marathon, Texas, soon after they were married.
In March of 1977, I interviewed 3 men who lived in Marathon: G.E. Martin, Jesse “Bear” Hollis (who was 88 years old at the time) and W.R. Green.
G.E. Martin told me that Uncle Dan carried the mail between Presidio and Marfa, a distance of about 60 miles. W.R. Green said that my uncle lived around Marathon in 1915, and that later he and Maggie moved to Terlingua Creek to be near a quicksilver mine. (This is the area where Uncle Dan’s and Maggie’s sons were killed.)
Jesse Hollis said that he bought Dan Coffman's place in Marathon and that the Coffmans were living in Presidio in 1927.
The Coffman boys — my two cousins — were Winslow Odell and Aubry "Jack" Douglass Coffman. Winslow and Jack were murdered on May 25, 1923, at Study Butte, where they had driven to visit a “loose woman.”
According to my Grandpa Pete, my cousins drove up to her house, Winslow got out and as he approached the front door someone shot him dead through the screen door. Then someone shot and killed Jack as he came around the front of the car.
Grandpa said that Uncle Dan hunted down and killed Mr Avila and 2 others at Boquillas del Carmen, in Mexico. Grandpa said there were two others besides the woman to blame for the shootings, but Hollis stated there was only one person involved — Miss Avila.
In another incident, while living in Marathon, Texas, Uncle Dan had a fight with a drunk Mexican man on Main Street. To my knowledge, there were no pistols involved. It was just a fight, in which Uncle Dan ultimately killed the Mexican by stomping his head in.
Grandpa told me, “The Mexican’s hat and spurs were still hanging in the local barber shop the last time I was there.” I located the old barbershop in 1977 during my visit. It was closed down, and I could see nothing hanging from the walls.
After the head stomping, Uncle Dan got a job on a rancho in Mexico. The rancher accused him of stealing cattle and had him thrown in jail. When Uncle Dan somehow got word that he was going to be executed, he bribed a Mexican guard with his watch and other valuables and made his escape. Grandpa said around this time Uncle Dan became acquainted with Pancho Villa and a black man who was the leader of an outlaw gang.
As Grandpa told it, Uncle Dan had a gold mine in Old Mexico and once showed Grandpa some gold nuggets that were as big as a U.S. quarter. Uncle Dan made several trips to the mine, which was in the Mexican Sierra Madre Mountains. During one of his return trips, he rode into a Mexican outlaw camp. Uncle Dan immediately drew his pistol and killed two men, and killed a third man who was in the brush doing his business. Then, Dan made a run for the border!
Just as he got across the Rio Grande to the Texas side, the rest of the gang reached the river and started crossing it. "Uncle Dan shot 10 to 15 of them dead in the river," Grandpa said.
Uncle Dan Coffman died on March 8, 1939, in Presidio, and Aunt Maggie died on June 10, 1957, in San Antonio. They are both buried along with their 3 children in Marathon, Texas.
If you have ever been in the majestic Big Bend country, you can well imagine the area has been and still can be a great magnet for Texas tough hombrés and their families.