The true story of Brazos Bill|
Mon, Jun 23rd, 2014
posted by Explorer Zero
The Brazos Bill legend has remained a local story, I mean who in Dallas or Ft Worth cares about such matters. Some of his exploits made it into the Ft Worth newspaper once but that's about it. I use the word exploits rather casually since most of these were crimes.
I don't think he called himself Brazos Bill but everyone else did. I first encountered him before I knew anything about him. Brazos Bill was a poacher. I grew up hunting all along the Brazos and Nolan Rivers. Much of this was Army Corp of Engineers Land. The Lake Whitney station only cared about flood control and dam maintenance. The CoE land was open to public use back in the day and it was separated where it made sense by rifle, shotgun and archery zones. We began finding deer carcasses stashed in the brush around 1975. All with the hind quarters and back straps removed. We also found foot prints. A certain type of rubber boot, small about a size 9. The tread pattern was unmistakable. One day while I was following some very fresh boot tracks a silhouette appeared overhead against the skyline on top of a bluff. I could only tell he had semi long collar length hair, wearing a coat even though it was 80F and carrying a lever action rifle like a Marlin or Winchester. We starred at each other for a scary long moment and Im sure he was watching my rifle like I was watching his. Before I could get any kind of look at his face he took off farther up the bluff and deeper into the Brazos bush country.
It was about a year later me and a hunting buddy stumbled across a squat. Just like homeless camps in the city but it was in a well house next to a windmill. It was lined with Cleburne newspapers, a few articles of clothing, some canned food mostly Van Camp Pork and Beans and a couple partial boxes of 30/30 Winchester shells. Examination of the surrounding area revealed deer bones, deer skins, possum skulls, empty Pearl Light cans and of course a latrine area in recent use. We had found the poachers lair. It was an ideal camp site the windmill pump could be engaged with a lever and a wire that aligned the tail fin with the wind. A galvanized metal tank that used to hold water for cattle had rusted out long ago. This water was better than the river water but since there were numerous springs all along this section nobody would have any trouble surviving.
Throughout 2 or 3 more hunting seasons we saw his tracks and would get an occasional glimpse of him ducking around a bend or behind a tree. We gave some thought to pursuing him but with no good reason we decided it wasnt worth the fight, after all he never bothered us but he did watch us. We got used to having our own hobo/bigfoot spying on us.
It was 4th of July around 1976 or 77 and we had camped with a bunch of dirt biking friends along the Nolan River just South of this location. As we got rowdy and raced around partying and setting off fireworks and drinking beer one of the girls said she saw a light along the river. Another girl said they felt like somebody had been watching Pfffft we had more firepower than a SWAT team, high powered spotlights, we pretty much blew off the notion that somebody was watching, let'em watch I said they may get excited I said as I cornered scared girl number 2 advising her I was the only one watching, her.
But alas, the mood was partially ruined kind of a mass hysteria paranoia bummer thing if you recall how parties went in those day. So I said lets go. Go where the group asked. Lets go find the dude with the flashlight that's been watching us. Like a scene from a teen scream B movie I lead the party down the cliffs into the water and began wading upstream scanning around with our QBeams and flashlights of our own. We didn't find the lurker but we did find those rubber boot tracks. I never even considered telling the group there about the poacher. The next day we went to town to get some more food and drink. One of the guys started shooting off his mouth about the guy watching us and the store clerk nearly dropped the beer and stopped sacking our groceries. He asked if we saw him and I interrupted by saying its just some old guy that hunts down there we've seen him before.
The store clerk out of some feeling of obligation began to admonish us that we need to stay away from that guy, he was dangerous. I asked how so. He accused him of being behind several local disappearances and recalled that the poacher stopped by his store to buy beer and ammunition when he got into an argument with another store employee. The exchange went on until the poacher left knocking over some snack display racks on his way out. So we know now this guy has a temper. He never came back to the store. It would mark the first time I heard the name Brazos Bill too.
One Sunday as I read the Ft Worth Star Telegram back on page 5 or 6 or something I saw the headlines: Mountain Man arrested by sheriff's deputies. It was about him. His name was William Merrell, and he was charged with 5 counts of homicide. It seems old Bill hung out with other local bums and homeless types bragging about living free off the land and had gained a reputation as a "self described mountain man" of sorts. Apparently at one of their routine gatherings and poker games Bill must have lost his temper for good and killed all 5 of his companions. Their bodies were discovered a few weeks later dumped in a well (not the well where he stayed). He was known to the local deputies as a chum of one of the deceased and became an immediate suspect. The reporter even interviewed the guy at the beer store. Back then stories like this often didn't get much follow up, but only years later would I learn what had happened. Apparently he was acquitted for lack of evidence or due to being mentally incompetent, I never did find out which. Brazos Bill was released at some point and back on the street or river as it were.
Almost 30 years later I was talking about this area with a co-worker who was a former DPS trooper. He worked this area and the subject of William Merrell (Merrill) came up. The co-worker changed his tone and said, "yeah we had to shoot that guy". No way I said what happened? Merrell was drunk and wandering around the highway after dark causing several cars to nearly crash trying to avoid him. DPS dispatched two units to the scene and found Merrell staggering drunk and making threats. At some point the troopers tried to arrest him but he put up a fight and one of the troopers had to put Old Bill down, shot dead in the middle of the highway, he was unarmed.
I was floored. A lot of memories started flooding back, I felt like I knew this guy although we never actually met. He must have put up a real fight to cause DPS to shoot him even back then. On subsequent trips down here as an adult with my family I always kept an eye on the skyline, just in case. And I never told them about Brazos Bill either.