Royston Whately (Ross) Brooks

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The Oldest Lawman

By Captain Chuck Chambers

We know a lot about some of the famous Territorial Rangers like Captains Burton Mossman, Tom Rynning and Harry Wheeler and much has been written about Ranger Jeff Kidder but not much has been written about the other men who served with them. What did they do before they were a Ranger and what did they do afterwards? One of our Territorial Rangers had the distinction of being one of and possibly the oldest active lawman.

Royston Whately (Ross) Brooks was born in Paulding County Georgia on 4 July 1839. His parents were Allen and Elizabeth (Pollard) Brooks. When Ross was quite young, his family began moving west. They were in Mississippi when he was six then in Texas by the time he was 14. In 1860, they were in Palo Pinto County and his parents eventually settled in Lampasas County remaining there until their deaths. On 12 Sept 1861, Ross enlisted in the 8th Texas Calvary also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. He served as a private in Company C for the duration of the Civil War. He was able to return home at times for on 23 Jan 1862, he married Martha Clayton in Palo Pinto, Texas. He was furloughed for two months after the battle of Murfreesboro, TN in July of 1862 due to illness and was listed as AWOL in Rome, GA in July 1863 but he returned to service. Terry’s Rangers were involved in 275 battles or skirmishes and surely Ross was a part of many of them. At the war’s end, he returned to his wife and they continued raising their family in Lampasas County very near his parents. In 1870, his occupation was listed as wagoning or a teamster. He and his family kept migrating west and in 1885 when his wife died in Pecos, Texas, he had several mining claims in the area with some as far west as El Paso County. Some accounts say he was also a lawman in Texas. In his father’s obituary in Apr 1903, Ross is listed as living in Mexico.

On 1 Oct 1904, at the age of 65, Ross enlisted in the Territorial Rangers in Naco with an occupation listed as “stockman.” Most people’s initial reaction is – “impossible, that is too old to be a Ranger.” Ross told a little lie when he enlisted – he said he was 42 – OK, he told a big lie. His son, Johnny age 37 also a Ranger, had recently been promoted to lieutenant so he was in on the cover up too. It is not known if the Rangers ever knew they were father and son. Ross did not serve long and tendered his resignation in January and was discharged in March of 1905. Capt Rynning commented on the discharge papers: "excellent service, honest & faithful, a good Ranger."

When Johnny tendered his resignation in July of 1905 and went to Mexico, Ross must have joined him there and went back to prospecting and raising cattle. Sometime during this period he married Delores (Lora) Ballesteros who was from San Felipe, Chihuahua and on 26 Jan 1907 a son Ross Jr. was born in El Paso. Ross and family stayed in Mexico after Johnny was killed there in 1912 then moved to Douglas in June 1916 to the house at 943 4th St. When he registered to vote that same year, his occupation and description was recorded as miner, height: 5'9", weight: 140 lbs. That same month, at the age of 77, he became a Douglas police officer serving as a mounted officer patrolling the streets at night. Ernest F Ruterman, a neighbor, remembered the Brooks family and said this about Ross patrolling the streets: “… was against the law for a kid to be on the street after 9 P.M. They had a 9 P.M. whistle. You could hear his horse coming and the kids would scatter like quail and run for home. He rode up one avenue and down the next all night long.”

It was not always so dull. One night while watching the house of a man who had a warrant issued against him, he observed the man entering the house. He called for backup and the two officers approached the house but the man and his wife yelled at them and they could see that the man had a pistol. The other officer went for more help and when he drove away, the man rushed out the front door still holding the pistol. When he saw Ross, he hurried back in and headed for the back door. Ross went around and got there just as the man came out shooting. The man emptied his pistol at Ross but never hit him. Ross on the other hand fired three shots and hit the man each time putting him down on the third shot. When the other officer and neighbors arrived, the man was still alive cursing and blaming everyone for everything. He did not make it to the hospital.

After his horse fell while attempting a running turn on a street one night and Ross suffered several cuts and a broken ankle, everyone thought that he would retire but Ross recovered and returned to duty. The newspaper “The Douglas International” dubbed him “Daddy Brooks” and on 19 Jan 1919 said he was, “considered an efficient and active officer. In fact, he has proven this to be true on several occasions during the last four years. He can find the bad ones, and when he finds them they don’t get away.”

Then on the night of 16 Sept 1919 when Ross was EIGHTY years old and was patrolling the Douglas railway yard, he attempted to arrest five men who attacked and severely beat him. Ross survived the attack but his skull was badly crushed. A metal plate was placed in his head but the medical knowledge at that time was insufficient to help him. He became irrational, hard to handle and developed dementia. He did register to vote in 1922 but the registering official had to sign for him due to his right hand being paralyzed. In May of 1923, he was committed to the state asylum in Phoenix where he died on 20 Dec 1923. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Greenwood Memorial Cemetery. His wife Lora and son Ross remained in Douglas and both are buried there.

Ross’ final resting place lay unmarked for almost 80 years until the Sons of Confederate Veterans discovered it, verified his service in the Confederate Army and supplied a marker. The ceremony in November 2002 brought together several of his descendants from both marriages. The Arizona Rangers were there too but did not place one of our markers on the headstone at that time. Then earlier this year, Ross was included in the multiple markings of Territorial Rangers in Greenwood hosted by the Phoenix Company. At last, Ross received the thanks of a grateful family, state, country and the Arizona Rangers.

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