Who Killed Joe Sitter?

Who Killed Joe Sitter? Sheriff Jim WilsonRecently, I told the story of how US Mounted Customs Agent Joe Sitter was killed in an ambush in a remote canyon on May 23, 1915. That killing has always been blamed on the border bandit Chico Cano. But there is good reason to question that assumption.

Back in those days, Chico Cano was the informal leader of a band of Mexican bravos who worked both sides of the river down in the southern parts of Brewster and Presidio counties. It appears that Chico’s main source of income was stealing horses and cattle out of Mexico and selling them to ranchers in the Big Bend country of Texas. He also was known, at least for a time, to have been associated with the Mexican Revolution under the leadership of Pancho Villa. For all of his outlaw reputation, however, Chico was rarely charged with a crime and never prosecuted. He lived to die with his boots on in 1943.

in 1912, Joe Sitter and two other officers arrested Cano for horse theft. However, as they were taking their prisoner to county jail, they were ambushed. Sitter was grazed in the head, another officer wounded, and the third officer killed. This may have been the beginning of Sitter’s vendetta against Chico Cano for he certainly was dedicated to seeing Cano behind bars or in a coffin.

On May 23, 1915, Joe Sitter and another group of officers rode into a second ambush. While some of the lawmen ran to safety, Sitter and Texas Ranger Gene Hulen were killed and their bodies mutilated. Although there is no record of eye-witness testimony, the ambush was quickly blamed on Chico Cano.

Evans Means ranched in the area and was friends with both Sitter and Chico. For the rest of his long life, Means doubted that Chico Cano was present at the ambush. Even though the wind bag Ranger captain, Monroe Fox, claimed that 30-40 outlaws participated in the killing, Means says that 3, maybe 4, were actually in the group. He names Manuel Zapata, Sabino Zapata, and Juan Sauceda, as the guilty parties.

Who killed Joe Sitter? We will probably never know the truth at this late date. We do know that Joe Sitter died as he lived, a fighting man to the end. And I will venture to guess that there were no bullet holes in his back.

This entry was posted in History, Peace Officers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Who Killed Joe Sitter?

  1. William Bell says:

    Good follow-up to the original story Brother Jim. Back in the day Customs officers and Border Patrolmen were Inspectors. Some of the “Old Patrol” guys I knew years ago referred to themselves as PI’s for Patrol Inspector.

  2. Blair Gluba says:


    Thanks for your continued follow-up on this interesting history. Even though my career as a “fed” never took me to “the border” I am a history buff and greatly enjoy a tale like you have been providing. Please continue to search your “history bag” for more tales off the border.

  3. Mark (dirt road deputy) says:

    Sheriff, I sure wish you’d write a book sometime

  4. Larry Venable says:

    Like the Winchster with the crescent
    butt plate. Who did the nice work ??

  5. Lisa Scott says:

    Thanks for this! Joe Sitter is my great-grand father. His daughter, my grandmother Henrietta, died when my dad was two years old and much of the family has passed, so we cherish any info you have on him.

    • Trish says:

      Hi Lisa!
      I’m related too! Mary Bertha was my great grandmother. The sister of Henrietta.

    • Todd Sheridan says:

      I have been hunting several times on a ranch outside of Valentine. There is a place called Sitter Springs, names after him. The spring is located in the canyon where he died.

  6. I have a book title for you Jim, Ranger Tales

  7. I’ve read everything you have ever written. Love all of it. Quit taking Shooting Times when you left.

Leave a Reply to Larry Simpkins Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.