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When United States District Attorney A. J. Evans emerged from the meeting he declared that if the council would give him one man he would guarantee the complete breaking up of the Mexican Revolutionists on the American side of the Rio Grande. That man was Captain Joe Shely.
Josephus Shely was born on November 7, 1854 in Calhoun County to William Shely and Marie Antonette Benavides. When Joe was three months old his family moved to southeast Bexar County, an area that in 1860 would become a part of Wilson County.
As a youngster, his independent and fearless disposition drew him to the cattle business. Before his 21st birthday he had been put in charge of gangs of men to gather cattle and made several trips to Kansas with large herds. At the age of 23, Joe found his calling in law enforcement.
In the 1870s, horse thieves and cattle rustlers had become a scourge to the stockmen of Bexar County. Stockmen formed the Bexar County Stock Protective Association. Joe Shely was hired as one of its agents. Immediately, his quick wit and aggressive approach broke the back of gangs of rustlers and thieves who had evaded capture for years.
His success came in no small part from his bi-cultural background. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the proud son of both cultures, he earned the confidence of both communities. It was believed that in this position Joe Shely developed his unsurpassed abilities as a detective. His efforts at breaking the organized stock stealing were so successful that his position was no longer required.
Mary and Joe Shely, Courtesy of Connie Rodriguez
Joe Shely then entered the services of Bexar County Sheriff T.P. McCall as Criminal Deputy Sheriff. Constantly in the saddle, regularly confronting desperate men, Shely was said to have miraculously survived numerous attempts on his life. He carried scars from an assassin’s knife and gunfighter’s pistol.
His greatest service to Bexar County came when a series of bold stage robberies brought terror to south Texas. The numerous robberies, spread over a large area caused confusion. Authorities could not determine the number of gangs or bandits involved. Through cunning detective work, Shely uncovered three separate groups of bandits who robbed stages from Brownwood to Laredo to Hallettsville. His ability to gather evidence and “make the case” persuaded juries to send the outlaws to the penitentiary. His activities broke the gangs.
Again Joe Shely moved on to other positions, first as Detective for the U.S. Postal Service then Mounted Inspector for U.S. Customs at Laredo, Special United States Deputy Marshall under the legendary Hal Gosling.