Back in 1888, Hattie “Ada” Dougherty had a ranch between Japatul and Sacatera, southeast of Alpine. She wanted to clear some land for ploughing but couldn’t. Her neighbor, an old, unnamed man had some of his beehives on her property.
She kindly asked the man to remove them. He said nothing. Days later she asked again. When he didn’t reply, she made the two-day, wagon-trek downtown on a narrow trail. She met with James L. Copeland, the District Attorney, and asked what she should do.
Copeland pondered, then signed his name to an official piece of paper: the man now had 30 days to remove the hives from her property, or else.
“Well,” Ada told an interviewer decades later, “when I gave him the paper he tore it up and throwed it down and wouldn’t read it.”
She waited 30 days and went back to the D.A.’s office. “Jimmy signed his name to another paper and said, ‘this time read it to the old man.’”
She did. No reply.
Another 30 days, the beehives hadn’t budged. “So I went back to Jimmy and I asked him about it and he said, ‘Well, burn ‘em up!’”
She did. She poured a can of coal oil “all over the dry grass” around the hives and set it on fire.
“It was on a side hill and the wax and honey run down in all the horse tracks and everything. She burned all the hives except for one “stand of bees. They were outside the limits — beyond her property line — they didn’t get burned.”
The next morning she watched the old man leave on a white horse. Probably not coming back, she figured. But he did, that night. He came to her cabin with a “separater to separate his honey from the hive.” And a rifle, aimed right between Ada’s eyes.
“He told me what he was going to do,” Ada recalled. “And I told him, ‘you’re a good marksman, and I’m a good mark. Stand right there in my door and see what you can do!”
Instead he lowered the barrel, rode to town, and had her arrested.
Ada went to court, May 5, 1888, in her best pressed dress. She had three witnesses. The third was star witness, James L. Copeland, District Attorney.
“Your honor,” he told the judge, “I said she could do it, that it was okay.”
The judge nodded, banged his gavel, and, says Ada, “they told us to go home.”