New book digs into what happened during deadly Texas secessionist standoff 27 years ago

In 1997, armed members of the Republic of Texas militia took people hostage and engaged in a days-long standoff with authorities in far West Texas.

By Laura Rice & Sean SaldanaApril 30, 2024 1:09 pm, , ,

Far West Texas is a place full of arid beauty. For many, for the price of isolation and the inconveniences that come with self-reliance, one can achieve a kind of independence.

But 27 years ago, in a remote community called the Davis Mountains Resort, that independent spirit metastasized into something way beyond anything the local sheriff could handle alone. It would lead to an armed secession movement styling itself as the Republic of Texas, culminating in a standoff with hundreds of law enforcement agents desperate to avoid another bloody catastrophe on the scale of the Branch Davidian siege or the incident at Ruby Ridge.

Donna Marie Miller is the author of “Texas Secessionists Standoff: The 1997 Republic of Texas ‘War.’” Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Why did this peaceful community transform into a self-declared independent Texas? Was there a spark?

Donna Marie Miller: Yes. The catalyst was Jo Ann Turner, a member who was arrested in Austin. And then, Robert Scheidt was arrested just outside the Davis Mountain Resort on April 27.

Why were they arrested?

Well, Scheidt was part of a Republic of Texas militia and he was carrying unlawfully modified weapons. And the sheriff pulled him over because his license tags were stolen and then found the ammunition.

Tell us a little bit about how this group came together in the first place.

Richard Lance McLaren moved into the DMR (Davis Mountain Resort) in early 1990s and immediately set up himself as a person who was going to bring back Texas to the people, as a nation.

And he was convincing? He purported to know all about the constitutionality of Texas admission into the Union after the Civil War or something?

Well, he always skipped the part about the Civil War, but he talked about the 1845 annexation of Texas. He said they didn’t have a quorum. It was an illegal annexation. And therefore, Texas was still an independent nation.

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From members of the community, they would hear him sort of evangelizing with this, and they would sign on the dotted line to join his militia?

Yes. He had radio station connections, newspaper connections. He operated a ham radio and used the dispatch radios there in the area. And the earlier form of internet, too.

So, I guess since Richard Lance McLaren, with all of his radio gear, was listening to things unfolding, a couple of members of his militia getting arrested in town, he became a little spooked by what was going to happen next?

Yeah. He sent in his militia members, Gregg Paulson and his wife, Karen Paulson, and a 19-year-old named Richard Keyes. And they converged on the Rowes’ household and took the Rowes hostage in exchange for the release of Robert Scheidt.

So then what happened? Did the Rangers come in? I mean, I would think that someone would have called the FBI at this point.

They did. 300 law enforcement agents converged on the scene in the area called Point of Rocks. It’s like a recreation area there outside the Davis Mountains. And Gary Noesner – who was a consultant at Waco, the FBI consultant – he came and he helped the Rangers peacefully communicate with the militia members by telephone and using ham radio.

But it wasn’t all peaceful, right? I mean, shots were fired.

Well, after the exchange was made for the Rowes and Robert Scheidt, Richard McLaren and his group were still convinced that they owned Texas. And so therefore, they were not going to give up peacefully.

They initially decided that they would if Evelyn McLaren, who was Richard McLaren’s wife, was allowed to come out and she gave herself up and she gave the all clear. And then Richard McLaren came out. Then the Paulsons came out.

But later on that day, Mike Matson and another member, Richard Keyes, escaped into the mountains. And that’s when the shooting began.

The two militia members started shooting at the helicopters and the tracking dogs. And then Eric Pechacek, who was from the Lynaugh prison in Fort Stockton, fired on Mike Matson and killed him.

So he was the only fatality. So, unlike Waco, only one person died, as opposed to 75 people.

What’s happened in the years since to those who were involved in this militia?

Richard Lance McLaren is still serving 99 years at the William P. Clements Prison in Amarillo. I interviewed him for my book. He still thinks he’s the leader of the nation of Texas.

Several other people who were involved are still in prison and do communicate with branches of the Republic of Texas that still exists to this day.

It is still an active movement of sorts?

That’s correct. Just a few months ago they marched in Austin on the Capitol, led by Daniel Miller, and they still believe that Texas needs to be returned to them and to people that believe that it was annexed illegally.

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What is your sense about what this incident from 27 years ago means for today? Or perhaps our future? Or is it a very odd footnote in our history?

Well, Gary Noesner, who wrote my book’s forward, the FBI consultant for Waco and also for the Davis Mountain standoff, says that there are more secessionists in the United States today than they were in 1997, which was then considered the heyday for secessionists in the United States.

So we are repeating and revisiting the same types of people converging. Maybe not in the Davis Mountains, but across the United States.

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