Showdown at the Bar X

There ain't enough room in this town for Helen Phillips and her enemies

When David asked Bruce what he was getting at, Bruce mumbled and said it was not wise to cross him. Suddenly, Bruce pulled into his own driveway, went inside the house and came back with a gun. He pointed it at David, saying he would shoot him dead for being on his property. David got out of the car and walked to the street, with Bruce following him the whole time, his gun at David's back. Bruce was charged with aggravated assault.

Helen's name is also on the list of Bruce's run-ins. In 1995, when Helen was trying to get the ranch back on its feet, Bruce suggested that an accountant friend in Dallas look at the books. Helen told Bruce the books were disorganized enough as it was and that they needed to stay on the property.

Angry about the decision, Bruce closed the door of Helen's small office and stood in front of it, demanding to see all of the Bar X's books. He yelled that he would not let Helen out until she handed over the information.

There's a reason Helen Phillips thinks of the Bar X as her own personal kingdom: She saved it from ruin.
Troy Fields
There's a reason Helen Phillips thinks of the Bar X as her own personal kingdom: She saved it from ruin.
In Helen's world, you play by Helen's rules.
Troy Fields
In Helen's world, you play by Helen's rules.

"You have to understand what a claustrophobic person I am, and if I'm not in control, it's bad," says Helen. "I have to close my eyes when I'm in an elevator."

She began to panic and scream, and someone called the police. Helen declined to file charges, saying she wanted to avoid future conflict with Bruce.

"That was really the only big run-in I had with him," she says.

But Bruce didn't stir up trouble just at the Bar X -- the whole town of Angleton often got a taste of whatever was on his mind. He had the curious habit of writing letters -- as many as three a month -- to the daily newspaper The Facts. Managing editor Kelly Hawes says the topic was typically politics or current events.

In a November 5 letter, sent just a few weeks before the shooting, Bruce's short note had an Election Day theme.

"The vote, like the die, is cast!" he wrote. "Now comes the swearin' in followed closely by the swearin' at! The latter line will be longer than the one at the polling place. Find your place in line."

Bruce even penned a letter from his jail cell, but Bar X residents will never know if he expressed his thoughts on the shooting. The paper decided against commenting on it or running it, saying it gets too many letters from inmates to print them all.

But even after Bruce's long, strange history -- even though he shot and nearly killed her -- Helen says she can't be angry with him. She says that even as she lay in her hospital bed at Memorial Hermann, she asked her children to go check on Louise Rogers when they went back to the ranch. The police wouldn't allow it, but Helen says she wanted Louise to know she was thinking of her.

"I feel sorry for Bruce; I wish I knew what his reasons were," she says softly. "He has a wife and daughter. I close my eyes right now -- I haven't seen that daughter in probably ten years -- but I close my eyes and I can still see this red hair of hers walking up to my porch to sell candy for her band. That's what I picture: that red hair coming up there to that door."

It's a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, just over two weeks since Bruce shot Helen, the kind of day that sells the Bar X Ranch. The skies look bigger and bluer than they do in the city, and the sight of a deer grazing between some oak trees draped in Spanish moss gives the place a picturesque feel -- like a photograph out of a realtor's brochure.

Bruce Rogers sits in jail. Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne says the matter will go before the grand jury sometime this month, but she won't comment further on the case.

Helen is back in the hospital. It seems she pushed herself too hard after the shooting and her bullet wounds haven't healed properly.

Lorenda Anderson is in the Bar X office, sitting at her desk, shuffling through paperwork. Helen has been calling from her hospital bed all day, reminding Lorenda of this or that little thing that must be taken care of before the business week's end. Lorenda keeps telling Helen to stop worrying about the ranch for a second, to just relax and get well. But she bets Helen will be back at work, bright and early on Monday morning.

"Her heart's just as big as this ranch," Lorenda says.

But the future of the Bar X Ranch is precarious. What will happen at the next board meeting in April? Will Jim Turner win the fourth spot needed to oust Helen? Will the out-of-towners turn in their precious proxy votes? Will anyone stay for the fish fry? All Lorenda can be sure of is that Helen won't give up easily.

"She'll keep fighting until she dies, because she believes in this place," she says. "She believes in living in harmony and peace, and they don't."

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