During Governor Davis’ administration, the legislature passed a law creating a State Military force, under the name of STATE POLICE. This body of men, or military organization, was filled by appointments of the Governor, and through the Adjutant General, was absolutely under his control. The members of this force, both officers and privates, were paid high salaries. Members of this force (policemen) were stationed in almost every country in the State. The force was regularly officered, with captains, lieutenants, sergeants, etc., and were under the absolute control of their superiors – each member of the force was mounted on a good horse and armed with a winchester rifle and two six shooter pistols, and wore a badge indicative of the force to which he belonged, and his official rank in that branch of the State Service. This was a time of peace. The member of this force contended that they were not amenable to the civil law for any infractions of the law, and they could only be tried by a Court Martial composed of members of their own body.
Governor Davis at this time (during the existence of the armed body of men) asserted that he had the right (power) to declare martial law and suspend rite of habeas corpus, which, in several instances, he accordingly did. The organization of this force could have but one object, viz: to keep the people of the State of Texas in a state of subjection. Armed members of this force were enjoined by their Chief to attend every election in the State, and to keep a close espionage on the ballot-box. The members of this force were generally ignorant and vicious men, fit instruments with which to accomplish the nefarious purposes of a despot. The INSTRUMENTS frequently acted on their own account and without orders from their superiors, to gratify their individual lust, malice or avarice – clothed with almost unlimited power. They abused this power to an almost unlimited extent, and the people were the sufferers. In the course of time these irresponsible “instruments” became a terror to the law-abiding citizens. When one of the MOUNTED GUARDS of Governor Davis would enter some quiet little country town, the inhabitants would be stricken with terror, and “wonder whose turn would come next.” The entrance of a Janizary into some quiet little Ottoman village would not inspire such terror among the villagers as would the entrance of one of these policemen into some little country town in Texas. These Janizaries of Governor Davis, on account of the political party to which they belonged and their affiliation with and pretense of friendship for the negro, had considerable influence over the negroes, which influence they were never known to exercise for any good purpose, but to the contrary, they frequently instigated them to do deeds of lawlessness and crime. On the fourteen of December, 1871, in the town of Linn Flat, Nacogdoches county, David W Harwell was causelessly and brutally murdered by Columbus Hazlett and William Grayson. Hazlett and Grayson were both members of the Gov Davis’ state police force. This murder struck terror to the hearts of the people of the entire community – the citizens felt as though they were left without any protection from the law. The murderers belonged to an organization, or military force that asserted its superiority to the civil law. The perpetrators of the bloody deed, in their own persons, and as a privilege of the peculiar military organization of which they were members, declared that they were not amenable to the civil laws for their acts and that they could only be tried a court martial composed of members of the state police force. The citizens generally and the civil officers were were afraid to take almost any steps in the matter for fear that their actions in the premises might be considered as a resistance to the state’s constituted authorities and martial law declared over the country, which would inevitable bring on a reign of terror and of bloodshed. In this trying time there was found one equal to the emergency, whose whole desire to to serve his county, avert bloodshed, maintain the supremacy of the law and bring the perpetrators of crime to punishment.
The ends of history would be put poorly accomplished, were the mead of historic praise withheld from one who served his county so faithfully and efficiently, as R D Orton, sheriff of this county, did this county in the Linn Flat raid. By his exertion, the declaration of material was avoided, the criminals brought to justice, and the supremacy of te civil law over the military maintained, and peace restored tot he county. The day Harvell was killed, G Dawson, Esq., then justice of the peace for Linn Flat precinct, held his court in Linn Flat. Grayson and Hazlett were in Linn Flat that day (14th of Dec., 1871) they were in some way dissatisifed with the proceedings and declared that they intended to break the court up, and even threatened to shoot the attorney (old man Clute, who was then addressing the court in behalf of his clients,) they were loud and vociferous and continually in contempt of court. Patience had ceased to be a virtue, and the justice of the peace issued a warrant for the arrest of Grayson and Hazlett, charging them with contempt of court. The warrant was placed in the hands of John Birdwell, constable of that precinct. Birdwell summoned Harvell, (the deceased) and others to assist him in making the arrest. Birdwell then endeavored to execute the warrant by making the arrest therein commanded. He informed Hazlett that he had a warrant for his arrest. Hazeltt replied: “I surrender.” Birdwell then asked him: “Where is Grayson?” Hazlett replied: “He is around at the shop.” Birdwell said call him. Thereupon Hazlett called Grayson, “I am prisoner.” Grayson replied: “The hell you are. Die before you surrender.” Harvell, who was standing nearby, said to Hazlett: “If you are a prisoner, give up your gun.” Hazlett replied: “Damn you, do you demand my gun? I will give you the contents of it.” Thereupon Hazlett elevated his gun, and discharged its contents into the breast of Harvell, inflicting a mortal wound, of which he did not instantly die, or fall to the ground, but stepped back into the store of S D Carver, (in the door of which he was standind,) and picked up a double-barrel shot-gun off of the counter, and fired one of the barrels at Hazlett, hitting him in the face, (the gun was loaded with bird-shot.) Harvell discharged the remaining barrel at Grayson, hitting him somewhere on the head. Grayson returned the fire at least, if he did not shoot first. Harvell walked behind the counter and died in a few minutes. Hazlett fired several times at Harvell. Harvell was shot twice. No further efforts were made that day to arrest the murderers. They were left in undisputed possession of the field of battle. The murderers stayed in Linn Flatt several hours after the murder. About 4 o’clock in the evening, they mounted their horses and left Linn Flat for Grayson’s house, three miles north of Linn Flat. The killing occurred about 1 o’clock, p.m. After the murder of Harvell, the murderers collected thirty or forty negroes together at the house of Grayson and openly defied the law of the land, asserting and claiming an immunity from arrest by the civil authorities.
Information of the state of affairs at Linn Flat was sent to R D Orton, sheriff of this county, at Nacogdoches; he instantly summoned a posse of 10 or 15 men, and hastened to Linn Flat. He reached there on the 16th and found that rumor had not exag[g]erated the awful state of affairs. The people of that ocmmunity were despondent and panic stricken, they felt that the foot of the tyrant was upon their necks.
“Hope withering fled, and mercy sighed ‘farewell.”
Up to this time, the magistrate (Dawson) had not issued warrants for the arrest of the murderers, and they were still at large. Col Orton knew and felt that he had a patriotic duty to perform, the violators of the law must be arrested and brought to trial if possible – the supremacy of the law must be vindicated, to do this was only his duty as sheriff of this county. But to accomplish these results required prudence and judgment. The offenders against the law were state officials – the state executive only wanted an excuse or pretext to declare martial law in the county, and quarter soldiers on us. One hasty or illadvised step would have ruined the county. Col Orton felt and knew all this, and took his measures accordingly to arrest the offenders. The result proved that he was equal to the occasion, “that he had the heart to resolve, the head to contrive, and the hand to execute.” Col Orton left his posse in Linn Flat and went to the house of the justice of the peace, (Dawson) for the purpose of obtaining warrants necessary for the arrest of the murderers. (Dawson lived a mile and a half west of inn Flat.) The justice issued warrants for the arrest of Grayson and Hazlett, and placed them in the hands of Col Orton. On the way to Grayson’s house (the headquarters of the murderers), Col Orton and his posse, encountered twenty-five or thirty well-armed negroes. Owing to the advantages of the situation, the sheriff’s party took the negroes at a disadvantage and compelled them to surrender. “They were immediately disarmed and sent under sufficient guard, to the town of Nacogdoches, some seventeen miles distant. The sheriff’s party then proceeded to Grayson’s house, but did not find him or any of his accomplices there. They searched the whole country around Linn Flat and even extended their searches into Cherokee and Rusk counties, but could find no trace of the murderers.
The general opinion was that they had fled the country. In the meantime, the negroes that had been sent to Nacogdoches as before states, were brought back and released,with he approval of all parties, except the sheriff, Col Orton, who said and thought that it was bad policy to release them just at that time, for , if Grayson and Hazlett had not really left the country (which he doubted) it would be strengthening their hands and reinforcing their party, for he questioned not but that the negroes would be as ready to support the murderers as ever. But, he was almost alone in this opinion, and for once gave up his judgment in the matter to that of the majority, which, subsequently, all had occasion to regret.
After this, the sheriff disbanded his posse and returned to his home in the town of Nacogdoches. On the night of December, 1871, five days after the murder of Harvell, at the hour of midnight, John Birdwell, constable of Linn Flat precinct, was called to his door and shot down, like a dog, upon his own threshold. He died instantly. There was no doubt but that Grayson and Hazlett were the murderers, assisted by some others. When this last murder became known, the people were almost paralyzed with fear, the secret assassins were abroad in the land, their awful acts were being done in the darkness of the night -courage was no protection against the midnight murderer; prudence would avail nothing; the hearth-stone and the fireside were no longer a protection – NO ONE KNEW WHOSE TURN WOULD COME NEXT- the negroes were the friends of the murderers – an internec[c]ine war was to be feared News of this second murder reached Col Orton on the 20th. He again summoned a posse and repaired to the scenes of the bloody tragedy. When he arrived at Birdwell’s house, the body of Birdwell, who had been dead some 26 hours, was not prepared for burial, no inquest had been held upon the body; nothing had been done. Col Orton immediately on his arrival at the scene of the murder, went for the magistrate, and induced that officer to repair to the place of the murder and hold an inquest upon the dead body of the murdered man. The justice issued a vinire for a jury of inquest, and the sheriff served it. A jury was empanneled and returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased had come to his death from a gun shot wound from the hands of parties unknown. Justice Dawson that night, (it was in the night when the inquest was held), issued a warrant for the arrest of Hazlett and Grayson, Marion Grayson, Jordon King, J W Grayson, Marion Grimes and E F Deshaser. The warrants were place din the hands of the sheriff. The sheriff then summoned an additional posse, probably amounting to near one hundred men, and thoroughly and diligently searched the whole county, extending the search into the neighboring counties, and without results, the searh having proved fruitless, the fugitives having fled to Austin, evidently to secure the favor and protection of Governor Davis. The opinion of col Orton was that the fugitives had fled to Austin and he accordingly sent a party of men to that city in pursuit of them. Rumors were rife over the county, to the effect that the murderers had not actually fled the country, but were still secreting themselves in the county, and instigating the negroes to deeds of violence. Indeed so great had become the apprehensions of the white population of a negro insurrection that Col Orton in order to prevent bloodshed and quiet the fears of the whites, deemed it right and expedient to disarm a considerable number of negroes, this he did as much for the protection of the negroes themselves as for any other purpose. The negroes disarmed, were those accused of making some demonstration to that effect, viz: insurrection. This action on the part of Col Orton to a great extent alloyed the excitement of the community, and he disbanded his men. In a few days after the sheriff dismissed his posse, a lieutenant Williams of the State police force came from Austin to Linn Flat, bringing with him as prisoners Grayson and Hazlett. The lieutenant of police, offered to turn the prisoners over to Col Orton, but coupled several conditions to that offer. The conditions were as follows:
First, that their guards should be members of the Police Force, furnished by the lieutenant of the Police. Second, that the sheriff should give a receipt for the prisoners. These conditions, Col Orton refused to accept, because they reflected on his good faith, and the good faith or [of] his county, and further because they were not in accordance with the law. The law making the sheriff the legal custodian of all prisoners legally committed to his custody and making him accountable for their safekeeping, tot he law and to the law alone. He being a constitutional officer, could not accept prisoners under such circumstances. The lieutenant would accept no other terms or conditions save those above mentioned. Col Orton then went to Rusk and prevailed on Judge Preist (then judge of that district) to come over to Linn Flat. This he did with a view to secure the peace by surrender of the prisoners and the vindication of the civil law. Judge Preist had at the time a letter in his possession from Gov Davis, requesting him to go to Linn Flat and investigate the condition of affairs. Judge Preiat on his arriving at Linn Flat, did all in his power to induce the lieutenant to turn the prisoners over to Sheriff Orton. This, that officer still refused to do. After three days spent in fruitless efforts, Judge Preist issued his warrant for the arrest of the lieutenant, guards, and prisoners, and placed it in the hands of the sheriff.
Owing to the lateness of the hour in which the warrants were handed to the sheriff, the number of police, and his not having a posse with him at that time, the police gained time to escape, and fled to Austin, taking Hazlett and Grayson with them. Shortly after this, State Adjutant General Davidson, Captain Martin, and some twenty-five or thirty police came to Linn Flat, bringing the prisoners, Grayson and Hazlett with them. General Davidson submitted the prisoners to the civil authorities, and an examining trial was had at Linn Flatt before Justice Dawson, the prisoners, Grayson and Hazlett were refused bail and committed to jail. Col Orton received them inside the jail door, in the town of Nacogdoches. There the civil law triumphed and quiet was again restored to the county. Grayson was afterward tried, and convicted of murder in the first degree, and sent to the penitentiary for life where he now is, paying the penalty of his crimes. Hazlett was sent to the county jail of Cherokee for safe-keeping, from which he escaped and fled to Arkansas, where he was afterwards killed in an attempt to arrest him for crimes committed in Texas.
Gov Richard Coke succeeded Gov Davis. Coke was elected by over 50,000 democratic majority. This was the end of the radical rule in Texas. R B Hubbard succeeded Coke to the gubernatorial chair, and held the office of governor from 1876 to 1878. O M Roberts was elected governor in 1878, and is at this time (1880) governor of Texas.