The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Posts tagged “Texas

Constable John Birdwell was killed in the line of duty…

and later the cemetery where he was buried was ploughed under.Some family members give his name as John Alexander Birdwell and his birth year as 1795 while others say 1812 and call him John Birdwell Jr. It is not believed his father had the middle name of Alexander, however. He was born 1812 in the Mississippi Territory in what would become Madison County, Alabama.He was murdered 19 December 1871 at Linn Flatt in Nacogdoches County, Texas performing his duty as Constable. According to his niece Addie Birdwell’s bible, Uncle John’s body was brought 12 miles from Linn Flat to be interred in the family cemetery at Mt. Enterprise.”The Mitchells of Linn Flat,” by Gweneth A. Marshall Mitchell (1981), page 114, referenced John Birdwell, Jr., dying in the notorious Linn Flat Raid and stated that John Birdwell, Sr., John Birdwell, Jr., and John Calhoun Birdwell were buried in a row in the family graveyard in Mt. Enterprise, Rusk County, Texas. (the Allen Birdwell place). The burial site was pastureland in the 1960s-80s and no markers are there to identify it, as written in Adeline Birdwell’s Bible; also, that “Uncle John had married Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson–1859. He was murdered 1871.”A little background is needed to better flavor the gruesomeness of the end of our John Birdwell’s life. The topography ofBirdwell House historical marker that area of the Republic of Texas was naturally beautiful. It was made up of gently rolling hills and beautiful small valleys. The soil was known as ‘red’ while there was also sanded soil and rich black soil. The white population came mainly from the deeply southern states; many came from Alabama. The state was noted as the ‘sickly’ state as the sanitary conditions and the change in climate caused many illnesses that the settlers struggled in coping with and had a hard time in general. That moniker was a strike against the area and likely caused some to change their minds about relocating there. Those hailing from the southern states often heard their fathers speak of ‘the hatful of quinine’ they took before leaving their Alabama birthplace for Texas. Where they settled in Linn Flat was one of the prettiest plateaus
in East Texas. From the description, it seems that it looked a lot like the area in northern Alabama where they had lived previously. OurBirdwells were some of the first settlers of the Republic of Texas and ofNacogdoches County as they followed not too long afterthe the first Americans arrived in 1880. Allen BBirdwell who was a State Representative was likely the first to venture to the faraway Republic of Texas. He represented Rusk County in the Texas state legislature, Nov 7, 1853 – Nov 5, 1855 (District 22), 5th legislature session, and Nov 2, 1863 – Aug 6, 1866 (District 13), 10th legislative session. It is seems he came around  1831, liked it and went back to his Alabama homeland to return circa 1842 with his fatherJohnBirdwell, brother JohnBirdwell and sister LucindaBirdwellVaught. It is noted by some researchers that JohnBirdwell the father may have been in the Republic of Texas in the 1830; could it have been he was traveling with son AllenBirdwell on his first visit? They were certainly there before the first Constitution that was formulated in 1185; and just after Davy Crockett’s arrival in Texas in 1833. The Linn Flat county jail was constructed after their arrival as it wasbuilt in 1850 at a cost of $900.

Rusk County, Texas. Later moved to Monte Verdi Plantation.

Allen Birdwell home Rusk County, Texas 1844. Later moved to Monte Verdi Plantation.

The farmer who claimed ownership of the land piled all the grave markers in the ditch nearby and ploughed up the cemetery in the 1960s. Today the cemetery has reportedly been planted in pine trees to further obliterate it. John Birdwell Jr. was the father of James Andrew Birdwell (1835-1914), father of Henry W. Birdwell, father of Clara Emma Birdwell who married John Alfred Collier and was the mother of singer, dancer and actress Ann Miller (April 12, 1923 – January 22, 2004). The following is one account of the gruesome death of our John Birdwell posted by Ray Isbell, original source is not known:

THE MURDER OF CONSTABLE JOHN BIRDWELL:

On December 14, 1871, two Texas state policemen, Columbus Hazlett and William Grayson, attended a justice of the peace court session in the Linn Flat community. When the two men were in disagreement with an action by the Court, they caused a disturbance and threatened to shoot one of the lawyers. Justice Dawson charged them with contempt. An arrest warrant was issued, and Dawson gave it to Constable John Birdwell to execute. Constable Birdwell summoned a deputized civilian named David W. Harvell to assist him in the arrest of the two state policemen. The constable then located Hazlett nearby and arrested him. Hazlett offered no resistance, and on Birdwell’s command called to Grayson in a nearby store.When Grayson drew near, Hazlett told him, “I am a prisoner.” Grayson said, “Die before you surrender.” Deputized Citizen Harvell then demanded Hazlett hand over his gun. Instead, Hazlett drew his weapon and shot Harvell in the chest. But Harvell did not go down. He staggered though a nearby store door, picked up a shotgun, and fired the first barrel into Hazlett’s face. Hazlett was hit by only a few pellets, but the second barrel discharged in the direction of Grayson, wounding him. Hazlett and Grayson returned fire, twice hitting Harvell, who dropped dead on the store floor. Constable Birdwell never had a chance to draw his weapon, and was looking down the barrels of the state policemen’s guns when they mounted their horses and rode off.On December 19, 1871, Constable John Birdwell answered a knock on his door in Linn Flat and was shot dead. Arrest warrants were issued for Grayson and Hazlett.

About a week later Lt. Thomas Williams, a respected member of the state police, rode into Linn Flat with Grayson and Hazlett. Lt. Williams negotiated with Sheriff Orton for several days over the arrest and confinement of the two state policemen. No settlement was reached, and Williams rode away one night with his two prisoners. Soon after, the state police chief returned to surrender Hazlett and Grayson to the sheriff.

Grayson was convicted and sent to prison for life. Hazlett escaped from jail before his trial, fled to Arkansas, and was later killed by bounty hunters.

Following is the text from Chapter VII of The Book of Nacogdoches County, Texas entitled “The Linn Flat Raid” pages 35-46.

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.

“Constable John Birdwell, 59, was survived by his wife and 10 children.”

 

 

Parents:
John Birdwell (1770 – 1854)
Mary Allen Birdwell (1780 – 1840)

Children:
Elizabeth Jane Weatherby Birdwell. Gray (1846 – 1915)*

Marilla Jane Birdwell 1855-1887

William J Birdwell 1859-1910

Mary Elizabeth Birdwell Shirley 1862-1937

Siblings:
Nancy Birdwell Romine (1795 – 1885)*
Moses Birdwell (1796 – 1832)*
Sarah H. Birdwell Isbell (1799 – 1876)*
Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell Conway (1800 – 1872)*
Allen B. Birdwell (1802 – 1893)*
Lucinda Birdwell Vaught (1812 – 1873)*
John Birdwell (1812 – 1871)

 

Advertisements

Photos from the past…

from far distant places are just as precious. Charles Dawson Letson was the son of Robert George Green “Bob” Letson and his first wife Mary Elizabeth Grady Letson of Lawrence County. Many of their descendants still live in the Shoals area. But some went to points in the west.

Their son Charlie went to different points in Texas. He was in Texas prior to 1903 and his first marriage. Charlie was born 3 February 1879 in Lawrence County, Alabama and died in 1950 in Pecan Gap, Delta County, Texas. Charlie had children by two wives, both , marriages took place in Texas. This is a photo of him as a cowboy circa 1900. He was a handsome man and cowboy.

Photo of Charles Dawson Letson


Photos of the past…

of relatives  are precious. This one is related to people from Colbert County, Alabama. The soldier pictured is Sam Manford Sledge. He is one of two sons of  Clarence Williamson Sledge and Lillian Claire Manford Sledge; C. W. Sledge is a relative of the Sledge’s from Colbert County. This branch of the Sledge family had relocated to areas in Texas where Sam Sledge was born and raised.

Photo of Sam Manford Sledge


Come to Yocum Inn with a fat waist and…

the Yocum’s just might leave your bones  to bleach  in the Big Thicket, at the bottom of the innkeeper’s well, or in the alligator slough.

YOCUM’S INN: 
THE DEVIL’S OWN LODGING HOUSE

By W. T. Block


Reprinted from FRONTIER TIMES, January, 1978, p. 10ff; also note all sources in footnotes of Block, HISTORY OF JEFFERSON COUNTY, TEXAS, etc. p. 78. The best source is Seth Carey’s memoirs, “Tale of a Texas Veteran,” Galveston DAILY NEWS, Sept. 21, 1879, as reprinted in Block, EMERALD OF THE NECHES, pp. 158-163, at Lamar University and Tyrrell Libraries. Many other writings of recent vintage are pure fiction. 

Stories about the old Goodnight and Chisholm Trails have so dominated the writings of Western Americana that even Texans have forgotten that their first great cattle drives ended up at New Orleans rather than Abilene or Dodge City, Kansas.

When the Spanish viceroy lifted a trade ban between Texas and Spanish Louisiana in 1778, a New Orleans-bound cattle drive of 2.000 steers, driven by Francisco Garcia, left San Antonio in 1779, the first drive of record along the unsung Opelousas Trail. By the mid-1850s, more than 40,000 Texas Longhorns were being driven annually across Louisiana, and no one welcomed the cattle drovers more enthusiastically than did Thomas Denman Yocum, Esq., of Pine Island settlement in Southeast Texas.

The first Anglo rancher along the Opelousas Trail was James Taylor White, who by 1840 owned a herd of 10,000. In 1818 he settled at Turtle Bayou, near Anahuac in Spanish Texas, and he was a contemporary of Jean Lafitte, whose pirate stronghold was on neighboring Galveston Island. By 1840, White had driven many large herds over the lonely trail, and a decade later, had more than $150,000 in gold banked in New Orleans, the proceeds of his cattle sales.

By 1824 there were others from Stephen F. Austin’s colony, between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers, who joined White in the long trail drives, and a favorite stopover was Yocum’s Inn, where the welcome mat was always out and the grub was always tasty and hot. 
Thomas Yocum settled on a Mexican land grant on Pine Island Bayou, the south boundary of the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas, around 1830. It was then a virgin, sparsely-settled region of prairies, pine barrens, and thickets, and any settler living within ten miles was considered a neighbor. The deep, navigable stream, 100 feet wide and 75 miles long, was a tributary of the Neches River and had already attracted ten or more pioneers who also held land grants from the Mexican government. Often they heard the pound of hoofs and bellowing of thirsty herds, bound for the cattle crossing over the Neches at Beaumont. There were more than thirty streams which intersected the trail and which had to be forded or swum in the course of travel. And always Yocum rode out at the first sound of the herds and invited the drovers to quench their thirst and satisfy their hunger at the Inn. (Yocum’s land was located west of Beaumont at Pine Island. Pine Island was two miles north of the present community of Pine Island. The name of the community is now Westbury.)

Some people who stopped at the Inn were headed west. Sometimes they were new immigrants driving small herds into Texas. Some, like Arsene LeBleu, one of Jean Lafitte’s former ship captains, were Louisiana cattle buyers carrying money belts filled with gold coins, and were en route to White’s Ranch or elsewhere to buy cattle. The popularity of Yocum’s Inn spread far and wide. Its genial host soon became the postmaster of Pine Island settlement under the old Texas Republic, supervised the local elections, served on juries, and was widely respected by his neighbors and travelers alike. 

Yocum acquired much land and many slaves, and by 1839 his herd of l500 heads of cattle was the fourth largest in Jefferson County. While other settlers rode the wiry Creole, or mustang-size, ponies of a type common to Southwest Louisiana, Yocum’s stable of thirty horses were stock of the finest American breeds, and his family drove about in an elegant carriage.

A gentleman’s life , however, held no attraction for Squire Yocum, a man who literally was nursed almost from the cradle on murder and rapine, and for many years Yocum’s Inn was actually a den of robbers and killers. What is the most startling is the fact that Yocum was able to camouflage his activities for more than a decade, maintaining an aura of respectability while simultaneously committing the worst of villainies, with a murderous band of cutthroats unequaled in the history of East Texas. 

How Yocum could accomplish this since he used no alias, is unexplainable, for he, his brothers, his father, and his sons were known from Texas to Mississippi as killers , slave-stealers, and robbers. If any neighbor suspected that something at Yocum’s Inn was amiss, he either feared for his life or was a member of the gang. 

One account, written by Philip Paxton in 1853, observed that Yocum, “knowing the advantages of a good character at home, soon by his liberality, apparent good humor, and obliging disposition, succeeded in ingratiating himself with the few settlers.”

Squire Yocum was born in Kentucky around 1796. As a fourteen-year-old, he cut his criminal eyeteeth with his father and brothers in the infamous John A. Murrell gang who robbed travelers along the Natchez Trace in western Mississippi. At first Murrell was reputed to be an Abolitionist who liberated slaves and channeled them along an “underground railroad” to freedom in the North. Actually, his gang kidnapped slaves, later selling them to the sugar cane planters of Louisiana.

Murrell soon graduated to pillage and murder, but slave-stealing remained a favorite activity of the Yocum brothers, and on one occasion two of them, while returning to Louisiana with stolen horses and slaves, were caught and hanged in East Texas.

When law enforcement in western Mississippi threatened to encircle them, the Yocums fled first to Bayou Plaquemine Brule, near Churchpoint, Louisiana, then in 1815 to the Neutral Strip of Louisiana, located between the Sabine and Calcasieu Rivers. Until 1821 the Strip knew no law enforcement and military occupation, and hence became a notorious robbers’ roost for the outcasts of both Spanish Texas and the State of Louisiana

In the Land Office Register of 1824, T. D. Yocum, his father, and two brothers were listed as claiming land grants in the Neutral Strip; and during the 1820s, according to the Colorado “Gazette and Advertiser” of Oct. 31, 1841, Yocum’s father was tried several times for murder at Natchitoches, La., and bought acquittal on every occasion with hired witnesses and perjured testimony.

By 1824, Squire Yocum, once again feeling the pinch of civilization, had moved on to the Mexican District of Atascosita in Texas. He lived for awhile in the vicinity of Liberty on the Trinity River. Writing about him in 1830, Matthew White, the Liberty alcalde, notified Stephen F. Austin that Yocum was one of two men who allegedly had killed a male slave and kidnapped his family, and as a result “were driven across the Sabine and their houses burned.” But Yocum was not about to remain so close to the hangman’s noose and the fingertips of sheriffs and U. S. marshals. And he soon took his family and slaves to the Pine Island Bayou region where he built his infamous Inn. Having acquired some wealth and affluence by 1835, the old killer and slave stealer could become more selective with his victims. 

Among the many travelers along the dusty Opelousas Trail, the eastbound cattleman often stayed at Yocum’s Inn and left praising the owner’s hospitality. And of course the genial proprietor always invited him to stop over on his return journey. It was the westbound Louisiana cattle buyer and the Texas rancher who had already delivered his herd in New Orleans whose lives were in danger. Usually drovers paid off and dismissed their hands in New Orleans. Texas cattlemen often traveled alone on the return trip, and if any of them lodged at Yocum’s Inn, a bulging waist line, which usually denoted a fat money belt of gold coins, virtually signaled his demise. The drover’s bones were left to bleach  in the Big Thicket, at the bottom of the innkeeper’s well, or in the alligator slough.

In East Texas, Squire Yocum’s crimes spawned more legends, many of them about his buried loot, than any other man except Jean Lafitte. And every legend tells the story differently. One relates that a Texas rancher was backtracking a missing brother, who was overdue from a New Orleans cattle drive, and stopped at Yocum’s Inn to make inquiries. A Yocum cohort informed the rancher that no one had seen the missing brother on his return trip; then suddenly the missing brother’s dog rounded a corner of the Inn. Glancing elsewhere about the premises, the rancher recognized his brother’s expensive saddle resting on a nearby fence. When the conversation became heated, Yocum’s partner grabbed for a shotgun, but the rancher fired first and killed him. As told in the legend, Yocum overheard the conversation and accusations from a distance, and quickly fled into the Big Thicket.

Another legend tells of a foreigner who was carrying a grind organ and a monkey with him when he rode his big gray stallion to Yocum’s Inn in search of a night’s lodging. Earlier the stranger had played the hand organ for some children who lived nearby and who had given him directions to reach the Inn. The story adds that Yocum traded horses with the foreigner during his stay. When the children later found a battered hand organ abandoned beside the trail, there was little doubt about the foreigner’s fate.

There are many early records, written at the time of Yocum’s demise, which chronicle the innkeeper’s death, but they sometimes conflict. The longest of them was written by Philip Paxton in 1853, and his account of how Yocum’s misdeeds were exposed appears to be the most plausible. {{Indeed, his account is deadly accurate. See sources at end}} Paxton claimed that a man named (Seth) Carey, who owned a farm on Cedar Bayou near Houston, had killed a neighbor during a quarrel over a dog and fled to Yocum for asylum. It was agreed that Yocum would receive power of attorney to sell Carey’s land grant and that Yocum would forward the proceeds of the sale to Carey in Louisiana. A gang member, however, told Carey that he had no chance of escaping to Lousiana. Yocum planned to pocket the proceeds of the sale and, besides, Carey had wandered upon some skeletons in a Pine Island thicket and thus had learned “too many and too dangerous secrets” about the murder ring at Yocum’s Inn. 

The earliest published account, which appeared in the San Augustine “Redlander” of Sept. 30, 1841, stated that Yocum was killed by the “Regulators of Jefferson County who were determined to expel from their county all persons of suspicious or bad character.” The newspaper chided the vigilantes for killing Yocum and not allowing him the due process of law and a speedy trial. But the editor conceded that Yocum had a notorious record in Louisiana “as a Negro and horse stealer, repeatedly arrested for those crimes.”

Three other accounts, however, two in the Houston papers of that era and another in the “Colorado Gazette and Advertiser,” published at Matagorda, Texas, alleged that “Thomas Yocum, a notorious villain and murderer, who resided at the Pine Islands near the Neches River, has been killed by the citizens of Jasper and Liberty Counties . . . .”

“Yocum has lived in Texas twenty years and has committed as many murders to rob his victims. The people could bear him no longer so 150 citizens gathered and burned his premises and shot him. They have cleared his gang out of the neighborhood,” thus putting an end to the Pine Island postmaster, his gang, and his Inn. Of course, only Yocum could reveal the true number of murder notches on his gun, which may have reached as many as fifty.

According to Paxton, the Regulators found the bones of victims in Yocum’s well, in the neighboring thickets, in the “alligator slough,” and even out on the prairie. They then burned Yocum’s Inn, the stables and furniture, but allowed his wife, children, and slaves a few days to leave the county. The posse trailed the killers into the Big Thicket and eventually caught up with Yocum on Spring Creek in Montgomery County. No longer willing to trust a Yocum’s fate to the whims of any jury, the vigilantes gave the old murderer thirty minutes to square his misdeeds with his Maker, and then they “shot him through the heart” five times.

Paxton also reported that “not one of Yocum’s family had met with a natural death.” Little is known of the fate of Yocum’s sons other than Christopher, who in 1836 who had been mustered into Captain Franklin Hardin’s company at Liberty, and who had served honorably and with distinction for one year in the Texas Army. Chris, whom many believed to be “the best of the Yocums,” may not have been implicated in the murder ring at all, but he fled, leaving his young wife behind, perhaps because of the stigma that his surname carried and the public anger that was then rampant.

Believing that the public clamor for revenge had died down after a span of four months, Chris Yocum returned to Beaumont, Texas, one night in January 1842. Sheriff West, although he had no specific crimes to charge him with, was aware that a thirst for retribution still lingered and he arrested young Yocum for his own protection. Jefferson County’s “Criminal Docket Book, 1839-1851” reveals that Chris was lodged in the county’s log house jail on the afternoon of Jan. 15, 1842. What the book does not reveal is the fact that young Yocum faced Judge Lynch and an unsummoned jury of Regulators on the same night. The following morning West found him swinging from a limb of an oak tree on the courthouse lawn, with a ten-penny nail driven into the base of his skull.

During the second administration of Sam Houston as president of the Texas Republic, there were many excesses and assassinations, principally in Shelby County in East Texas, attributed to vigilante bands, who called themselves “Regulators.” On Jan. 31, 1842, he issued a proclamation, ordering all district attorneys to prosecute the Regulators stringently for any offense committed by them. The proclamation began as follows: “Whereas . . . . certain individuals . . . have murdered one Thomas D. Yocum, burned his late residence and appurtenances, and driven his widow and children from their homes . . . .” 

Whether or not President Houston’s paper might have been worded somewhat differently if the chief executive had been forced to witness the bleached bones in Yocum’s well or to bury some of the skeletons out on the prairie is, of course, another question.

Almost from the date of T. D. Yocum’s death, legends began to circulate concerning the murderer’s hoard of stolen treasure, because the vigilantes knew that neither the old robber nor any member of his family had had time to excavate it before they were driven from the county. Some of them thought that only Yocum and one of his slaves actually knew where the loot was hidden. Others claimed that Chris Yocum knew where the treasure site was, and that one of the reasons for his returning to Beaumont was to dig up the gold so that he and his young wife could start life anew somewhere under an assumed name. For years treasure hunters dug holes along the banks of Cotton and Byrd Creeks, and decades later sinks and mounds in the Pine Island vicinity were said to be the remains of those excavations.

Time passed, the Civil War was fought, and the Yocum episode became only a dim memory in the minds of the early settlers. Finally it was an elderly black woman in Beaumont who triggered the second search for Yocum’s gold. She told her grandchildren that about 1840 she was a young slave girl who belonged to the owner of a plantation in the vicinity of Yocum’s Inn. One day when she was picking blackberries when she heard voices nearby. She moved ahead along the banks of a creek until she finally spotted Yocum and one of his young slaves at a low spot or crevice in the creek bank. Both of them were busy backfilling a hole in the ground.

As a result of the old lady’s story, another network of pot holes were dug up and down the banks of Byrd and Cotton Creeks. And once or twice a stranger appeared who claimed to have a map drawn by an old Nagro who said he was formerly Yocum’s slave. But if anyone ever found the treasure, that fact was never made public, and one writer claims it is still there awaiting the shovel that strikes it first. Maybe so, but gold hunters usually don’t print their findings in newspapers. And they, like buccaneers, ain’t especially noted for their wagging tongues either.


Boxes and boxes of Boxes…

Artistic interpretation of the Battle of San J...

Battle of San Jacinto painting

brought us to an interesting article on the Box brothers who went to Texas and their story. Are any Boxes in the area related to these Box brothers’ ancestors? They were once in Alabama.

   In 1834 ten heads of household named Box arrived in Nacogdoches, Cohiulia y Tejas, Republica de Mexico and applied for Mexican land grants in the Burnet grant. The group consisted of two brothers, John Morris and Stephan Box, and their sons. All were Methodists from Tennessee who had been in Blount County, Alabama for about a decade. In order to qualify for Mexican land they had to pledge allegiance to Mexico and embrace the Roman Catholic Church. Preaching, or even practicing, a protestant religion was a crime.

    Most of the Boxes received title to their land in 1835. In 1836 most of the men were in either the Army of the Republic of Texas or the Texas Militia. Four of the boys were in the Battle of San Jacinto where Texas won its independence.

   By 1838 Box’s Fort had been constructed on John Morris Box’s land in what is now Cherokee County, Texas.  John Asbury Box, a nephew of John Morris, is credited as preaching the first sermon, a funeral service for a man killed by Indians. The Rev. Littleton Fowler, Methodist Missionary to the Republic of Texas ordained and licensed the first Texas Methodist pastor, Henderson D. Palmer at Box’s Fort on 7 July 1838.

   During the time Texas was a Republic, 1836-1846, members of the original Box immigrants established numerous Methodist churches in what is now Houston, Anderson and Cherokee Counties. Many of the Box men became local pastors and established new churches as they moved west after the Civil War.

 REFERENCES:

 Vernon, W.N., Sledge, R. W., Monk, R. C. and Spellman, N. W. 1986. The Methodist Excitement in Texas, A History. The Texas United Methodist Historical Society, SMU, Dallas, Texas.

 Houston County Historical Commission. 1987. History of Houston County, Texas 1687-1979. Heritage Publishing Company, Tulsa, Oklahoma.