Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
Unarmed, But He Could Pitch In
Bonham Daily Favorite, November 20, 1994
John Crane had hardly had time to establish his newspaper, The Bonham Independent, before he became embroiled in one of the most inflammatory events in the history of Fannin County. Less that a year after his arrival in Bonham with his family, his printing press and equipment, he had assumed the role of an ardent anti-abolitionist when the citizens of Fannin County rose up against a perceived threat on the part of a group of Northern Methodist ministers who gathered at Timber Creek Church in March of 1859.
No copies of Crane's publication are known to exist today but we do have verbatim copies of articles from editions of his paper which were later to be printed in The Central Christian Advocate published in St. Louis. Crane's involvement in the situation was also delineated by Bishop E.S. James in letters to the Advocate and The Bonham Era.
At a meeting at the Fannin County courthouse on March 14, 1859, editor John Crane was appointed as secretary of the organization which was being formed to address the convocation in session at Timber Creek Church. Crane was also, probably because his experience as a journalist, appointed to the committee to draft resolutions denouncing the Timber Creek meeting.
Crane had earlier printed resolutions passed by attendees at a public meeting held in Millwood, Collin County. The tenor of the resolutions were somewhat along the lines of those which would be issued by the Fannin County organization.
In publishing the Fannin County resolutions Crane, from his position as secretary of the organization and as publisher of the only newspaper in the county, felt constrained to add a series of editorial comments to the reports.
Whether or not his comments came from a personal philosophy and an attempt to sway public opinion, or whether Crane merely felt that such action was certain to increase the subscriptions to his fledgling publication, is a matter of conjecture after 135 years. His editorial comments can be interpreted in no other way than their obvious inflammatory nature. His comments were that he had heard the reports that confirmed the presence of these anti-slavery ministers in the community and their suspected activities. He then issued a warning that left no room for any other interpretation, "If such be the case, and there appears to be but little room for doubt, we kindly warn these people to beware, lest in an hour they least expect it, they will be visited by citizens entertaining adverse sentiments."
After the confrontation between the Bonham committee and the Methodists at the Timber Creek gathering, many newspapers reported on the incident mostly from the lengthy articles by Crane in the Independent and from Demorse's Standard at Clarksville.
On March 30, 1859 a citizen of Bonham, J.S. Stewart posted a letter to The Family Visitor, a two month old "No-Nothing" Party organ published in Paris. The occurrence described by Stewart was reported in detail by journals throughout the state but Stewart's letter was the most informative. The letter, printed in its entirety below, was reprinted in the April 9 issue of The Standard.
Bonham, March 30, 1859.
Messrs Ober and Gooding.
John M. Crane, Editor of The Independent has just been shot down in the streets by Mr. Matt Saddler, both of this place. The occurrence that led to this melancholy event, you doubtless read in last week's "Independent." Crane met Saddler on the street some time last week and attacked him, Saddler remarked 'that he was unarmed but he could pitch in if he was a mind to,' whereupon Crane struck him over the head with a heavy ebony stick, inflicting a severe wound.
About an hour ago Crane passed by Dr. Mackie's drugstore (Note: Dr. J.R. McKee's drugstore was located near the center of the block of the west side of the square in Bonham, A.M. Hall was druggist.), when Saddler, on seeing him pass, stepped out on the sidewalk and hailed him. When Crane turned around, Saddler fired nearly the whole load of buckshot into his hip, side, and abdomen, literally riddling him. He fell and Saddler escaped.
Crane was carried on a litter to his house but I don't think he can survive many hours. Your etc, J.S. Stewart."
Crane didn't survive the day. In letters of application for the administration of the estate of John M. Crane, Margaret Crane, his widow, attested that John Crane died on March 30, 1859.
An account of the incident, written some years after, stated that Crane died in his home with his infant son in his arms. His probate file does hold a bill presented as a claim against the estate for the purchase, by Crane, of an infant's crib, four days before his death.
The inventory of the estate lists a house and lot in Bonham, one negro woman, 500 pounds of bacon, a small lot of household furnishings, the press, type, furniture, etc. of The Bonham Independent, mortgaged for its full value.
Crane dictated his will on his death bed in front of witnesses Charles C. Ridings, William P. Seitz, and T.B, Revell. He bequeathed to his wife all the property "I die possessed of and I also appoint her guardian of the persons of my two children." Crane had a small daughter and the infant son.
The probate file also contains a bill, against the estate, filed by Emmmet F. Phelps. This documents that certain monies were due to Phelps for services rendered by him in the printing office of The Independent from the 8th day of May 1858 for which he was to receive $20.00 per month, board and lodging. He was still owed $108.00. Phelps was Crane's printer and was to continue with his trade for the next several months in Bonham.
J.S. Stewart's letter states that Saddler escaped after shooting down John Crane. Unfortunately no further information on the incident is to be found in the area papers.
A search of the criminal minutes of the Fannin County District Court provides what may be the only clue as to the outcome of this case. On the docket of Judge William S. Todd for Tuesday, December 8, 1859, Case #406 State of Texas vs. Madison Saddler is ordered by the court to be continued for service.
September term 1860 the State of Texas vs. Madison Saddler is ordered to be taken from the docket and filed in the office. Nothing remains of this case.