Shade-Tree Justice on the Sulphur
Bonham Daily Favorite, September 27, 1992
English physician Edward Smith during his 1849 travels through northeast Texas was a keen observer of those influences which were molding the character and ethics of the region he visited. In addition to information on agricultural production, educational opportunities, and religious life, he also commented on the mores of the region, most especially the things that revealed the darker side of frontier society. One incident in the early history of Fannin County was brought to his attention although the events had taken place a few years before his journey.
Late in 1843 and into the Spring of 1844 a series of occurrences along the Sulphur River in southeast Fannin County greatly disturbed the citizenry who feared an outbreak of lawlessness in the neighborhood. Over a period of several months there had been a rash of thefts involving both personal property and horses and the stealing of a slave from Harrison County which was to ultimately be connected with the Fannin County crimes.
Several men, relative newcomers to the area, were looked at with suspicion for their possible involvement in the thefts.
No hard evidence had surfaced to make specific accusations. Finally, in July, a crime was committed that so outraged the residents that there was a cry for immediate and swift action against the suspects.
Things were set in motion three years earlier in Polk, Hickory, and Benton Counties, Missouri during an infamous feud called "The Slicker War." One of the participants in that feud was a man named Andy Jones. Jones and his family fled Missouri in the latter part of 1842. Their whereabouts for the next 18 months was unknown but by early 1844 the family surfaced in Fannin County. Two other men were neighbors of the Jones, Loup Ray (Wray) and Harvey White. They were later joined by Benjamin Jones, and men named Mitchell, Jewland, Reed, and Harris. Reportedly all eight men were from Missouri and had fled to Texas just ahead of Missouri law. Ray was to later tell that on his way to Texas he had become acquainted with Jones, White, and Reed and they persuaded him to join with their criminal activities. Jones and Moss admitted to having killed a man named Moss in southern Missouri. Investigations also showed that Reed, Harris, and Mitchell were most likely one time residents of Benton County, Missouri and probably were parties to some elements of the feud.
With the gathering of the men on Sulphur River, evidence began to mount against them culminating with the wanton murder of a group of friendly Delaware Indians. At least five of the suspected men had come upon the Indians somewhere near the Lamar and Fannin lines. Under pretext of friendship, they gained access to the camp and without warning attacked the group. Three of the party were killed instantly, two escaped although one was badly wounded. One of those slain was a small boy who ran to the attackers begging for his life. Reed grabbed the boy and held him while Mitchell killed him with his knife.
When the news of the massacre had spread along the Sulphur an armed posse went in pursuit of the men. Only a short distance from the slayings Mitchell was arrested at his cabin. A few days later Ray was taken captive on his return from Shreveport where he had gone to sell the hides taken from the Indians. Andy Jones and White managed to flee to Fort Houston in Anderson County where they were recognized. Word was sent to Bonham of their presence and the posse set out for that location. Both men were surprised at their camp by about 20 men and were taken while they slept. Evidently Reed made good his escape for nothing more is known of him.
All of these men plus Benjamin Jones, Jewland, and Harris were brought to a point on the south side of Sulphur about two miles west of the Lamar-Fannin line. On the 10th of July a "shade tree" court was convened attended by some 200 men. Six men were appointed by those present to select a jury of 12 men. The prisoners were given the opportunity to object to any juror. The men were sworn in by an unnamed magistrate and the trial began.
The most damaging evidence was that given by Mitchell who confessed to taking part in the murders and stated that afterward the group divided up the property taken from the Indians which consisted of 12 horses, four guns, three brass kettles, some saddles, and about 40 dressed deer skins. He also told the court of Jones and Whites admissions to the killing of Moss in Missouri.
Andrew Jones, White, Ray, and Mitchell were convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. Benjamin White, Jewland, and Harris were only found guilty of theft since no evidence was presented to tie them to the murders. These last three were made to hang the others and then ordered to leave the county within ten days.
An eyewitness to the executions, Colonel K. L. Anderson reported that the condemned men approached the gallows with different reactions Andrew Jones spent his final moments conversing with his wife and stating that for the last six years he had anticipated this fate. Mitchell presented an indifferent attitude and on the morning of the execution slept soundly. Ray and White were both affected by their impending sentence.
Later it was reported that another Fannin County man, Rice "Big Horn" Smith had married the widow of Andy Jones. Smith was strongly suspected of being implicated in some of the crimes committed by the gang, but no evidence supporting the suspicions had been found. However, a short time later Smith was involved in another infamous event which once again stirred up cries for justice. More about the events leading to the hanging of Big Horn Smith next week.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas