Fannin County Museum of History

   

One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

We Will Give Him His Last Ride

Bonham Daily Favorite, November 15, 1992


By today's standards one particular criminal activity of the Texas frontier might be considered to be of minor significance. Compared with present statistics on murder, narcotic trafficking, and other felonies, horse stealing would hardly cause the raising of an eyebrow. On the frontier cattle rustling, depending on the circumstances, might occasionally be overlooked. Disputes were often settled with guns and that was expected. But to deprive a man of his main mode of transportation or in some cases livelihood by stealing his horse called for severe and sometimes harsh retribution.

Texas and other frontier states had written laws early on dealing with such crimes, but the seriousness of horse stealing often had to be impressed on newly arrived persons who came from the more settled eastern states where the theft of a $25 horse was usually a misdemeanor.

Though these laws were in place to deal with this crime, too often the wheels of law enforcement turned too slowly for the average frontiersman and a little shade-tree justice was called into play as a lesson for those who might be considering the occupation. The famous Sulphur River trial in the early 1840's was not the only such case in the annals of Fannin County. In late summer of 1860 mob rule concluded a case in the county judicial system with the lynching of an accused horse thief named Cab Witty.

Various writings on the history of the area make allusions to this incident but the best detailed and moving account comes from long-time Dodd City resident J.H. Roderick. The only reference among the county court dockets is the statement, "this case is continued." No specific charges or evidence still exists.

Witty's background is also very sketchy with only a few recorded documents to tell us about the man. The 1860 census shows that he was living with a family in the northeast part of the county. His age was 31, a native of Alabama, and his occupation is listed as stock raiser with personal property worth $600. No real estate ownership is listed.

Perhaps the deed records might give a clue as to why this man allegedly turn to horse stealing. In 1858 Witty purchased, for $200, 170 acres of land in the John Black survey near Red River, from W. C. Whitsett. This is the earliest record of Witty's presence in the area. At the January term of court for 1860 a judgement against Witty for non-payment on the land was entered in favor of Whitsett. The Sheriff was ordered to seize the property belonging to Witty for sale to satisfy the judgement. A month later Witty purchased two town lots in Bonham and five weeks later sold these at a slight loss. Except for the probate of his estate this was the last legal transaction involving Cab Witty.

The account of Witty's ordeal is best described in J.H. Roderick's own words:    (Roderick had come to Bonham on a Saturday when he saw a large crowd gathered at the courthouse.)

"I asked a man in the crowd what was happening and he told me that a man was being tried for horse stealing. I made my way to the courtroom and found a seat at the back. From the activity I realized that the trial was about completed. I heard some very rough and profane language. As well as I could judge some of the oaths were uttered by the accused."

Roderick saw the judge leave his seat and exit the courthouse. A loud disturbance came from the crowd outside and he began to feel uneasy. He left the court and went to and upstairs room to an east window where he had a view of the street below.

As Sheriff Alfred Davis came out with the prisoner some men attempted to take Witty from Davis. Roderrick heard the Sheriff shout "stand back, stand back men," as he wrestled with several of them. Davis kept battling the men down to the jail and out of Roderick's sight.

Next, according to Roderick, a man ran down the street waving a new rope and shouting, "everybody in favor of taking that man come out here." A large group gathered around as the man continued to urge them to action and then they moved off in a body toward the jail.

Roderick continued, "It was but a short time until I saw a body of men moving east on the road that led to the place where Judge Inglish then lived. I followed some distance behind them. Along the way I could hear the man pleading for mercy. The crowd took the man into the timber near Inglish graveyard. There they found a large post oak that had a limb projecting about ten or twelve feet from the ground. I could hear the prisoner talking and crying for mercy.

I soon saw a man climb up into a tree and and out on that limb and tie the rope around it . . . in a few minutes someone called out, 'Let's put him on a horse.' And another said, 'Yes, he rode off with our horses, and now we will give him his last ride.' A horse was brought up and the prisoner was put on the horse’s back and the rope tied around his neck. Oh how pitifully did he cry out. "

"There was no voice to plead for the poor fellow. No one said to that mob, 'You are a disgrace to your town, your country, your state and yourselves. No one stood up and said 'though this man may be a horse thief, are his hands any darker than yours whose hands are soon to be dyed in the blood of this poor, helpless, friendless sinner?"

‘"I saw them lead that horse out from under the fellow and I saw his body swing off and turn around and his limbs writhe and twist in the agonies of death. Oh how horrible it was. I could stay no longer. I turned and went home."

The final disposition of the Witty case can be found in the probate records. One document states that he died in September 1860 leaving no will. The inventory of his estate lists two featherbeds, bed clothing, 2 razors, 1 watch, 50 head of cattle scattered through the area - no horses.