Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

They Hung Them From A Bois d'Arc Tree

​Bonham Daily Favorite, January 9, 1994

As Eli Dyer lay in jail cell recovering from the wounds inflicted by Tom Ragsdale, his brother Sam was still at large having managed to escape arrest for several days.

In the meantime the citizens of Fannin County were preparing to honor and bury one of their fallen officials. W.A. Carter in The Bonham News described Sheriff Ragsdale as "one of the best and purest citizens within her (Fannin County) borders."

Ragsdale was laid to rest in Elizabeth Grove Cemetery, just north of Savoy, next to the graves of two of his children. Local historians have said that the funeral procession of horses, buggies, carriages, and wagons stretched the fifteen miles from Bonham to the cemetery.

Even as it appeared that the talk of lynching was now dying down, some elements in the actions of the courts were to soon fan the flames of vengeance again. In the eyes of the court Eli Dyer had now recovered sufficiently from his wounds to be in attendance at a preliminary hearing in which both brothers would be indicted for the murder of Ragsdale and Joe Buchanan.

One unnamed witness had appeared at the hearing. His name is unknown but in all likelihood it was one of the original party who rode with Ragsdale to the Dyer farm.

After the wintness' testimony, Eli Dyer apparently suffered something of a relapse and the judge ordered the hearing recessed for a few days.

Word of the delay spread rapidly throughout the town and a number of clandestine meetins were held to discuss what course of action should be taken.

Either Sheriff Evans was unaware of the rising sentiment or he decided that the words would not turn into action for he failed to post extra guards at the jail and to take further precautions against any possible action.

No Bonham newspapers exist with accounts of what happened next but detailed articles appeared in several regional newspapers. The best detailed is from The Standard, published in Clarksville on June 12, 1885. Dateline: Bonham, Texas June 8th: "This morning at about half past two o'clock a mob consisting of some hundred men entered the town approached the county jail. They demanded the keys of the city jailer and obtaining these entered the jail and took out the Dyer boys and hung them to a bois d'arc tree about 400 yards from the jail and hung them until they were dead.

The citizens of Bonham knew very little if anything out the matter until about daylight when the bodies were found as above indicated hanging with their feet just barely above the ground.

The men who composed the lynching party were all thoroughly disguised so that all hope of identifying item was considered futile. They were quiet and very little noise was made during the entire transaction. While every citizen regrets the laws of the county were not permitted to take their course, it cannot be and is not looked on that the unfortunate victims of the mob are men who are guilty of a most foul crime and did not deserve their fate."

The Sunday Gazeteer published in Denison on June 16th recounted essentially the same story as appeared in the Clarksville edition. This article did state that the Dyers had been charged with the murder of Sheriff Ragsdale and his Deputy Joe Buchanan. The account went on to state that the bodies were cut down early in the morning and an inquest was held.

This is verified by the records of the County Commissioners. On June 8th the court ordered that E. H. Lyday, Justice of the Peace be paid $10 for holding an inquest on the bodies of Eli and Sam Dyer. Five dollars was paid to Constable John Agnew for summoning the jury on the inquest of the bodies of Eli and Sam Dyer.

The Dallas Herald also published essentially the same information. Curiously none of the regional papers bothered to print accounts of the shootout and the murders of Ragsdale and Buchanan. All papers however gave detailed accounts of the mob actions and the lynching and all used the opportunity to preach to the people of Fannin County.

Charles DeMorse, Publisher of The Standard tempered his criticism somewhat in his last paragraph by expressing somewhat his sentiments towards the court. "When the Dyer brothers were lodged in the jail at this place there was strong talk of a mob and strong talk of our officials who quenched the feeling. It seems that later occurrences roused the people to a sense of the peuerility of the courts of justice in dealing with robbers, murders, and assassins."

The coda to this entire affair came some three years after the entire series of events. The January 6, 1888 edition of The Bonham News recounted an incident related to them by Mr. W. J. Low, a long-time resident of Fannin County who lived near to the spot where Sheriff Ragsdale was killed.

The account in The News is reported here in its entirety, including the poor spelling, lack of punctuation, and expressive grammar.

"Several days ago, W. J. Low, a quiet peaceable citizen who lives out southwest of the city near the Buchanan neighborhood found between the slats of his gate the note printed below. It is not known who the writer of the note is. Mr. Low says that he does not expect to move. The writer had best not attempt to carry out the threat made in his note is the advice The News has to offer.

Mr. LO - After the 15 day March 1888 you wont be safe 50 miles of Bonham no safer than i was the night i stoped at your house and inquired the way to the dyre place you helped hunt Eli and Sam and then helped hang them and give them no chance at all we give you 60 days and you better make use of it and dont tell it to nobody if you do we will see you goner so take what you have got and git remeber the bosdare tree in Bonham and ask no quisitions for you aint_______,  sined by the order of _______   .