Erath County Court Records

Transcribed from material submitted by Randy Farrar

Report of the Adjutant General

Of the State of Texas,

For The Year 1872.

Frank L. Britton, Adjutant General and Chief of State Police, Quartermaster and Commissary General.


James P. Newcomb and Company.



Texas State Library

Austin, Texas


Report Of Condition Of Affairs In Erath And Comanche Counties.


December 4, 1872.                     

To His Excellency E. J. Davis,

            Governor State of Texas,

                                   Austin, Texas:

GOVERNOR: I have the honor to State, that in obedience to your instructions of twenty-first ult., I proceeded at once to Erath and Comanche counties, and upon investigation of the late lawlessness in those counties, have to make the following report:

Several days previous to the twentieth of October, one Dr. J. D. Windham from Brown county, arrested and brought to Comanche, Comanche county, a man by the name of T. D. Reynolds, who he turned over to the sheriff of Comanche county, stating that he (Reynolds) was charged with the offense of murder, and that he (Windham) desired to leave him in the hands of the sheriff until the necessary papers could be procured from Brown county to properly commit him.  Several days afterwards, Windham returned from Brown county exhibiting papers authorizing him as deputy sheriff of Brown county to take Reynolds (Reynolds was at this time very sick; the physician stated he could not live twenty-four hours longer) to the county jail of Erath county for safe keeping -- there being no jail in Comanche county.  In the meantime, two men, --- Mason, and --- Roberts, had been arrested by citizens of Comanche county upon their confession of horse-theft -- taken to Comanche, and chained together by the leg; no legal proceeding was had against either of the latter two.  On the night of the twentieth of October, Dr. J. D. Windham, of Brown county, ----- White and ----- Chestnut of Erath county, Wm. Davenport, Tom Staskee, of Comanche, and several others -- names unknown -- took the three prisoners, about midnight, and started towards Stephensville.

The prisoners were conveyed in a wagon driven by Dr. Windham, the balance of the party accompanying on horseback.  Just before  leaving the town of Comanche, Dr. Windham purchased thirty-six feet of rope.  A number of the party are reported to have been under the influence of liquor at the time of starting.  Next morning the three prisoners were found hung by the neck, with the rope Windham had purchased at Comanche, to the limb of a tree, about six miles from Comanche on the Stephensville road.  The limb being too weak to sustain the weight of the three men, a forked stick was placed under the end farthest from the tree to hold it up.

The parties who left Comanche with the prisoners, reported that a mob had surprised them from the bushes and taken the prisoners from them.

An inquest was held sometime next day, and decided that prisoners came to their death at hand of parties unknown.  After which, the bodies of the murdered men were so poorly interred, that the wolves dug them up and fed on them.

In the county of Erath, on or about the 25th of October, John D. St. Clair, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Erath county, caused to be arrested, on charge of horse-theft, two men named J. B. McDow, and James M. Latham.  Justice St. Clair states that, on account of sickness of his wife, he removed his court some five miles west from his usual place of holding, to a vacant house in what is known as the Risby settlement, near the line of Comanche county.

Here prisoners were given in charge of special bailiff J. W. Turnbough, who placed a guard of fifteen or twenty men over them.  The names of guard are, T. C. Capall, P. A. Burnett, Henry Castor, William Chance, Geo. Martin, James Hurley, Ben Robinson, and others whose names I did not obtain.  Bailiffs were dispatched after witnesses, and St. Clair retired to a house some mile and a half distant.

In the meantime, a mob under the lead of Mose Hurley had seized Fayette Latham, Noble Hardin and James Coats, who were also placed under the same guard.  During the evening, it was freely talked among the crowd, that they were going to have "neckbreaking" that night, and John R. Walker was heard to say, that he would not be surprised if a "neckbreaking" took place, and went to release J. B. McDow.  John D. St. Clair, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Mose Hurley, who pretended to act as deputy sheriff, and others, took one of the prisoners down in the bed of a creek close by, and offered to "let him live" if he would confess.  He stated that he had done nothing wrong, and had no confession to make; whereupon, he was returned to the house and placed under guard as before.  That night, the prisoners were taken out of the house, tied and put on horses by a mob, and started towards Comanche county.  Jas. M. Latham, in attempting to escape from the mob, was shot and killed.  James Coats escaped by jumping from his horse and scrambling off in the dark.  J. B. McDow, Noble Hardin and Fayette Latham were taken across the county line into Comanche county and hung to a limb of a tree.  The mob hung the latter of these three (Fayette Latham) almost to suffocation several times in their endeavor to extort from him a confession to some crime they charged him with, but each time he was let down and restored sufficiently, to speak, he protested that he was guilty of no crime and had nothing to confess.  He was finally hauled up to the limb, when the mob mounted their horses and left the three men hanging, as they supposed, dead.  But as they pulled Latham up the last time, he caught the rope in his teeth, it being dark, and thus prevented strangulation until the mob had left.  He then took out his knife, cut himself down and cut down his brother-in-law, McDow, whose neck was found broken, though his pulse was still strong. 

I give you the names of parties connected with this horrible affair, as far as I could learn, and the county in which they live, viz:

1.  Moses H. Hurley, Erath county.

2.  Robert Stevens, Comanche county.

3.  William Stevens, Sr., Erath county.

4.  Wesley Turnbow, Erath county.

5.  James Hurley, Erath county.

6.  Leander Powers, Erath county.

7.  John Gilbreth, Erath county.

8.  Elija Martin, Erath county.

9.  J. N. Martin, Erath county.

10.  Dock Spratling, Erath county.

11.  W. Gilbreth, Erath county.

12.  Joseph Gilbreth, Erath county.

13.  Allen Burnett, Erath county.

14.  Keen Barbee, Erath county.

15.  William Stevens, Jr., Erath county.

16.  Benjamin Robinson, Hopkins county.

17.  Joseph Turnbow, Erath county.

18.  Robert Blair, Erath county.

19.  ______ Calaway, Erath county.

20.  ______ Renfro, Erath county.

21. ______ Renfro, Erath county.

22.  Henry Carter, Erath county.

23.  _____ Barbee, Erath county.

24.  _____ Barbee, Erath county.

25.  H. Stearnes, Erath county.

26.  S. Rose, Erath county.

27.  Henry Straysner, Erath county.

28.  James Stevens, Erath county.

29.  _____ White, Erath county.

30.  _____ Capell, Erath county.

31.  William Walker, Erath county.

32.  John R. Walker, Erath county.

33.  J. D. St. Clair, Erath county.

34.  Dr. Taylor, Erath county.

35.  J. W. White, Erath county.

36.  _____ Chestnut, Erath county.

37.  A. F. Turnbow, Erath county.

Immediately on my arrival at Comanche, I had hte necessary affidavits made before P. W. Gravis, Justice of the Peace, Precinct No. 1.  I ordered the Lieutenant Wright, commanding Minute Men (Company D.) with his company, on duty, to assist my police in the arrest of parties charged with these crimes.  I succeeded in arresting a number, citizens of both counties, and turned them over to the sheriff of Comanche county for safe keeping, while their investigation was going on before Esquire Grains, who promised that unless they could show clearly that they were not connected with the hanging, he would commit them till the next term of the District Court without bail.

I caused the citizens of each of these counties to be called together by the Sheriff, and addressed them briefly, and told them the hanging of these parties was nothing but murder, and should be treated as such; and that if the regular civil authorities did not punish the parties engaged they would have to be taken before the United States Court, either at Tyler or Austin, where they would be punished.

I further told them it would be the Governor's duty -- and he would do it, if this kind of lawlessness continued -- to put these counties under martial law, and have them pay the expense.  In Erath county a mass meeting was held, in which the citizens pledged themselves to assist the officers of the county and State in bringing to justice all persons who violated the law.  In Comanche county the meeting adjourned without action to meet again on the following Monday, after which they promised to forward copy of proceedings to this office.

I left Capt Hill in Comanche, with a force of police to assist the civil officers of the counties in executing the laws, with instructions, if necessary, to call out the Minute Men in case of any disturbance. 

I talked to many of the good citizens of both Erath and Comanche counties; also to the district judge of that district, who unanimously gave it as their opinion that a jury could not be empanneled under the present jury system of this State, in either of these counties, that would convict the members of these mobs, no matter how strong the evidence; and while, without doubt, there is a great number of citizens of Comanche and Erath counties who sympathize with the mob, I must do them the justice to state that there is a considerable portion of them who regret the shameful deeds, and would if not intimidated by these outlaws, do their duty as citizens and assist the officers of the county in bringing the guilty parties to justice; but under the present reign of terror, no citizen, however much he may oppose this mob violence, will voluntarily come forward and give evidence against the mob, for fear it will be his time next (as they term it) to "feed the wolves."

To get witnesses to testify, it was necessary to use more vigilance in their capture and retention than was required for the worst of the mob, and I am satisfied that it is only a farce to attempt, under the present state of affairs in that section, in cases of this kind, a vindication of the laws by the courts of that district.

Before closing this report I desire to recommend to your Excellency the feasibility of abolishing the carrying of six-shooters and other small arms in Erath county.

This county has not been troubled by Indians for years, and besides, it is an acknowledged fact by all frontiersmen that the six-shooter is worthless as a weapon to fight Indians.  it is only used by desperadoes in assassinating their fellow beings.

Yours, very respectfully,

(Signed,)             F. L. BRITTON

Adjutant General and Chief of State Police.

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