February 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Two: Rash Acts
Cora May Sloan
On Saturday evening, May 13, 1882, when a group of Austin printers on an excursion bound for San Antonio stopped at Kyle for refreshments they might have noticed an engaging young girl, about 16 or 17 years of age, attending to them at the refreshment stand. Those who did were somewhat astonished when they learned a few days later of her death – brought about by her own premeditated act. Her name was Cora May Sloan. Sometime during Sunday morning, and in consequence of some family matters, the girl received a slight chastisement (or perhaps only a correction) from her father, which made her very angry. Later in the morning she had an engagement with a young man in the neighborhood, to take a stroll. When the young man failed to meet his appointment the girl went to his residence to ascertain the cause of his not coming.
The young man not being at home, she asked the father if he (the son) was not going to keep his engagement with her; the father informed her that he did not know. She then asked him where his son was, and he replied that he thought he had gone out on the prairie somewhere. The girl upon hearing this immediately retraced her steps home and upon arriving there sat down and wrote a note giving her reasons for committing the rash act which caused her death. She put the note where it would be found and then took a large dose of strychnine. She was buried on May 15. From the wording of the note which she left, she must have written it in a fit of anger, as the language used was extremely harsh and bitter.
William G. Smith
On Christmas Day 1883, a tall, slender and handsome young man, age 23 years, William G. Smith, a native of Waco and well known in Austin, married at Meridian, Bosque County, a variety actress named Lizzie Mack, between 18 and 19 years old, a blonde with melting blue eyes, golden hair, seductive smiles, plump figure and blandishing manners.
Young Smith’s parents were wealthy and owned considerable property in Waco at their deaths. Will, who was “wild,” became infatuated with Lizzie, the daughter of Annie Mack, who ran a variety show in Waco, near the toll bridge where Smith was employed. They eloped and went to Meridian, and their elopement and marriage created considerable sensation in the Waco society circles at the time.
Lizzie, who appeared before the foot lights as the favorite of several variety theaters, finally came to the vaudeville show in San Antonio, where she attracted many admirers and succeeded in arousing the intense jealousy of her liege lord. He threatened to kill himself frequently, and they quarreled many times over the fact that she had ceased to care for him, but had cast the witchery of her smile over other admirers.
She finally wrote him a note announcing her intention of abandoning him, and requesting him to forget her as she had forgotten him. He then commenced to write her notes, telling her that he was going to kill himself, that she had murdered him as much as if she had taken a pistol and blown his brains out herself. He said he could not live after she had ceased to love him, and forgave her and gave her his blessing. He wanted her when he was dead to telegraph to his brother Bob in Waco, who would send after his body.
On Saturday, March 17, 1884, he purchased ten cents worth of morphine from Ragsdale, the druggist, and recorded his name in the poison book. Ragsdale had asked him if he knew the dose, he told Ragsdale he only wanted a small quantity.
Sunday he came back to Ragsdale, and as there was nothing suspicious in his actions, Ragsdale sold him 25 cents worth more. He got 8 grains of morphine from Ragsdale and 25 cents worth of cigars.
He then went to his room, where he and his wife had a quarrel and he told her he would commit suicide, poured a white powder into a glass and started to drinking, but before he could do so she struck the chalice from his lips and the glass fell to the floor and was broke into fragments.
He then cried, quarreled and went off again. On his return, he told her he had taken poison and she became scared and started off to send for a doctor. This was about five o’clock Sunday evening.
As she started he told her he was only fooling and wanted to find out if she still cared for him. His wife, however, thought it best to send for a doctor anyway, and told Mr. August Loux to go after one. Loux thought he was trying to worry here, and did not think that Smith had taken the deadly narcotic. Smith finally persuaded his wife that he had not taken the morphine, and sent her off to Market street to fit up another room which they had rented.
A Mrs. Flagg, one of the lodgers at the same house, suspected something wrong after Smith’s wife had gone, and she went to his room, when, looking into the door, she saw him sleeping with his hand to his face, but his face was very much discolored, breathing heavy and stentorious. He also groaned.
Flagg called to her husband, he went to Smith and tried to arouse him, but failed. Flagg and Loux both went for a doctor. Flagg brought the renowned Doctor George Cupples about half an hour later. Doctor Cupples said Smith was too far gone to be saved, but he would do his best, and administered strophine hypodermically, and afterwards Doctor Julius Braunagel assisted Doctor Cupples. Both worked faithfully. The antidote had a slight effect, produced partial restoration, but he died about 8 o’clock.
His family at Waco were appraised by telegraph of his rash act. A dispatch was received Monday from Bob Smith, the brother of the deceased, another from Mr. Sturgis, announcing that the former was on his way to San Antonio take charge of the remains. The brother of the deceased arrived Monday night, and took the body to Waco, passing through Austin on the 11 o’clock train. A large number of the friends of the deceased went to the station to pay respect to the remains as they passed through the city.
February 23, 2017 § Leave a comment
Ellen Leary, a young woman, known to the frequenters of the first ward as Willie Summers, committed suicide by taking morphine early in the morning of October 25, 1881. She was an inmate of a house kept by Katie Franklin, and was discovered about 6 o’clock in the morning to be under the influence of a powerful narcotic, and in spite of all the physicians who had been summoned could do, she died at half past 10 o’clock.
Justice Tegener held an inquest and the jury, after hearing all the evidence, returned a verdict of death from the effects of morphine administered by her own hand. Willie Summers was not the girl’s name and there was a bit of history connected with her downfall that was distressing. She was buried the next morning from the residence of Katie Franklin, corner of Cedar and Guadalupe streets.
About four years earlier Willie was made drunk, and at the time she asserted that she was drugged at a celebration held at Pressler’s Garden, by two young men of this city. It was then she was led astray, and flung into a life over all the horizon of which one only sees the black cloud of despair. An outcast from the world, an exile from the light of home, she for four long years lived amid the wild reveling of a career, the wretchedness of which was unspeakable, and the horrors of which at last wrung from her crushed heart the piteous wail, “I am tired of this life, I want to die.”
A few hours after this expression fell from her lips she took the fatal drug that ended her existence. The men who led her astray and blighted her young life, and left her to drift out upon the wild, turbulent sea of a dissolute life, were never be punished in this world. Under the peculiar laws of modern society, they never were. It’s the poor betrayed girl allured by glittering promises and money – these men had, and now have money – that suffers. The social evil was assuming terrific proportions all over the world, and some law had to be passed to check it, one that would strike with no uncertain touch the men who patronized and encouraged the evil.
She was discovered by her “boarders,” the misses Willie Gibson and Pearl Levy, well-known young ladies of the town, at their residence. Coroner Tegener ruled her death as due to poisoning, noting that she was but 20 years of age, and that her real name was Ellen Leary.
James W. Hall, a well-known Austin florist, “Shuffled Off The Mortal Coil” on March 11, 1884. Tired of Earth and its temptations, he sought the consequences of the Other World.
Hall was one of Austin’s best known characters. Hall. He was somewhat eccentric in his conduct but withal he was a man for whom nearly all who knew him had a kindly feeling, for he was social and generous to a fault and not many men had fewer enemies than he. He was a native of Tennessee and came to Austin when a mere lad. He was his 38th year when he died.
He was a florist by profession and one of the most skillful in the South. His reputation in this regard was as wide as the continent and a time of his demise he had orders from parties in the north to gather ten thousand Texas plants for them; 5,000 different varieties to be gathered for one man. Such was the general standing of the man who committed suicide Sunday morning in this city.
He had been drinking nearly all night and perhaps indulging in other dissipations until his mind was so completely unstrung that he had little or no control of himself. About 7 clock he had his uncle M.P. Hall, on the Avenue and the uncle began to upbraid him for being out all night, saying he ought to have been at home with his family.
“Yes, uncle,” he replied, “it is a shame for me to do as I have done and I am going to stop it.” He then asked his uncle to go to a drug store and get him some morphine. His uncle asked him why he did not get it himself. The reply was that he did not believe the druggists would let him have any.
The uncle then asked him what he wanted with the drug, and he told him he was tired of living and wanted to kill himself. The uncle told him he would not assist him to get poison for such a purpose, and tried to induce him to go home with him and get a strong cup of coffee. He then told his uncle that he did not intend to kill himself, but simply wanted a little to make him sleep.
The uncle thought it best to go with him and see that he got a small dose, so they went together to Samostz’s drug store but it was closed. They went across to the new drug store of Morris and Company, where Simpson’s shooting gallery was, and this they found closed also. The uncle tried again to persuade him to go home with him and get a cup of coffee, saying it would do him more good than the morphine. ”
No,” he replied, “I’m going to kill myself. I will find the drug somewhere, and with it in my worthless life.”
His uncle says he had heard him talk that way before, and he did not surmise he had any such intentions, notwithstanding he shook hands with him and bade him goodbye, saying as he did so it would be the last time he would see him. Where he got the drug that no one seems to know, but in some manner he procured morphine, and took a very heavy dose of the stuff.
About 8 o’clock Sunday morning Col. Bob Russell, the attorney, was walking down Congress Avenue and saw a man drop to the sidewalk near the Gold Room saloon. He came up see him and saw it was Mr. Hall. He called the police and the man was taken to his home, which is on the street car line not far from Col. Driskill’s.
Doctor Wooten was summoned, who at once detected the morphine poisoning, and applied all the antidotes known to science, but the effects of the drug had gone too far, and he died after lying in a comatose state for some time. He has been in the habit of using morphine for a considerable time, and many of his friends said he did not really intend to take enough to kill them.
His declarations to the contrary would seem to show that the poison was used with suicidal intent. He was married and had quite a family. It is said he was very kind and domestic in his own relations and really loved his wife and children. He was also an industrious man, seldom idle except when spreeing, made money easily, and had a large number of valuable contracts at the time of his death, and there was no reason seemingly for the rash act, yet he tried to get the dishwasher at the Gold Room to buy the drug early the evening before, saying he intended to kill himself with it.
His funeral was largely attended. It is one of the saddest things in all human conduct to contemplate, the taking of life with one’s own hand, particularly a young man of only 38 years in a position where the lines of life would lead him, if he would but follow them, into happiness for himself and those depending on him. But the best of men commit suicide, some intentionally to produce death, the most of them without so intending — few there are who do not hasten death by their own hand in one way or another.
February 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
January 18th 1878:
The beautiful mud
Oh, the mud, the mud, the beautiful mud,
how our feet go down with a sickening thud
into the slippery, slimy slush
that fills the streets of the city of mush.
It lies on the crossings, it covers each walk,
It forms the chief topic of gossip and talk.
It bespatters the person from ankles to nose
And dooms to disgrace all our favorite clothes.
Don’t talk about storms that shutter whole fleets.
The sea has no peril like mud in the street.
It discounts the smallpox, and makes us profane
while we flounder in puddles and struggle in vain.
I could live in a land where rattlesnakes creep,
Could smile amid perils far out on the Deep.
Could be happy where troubles rush in like a flood,
anywhere, anywhere out of the mud.
January 3, 2017 § Leave a comment
In honor of the cold front coming tonight, and all the others to come, one of my favorite O. Henry stories. Keep warm.
In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!
So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables and Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs and a chafing dish or two from Sixth Avenue, and became a “colony.”
At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. “Johnsy” was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had met at the table d’hôte of an Eighth Street “Delmonico’s,” and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown “places.”
Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the blank side of the next brick house.
One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray eyebrow.
“She has one chance in – let us say, ten,” he said, as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. ” And that chance is for her to want to live. This way people have of lining-u on the side of the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopoeia look silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that she’s not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?”
“She – she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day.” said Sue.
“Paint? – bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking twice – a man for instance?”
“A man?” said Sue, with a jew’s-harp twang in her voice. “Is a man worth – but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind.”
“Well, it is the weakness, then,” said the doctor. “I will do all that science, so far as it may filter through my efforts, can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent from the curative power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten.”
After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a Japanese napkin to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy’s room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.
Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep.
She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.
As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle of the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.
Johnsy’s eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting – counting backward.
“Twelve,” she said, and little later “eleven”; and then “ten,” and “nine”; and then “eight” and “seven”, almost together.
Sue look solicitously out of the window. What was there to count? There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.
“What is it, dear?” asked Sue.
“Six,” said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. “They’re falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But now it’s easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now.”
“Five what, dear? Tell your Sudie.”
“Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I’ve known that for three days. Didn’t the doctor tell you?”
“Oh, I never heard of such nonsense,” complained Sue, with magnificent scorn. “What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine so, you naughty girl. Don’t be a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for getting well real soon were – let’s see exactly what he said – he said the chances were ten to one! Why, that’s almost as good a chance as we have in New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Sudie go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self.”
“You needn’t get any more wine,” said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window. “There goes another. No, I don’t want any broth. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I’ll go, too.”
“Johnsy, dear,” said Sue, bending over her, “will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in by to-morrow. I need the light, or I would draw the shade down.”
“Couldn’t you draw in the other room?” asked Johnsy, coldly.
“I’d rather be here by you,” said Sue. “Beside, I don’t want you to keep looking at those silly ivy leaves.”
“Tell me as soon as you have finished,” said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as fallen statue, “because I want to see the last one fall. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves.”
“Try to sleep,” said Sue. “I must call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit miner. I’ll not be gone a minute. Don’t try to move ’til I come back.”
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was past sixty and had a Michael Angelo’s Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along with the body of an imp. Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress’s robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it. For several years he had painted nothing except now and then a daub in the line of commerce or advertising. He earned a little by serving as a model to those young artists in the colony who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.
Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly lighted den below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the first line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy’s fancy, and how she feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float away, when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.
Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.
“Vass!” he cried. “Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. No, I will not bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der brain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy.”
“She is very ill and weak,” said Sue, “and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you needn’t. But I think you are a horrid old – old flibbertigibbet.”
“You are just like a woman!” yelled Behrman. “Who said I will not bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dot I am ready to bose. Gott! dis is not any blace in which one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes.”
Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to the window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room. In there they peered out the window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit miner on an upturned kettle for a rock.
When Sue awoke from an hour’s sleep the next morning she found Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.
“Pull it up; I want to see,” she ordered, in a whisper.
Wearily Sue obeyed.
But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had endured through the livelong night, there yet stood out against the brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. Still dark green near its stem, with its serrated edges tinted with the yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from the branch some twenty feet above the ground.
“It is the last one,” said Johnsy. “I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall die at the same time.”
“Dear, dear!” said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, “think of me, if you won’t think of yourself. What would I do?”
But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.
The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves.
When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be raised.
The ivy leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was stirring her chicken broth over the gas stove.
“I’ve been a bad girl, Sudie,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring a me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and – no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook.”
And hour later she said:
“Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples.”
The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into the hallway as he left.
“Even chances,” said the doctor, taking Sue’s thin, shaking hand in his. “With good nursing you’ll win.” And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is – some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital to-day to be made more comfortable.”
The next day the doctor said to Sue: “She’s out of danger. You won. Nutrition and care now – that’s all.”
And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly knitting a very blue and very useless woollen shoulder scarf, and put one arm around her, pillows and all.
“I have something to tell you, white mouse,” she said. “Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia to-day in the hospital. He was ill only two days. The janitor found him the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn’t imagine where he had been on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and – look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn’t you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it’s Behrman’s masterpiece – he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell.”
December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
I could write a book about Slippery Jeff Cain, the greatest con artist in Austin history. But if I did, and it was published, would wily Jeff ‘s story interest anyone enough to buy it?
Here’s a biography of him that appeared in the Statesman, that gives just a little taste of this sport’s life. Let me know what you think, positively or negatively, please.
February 23, 1886
He Shakes His Shackles And Slips The Officers.
That incorrigible, nimble witted and alas nimble footed Jeff Cain is no longer in the tolls, having adroitly slipped his shackles, and to the sore disgust of the officer in his charge he was, took leg bail.
Who is Jeff Cain of whom we read so much about? He is a young man of some 18 or 20 summers, decidedly good looking, quick, active, intelligent and prone to fine dress, and a fervent inclination not to do honest labor. This latter, amid all of the vicissitudes of Jeff’s life, and they have been many, he religiously adheres to, come weal, come woe.
He’s a sporting man, is Jeff. He’s a fakir, when times are hard and a “greeny” falls into his clutches, and he has given the officers of this city and county more trouble than any ten men in it, all put together.
Jeff is always in some difficulty or another, and when not in jail is either in the station house or in a high old way which surely leads in that direction and which will inevitably land him square and flat in the penitentiary. There are several indictments pending against him now, and he is under bond to appear at the March term of the district court. He was, and is, in debt to this city to the amount of several fines and the city took charge of and put him in the lock up.
Jeff didn’t like it. He suddenly became contrite and, simulating full and complete repentance, he pleaded to be permitted to work on the streets with the gang. This request was granted, but his well-known cunning and his “tricks that are vain” moved the officers to heavily shackle and ball and chain him.
This was done, but yesterday, true to his slippery nature, Jeff by some means rid himself of his irons, and before the officer having charge of the gang was aware of that, he made good his escape, and up to a late hour last night he had not been recaptured. Verily, Jack is a veritable Jack Sheppard when it comes to escaping from prison and giving the officers the slip.
The following unique letter was received yesterday by Officer Brown from Jeff Cain, who slipped his shackles a few days ago, and escaped from the city chain gang:
Manor, Texas, February 23rd, 1886.
Mr. Henry Brown: Dear sir.
Would you please be kind enough to send those things of mine to me, and oblige, Jeff Cain. One album, one tooth brush, one shoe buttoner, and that saw of mine. Very respectfully. Jeff Cain. You must not be mad with me this time because I never let no one else get away with me. Give Marshal Lucy my regards, and tell him I will be in again when the district court meets. Ask him if you will let me go, if I stay out of town after court.
As ever. Jeff Cain.
December 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
“Again the Statesman is called upon to chronicle another killing in this community, and the dangerous wounding of another, the circumstances of which are about as follows:”
Quite a large audience was present at the Capital Theater Christmas night, and a portion of that audience was anything but orderly. Finally some firecrackers were thrown popping to the floor, when Mark Wilson, one of the proprietors of theater and saloon, stepped into the crowd and accused Jim Burditt of throwing the fire crackers and called policeman Allen, who was present, to arrest Burditt and take him out of the room. Hot words ensued and serious trouble seemed imminent. Just as Alan was in the act of arresting Burditt, Ben Thompson came up and said that he would stand good for Burditt. Some lampblack was then thrown in Wilson’s face, and someone cut him with knife, and gave him a clean, deep wound on the left side of his neck. Wilson then started for the bar in one corner at the front of the room and picked up a shot gun and wheeled and fired, but policeman Allen hit the gun, and the shot grazed Thompson’s clothes, entering the wall. Thompson fired several pistol shots at Wilson, one taking effect in his breast, another in the bowels and a third in his arm, and Wilson expired instantly. Charles Matthews, a bar tender, then commenced firing from behind a counter, when Thompson fired upon him, a ball entering one corner of his mouth and ranging down his neck. As a scene of perfect uproar, confusion and screams ensued, the room was filled with smoke and the floor was covered with blood and lampblack, and while one man laid dead and another perhaps mortally wounded, the audience was making a hasty exit out the front and rear of the room. Some burst through the front door and others rushed upon the stage at the other end of the building and went bounding through the scenery.
Wilson’s vaudeville theater, opened six weeks earlier, was robbing business from Thompson, who controlled the gambling interests in town. Seems many of Austin’s men preferred seeing their queens on stage instead of on the faces of playing cards.
The feeling in this city on December 27 regarding the serious difficulty at the Capitol Theater, Christmas night, was anything but composed and appeased. The friends of the late Mark Wilson, who had been the sole support for a mother and several sisters, openly and severely censured policeman Allen for interfering to prevent Wilson from shooting Thompson, and then, after he had emptied his weapon, for allowing Thompson, unmolested, to use his weapon against Wilson, and then again, for not interfering to prevent the exchanging of shots between Matthews and Thompson, after Wilson had been killed. They even say that Allen, by his conduct, is somewhat responsible for Wilson’s death, and that he either favored or feared Thompson. Quite a number of parties were found yesterday who witnessed the difficulty that had not been summoned before the coroners’ jury on Tuesday, and a warrant, we heard, had been issued for the arrest of Burditt. It was also said that other arrests would be made, and it is probable the examination will be thorough and occupy two or three days. It is a sad thing, here in the capital of a great state, for law abiding citizens so often to be startled and shocked with scenes of blood, but such a deeds can here, as elsewhere, be stopped by the law and the courts if the people will only make up their minds to do it. We repeat, let us have no organization to stop violence by violence, but let every man exert his influence, in favor of moderation, law and order.
That same night, the following gentlemen were elected officers of Hope Hook and Ladder Company No. 2 (to which Ben Thompson belonged) for the ensuing year: President, F.L. Britton; Treasurer, H. Schmidt; Foreman, John Chenneville; First Assistant H.D. Burland. After the election the company adjourned to the restaurant of Mr. H.D. Burland, where a magnificent lunch awaited them, to which due justice was done. The boys remained and partook of the good things until about midnight, and went on their way rejoicing, singing their fire songs “Ding Dong Goes the Bell” and “Rally around your little white truck.” The Statesman was not forgotten, and returned thanks for the treat sent up by the boys. Ben was conspicuous by his absence, holed up at Sheriff Dennis Corwin’s residence, safe from the lynching crowd.
Merry Christmas from the Old Curmudgeon and may your day be better than Mark Wilson’s and mine.
December 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
I am in a festive mood this Christmas Eve, so please enjoy with me this beloved, classic Austin Christmas Eve tale, as first told by the Austin Daily Statesman on Christmas morning.
December 25, 1885
BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!
Last Night’s Horrible Butchery.
The Demons Have Transferred Their Lust for Blood to White People.
Between 11 and 12 o’clock last night, while a Statesman reporter was engaged in conversation with City Marshal Lucy, at Martin’s shoe store corner, Private Watchman Wilkie came up very hurriedly and speaking to Captain Lucy said:
“A woman has been chopped to pieces down on East Water street. Go down there.”
Instantly, Marshal Lucy and the reporter took the first carriage at hand and were driven quickly to East Water street, where the foul and bloody assault had been committed. The victim of this murderous, diabolical, hellish attack, is a white lady, the wife of Mr. M.H. Hancock, an elderly man and a mechanic.
When the reporter entered the premises, he found doctors Burt and Graves dressing the ghastly wounds in the head of the unfortunate victim. The skull was fractured in two places, and blood was coming from both ears. Her groans of agony were piercing, and with what seemed to be her expiring breath, cupfuls of blood were emitted from her mouth.
The reporter questioned Mr. Hancock, and from him but a distracted, disconnected narration could be obtained. He said that his daughter had gone out to a Christmas eve party, somewhere in the neighborhood, and as they were not expected to be out late the doors were left unlocked.
Something woke him up, when he suddenly realized the fact that his house had been robbed. Feeling for his clothes, he discovered that his pants were gone. Getting up, he went to his wife’s room, in the east end of his humble cottage, which was lighted by the full glare of the moon; when he was almost paralyzed by the sight of clots of blood on the bed, and his wife no where to be seen. The room presented every appearance of a robbery having been committed. He went out at a back door and going to the rear of his premises, he saw his wife, lying prone upon the ground, weltering in a pool of blood.
Picking her up, he started back to the house, all the time calling his neighbor, Mr. Pereinger, for help.
Obeying the distressing summons, Mr. Pereinger hastily dressed himself and crossing his own yard into that of Mr. Hancock, he saw the old man lying across a wooden walk, with his bleeding and mangled wife in his arms. Mr. Pereinger assisted Mr. Hancock to carry the butchered wife and mother into the parlor, or sitting room, and in a few minutes afterwards, Dr. Burt arrived and was speedily followed by Dr. Graves.
Owing to the excited state of mind in which marshal Lucy and the reporter found the people who had assembled at Mr. Hancock’s premises, it was almost next to impossible to collect anything like detailed data.
With a coolness and precision that denote the courageous officer, Marshal Lucy gave his orders, and he himself at once set about trailing the murderous villains who had perpetrated the hellish deed. The city’s blood hounds were brought to the house and given a start in the direction in which Hancock said he saw two men jump the fence.
The dogs worked all right, for a short while, but not at all satisfactory to the officer (Uncle Dick) who handled them, when they were brought back and given another start, and when the reporter left the premises, they were apparently working well, taking a trail which led in a westerly direction, or up the river.
The weapon used was an old axe, which was taken by officer Johnson, and is now at the police station.
While still gathering notes, absolutely kneeling by the side of the evidently dying lady, a shrill voice from the street cried to the reporter that another murder had been committed in the second ward, on the premises of Mr. James Phillips. Quickly as possible, the reporter went there.
Terrible as was the murder of Mrs. Hancock, a still more appalling horror awaited the police officers. Mr. James Phillips, architect and builder, well known in this city, who resides at No. 312 W. Hickory street, near the heart of the city. The residence is a one-story house, with an L extending to the south and towards Hickory street. Between the L and the main building, which contains several rooms. There is a kind of platform or covered veranda connecting the two wings. A small room in the L was occupied by Mr. Phillips’ son, James Phillips, Jr., and his wife, Mrs. Eula Phillips. Last night Mr. Phillips and his wife and little child retired to bed as usual. Sometime past midnight the household was awakened and their attention was attracted by Mr. Phillips, Jr., in calling for someone. The door of the room, which opened out onto the covered veranda, was found open.
The pillows and bed clothes presented a horrid spectacle, being literally saturated with blood and the sheets reddened with gore. Phillips lay on his right side, with a deep wound just above the ear made with an ax which lay beside the bed. Mrs. Phillips was not there, but her child remained all besmeared with blood, but unharmed. Search was immediately initiated for the missing woman. A trail of blood, still fresh on the floor of the outside verandah, was followed out into the yard, and in the northern part of the enclosure, a few feet from the fence, and at the door of the water closet, Mrs. Phillips was found dead.
The body was entirely nude, and a piece of timber was laid across the bosoms and arms, and evidently used for the most hellish and damnable purpose. The hands were outstretched and a great pool of blood, still warm and scarcely coagulated, stood in a little trench, into which the life current had flowed down from the unfortunate victim.
The body had been dragged from the room, but whether Mrs. Phillips was killed in the room, or, as the elder Mr. Phillips thinks, she was awakened by the assault on her husband and attempted to escape, cannot be determined. It is believed, however, the assassins stifled her voice, and that she was still alive when dragged into the yard where she was outraged and then the last and fatal blow delivered.
The position of the body indicated that the devilish act was perpetrated with the assistance of a second party, as both hands were held down by pieces of wood, in which position the fiends left their victim and in which she must have died.
The elder Phillips stated that while this most horrible crime was being committed everything was as silent as usual. No cutury seems to have been heard, so skillfully did the inhuman butcher or butchers carry out a crime worthy of the imps of hell.
Phillips, the wounded man, was seen a short time after this awful and infernal crime. A physician was present and had given him a soothing potion, but stated he had not investigated the wound and could not say whether the skull was fractured or not. When asked if he knew who struck him, Mr. Phillips deeply groaned, and said he did not. It is believed his wound is serious, if not fatal. The wound of his dead wife was also to the head, and evidently with the same axe with which he had been struck. At the late hour at which this is written it is impossible to give the full details of this appalling assassination.
P.S., you can visit Susan Hancock’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery. It’s easy to find, somewhere in the middle, south side. Eula is buried in the family plot in the oldest section of the cemetery, the location of which has been lost with time. The other 1885 victims rest in unmarked graves.
So, may all you sleep in heavenly peace. And maybe tomorrow I will tell the tale of Austin’s greatest Christmas Night murder of all. Maybe.
December 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the thirteenth day of Christmas (1894): “forty sports a’fighting, twelve worthy jurors, eleven half seas over, mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
(December 25, 1894)
The Austin Police Arrest About 40 Sports for Fighting Last Night.
“With the first approach of darkness last night quite a large number of the youths of the city, the old sports, and the strangers from the forks of the creek began swallowing red water while they twisted their thumbs over their fingers.
“As the hours drifted leisurely by midst the din of a Christmas Eve celebration the individuals in question imbibed more freely, their thumbs were whirled at a more rapid pace and the result was that within a few hours there was no man on earth big enough to lick them. Inasmuch as they were all of the same opinion it was but natural that the matter should be put to a test and the result was fights without number.
“An enumeration of these Corbett [“Gentleman” Jim Corbett, the boxer -ed.] engagements would neither instruct nor entertain the readers of the Statesman, but as a matter of general information it is well to know that up to 1 o’clock this morning the police had swooped in about 40 would-be pugilists, who will now have to answer to the recorder tomorrow morning for their overindulgence.
“Some of these names are well known in Austin, while others represent the worthy sons of toil who fell by the wayside and succeeded in getting into jail. The long and the short of the matter was that the major portion of Austin’s sporting and would-be sporting element was on an enormous jag last night and the police force had their hands full arresting them. They succeeded in scooping in some 40 of these fighters in addition to quite a bunch of gamblers that they captured on East Sixth street about midnight last night while enjoying the pleasure of a game.”
Merry Christmas, Guy Town style, y’all.
December 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the twelfth day of Christmas (1883): “twelve worthy jurors, eleven half seas over, mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
The case in the district court against Francis Lawrie, Tom Conley, and George Wallace, charged with outraging little Joe Gibson ended this day. Lawrie and Conley were convicted and sentenced to seven years in the penitentiary.
“Served them right. A man low enough to be guilty of such a crime is not fit to be at large in respectable society,” the Statesman scolded.
Wallace had made a statement admitting his guilt, and entered a conditional plea of guilty; if the court of appeals held good the indictment, Wallace would plead guilty.
“This admission of Wallace is of more value than would have been his conviction, establishing, as it does, the truthfulness of the unfortunate boy, who, by the way, has so demeaned himself as to receive the confidence and regard of those who have been brought in contact with him. Our information is said he has shown himself to be, while poor and among strangers, a manly, honest little fellow,” the Statesman said in relative praise of both Wallace and the poor boy.
In mid-October, Wallace, Conners, and Laury committed an “unnatural crime” upon little Joe They caught and thrust him into an empty freight car in Guy Town’s railroad yard, and then all of them, in turn committed, the indecent crime. When they released Joe, he sought the police, and finding Officer Howe, told him his story, and that officer, in company with other policemen, found the men and took them into custody.
“If the story of the boy is true, they ought to be most severely dealt with,” the Statesman pronounced at the time, in effect, placing the burden of proof on little Joe, something unthinkable these days.
And with this story of outrage and indecency, the Twelve Days of Guy Town Christmas end.
But I might just make it a baker’s dozen. Stay tuned tomorrow.
December 22, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the eleventh day of Christmas (1888): “eleven half seas over, mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”
Standing under the glare of a great arc light just before midnight in that portion of the city traversed by West Fourth street, an officer said to a reporter:
“That’s a hard place over there.”
“There, where you see that light,” and he pointed to a two-story brick, on the ground floor of which is a saloon. “That is about the hardest place in this city, and it requires constant watching. You had better go over there and take a look at the ranch.”
It was a dreary night with a drizzle and heavy mist filling the atmosphere, while the great arc light cast a baleful glare over the entire neighborhood. Very few people were out even in that quarter of the city where humanity, ever restless, tirelessly tramps through the brooding darkness or in maddened revelry battle against it in dive or brothel. No sleep for weary eyes; no comforting rest for weary hearts in that quarter of town when the shades of night gather.
The building to which the reporter had been directed is a two-story brick, known in the lingo of the neighborhood as the “Devil’s Eyebrow.” The name is appropriate, for it arches over and shadows eyes that see nothing but iniquity in all its horrid deformity. In front of the building on the sidewalk a group of men and women engaged in conversation in which oaths and slang largely predominated. They gave way as the reporter neared the door, and an ominous hush fell over the crowd. They were sizing up the newcomer to see if there was a chance to rope him in for the drinks.
On the inside the atmosphere was reeking with the fumes of stale beer, whisky, tobacco smoke and the odor from damp and dirty clothing. There was a motley crowd of whites and blacks, men and women, in the bar room, while from a rear apartment there were sounds of many voices.
Thither the reporter wended his way, and looking in he saw a hardened crew of blear eyed men and assertive negro and white women of the lowest and most abandoned type. Nearly all were half seas over, and there was a suspicious odor of the fumes of opium permeating the room. They paid no attention to the reporter. In that room the visitor must make the advances, and woe be unto him if he advances too far.
The inmates of the room were scattered here and there, some standing, some sitting, and some leaning against the wall. Some were drinking beer and all had been. The reporter stood by the door and listened to the conversation a few moments. It was horrible. Incomparable, overwhelmingly horrible. Not a word, not a whisper, not a move that betokened even a faint trace of the higher emotions and feelings that move upon the human heart.
It was hell.
The reporter, tired of the scene, passed out of the building and on the sidewalk met two girls coming from a saloon hard by.
“What shall we do?” said one.
“I don’t know,” said the other, and she ripped out an oath or two.
“We can’t let her starve. I won’t let her starve. I’m going to take her to my room.”
They were talking about a waif from a far away city who had just reached town penniless and sick. In all this city there was no place for such. No helping hand save that outstretched by her sisters in iniquity. A sad comment on the civilizations of the day.
“Will it always be so?” mused the reporter as he thought of this waif and hundreds and thousands like her, who have not where to lay their heads when heart-weary and yearning for a better and a holier life.