A Swingin’ Christmas Party: Texas Style

December 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s something about the Christmas season that brings out the best – and worst – in mankind. Yesterday we celebrated Christmas Eve by recounting the great Austin bloodbath of 1885.

Today we observe the 1883 Christmas Eve “necktie party,” in nearby McDade, that refused to end. (Disclaimer: This is not the whole, true story, just what appeared in the newspapers of the time. Get the whole story by reading the “Wild West” Chapter of Central Texas.)



Three Men Swung Up and a Couple Shot Dead.


Governor Ireland Hurrying Troops to the Scene and More Bloodshed Is Anticipated.

Special Telegram to the Post.

McDade, Tex., December 25 – Last night about 7:30 o’clock, Henry Pfeiffer, Wright McLemore and Thad McLemore were taken out of the saloon here by masked men and carried about a mile in the brush and hanged to a tree. Thad McLemore had been arrested late in the evening on a charge of burglary made by S.G. Walker, of McDade. He was under arrest at the time the masked men took him, while the other two parties happened to be present. Pfeiffer was charged with horse theft in this county. The party that did the hanging was about forty or fifty men, well armed. To-day a party of six men, friends and relatives of the men hanged, came in town and raised trouble with Tom Bishop and George Milton.

A Fight With Guns and Pistols

took place, in which Jack Bailey and Az Bailey were killed, and Hayward Bailey badly wounded, but who escaped. Willie Griffin, a very estimable young man of our town, was shot through the head and mortally wounded by Hayward Bailey, while assisting Milton and Bishop in defending themselves. The five dead bodies of the McLemores, Baileys and Pfeiffer are lying in the market-house, none of their friends having come for them, and it is thought the town will have serious trouble to-night when they do come. It will be several days before the jury of inquest will get through. No further particulars at this time.


The Brenham Grays

Special Telegram to the Post.

Brenham, Tex., December 25 – There is considerable excitement here to-night over a telegram from Governor Ireland, ordering the Brenham Grays to report to McDade, in full uniform and equipment, with ammunition, at once. They will leave here in full force on the 11 o’clock evening train. It is reported here by the Giddings operator that three men were hung there last evening by Judge Lynch, and that friends of the victims came to revenge their hanging, and two more were killed dead and one mortally wounded.

Off for the Scene.

Special Telegram to the Post.

Hempstead, Tex., December 25 – The Johnston Guards, commanded by Captain B. E. Bedell, under Colonel A. T. Bedell, of the First Regiment Texas Volunteer Guards, left on the 9 o’clock train for McDade, under order from Governor Ireland, Commander. The Captain and fifteen men go.

DECEMBER 27, 1883



The Beatty Brothers Seek A Difficulty And Find It — A Furious Fusillade of One Hundred Shots.

Special Telegram to the Post.

McDade, Tex., December 26 – The examining trial of George Milton and Thomas Bishop, for the killing of Az Beatty and Jack Beatty on yesterday, is now progressing, the state being represented by the County Attorney and the defendants by Major Sayers.


Az Beatty, Jack Beatty, Charlie Goodman, Burt Hasley and Robert Stevens came into McDade yesterday morning. Az and Jack Beatty went to Milton’s store. Milton being engaged at his desk writing, and Bishop sitting in a chair on the gallery. Milton’s desk is at the rear end of the store. Jack Beatty went up to Milton and began a conversation in reference to what had been rumored as to his brother’s connection with the murder of Deputy Sheriff Heffington three weeks ago, in McDade. It appears that Az Beatty, who was not on good terms with Bishop, made the attack on him and succeeded in forcing Bishop off the gallery, Bishop falling upon the ground, and Beatty on top, both grasping a pistol.


Beatty on top and Bishop under, the pistol was fired and Az Beatty fell back dead. In the meantime Jack Beatty, hearing the report of the pistol, rushed to the front door with knife in hand, Milton following him. Just then Hayward Beatty ran up and fired upon Bishop, the latter returning the fire with effect. Just at this moment, William Griffin, a kinsman of Bishop, came running up to the assistance of Bishop, when he (Griffin) was dangerously wounded in the head and will probably die to-night. When Milton reached the front he began firing, and


It is said that it will be proved that Goodman Hasley and Stevens were shooting at Milton and Bishop from a distance. In all there were from sixty to one hundred shots fired. When the firing ceased it was found that Az Beatty and Jack Beatty were dead, Griffin mortally wounded, Hayward Beatty badly wounded, Stevens and Goodman slightly wounded. Hasley escaped but is supposed to be also wounded. The escape of Bishop from being killed may be considered almost


The Beattys are brothers and Hasley and Stevens are connected with them by marriage. Public sympathy seems to be altogether with Bishop and Milton. Detachments from the Johnston Guards, Hempstead, and Brenham Grays, Brenham, came up this morning and returned the same morning as their services were not needed. County Attorney Maynard and Sheriff Jenkins are here.

DECEMBER 29, 1883

The McDade Rioters

McDade, Tex., December 28 – George Milton and Tom Bishop were placed under a bond of $1500 for the killing of the Beattys. Willie Griffin died this morning at 4 o’clock. Hayward Beatty, Robert Stevens and Charlie Goodman were arrested by Sheriff Jenkins and are in jail at Bastrop. The two former are wounded. The jury of inquest found that Willie Griffin came to his death by a pistol shot fired by Hayward Beatty.

The dam to our tank was cut to-day by our citizens to search for the dead body of a man supposed to be concealed there. The search has not been completed yet. The cause for this was that about six weeks ago a horse bridled and saddled were left hitched to a tree here and no one has ever come to claim him. On that night gambling was known to be going on here, and late the same night pistol shots were heard in town and it was thought the owner of the horse might be in the tank.

Fifty years later, dispute over the hangings and gun battle still simmered, and Jeptha Billingsley felt compelled to tell his version of the tragedy in an article titled “McDade Lynchings Fifty Years Ago Remembered,” published in the Elgin Courier, May 21, 1936.

There were a good many folks in town that Christmas Eve, doing their last minute trading, drinking, etc. As I was going home that night, a little past sundown, two men invited me to go with them to the Christmas Tree at Oak Hill [a nearby community located where Camp Swift is now], but I declined, saying I would have my Christmas at home. The men evidently didn’t get off as early as they planned because one of these men was among those hanged that night. Next day when I got to town I was told that a “Committee” of some 80 men or more had gone to Oscar Nash’s Saloon and had called out the three men they wanted. … victims and had trooped out of town with them to about a mile away; they stopped near a branch under a big tree — I believe it was a blackjack — and in a short time the lives of these three marked men were snuffed out. It was not until this Christmas Eve hanging that the Vigilance Committee finally “got” one of the men who had participated in the attack on Allen Wynn.

McDade, on that Christmas morning, presented a group of people with set faces. The action of the committee on the previous night began to be broadcast, and those who would dare arrived and came in to get particulars. The bodies were still hanging from the tree where they had been strung — waiting for the Sheriff from Bastrop to come and handle the matter. About the middle of the morning, Deputy Sheriff Sid Jenkins, Will Bell, and H. N. Bell arrived, and a large crowd of us went along to witness the proceedings, Sheriff Bill Jenkins arrived later in the day. I was in the crowd and helped cut the ropes the men were hung by — I knew all three of these men pretty well and the sight of them with their twisted faces and the nooses hanging at different angles about the victims’ necks was about the most gruesome thing I have ever witnessed — I don’t ever want to see anything like that again.

What Jeptha Billingsley neglected to say is that he was obligated to cut the ropes because he was friends of the people that were hanged and they wanted to teach him a lesson. Mr. Howery and Preacher Fleming also had to help or get shot. Preacher Frank Fleming, being a Baptist minister, was in between the two sides.

Deputy Sheriff Sid Jenkins and Will Bell returned to McDade to get a wagon to take the bodies of the hung men, while constable Scruggs, Deputy Sheriff H. N. Bell and Joe Simms stayed with the dead bodies. The wagon to carry the dead bodies arrived in about one hour. The wagon belonged to Jack Nash and was driven by Pat Murphy. At the arrival of the wagon, Pat Murphy viewed the bodies, exclaimed, “Bejesus, if Thad had been one foot higher, he would have been a living man yet.” The hands of the men hung were tied behind them, and a loop had been slipped around their necks — they were strangled to death.

Before these bodies were brought to town, however, three brothers belonging to the notch cutters gang arrived from their home in the country and went to Milton’s store. Tom Bishop sat on a bench outside on the store gallery, and one of the boys stopped to talk to him; the other two went inside where Milton was. The one outside said, “Some folks in this town are accusing some folks of things they didn’t do,” and kinda stepped closer to Bishop; the latter whipped out his gun, but the young man grabbed for it, and in the scuffle, the gun went off and struck him in the thigh of the leg. He ran; but in the meantime Milton had ordered the other two brothers out of the store because of remarks they made, and almost at the same time, the shot was heard outside. The boys rushed out to assist their brother, and Milton grabbed his ever-ready gun behind the door. Immediately, the bullets began to whiz, and shots were fired right and left. Two of the brothers were killed — one had his head shot off –and the third, though wounded, made his escape but was later captured and was taken into custody and was placed in the county jail by Sheriff Jenkins when he returned to Bastrop that day.

A third man was shot and killed that day. His name was Griffin and he was a brother of Mrs. Black, who lived in McDade. When he heard the shots fired that morning, he ran out of Milton’s saloon, and endeavoring to separate the combatants in the melee he was shot. He was immediately rushed to the home of Mrs. Black. His brother, upon hearing of the young man’s death, came to town and brandished a pistol in the air, declaring he was going to kill everybody in sight for the foul murder of his brother, but somehow friends subdued him and no further killings took place at that time.

The shooting of these two gangmen took place right there by Milton’s store, and after the smoke cleared the bodies were picked up and placed in one of the stores where they lay for some little time awaiting the arrival of relatives to claim their bodies. The bodies of the three hanged men were also later brought into town, and if I recollect correctly they were brought to the same store where the other two bodies were. I don’t recall that they stayed there any length of time; but certainly they and none of the five dead men were “lying on the depot platform.” The curious of course — and most of us are, stood around and viewed the bodies and talked over the previous night’s and the morning’s happenings. Nobody was anxious to have more killings, innocent or otherwise, in the little town when the friends of the deceased would come for their dead ones, so the bodies, all five of them, were moved some distance away from the stores, and there they remained until the relatives came to take away the remains. I happened to be present when the wife of one of the brothers arrived. They lived quite a piece out in the country, and it was some little time before she came. She knelt down sobbing beside the dead form of her husband and prayed one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard.

For some days thereafter the residents of McDade lived in a tension. Parents would not let their children out of their sight, and some folks deliberately left town, to be gone until matters had been cleared up. Louis Bassist, who lived in Elgin, was one of the latter. He had been in this country only three months, and the gruesome tales and things he heard tell of, and the constant sight of quickly whipped out guns and pistols filled him with a feeling that is indescribable. Such wild and “uncivilized” life was so new and strange to him after being accustomed to the strict military conduct of the citizens in the city he had lived in while in Germany, that he was at a loss as to what to do about it all. At any rate, he took the first train out of McDade that Christmas Day, and went to Elgin where he stayed a week before venturing back to resume his work in the P. Bassist Store.

People who were at all subject to superstition were sure a curse was on the town and its inhabitants, and that the ghosts of the dead men would be certain to put in their appearance. That night a lady living near the house in which the five dead bodies lay, became very sick, and her husband called to Sam Billingsley, who lived nearby and asked him to fetch the doctor — folks had no telephones there at that time. Sam lived until recently in McDade, and was always a man who was willing to aid a friend or a neighbor; so with some trepidation he agreed to go. It was necessary to pass the “death house” on that cold bitter night, and Sam’s heart involuntarily beat violently. Instinctively, he looked toward the house, and what should he see but a waith-like form enveloping the full height and width of the open doorway.

Needless to say, Sam’s footsteps quickened and later when returning with the doctor, he kept as far away from that building as he could. He wasn’t sure whether or not he had seen a departed spirit of any of the five desperados or the one innocent victim of the previous night-and-day’s melange. Next day however, the ghost visit was explained. A huge dog with broad white chin and breast was observed in town, and he was recognized as the animal belonging to one of the slain brothers. It was this dog who was keeping vigil the night before beside his dead master’s body.

The “necking party” quieted things down around McDade for several years and people could carry on business without fear of hold-ups. 


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