Redlands, Red State: A True Story of the Creation of Texas, Part 4
March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is the final installment in a story of the role that scalawags and scoundrels played in the founding of our Texas. The first three installments are but a short scroll-down away.
Now, back to La Grange and the Clan.
At first, the Clan appears to have been little more than a loose association of thieves and con artists who confederated out of a mutual interest: how to profitably dispose of the goods they had stolen.
Mostly they stole horses, mules and slaves (along with a few cattle and pigs) for trade or resale, peddled fraudulent land certificates, and passed counterfeit coins in an area that stretched from the Rio Grande to the Louisiana border.
At the age of 15, Tom Short joined the Texas Rangers to fight in the Mexican War in April 1846, along with brother-in-law William Sansom. Injured in camp, Tom went back home in July-August 1846, but returned to Rangers in 1847 after his father’s death. He fought in Mexico and was mustered out in May 1848. He and Sansom returned home and rejoined the Clan.
“Some time ago Mr. Sansom took off the irons that were on a Mr. Jackson, convicted of rape in Fayette County. At or near noon, William Short, Mr. Sansom, Jas. Crook, Jas. McLaughlin and Alfred O’Bar doctored and run two Negroes, one the property of a Dr. Adkinson, of La Grange, Fayette County, the other Negro the property of Mr. Cleveland, of Travis, Austin County, and a fine horse of Mr. Norton. After the sale of the Negroes and in the divide, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Short fell out and quarreled with Crook. Crook, had a league of land they wanted which Crook refused to let them have, and in the quarrel, Crook threatened to disclose on them. This alarmed the party, especially William Short and McLaughlin. After a consultation, it was arranged to kill Crook, who made his home at William Short’s.
“John Marshall and John Rich were to be the murderers. William Short selected me to go after John Marshall and John Rich to let them know the time. On the appointed night, Crook was not at home, but was in the neighborhood. Some men stayed at William Short’s that night, going up the Yegua after cattle. It rained very hard that night and Marshall and Rich stayed in the bottomland, near William Short’s all night (the way of the transgressor is hard). In the morning William Short sent his wife to Mr. Carothers, that she might not witness the transaction.
“McLaughlin was fearful that Crook would not return and he rode some distance in the course that Crook would come and as soon as he ascertained from a neighbor of Mr. Wm. Short that Crook had gone home, McLaughlin returned in time to give the finishing touch to Crook.
“I was then instructed how and what to prove, if anything was done at law. I was a witness before the Justices’ Court. I was excused in the District Court. Suffice to say, McLaughlin and William Short were cleared, and Rich and Marshall were never tried. Which embolden the party very much, at so happy an escape.
“More thefts and outrages were perpetrated from that time on while the party arrested had not broken a link in the chain that had extended from Missouri to Mexico.”
James McLaughlin, according to Tom Short, “was a father of all and every kind of stealing, passing confederate coin, and murdering. He said he commenced early in life, and ran many risks of life.”
The Rev. Nathan Shook made counterfeit land certificates, according to Tom Short, and “has the seal and everything necessary for the same. I saw Parson Shook making out some land papers at Short’s — he then went out on the Guadalupe, where Mr. McPeters stole a fine mare belonging to Mr. Eatill, and swapped her to Parson S. for a little grey mare, also stolen property. Short went to the Guadalupe with Shook, and they returned together; Shook slept until midnight, and left my brother’s, since when I have not seen him. He preaches a first-rate sermon, I hear. I know he made a good land title.
“Imagine a preacher of the gospel with plenty of counterfeit coin, the state seal forged, and forging land patents, and the same man, in the same saddlebags, carrying counterfeit coin, forged seal, Bible and hymn book. One day forging claims for land, the next in the pulpit thundering the terror of the Lord on wicked men.”
Tom Short never heard of James Cox stealing any property, “nor do I believe he would steal more than a gun barrel, but Cox has been consulted in all dealings. A gentleman of experience, and his judgment and advice have always been as the highest authority for the party. I learned from Short, that Cox could sell land patents to great advantage abroad, and could pass half-eagles, without the least suspicion. It is said he passes as ‘Parson Cox’ when a night’s lodging can be had for the name.”
“Mossy Boren aided and gave comfort and lodging to the party, and would do anything James Cox asked him to do. Boren occasionally exchanged for stolen horses, and will pick up little matters when he has a chance. Louis Boren and Orlando Sap passed counterfeit money, stole horses and received Mercer Hill’s Negro from A. J. Grigg, and William Short and Lucas Cooper, and brought said Negro boy Joe to Tom at the Star Hotel at Galveston, where I was in company with Mr. Agory, our general agent for Texas.
“Nathan Greer often applied to William Short to be a partner, who with William Short, and Jas. McLaughlin made arrangements to steal, run off and sell a lot of mules belonging to a gentleman from Brenham.
“Wilson Small married a daughter of James McLaughlin. Enos Cooper hired and paid to Wilson Small a one hundred dollar horse to kill a Mr. Elkins who married a sister of Beverly Pool. Small received the horse from Cooper but failed to kill Elkins. I think him cowardly I know him to be low and mean. I saw him shoot a sow the mother of several young pigs, the property of James Holt, he cut the sow in pieces and fed McLaughlin’s dogs. He is mean enough to do any kind of stealing. He passed counterfeit money and ran stolen horses, in short, he’s a mean thief.
“Cooper sold some of Parson Shook’s land certificates and assisted in stealing Mr. Hill’s Negro; also, in stealing Robert Moore’s mare for the Negro to ride.”
“Judge Kelsaw [Kelso] lives on or near the Guadalupe and stands fair in the community, and he had the promise of wagonmaster and paymaster in General Worth’s division to El Paso del Norte. Our company were to furnish him with counterfeit gold to pay off the teamsters and he was to divide the profit with our agent. The Judge in quite conversant knew all the plans of the company and assisted in carrying out our measures.
“Joe Arrington following gambling, picks up a horse occasionally, passes counterfeit gold with considerable dexterity, sells Shook’s land certificates and is in possession of all the plans of our party. Bird Smith is a constant associate with Arrington, engages in the same acts that Arrington does and knew our plans in general.
“Brother William informed me that James and Samuel Miller passed counterfeit money, traded for stolen horses, and occasionally stole a few cattle. They lived on the road leading from Bastrop to Caldwell, Burleson’s County.
“Of two mints for counterfeiting gold coin, one is fifteen miles above Brownsville on the Rio Grande where coins can be had at 50 cents on the dollar to change off and trade to the Mexicans. The other mint is fifteen miles from Crockett in a cane brake or thicket bottom with Col. Moss Moore as general agent, he furnished the coin at 50 cents on the dollar.
“The present coins are eagles and half-eagles well executed. The engraving is elegant equal to any of the genuine American coin, one acquainted may tell it from the color being a shade brighter than pure gold. The weight corresponds or nearly so, there is only from one to two grains difference in the half-eagles. The eagles are the precise weight and will and have deceived many, and a good many have gone into the bank at New Orleans; they resist the tests of acids, being of plate of pure gold but in order to apply the plate correctly the color is partially changed. The quickest way to detect them is to examine the edge where a line or division may be discovered in the center of the edge.
William Greenbury Sansom, in his published confession, says that he was told by Wm. Short in the spring of 1849 that “he wanted to raise $300, and if he could do it, he could make as much money as he wanted.” Sansom asked Short what he wanted the money for: “Short said he wanted to buy a set of counterfeit coin dies from Bostick.– that he had two sets, one for gold and another for silver, and that he could employ as good a chemists as ever was to help him. He said he had seen the dies. I don’t know whether Short got them or not. At another time, Short told me that Bostick was very mad with him. Bostick got drunk and took the dies out of his truck and hid them, and accused Short of stealing them. Bostick afterwards found them, and came to Short and told him and made friends.”
As is often the case, greed proved to be the undoing of Tom Short, William Sansom and the rest of the Clan.
According to Tom Short, one day “Mr. Agory and John Ford came to William Short at La Grange, and proposed a general association, by connecting certain points and carrying on a general Negro, horse stealing and counterfeit money passing arrangement. My brother, William Short, informed them that Colonel Taylor, being near the Round Top House, would start shortly to Alabama, and that he would take about seven thousand dollars with him to buy Negroes, and that Mr. Bostick, himself and one or two other gentlemen would have him killed for the cash. Which would enable the company to organize and go into active operation but in case Taylor did not start in a short time, the company would steal, run and sell a few Negroes in order to have funds to start on.”
James McLaughlin, Tom Short said, “informed that the party that whenever they went into a general Negro stealing they would be detected.”
But certain Clan members were not to be deterred, as Tom Short explained.
“My brother William was to keep the Star Hotel, Mr. Agory was to run a schooner on the gulf between Galveston and New Orleans, and a Mr. Jones would be a general agent at New Orleans and was to keep his boarding house and run a boat on the Mississippi River.
“McLaughlin, William Short, J. A. Grigg, Greer and Cox were to arrange a plan and decoy the Negroes. Boren Sap, Whitley, O’Bar, Crownover and several others were to run Negroes from the interior to Galveston, and at a proper time Mr. Agory, with his schooner, would convey then to New Orleans, and deliver them to Mr. Jones who when convenient would send them up the Mississippi River and have them sold, all of which was to be done through their own line, in order to evade detection.
“Alfred O’Bar was considered a poor hand to call Negroes, as he had run a boy “Sam,” belonging to a German gentleman, near the Colorado River, by land, to Red River, thence he took water and went up to the mouth of the Ohio River. The boat had freight to discharge on the Ohio and while discharging freight “Sam” stepped off the boat, and in learning his foot was on free (Negro) soil, (Mr. O’Bar ordered him returned to the boat), informed Mr. O’Bar that he was on free soil and hinted to him to keep quiet or he would disclose on him. Mr. O’Bar readily saw his situation and returned home, fortunately, meeting one of the party who furnished him with funds to get home on. A little wiser for his trip though not much enriched by the speculation.
“About this time the party were informed of the theft of a yellow boy, the property of Mrs. Schneider, and two other boys, the property of a Mr. Roberts or Robertson, in Fayette County, the boy the property of Rocky Williams, but where the Negroes went I do not know.
“Sometime on this occasion a Mr. Carrington, overseer for Mr. Hill, carried off a woman slave and two children to Mexico. He said the children were his own. About the first of May, Carrington was in the Colorado bottom and it was believed he was after more Negroes. It would have been an easy matter to have taken him and Hill had offered a five hundred dollar reward for his and Carrington apprehension, but as the party never interfered with men in their own line of business Carrington was left uninterrupted.
“Arrangements were made for the implements for coining silver in Fayette County and two young men whose character for industry and honesty stood above suspicion. And still stands so, were to manufacture the article to the order of Mr. Bostick and others, Mr. Agory was to keep a supply at Galveston and Mr. Jones at New Orleans and many others whose names I do not now recollect were to keep a supply on hand to buy Negroes, horses and other property. The old agent informed me of the extent of the party, their wealth, power in number which was represented to me to be about four hundred. One of the necessary qualifications to become a good member was a willingness to tell a lie to save another members life, any member refusing to do so was dismissed; penalty of silence or death.
“About the first of May last, I called at McLaughlin’s on my way to Galveston. I asked McLaughlin for a horse to ride the trip, he told me he would loan me a horse until I could find one, and that I was a poor rogue if I could not find a horse. I started from McLaughlin’s in the morning and soon found a large bay horse hobbled with a grass rope. I turned McLaughlin’s horse loose and started on the other horse. I never felt so reckless in my life now that I was started on the bold (journey) regardless of consequences. I am sorry the owner of the horse was so ill able to spare him, the horse, he was the property of a William Cole living at Round Top on the Brenham and La Grange road and is regarded as an honest man, has a helpless dependent family on his exertions for support.
“I rode the horse to Houston and sold him for fifteen dollars. I learned the others have got their horses again. I then went to Galveston where I met Mr. Agory and Mr. Ford. I went to inform them that Mr. Johnson and Smith (alias), Boren and Sap were to be there shortly with two Negroes. I remained there eight days. Then Boren and Sap came and brought Mr. Hill’s boy Joe. The next day, Mr. Agory wrote on a bill of sale purporting to be from William H. Rice of the town of Gonzales, County of Gonzales to William Smith. I objected to taking the bill of sale under the name of Smith but the Negro did not know my true name when I left home. I did not know that I was to take the boy, In fact I was only sent to inform Agory that the Negro and Negroes would come. At the request of Mr. Agory I started to New Orleans with the Negro. And Agory promised to start the next day. When I arrived at New Orleans I stopped at Robinson’s boarding house and so far as I know a good man. That next day Mr. Agory arrived and stopped at another place, he then sent me to sell the Negro but the police kept such a watch, on the sale.
“Mr. Agory thought best to send me up to Natches [Nachez], encouraging me, by informing me he had sold many and the people of Natches were so eager to buy young Negro men that they would scarcely ask my name. Encouraged by so smart a man as Mr. Agory, with a tongue well fitted for a green boy of eighteen years, I consented to go but when I learned the amount of cash I could get, but I was near backing out. I was satisfied that Agory was afraid of himself, would not be seen except in a certain portion of the city. When the time arrived at Natches for me to go, six dollars was all the cash we both had. Barely enough to pay our way, booked passage, (rather low for Negro trader), I arrived at Natches in the night and went to Mr. White’s tavern (under the hill), the next day offered the boy for seven hundred fifty dollars to Mr. Wilson. He said if he liked the boy when he talked to him he could give me my price.
“Imagine, my dear readers, my feelings, my reputation, yea, my liberty, yea, perhaps my life depended on a single word and that word to come from a simple perhaps faithless Negro.
“All Texas, Yea, All the money in the United States would poorly pay those moments of anguish. Just as I dreaded and expected, I was betrayed, and in a few moments I was waited on by an officer, my bill of sale was asked for, my name, residence and a thousand questions, and a quiet invitation to walk to the court house, my face, my actions, all embarrassed, soon told the tale for me. I was informed that I had a stolen Negro, I cursed the fates. I cursed the den of thieves, ah, there is the voice that spoke quick as thought, those cursed wires, stretched on those poles.
“I passed a sleepless night, miserable past description, ruined, ruined, ruined. The next day I called for paper and wrote to Texas. That letter was intercepted, tho’ I did not know it at the time. I looked for assistance (sworn to assist each other to break open prisons if detected). Surely, I thought, that the giant Agory will come to my assistance. Not so; they won’t do to depend on.
“Imagine my surprise, I heard strange voices without–I recognized the jailer’s voice, can it be at last they have come to my rescue; my heart beat high–the door opened—familiar faces, but pursuers. I recognized the face of Dr. Weir and with it I received the information that the whole party were disclosed — Grigg arrested, Boren and Sap pursued, and I could take my choice to stay in Natches for trial, or go to Brenham. I readily consented, provided I could have a trial at law. Dr. Weir and Mr. Ferrell pledged their honor that such should be my case, and now, reader, I am in Irons in Brenham jail, guilty and depending on the sympathies of the community from when I deserve none.”
James McLaughlin had been dead right about the danger of trafficking stolen slaves, and was either shot or hanged soon after the Clan was unmasked, as Short alluded in his confession: “His predicament had been fulfilled, justice has overtaken them, and McLaughlin’s race had been run. I learn he was anxious some honest man should raise his children.”
William Short was publicly hanged. “William Short, my poor unfortunate brother has engaged in every species of crime, led a miserable life, died a disgraceful death, and thus far I learned his body has been exposed, a prey to the wild wolves and vultures. He, it was, that led me into stealing, and after I had commenced could not withdraw for fear of my own life, as death was the penalty for disclosure.”
Nathaniel Hunt Greer and at least three other frontiersmen accused of being gang members by Thomas Short went to the newspapers to proclaim their innocence. Only Parson Nathan Shook placed his faith (apparently mistakenly) in the law.
In an article from the Bonham Advertiser that was rerun in the December 22, 1849, issue of the Texas State Gazette, “Parson Shook,” stated, “A gentlemen recently from Cherokee county informs us of a rumor current there, that Parson Nathan Shook had been hanged at Crockett, in Houston County. It will be recollected that Shook was named in the confession of Thomas Short as a party to sundry thefts, counterfeiting of coin, land certificates, &c. When apprised [sic] of these charges he surrendered himself and was committed to the jail in Lamar county. Nothing new appearing against him, the Sheriff was unwilling to detain him, and set him at liberty. According to our informant, Shook then went to Crockett, the very place where some of his alleged crimes were said to have been committed, and placed himself in custody, to await the preferment of charges. A mob soon gathered, took him from the Sheriff, and executed him forthwith. We give this account as we received it. We hope it is not true. If it be, the mob who have thus insulted a public officer, and trampled upon the law, should be hunted with blood hounds, if necessary, and brought to justice. Shook may, or may not, have been guilty. That is not the question; he was entitled to the investigation which he sought. If every suspected man is to be thus dealt with; God pity him who may incur the malice of a confessed scoundrel for the testimony of just such a scoundrel is all that has appeared against Shook. We would be glad to know if this report is erroneous; for we would not that the stigma of such a deed should rest upon any portion of our State.”
Nathaniel Greer, who came to Texas in 1837 and settled in Washington County and in 1839 represented Washington County in the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas. The following spring, in response to complaints of poor mail delivery, he briefly assumed his last public duty—that of postal contractor between San Felipe and La Grange—before retiring to a life of farming and real estate speculation.
In the late summer of 1849, Greer was driven from his home by a mob that believed him to be a member of the Clan. No evidence of his guilt — nor that of many others similarly implicated — was ever produced. Several members of the gang had East Texas connections and it appears to some that the events of 1849 involved feuding left over from the Regulator-Moderator War.
Eventually the controversy subsided, and Greer returned home and lived in relative peace until the fall of 1851 when he was indicted for the murder of a local man. Greer, feeling persecuted by feudists and despairing of a fair trial, left Washington County and petitioned the State of Texas for a change of venue, but no trial ever took place.
The Greers relocated to Milam County in 1852. Subsequently his family converted to Mormonism and in 1855 they and many others embarked for Utah. During the trek, on June 24, 1855, Nathaniel died of cholera. His unmarked grave is in Kansas.
James Shannon Mayfield killed Absalom Bostick in the summer of 1849 in what some have termed “a political argument.” Walter P. Freytag, a Fayette County historian, states, “Bostick, it appears, was a tough customer and his probate record indicates that he was one of our first professional burglars.”
An article in The Northern Standard of Clarksville, Texas, September 1, 1849, entitled “Look out for Rascals,” states, “A few weeks since, a desperado named Bostick was killed in La Grange by General Mayfield in self defense. An examination of his letters and papers disclosed an organized gang of negro thieves, robbers, and murderers extending from Missouri to the Rio Grande. Several of these have been taken, and some summarily executed. Others remain in confinement awaiting trial.”
James Mayfield was no shrinking violet. While serving in the Texas House of Representatives on Jan. 4, 1842, Mayfield, while speaking on a bill, spoke about fellow congressman David S. Kaufman in a very severe manner. After the House adjourned, Kaufman waited for Mayfield and a heated argument ensued. They exchanged shots and Kaufman was wounded in the abdomen. His wound never healed completely and ultimately led to his death in 1851. The encounter must have been considered as a fair fight for no charges were apparently filed against either man. A planned duel between Mayfield and Edward Burleson of Bastrop County in 1845 was thwarted by court order.
Early in August 1849, William Sansom was apprehended by the “Fayette County Association,” accused “as belonging to the band of thieves, robbers, & etc, who have infested that part of the state, and was placed in the hands of the officers of the law, and lodged in jail.” Just before the trial, he made the following confession, in the present of witnesses, upon which confession he was convicted and sentenced.
“Some time in the year 1847, as near as I can recollect, about July or August, Wm. Short, Griggs and Crook did drive off out of what is known as Murcherson’s prairie, a drove of cattle numbering about five or six cows and calves, and some yearlings, and sold them to one Hewitt, as I afterwards learned from Wm Short.
“After this, the next time I knew of Wm. Short, I was in La Grange and employed in digging a well for John Carter, and going home, I found Wm. Short and Smith at my home, whose name I was told afterwards by Wm. Short, was Ritchie, and that he came from Eastern Texas.
“Before Ritchie started to Eastern Texas, he, Short, told me he was harboring Dr. Atkins’ Negro boy, named David, and a one-eyed Negro boy, name unknown, who I understood belonged to some man in the lower country of Texas. Wm. Short and Richie took them to Eastern Texas and sold them. Wm Short told me that he also took Mr. Derr’s mare and filly to go off upon.
“The next time I saw Griggs, he came to my home, and offered to sell me some land certificates. I did not buy, but told him John Murcherson wanted to buy. He asked me to go to Murcherson’s with him and I did. He said he would give him a trade if they were good, and as he was going to LaGrange, he would ask some one that knew. J. S. Mayfield told him they were base [worthless] certificates. Griggs came back to my house and told me these things. I then asked Griggs if he would have put them upon me, he said he would have put them upon any body. Wm. Short told me that Thomas J. Williams purchased two Negro men from one of the clan, and that afterwards one of the same clan stole them again. At another time, being in La Grange, Wm. Short borrowed my mare, and went off and stayed until about an hour in the night. I went to his house and upon my arrival found McLaughlin there-When Short came home he brought horses with him.
“Wm. Short told me last spring he wanted to raise $300, and if he could do it, he could make as much as he wanted. I ask him what he wanted it for; he said he wanted to buy a set of dies from [Absolom] Bostick — that he had two sets, one for gold and another for silver, and that he could employ as good a chemists as ever was to help him. He said he had seen the dies. I don’t know whether Short got them or not. At another time, Short told me that Bostick was very mad with him. Bostick got drunk and took the dies out of his truck and hid them, and accused Short of stealing them. Bostick afterwards found them, and came to Short and told him and made friends. Wm Short told me that Griggs was one of the clan, also, McLaughlin.
“Thomas Short and Wm Ragin, he said, were good friends. Bostick, he said, was a good hand to leg at law. Shook — a minister — his business was to sell fraudulent land certificates; also, he said Agory was a dealer, which signifies one of the clan. Wm. Short told me, if I ever told on him or any of the clan, and they were punished, there were men that would come from the Sabine to take my life.
“I acknowledge to the killing of two of T. J. Williams hogs last winter, and Wm Short and Thomas Short helped me. I think they would weight 150 to 160 lbs. each.
(siqned) W .G. Sansom
Witnessed by J. B. McFarland, H. G. Wood, and James A. Haynie August 23, 1849.
“Wm. G. Sansom said in the presence of J. H. Moore and J. B. McFarland, that Small, the son-in-law of McLaughlin, purchased a fine double-barrelled shot gun from a Dutchman living near Round Top, and paid for it in counterfeit money, (payer) and that Bill Short told him, Sansom, that if he ever divulged anything on the clan, that death would be his portion; that he would not live twenty-four hours, and that even woman had been murdered in Eastern Texas for hunting round and making attempts to divulge, the secret that he also stole two of J. Murcherson’s –and a mule of Alfred Kerkedel last spring.”
Most of the Clan’s membership identities have been lost to history, for as Tom Short put it,
“For reasons to myself known, I retain the names of men, men with respectable families, men with daughters grown, men who ought to shun the party as they would shun the cholera, plague or pestilence. These men do not steal nor do they partake of stolen property but they tell the thieves where to find their neighbors property and willingly see and know that property is gone from owner forever and lie about not knowing what has become of it. Then there are men who feed the thieves and that too in thickets, and that will notify them of approaching danger and at the same time occupy the name and standing of honest men and good quiet citizens. Young as I am, I have seen them on knees at preaching, I have heard them pray, I have seen them partake of the Lord’s supper and that same night entertain men that they know were thieves. Wonder not that they when I see and learned these things and that I was the more easily led astray.”
Not surprisingly, when Sansom and Short left state prison in 1850, they did not return to Fayette County. Along with other members of the Short family, William Sansom and his family moved to the Curry Creek Community, in what is now Kendall County, several miles south of present-day Kendalia. Back then it was on the edge of the Texas frontier. After release from prison, Tom Short moved to Alabama, where he met and married Margaret Elenor Overton, on December 3, 1854.
The Tom Short family stayed in Alabama until 1860, when they moved to Kendall County, Texas, to join their relatives and in-laws at the Curry Creek settlement.