Christmas Fireworks, 1876

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.

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