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Monday, April 21, 2014

More from the Memoir of Dilue Rose Harris, Early Resident of Fort Bend County

I saw Joe Bono (DHS '66) last week, and he said he has enjoyed reading excerpts from Dilue Rose Harris's memoir of life in early Fort Bend County.  I thought I'd post another short piece involving frontier justice.

Just a reminder that the Harris family lived south of Oyster Creek somewhere in the vicinity of the intersection of Dulles Avenue & Highway 6.  She mentions neighboring families, whose land grants were in the Missouri City - Dewalt area.  You'll also read that David Burnet and William B. Travis participated in the court case.  Burnet was the provisional governor of Texas during the Revolution and, of course, Travis was commander at the Alamo.  He had not reached his 27th birthday at his death in March 1836.

At the end of this excerpt she says her father and Mr. Ben Fort Smith had a good laugh and called the incident a farce.  I can see why they felt that way, but I think it was hardly a farce.  I think it was an interesting application of frontier justice, one that runs counter to today's impressions.

The trouble between Mr. A___ and Mr. M___ did not end with this trial.  I'll post more about the final resolution in the future.

April 1934 - Trouble between Mr. A__ and Mr. M__

There has been considerable trouble between two of our neighbors.  Mr. A___ accused Mr. M___ of marking and branding his yearlings.  Father tried to settle the trouble, but did not succeed.  A___ went to Harrisburg and complained to J. W. Moore, the Mexican alcalde.  The court came to our house and sent for the defendants.  They did not try the case that evening, but let M___ go home till next day and sent for all the men in the neighborhood.  The court was composed of Judge David G. Burnet, John W. Moore, the Mexican alcalde, and others.  The lawyers were William B. Travis, Patrick Jack, and his brother, W. H. Jack, and R. M. Williamson, nicknamed Three-legged Willie ...

The next day the men began to arrive early.  Several ladies came with their husbands to visit mother.  M___, the accused, was the first man on the ground, and by one o'clock there were twenty-five or thirty present.  Mr. Moses Shipman came early.  He lived five miles below our house.  He had four grown sons, who came with their father.  Mr. Shipman was horrified that one of the neighbors should be accused of stealing.  He said that if M___ was found guilty, he wold be sent to Anahuac or San Antonio, and probably to Mexico to work in the silver mines.  He said he would much rather have paid A___ for the yearling than to have a family left destitute in the neighborhood.

Mr. Smith prepared dinner for the crowd.  The trial began at eleven o'clock, and the defendant plead not guilty.  Mr. A___ proved that a yearling with M____'s mark and brand was sucking his cow.  W. B. Travis was attorney for M___, and Patrick Jack for A___.  After argument on both sides, the jury pronounced the defendant guilty.  W. B. Travis gave notice of an appeal.  Judge Burnet granted the accused a second hearing.  Mr. Ben Fort Smith proposed to the court to adjourn till everybody present should have dinner.  He got A___ to one side, bought the cow and yearling, sent A___ home, and when the case was called again there was no evidence against M___.  Mr. Smith claimed the cow and yearling.  He said the branding had been done through a mistake and the defendant was discharged.  Judge Burnet admonished him to be more careful in the future.  Mr. Smith and father had a good laugh after the trial.  Father said it was the most perfect farce he had ever seen.  All the men in the neighborhood were rejoiced at the way it terminated.