Hangings in Navarro County, Texas


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Hangings in Navarro County

The first hanging in Navarro County was that of Riley White, a colored man.  There was one lynching held in the Eighteen Nineties.

On August 20, 1880, George Doren was hanged after conviction in the fatal stabbing of John Fitzsimmons.   Railroad section hands, they were rivals for attentions of a Corsicana prostitute with the no-nonsense designation of Jo Cash.


Last Public Hanging in Navarro County

On June 10, 1900, three boys playing near a tank about two miles south of Corsicana, discovered the body of G. W. Broom in the water.   The coroner, D. G. Grantham, was called to the scene, and upon investigating, found that Broom met death from a blow on the head.  The events that followed led to the last legal hanging in Navarro County, for the murderer allegedly took Broom's wagon and team.  A short time later, the wagon and team were sold by T. A. Morris, who several months later was arrested in Arkansas by Bob Allen, Sheriff.  He was returned to Corsicana, where he was tried and found guilty.  He was sentenced to hang on the morning of January 31, 1902.  Wiley Robinson, who had been elected to take the office of Sheriff on January 1, 1902, was the executioner.

Some of the citizens to witness the legal hanging were the minister, J. D. Ray, whom Morris asked to be present; E. M. Vance, Jr., who was to claim the body, W. T. Buckalew, Z. T. Hodge, B. S. Brown, J. E. McClung, L. E. Moore, Dr. B. W. D. Hill, Dr. L. E. Kelton, Dr. H. L. Matthews, W. P. Swink, S. A. Roberts, Henry Hyler, John Fortson, Alf Patton, T. P. Little, W. B. Gray, J. H. Finch, D. A. DeWitt, W. H. Cowan, J. H. Thompson, C. B. Callon, W. L. Pevehouse, B. F. Mitchell, and C. M. McClung.

Shortly after the hanging, Texas passed a law prohibiting hanging.


Harrison Williams Executed

By March 7, 1884, when ghetto bully Harrison Williams was hanged for killing his sister-in-law, a new gallows had been tucked away from public view in the jail yard.

Laborer Williams often beat his wife, finally spurring her sister, Ada Sallard, to complain to lawmen on June 24, 1884, about Mr. Williams' way with women.

When the violent husband learned he'd been reported, he sent out to find Mrs. Sallard, declaring to acquaintances that he'd kill her.

On June 26, 1883, she was found dead, her head crushed by heavy blows, a cloth tied tightly about her neck.  The abusive husband was arrested, charged, tru-billed and, on Aug. 10, 1883, found guilty of murder by a Navarro jury.

Until his appeals were exhausted, he insisted he wasn't guilty.  Then he admitted he murdered Mrs. Sallard.

He asked for a public hanging so he could preach to the crowd, but by 1884 the times and laws favored sequestered executions.  He insisted he had found religion and fully expected to go straight to heaven when he swung. Throngs of Corsicana residents climbed atop nearby buildings to witness the spectacle in the jail yard.

[Dallas Morning News - Biffle's Texas, Kent Biffle]


Lee Thomas Executed

Corsicana, Aug 2, 1895 - Lee Thomas was executed here today for the murder of J. M. Farley in November, 1893, about two miles south of Kerens in Navarro County.  The execution took place in the death chamber of the county jail in the presence of about 30 people.  The prisoner passed a peaceful night and arose this morning at about 6 0'clock and partook of a hearty breakfast.  Later he read a few minutes and then ate a water melon someone had given him ... At the regular dinner hour (noon), the condemned man partook of a hearty meal and conversed pleasantly with those around him.

Thomas was attired in a black cutaway suit, standing collar, white necktie and patent leather shoes.  He was about 24 years old and possessed a strikingly handsome face.  Never once did he lose his nerve.  In fact, it seemed as though he was attending the execution of someone else.

When he reached the death chamber religious services were held after which Thomas made a speech of about 20 minutes...He admonished those who were present to profit by his example.  Concluding, he forgave his enemies and blessed his friends.  He then ascended the scaffold with a firm tread.

Jurors believed Lee Thomas killed his hired man Farley to get his $40 cash and his horse and buggy. Cotton picker Farley disappeared on Nov. 10, 1893.  A large number of buzzards circling over a ravine led a party of curious hog-hunters to his body on Dec. 9.

Doomed Thomas said he killed the man in a fight over a game of cards in which he'd won all of Farley's money.  But there were laws against gambling as well as murder.

[Dallas Morning News - Biffle's Texas, Kent Biffle]


A HANGING  IN DAWSON

The date was somewhere in the early years of the 20th Century and near a half century after the Civil War had ended.    A black man from Farmersville had been apprehended and charged with assaulting a white woman.    Feelings were, apparently, running high in Dawson and talk of forming a "Lynch Mob" began to be heard about town.

Those were the days when Dawson had an active Ku Klux Klan whose members, clad in white hoods and robes, rode horses in parades through the town.  Membership in the KKK was supposed to have been secret, but even small boys could identify the horses ridden by members of the KKK and assume that the rider was the owner of the horse.   The head of the Dawson KKK, is was said, always rode a white horse, an animal well known throughout the community.   It should be remembered that many of the citizens of Dawson and the surrounding area had migrated  from the Duck River country of  Southern Middle Tennessee.   Many were from Pulaski, Giles Co. Tennessee where Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest and others had first organized the secret order of KKK.

This author was never told just how the black man came to be apprehended, where he was held prisoner, or how he came to be in the hands of an angry mob of white men, but the telephone pole on which he was hung was pointed out to him by one who was present at the hanging.

That telephone pole stood in front of a small wooden building, later used as a domino hall, and located on the Waco highway between Dawson's Main Street and the first street to the west.....more specifically, across a small alley west from where Buck Bennet's Garage was located in the 1930s.    The structure was across the Waco Highway from Spencer Lumber Co., just east of W P Nelson's Garage, and a half block or so east of the two story metal clad Dawson Fire Station.  

The Dawson Calaboose (jail) stood in the middle of a Wagon Yard located immediately behind Bennet's Garage and it was probably from there that the angry mob took the black man and carried him through the alley to the front of the small wooden structure.

Excitement was rare in Dawson and one can imagine the crowd growing until most able bodied men...and some women...from the town had assembled.    Someone produced a cow rope and a hangman's noose was quickly formed.     The noose was placed around the neck of the black man and the  rope was thrown over an arm of the telephone pole.   Someone offered a horse and the black man was placed in the saddle.   As the horse was held by it's bridle the rope was drawn tightly and secured at the base of the telephone pole.

The noise of the crowd had filled the air from the moment the black man was removed from the Calaboose, but now.....there was hushed silence.    A human being was about to die on the streets of  Dawson, Navarro Co., Texas.   "Justice" was about to be served.....!

The black man was, probably, given an opportunity to make a last statement to confess his guilt and beg forgiveness for his sins.    He did neither.   He was, probably, hurting so badly physically and frightened so emotionally that he could not utter a sound.

Some pious citizen in the crowd was, probably, requested to pray and the heads of church going individuals bowed.   Most closed their eyes.    When the "Amen" was sounded one of the self appointed "Judge-Jurors" became the executioner and slapped his large hat against the rump of the horse.  The horse bolted and raced off toward the Dawson Fire Station and the black man was left to dangle and die beneath the arm of the telephone pole..

A team of horses pulled a wagon along side of the now lifeless man and a local physician climbed on the wagon to examine the black man to determine if he was dead.   He was.  His body was to hang there for some time to remind the black community that the Town of Dawson would not tolerate a black man abusing one of the white females who lived there.

One by one the crowd began to disperse.   Some, probably, returned to the saloon where the idea for the lynching may have germinated and where "Men" now reveled in the fact that "They....had done their duty."

Others, no doubt, returned to their homes and began to think about what had happened and...perhaps...question what they had permitted to happen.  Some, probably, had remorse that they had not stood against what had happened.....now not sure that what was done was right.

A white member of this generation recalled......"Our Father told us of a time when he and his father were riding together on a horse and came upon a black man who had been hung.  They rode in silence past the corpse, Daddy staring in awe and incredulity, and Grandaddy looking straight ahead.  The long silence continued until Daddy finally asked, "Papa, who was that man?"   Grandaddy replied, "What man?"   Daddy always told us that Grandaddy knew full well who he was and what had happened, but because of the general fear of the KKK, wanted his son to know as little as possible in order to protect him."

J B Davis, who served at the time as Dawson City Attorney and Justice of the Peace, and whose grand daughter, Yvonne Davis Wood, now serves as Mayor of Dawson, learned of what had happened and ordered the body of the black man removed from the telephone pole and from the scene.   He declared that it was the most revolting and disgusting event he had known in his life.

Several days passed and the little town of Dawson, Texas was shocked to learn that when civil authorities from the County Seat fully investigated the matter it was found that the angry mob had lynched the wrong man.       Dawson saloons were, no doubt, almost empty for several days, but churches were filled to overflowing the following Sunday as men wept and remembered and repented for what had been done.  

Almost a century has passed since that tragic day in Dawson, Texas and the principals who were involved are all gone.    The day was a costly experience, but Dawson never again permitted itself to engage in such behavior.   Segregation continued to exist in Dawson, but there was a loving relationship and respect between most black people and white people.

One black man, born in 1922, remembers that Dawson was viewed by his generation as the  area town that most black people favored.   Dawson merchants gave credit to deserving black people.   Dawson banks provided loans to black people to purchase farms, to build homes, and the establish businesses.

Yesterday is history and those of us who live today cannot change what has happened.  Today and, perhaps, tomorrow are ours and the decisions we make should reflect the lessons learned by those who have lived before.

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Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox