of Early Law in West Navarro.
Dear Chats: Did you ever hear of the "Law of West Navarro?"
Many of you have heard of the famous Roy Bean and "the Law West of the
Pecos," but Roy Bean only followed the "Law precedent of West Navarro,"
established prior to 1860.
Ask any judge or lawyer in Corsicana if a justice of the peace in Navarro
county ever jurisdiction to try a man for murder and sentence him upon the
verdict of a jury to be hanged, and have the sentence executed. All
will tell you no. But a Dresden justice of the peace did try a man for
murder, the jury convicted him, the justice sentenced him and he was hung,
all of which shows that lawyers may be mistaken in regard to fact,
regardless of their legal eruditions. Al I have heard of the man in
jail who sent for the lawyer and when the lawyer arrived and heard the
defendant's statement, the limb of the law remarked: "Well, they can't put
you in jail for that." When the defendant replied "The h--l they
can't. I am here, aint I?"
About 1858 ox trains run from west of Fort Worth to Houston, hauling
freight from Houston north and west as far as Fort Belknap. A merchant who
was doing business somewhere west of Fort Worth, sent for a large bill of
goods to Houston by one of the conductors of the "overland ox train." The
freighter was delayed much longer than expected and the merchant sent his
clerk, named English, to hurry up the "ox-carrier." English never
returned alive but was killed by a negro. The corpse of English was found in
the Dresden, justice's precinct, just where the writer is not able to state.
English had a green blanket used in place of an overcoat. All old
timers know what "men's blankets" were. This blanket had the letter "E"
embroidered on it. Search was made and a negro, who belonged to John
Blanton, was found with the blanket, and other articles, identified as the
property of English. Blaton lived in the northwest part of Ellis
county, or perhaps in Johnson county. The negro was arrested, brought before
the chief justice of Dresden justice court and a jury was empanelled
composed of the best citizens of west Navarro. Evidence was introduced and
the crime of murder and robbery were clearly proven against the negro.
The jury convicted the negro of murder in the first degree. There was
no indictment by grand jury, no legal technicalities, only a fair and
impartial trial. The negro was allowed to choose his manner of deth, between
Lurning and hanging. The negro chose death by the rope. Many wanted to burn
the negro and a vote was taken by all of the white and negroes present. Most
of the negroes favored burning, as a warning and example, but the white
citizens generally voted for the rope route. No motion for new trial was
made, no appeal taken, no stay of execution granted, no habeas corpus writs
were issued and no writs of prohibition, supersededeas or in junction from
superior courts were applied for. The sentence was executed the same day of
trial and the negro was taken to a large oak tree between the Dresden
cemetery and Post Oak Creek and "hung by the neck until he was dead, dead,
dead," in strict accordance with the verdict of the jury and sentence of the
The owner of the negro claimed that if the negro had been executed by
the state of Texas he would have been entitled to damages for one-half the
value of his slave, but that the justice of the peace and jury and citizens
of Dresden precinct had no legal authority to hang his "coon," and therefore
they were personally and individually liable to him for the full value of
the negro which value was alleged to be $1,200.
The Hon. Roger I. Wills as attorney for John Blanton, filed suit in
the district court of Navarro county, Texas which suit was No. 552, styled
John Blanton vs. Henry Crossland et al, for damages. The suit was settled by
compromise and was dismissed April 27, 1860. "The plaintiff dismissed his
suit and the defendants, Henry Crossland, E. G. Melton, David Pevehouse,
Willis B. Stokes, James M. Scales, Wm. S. Robinson, Alexander C. McMmillan
and Stroud Melton may go hence without day and recover of plaintiff all
costs of suit were no more liable than the entire community, but they were
made defendants because they were all well to do citizens and owned lands
subject to execution, also because of their prominence and respectability,
as they were the leading citizens of west Navarro county at that time. The
entire community subscribed and contributed to the compromise fund and Cal
Mills very generously donated his entire fee to the defendant, "jack pot."
Much feeling was aroused against Cal Mills because he brought this
suit as no other attorney would bring it but Cal Mills no doubt thought it
best to show his friends and neighbors that justice must follow the law, and
be administered and determined according to constitutional and statutory
provisions and precedent, and after having convinced defendants that while
justice had been meted out to a criminal the law had been ignored by the
best citizens of the county, Cal Mills effected for the defendants a most
generous compromise and contributed his entire fee and the case of
Many god lessons can be learned from these facts and incidents and the
reader of the Chats' page can reflect ever all of the questions that occur
to them. The plaintiffs petition can not be found. No doubt it was withdrawn
for many good and diverse reasons. It was an ancient superstition that
whenever a man was hung to a tree the tree sorrowed ever afterwards and
died. The old tree has been dead for many years. Trees like humans die and
no doubt the tree lived out its natural time and died a natural death, but
there are those who always believed that the hanging of the negro upon the
tree caused it to pine away and die.
The Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas, Friday, April 9, 1915