Dresden Justice
Dresden, Navarro County, Texas


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DRESDEN JUSTICE

Incidents 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 court.

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 defendant.

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.

A NATIVE

The Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas, Friday, April 9, 1915

 


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Copyright February, 2020
Edward L. Williams