Circuit Court Transactions:  [From: Goodspeed 1889]

The fall term of the circuit court was held at David Lynch's residence in 1845, and in December of that year he was granted $9 for the use of his house. The grand jurors who served at this court were David B. Commons, Felix G. Harrison, John T. Fourt, William Vaughn, Joshua H. McDonald, William T. Ormsby, Osias Upton, John G. Hawkins, William Phillips, Elijah Morris, T. C. Trusty, Jackson Bronson, H. C. Dukes, John E. N. Williams and Charles H. Latimer, each of whom served three days, and received the munificent fee of $1.50, while Hiram B. Radley served only two days, and received $1.

Record of Proceedings - There are no records of the circuit court from 1845 to the fall of 1850. For some reason they were destroyed during the war, so that even the above entry could not be found had it not been that the payment of jurors and rent of court room had to appear on the records of the county court. The judges who presided here and the officers of the court find mention in other pages the former in the history of the judicial district and the latter in the transactions of the County Court of Texas. Even the stampede of horses, caused by the appearance of Duke and his elks, is related in the pages referring to the early settlement of the county.
The fall term was opened at R. Y. Smyley's house in December, Judge Leet presiding, with J. R. Woodside, attorney; James R. Gardner, clerk, and Spencer Mitchell, sheriff. The divorce cases, in which Amelia J. Cox, Lacasta Bay, Charles Jordan, Elizabeth June, George and John Johns were plaintiffs, were presented. In March, 1851, Hezekiah G. Davis was indicted for the murder of William McClelland, but the trial was transferred to Wright County. In July, 1851, John D. Caldwell, John E. Davis, I. M. L. Barker, C. A. W. Morehouse and W. H. Otter signed the attorneys' roll. E. Stout was found not guilty of the crime of "assuming office" illegally; Richard Taney was indicted for dealing as a merchant without a license, and Samuel Hughes for practicing medicine without a license. Edmund Garrison sought divorce from his wife at this time, and Jane Gan from her husband. The fall term of 1851 was opened within the court-house, the same officers being present as in 1850. In April, 1852, the attorneys' roll was signed by A. Mc F. Hudson, D. C. Dade, R. S. Coleman and W. H. D. Morehouse. E. D. Rowe asked divorce from Emeline Rowe, Thomas Morrison from Sarah, and Reuben Ballew from Rebecca, and in November Ibba Jane Bauch sought to be separated from John, Matilda Morgan from Daniel. In April, 1853, Wilson Van Hooser petitioned for divorce from Julia Ann; a large batch of indictments were returned against card players and men who refused to work the roads. In December, 1854, H. H. Jones was sheriff; otherwise the officers of 1850 were unchanged.

The divorce cases of T. McClendon vs Rebecca, and that of Rebecca Morrison vs Thomas, were presented. Morris Stogedill was indicted for "disclosing a secret". In May, 1855, Thomas J. Mills petitioned for divorce, and a special election was ordered to be held on September 25 to select a clerk, vice Gardner, resigned. In October, Cyrus H. Frost signs the record as clerk; otherwise the list of court officers was unchanged until H. W. Riley was appointed circuit attorney. In May, 1856, Circuit Attorney Woodside resumed his position. In September, 1857, P. H. Edwards presided, with A. Jadwin, sheriff, and on the 28th E. T. Wingo, of Dent County, signed the attorneys' roll; Mary Ellis petitioned for divorce from Asa Ellis, and William I. Hammers from Lucinda. In August, 1858, Nancy Blackburn was indicted for murder, but in June, 1859, the indictment was nolle prossed; V. B. Hill, J. M. Frazier, L. G. Nichol, L. M. Bell and E. Y. Mitchell signed the roll of attorneys. In December, 1858, indictments were returned against James S. and Isabella Winningham for crimes against nature; Lucinda Bartlett asked divorce from Joseph, and in June, 1859, Barbara Butler petitioned to be separated from Philip. In November, 1859, James H. McBride presided, with E. Y. Mitchell, attorney; A. E. Asbury, E. R. Clark, E. A. Stay and J. N. McGuire were permitted to sign the attorneys' roll. In November Henry Kellison was indicted "for taking to much toll", but a jury: B. L. McGee foreman, found him not guilty, and the miller was set free. George Shepherd asked divorce from his wife, Nancy Pitnisin from her husband, George Duthero from his wife, and Missouri Medlock from William H.; William Johnson petitioned for divorce from Elizabeth, Andrew Smith from Elizabeth, Mary J. McClelland from John, and Mary A. Tile from Dennis. In January, 1861, Robert Ratliff asked divorce Sarah, and William Bolding from Susan. In May, 1861 Judge McBride opened court as usual, Mitchell being circuit attorney; James H. Davis, sheriff, and C. H. Frost, clerk. During the year 1860 and the early part of 1861 society here was very much disturbed; even family circles were broken up, and young and old, taking their text from the politics of the time, were guilty of excesses, so that indictments for disturbing families and worship, false swearing, felonious assault and several kindred crimes were returned.

In May, 1862, Judge John S. Waddill presided, with A. McKenny, sheriff. Among the lawyers who took the constitutional oath were William G. Pomeroy, H. C. Warmuth, C. C. Bland, T. M. Lingo, J. S. Warmuth and Samuel G. Williams. A few indictments for horse-stealing were returned.
In September, 1865, Judge VanWormer presided, with J. W. Stephens, circuit attorney; W. G. J. Crow, sheriff, and A. M. Wade, clerk. At this time a supplial of the court record, made under the act of February 8, 1864, was confirmed. In April, 1866, court was opened within the court-house, when petitions for relief from political disability poured in, and John W. Stephens was indicted for disclosing secrets of the grand jury, and also for drunkenness and neglect of duty. Indictments for murder and grand larceny were the order of the day; but the charge of murder against Dabney Lunch was nolle prossed, and also the similar charge against Marion Chambers, while indictments against B. Ellis and W. C. Rodgers were continued. A. C. McDowell was charged with teaching a school at Houston without taking the oath, and Lawyer E. A. Seay for practicing law without taking the oath. A number of voters was also indicted for perjury, in having cast their votes without taking the oath. Seay defended them, and was himself indicted for this crime. An indictment was returned against Judge VanWormer for suffering the grand jury to act without having taken the oath, and C. H. Frost presided as special judge to hear this case, and dismissed it. In April, 1867, Anthony Wright and Richard Ritchen were indicted for murder, and in October found guilty - C. B. Lynch, foreman - and sentenced to be hanged November 29, that year. This sentence was commuted to a life term in the penitentiary, where the criminal died within two or three years. The only scaffold ever erected here for the execution of a criminal was unused.

Indictments growing out of the war were before the court for some years, but the good sense of the people sanctioned their withdrawal. The charge against Dabney Lynch points out clearly the morals of the time. It appears that this pioneer was accustomed to speak of his services in the days of Price's State Guards, and tell of many disastrous affairs in which the Union soldiers came to grief. He was at Houston when the spring term of 1866 opened, when some grim jokers asked him to tell some tales of murder and rapine. They "drew him out" completely, and going before the grand jury, had him indicted for murder. The pioneer, not realizing the aim of the practical jokers, denied every charge in the indictment, and by evidence pointed out that he was never guilty of murder in war or out of war.
Modern Bar - In 1884, when John D. Young was admitted to the bar, he found V. M. Hines still here; F. M. Geiger, a brother of Judge Geiger, who died in the summer of 1888; G. A. Leavitt, still in practice here; Maj. H. J. Herrick, who came about 1881, and L. G. Nichols, now postmaster. Among the attorneys who came after 1884 were Thomas Dooling, now of Lexington, MO; W. E. Moody came in 1886, and moved to Kansas in 1887; W. Ragland, who came in 1887, is a resident attorney. Among the students at Houston are Lucian Nichols, W. T. Elliott and Clark Dooley.

Latter Day Tragedies - From the close of the war to the beginning of railroad building on the present Gulf Road the county was comparatively free from crime. Adam Thomas was killed at Summerville, July 4, 1884, by E. A. Duncan, in the latter's beer saloon. Cave Johnson was shot and killed in December, 1885, while leading a horse out of his neighbor's stable. After being wounded he ran to the bush, where his body was found the next day. Mrs. Ella Williams was killed in October, 1886, while sleeping by her husband's side. On December 3, 1887, Ralph Williams was arrested on the charge, and George Miller for being an accessory. James Hicks, who killed Robert Barnes, at Cabool, in December, 1884, was tried at Houston in July, 1886, found guilty, and sentenced to ten years in State's prison.
The murderer, Milton A. McDaniel, escaped from jail at Houston in October, 1887, where he was confined pending the day set for his execution, or the setting aside of the sentence by the supreme court.

June 1, 1888, George Brown, long before the war one of Texas County's most highly respected, peaceable and law-abiding citizens, surrendered himself, saying he had shot and killed Charley Pierce, his son-in-law, both of whom lived about four miles west of town. Pierce had ruined Brown's daughter, and had been forced by the father to marry the girl two weeks before. He declared his intention of leaving his new wife, and Brown was trying to settle the matter when Pierce drew a revolver and snapped it at his father-in-law. Brown then drew his pistol and shot Pierce in the left side. The latter started to run and Brown shot again at him, but failed to hit him. Then he made a third shot, and hit Pierce in the back of the head, killing him instantly. His examination resulted in holding him for trial without bail, U. M. Hines and H. J. Herrick representing the State, G. A. Leavitt, J. D. Young and T. J. Duling defending.

Charles Dorris, constable of Texas Township, was killed by Peter Renfrow in July, 1888.

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Debbie Linton and Penny Harrell


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