Lady Killers: Ellen Etheridge

Lady Killers: Ellen Etheridge

During the first year after her 1912 marriage to a millionaire farmer, 47-year-old Ellen Etheridge poisoned four of his eight children. She attempted to kill a fifth child by forcing him to drink lye, but the 13-year-old boy escaped and ran for help.

A minister’s daughter, Etheridge confessed to the killings and the attempted murder, laying the blame on what she saw as her husband’s betrayal: He had married her not for love, but to provide an unpaid servant for his offspring, upon whom he lavished both his affection and his money.

In 1913, a Bosque County, Texas, jury sentenced her to life in prison. She died in her sixties at the Goree State Farm for Women in Huntsville, Texas, where by all accounts she was a model prisoner.

(Image: Bosque County Courthouse in Meridian, Texas, as it looks today. Erected in 1886, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)

Wild West Feuds: Brooks vs. McFarland, 1896-1902

Wild West Feuds: Brooks vs. McFarland, 1896-1902

Although most of the violence took place on Oklahoma land belonging the Creek Nation, an attempt to rob a former Texas Ranger started the fight. After the former Ranger killed would-be robber Thomas Brooks, family patriarch Willis Brooks accused neighbor Jim McFarland of planning the unsuccessful crime and then tipping off the Ranger.

Not disposed to sit idly by and watch the family name besmirched, the McFarlands lined up behind Jim and faced off with the Brooks clan. Both sides vowed to shoot members of the other on sight.

The conflict came to a head in a Spokogee, Oklahoma, gunfight in September 1902, when Willis Brooks and his son Clifton were killed along with a McFarland family ally. The survivors were arrested, but allowing them to make bail may have been a mistake: One month later, Jim McFarland died in an ambush at his home.

McFarland’s death put an end to the feud.

Image: Days on the Range (“Hands Up!”) by Frederic Remington, ca. 1900

‘Remember Goliad!’

‘Remember Goliad!’

Presidio la Bahía chapel, date unknown. Fannin was executed in the courtyard.

Though the most infamous by far, the Alamo wasn’t the only massacre during the Texas Revolution.

On March 19 and 20, 1836, two weeks after the Alamo fell, Col. James Fannin and a garrison of about 300 Texians engaged a Mexican force more than three times as large on the banks of Coleto Creek outside Goliad, Texas. Without food or water and running low on ammunition, unwilling to flee and leave the roughly one-third of of their comrades who were wounded or dead, Fannin and his troops surrendered.

Led to believe they were prisoners of war and would be allowed to return to their homes within a couple of weeks, the Texians were marched back to Goliad, where they were imprisoned in their former fortress, Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, which they had christened Fort Defiance. Unbeknownst to the Texians, on December 30 of the previous year, the Mexican congress had decreed any armed insurgents who were captured were to be executed as pirates.

Diagram of Fort Defiance by Joseph M. Chadwick, March 1836. Tents mark the location where various companies camped. Chadwick was among those executed. The U.S. federal government reprinted the map in 1856 with the locations of Fannin’s and Chadwick’s executions marked.

On Palm Sunday, March 27, acting on orders from Mexican President Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla separated into three columns the 303 Texians who were well enough to walk. Sandwiched between two rows of Mexican soldiers, the men were marched out of Fort Defiance along three roads. There, they were shot point-blank. Any who survived the fusillade were clubbed or stabbed to death. Twenty-eight feigned death and escaped.

Inside the fort, the 67 who were wounded too badly to march, including Fannin, were executed by firing squad.

Fannin, 32, was the last to die, after watching the executions of the men who served under him. As the commandant of the garrison, he was allowed a last request. He asked three things: that his possessions be given to his family; that he be shot in the heart, not the head; and that he be given a Christian burial.

The soldiers took his possessions, shot him in the face, and burned his body along with the bodies of the other 341 executed prisoners.

The Goliad massacre further galvanized the Texians. Three weeks later, on April 21 — shouting the battle cry “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” — the ragtag Texian army, under the command of Gen. Sam Houston, captured Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto. Disorganized, demoralized, and leaderless, the Mexican army retreated.

Urged to execute Santa Anna as revenge for the depredations at the Alamo and Goliad, Houston decided to let el presidente live. On May 14, Santa Anna ceded Texas to the Texians in the Treaties of Velasco.

This Monument marks the common grave where the charred remains of the 342 Texians massacred at Goliad are buried
This Monument marks the common grave where the charred remains of the 342 Texians massacred at Goliad are buried.

Though Goliad was one of the seminal events of the Texas Revolution, more than 100 years would pass before the State of Texas erected a monument to the men who died. In 1936, as part of the Texas Centennial celebration, the state earmarked funds for a memorial. The monument was built over the mass grave of Fannin and his men, and dedicated in 1938. The pink granite marker, inscribed with the names of the executed Texians and their comrades who died during the Battle of Coleto, bears the sculpted image of the Goddess of Liberty lifting a fallen soldier in chains.

Though “Remember the Alamo!” is famous around the world, those with the blood of Texas in their veins still recite, with reverence, the whole battle cry: “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”


(Top image: Presidio la Bahía today. In 1836, the Texians who died there called it Fort Defiance.)

“Gone to Texas”

“Gone to Texas”

GTT came into use as an abbreviation for “gone to Texas” in about 1820, when folks starting heading for greener pastures in the Mexican province after losing everything in the financial panic of 1819. As they abandoned their homes, families painted “GTT” on their doors or hung signs from fenceposts so often that the initialism became widely known with amazing speed.

In Texas, men found unbounded opportunity and adventure. Women found unprecedented freedom and civil rights — like the legal right to own separate property. Texas’ Anglo population grew to 20,000 in the 1820s and exploded to more than 140,000 by the 1840s.

Around the middle of the 19th Century, GTT acquired a darker meaning: “at outs with the law.” When folks wanted to discreetly indicate a man’s disreputable reputation, they appended the letters “GTT” to his name. In his 1857 book JOURNEY THROUGH TEXAS, Frederick Law Olmstead noted that many newcomers to the state were suspected of having skipped out on something “discreditable” back home. Thomas Hughes, in his 1884 book G.T.T., wrote “When we want to say that it is all up with some fellow, we just say, `G.T.T.’ as you’d say, ‘gone to the devil,’ or ‘gone to the dogs.'”


Famous Last Words: Capt. William J. Fetterman

Famous Last Words: Capt. William J. Fetterman

Capt. William J. Fetterman overestimated his abilities and severely underestimated his opponent when he told his commanding officer “Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” Later that day, an hour after leaving Fort Phil Kearney in Wyoming Territory, Fetterman disobeyed his commander’s order and crossed the two-mile point beyond which his patrol couldn’t be seen from the fort. Taunted by a small band of Oglala Sioux led by Crazy Horse, Fetterman and his eighty men pursued the “hostiles” … and ran smack into 2,300 Lakota, Arapaho, and Northern Cheyenne. In less than 20 minutes, Fetterman and the men under his command died. Most were scalped, beheaded, dismembered, disemboweled and/or emasculated.
The Indians suffered 63 casualties.

Among the Sioux and Cheyenne, the event is known as the Battle of the Hundred Slain or the Battle of 100 in the Hands. Whites know it better as the Fetterman Massacre. A fort constructed nearly 200 miles to the south was given Fetterman’s name seven months after his death.

Texas Feuds: Reese vs. Townsend, 1898-1907

Texas Feuds: Reese vs. Townsend, 1898-1907

The Reeses and the Townsends got crossways over politics.

U.S. Senator Mark Townsend, the Boss Tweed of Columbus, Texas, withdrew his support from incumbent sheriff Sam Reese and threw his considerable political clout behind Reese’s former deputy, Larkin Hope, instead. When Hope ended up on the wrong end of a broad daylight assassination in downtown Columbus, Reese was the most likely suspect, though no evidence surfaced.

Townsend’s handpicked replacement still defeated Reese in the election.

Perturbed by the unanticipated turn of events, Reese picked a gunfight with a Townsend supporter, thereby moving out of politics and into a casket. The former sheriff’s family vowed to avenge him, provoking five shootouts in Columbus over the following six years. Four combatants died, including Sam Reese’s brother, Dick.

Body count: six.

(Image: A plantation house in Columbus, Texas, ca. 1840)

Texas Feuds: Lee vs. Peacock, 1866-1871

Texas Feuds: Lee vs. Peacock, 1866-1871

Only Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War, which took the lives of twenty to fifty men between 1887 and 1892, outstripped the Lee-Peacock feud of northeast Texas. The fandango grew out of lingering animosity over the Civil War.

Confederate veteran Bob Lee butted heads with an organization of Union supporters. In response Lewis Peacock, the leader of the Union bunch, rounded up a posse to arrest Lee for alleged war crimes. To “settle the charges,” Peacock seized Lee’s valuables and exacted a promissory note for $2,000.

Lee won a subsequent lawsuit, earning an assassination attempt along with the money. His doctor was murdered while Lee convalesced in the medic’s home.

Thereafter, northeast Texas fractured along Union-Confederacy lines and bands of armed men proceeded to track down and do away with their ideological opponents. The Fourth United States Cavalry’s arrival to end the fracas only made things worse: Although a house-to-house search failed to turn up Lee, it sparked several more gun battles.

Lee was betrayed by one of his own men in 1869 and died during the cavalry’s attempt to arrest him. Fighting continued until Peacock’s shooting death in 1871.

Body count: about fifty.


Image: Fighting Over a Stolen Herd, Frederic Remington, 1895

Remember the Alamo!

Remember the Alamo!

On March 6, 1836, the fortified compound Misión San Antonio de Valero — better known as the Alamo — fell after a 13-day siege. In the 90-minute final battle, Mexican Presidente y Generalisimo Antonio López de Santa Anna lost 400-600 of the approximately 2,000 soldados under his command. One hundred eight-five Texian defenders died during the battle or were put to the sword afterward.

The accounts of Santa Anna’s ruthlessness at the Alamo spurred the passion of Texians and allies from the United States. Under the battle cry “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” the ragtag Texian army defeated Santa Anna and his troops at the Battle of San Jacinto six weeks later.

Image: 1854 drawing of the Alamo as it looked then, artist unknown

Texas Feuds: Boyce vs. Sneed, 1911-1912

Texas Feuds: Boyce vs. Sneed, 1911-1912

Wealthy ranchers John Beal Sneed and Albert Boyce, Jr. came to blows over Sneed’s wife. After more than a decade of marriage and two children, in 1911 Lena Sneed admitted to having an affair with Boyce and asked for a divorce. Sneed straightaway had her committed to an asylum. Boyce rescued the damsel in distress, and the couple ran off to Canada.

Incensed when kidnapping charges were dropped, Sneed upped the ante: In early 1912, he murdered Boyce’s unarmed father in the lobby of a Fort Worth hotel. Widely publicized court proceedings ended in a mistrial, spurring a mob of Boyce supporters to storm the courthouse and kill four men. Sneed’s father was the next to go, in an alleged murder-suicide.

Although John and Lena Sneed reconciled in mid-1912, he could not let the insult go: Wearing a disguise, he shot and killed Boyce in broad daylight on a Fort Worth street and then surrendered at the county courthouse. Juries later acquitted Sneed of all charges, calling the killings justifiable homicide. Body count: eight.

Click the image below to read the New York Times report from 1912. You don’t see reporting like that anymore!


Texas Feuds: Sutton vs. Taylor, 1866-1877

Texas Feuds: Sutton vs. Taylor, 1866-1877

Dewitt County Deputy Sheriff William Sutton set off the longest-lasting and most widespread feud in Texas history when, in three separate 1866 incidents, he shot and killed three members of former Texas Ranger Creed Taylor’s family. In 1867, two more Taylors died while Sutton was attempting to arrest them on a minor charge.

After adopting the motto “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall,” the Taylors retaliated by killing two Sutton allies. Mob violence, ambushes, prison breaks, and lynchings ensued. Sutton himself was gunned down while attempting to board a steamboat and high-tail it out of the area.

Numerous attempts at peacemaking failed until Texas Ranger Captain Leander McNelly and his Special Force put a stop to the violence. Body count: at least 35.

The image is Creed Taylor, ca. 1890. He lived a long life.