A Witcher Family Genealogy
James "Key" Witcher
John and Adam Witcher
This essay will document the last days of three Witcher pioneers in Hamilton County, Texas. Those men were James K. Witcher, and his sons John and Adam. I will address a certain battle with the Comanche, in which John and Adam fought, as well as the notoriety and eventual violent death of Adam and his father James K. Witcher at the hands of a Hamilton County mob.
According to an 1850, federal census record, James K. Witcher was born in Tennessee in 1808. It is believed by many researchers this James was a son of Booker Witcher. I cannot verify this claim but do feel it highly likely to be the case.
The Booker Witcher I am referencing was the son of Daniel Witcher, of Smith County, Tennessee.
The Daniel Witcher I am referencing was married to a woman named Susannah Key, whom many believe to have come from the Dalton family of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This Daniel Witcher moved to Smith County, Tennessee, from Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in the late 1790s. He is believed to be a brother of Major William Witcher, of Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Click here for more info pertaining to this Daniel Witcher. Click here to read about Daniel’s son Tandy Witcher, and click here to read information pertaining to Daniel’s grandson, Alphonso Young.
It is probable that James K. Witcher was named James “Key” Witcher, after his great uncle, James Witcher of Smith County, Tennessee, and his grandmother, Susannah (Key) Witcher. I assume James K. Witcher was born in either Smith or neighboring Jackson County, Tennessee, where this branch of the Witcher family pioneered in the late 1790s.
An 1850, federal census record reveals that James K. Witcher was then living with his family in District 7, of Perry County, Illinois. Next door to James lived a certain Lacy Witcher, who could have been James’ brother. In James Witcher’s household we find listed a ten year old Adam Witcher, a fourteen year old John W. Witcher, and five young girls. The assumed wife of James K. Witcher is listed as Jane Witcher, born in 1809 in Tennessee. In fact, all but one of those in that household are listed as born in Tennessee. The exception was a baby, a girl named Jemima M., who was registered as having been born in Illinois.
From research titled, “First Pioneers From Hamilton County,” October 9, 2008, by E.C. Weathers, we know that by 1859, John and Adam Witcher had migrated from Illinois to Hamilton County, Texas. This resource indicates that among the earliest settlers to Hamilton County was, “WITCHER, Adam, and WITCHER, J. E.,” both having arrived in the county after 1858 and before 1860.
The 1860, federal census indicates that as of the 16th of June, J.W. Witcher, age 22, and Adam T. Witcher, age 18, were living in Hamilton County, Texas, in the household of Edward Wallace. Their occupation was listed as “Texas Rangers.”
Living in the neighboring county of Coryell was James K. Witcher. A federal agriculture report for, “Cowhouse Beat, in Coryell County, Texas,” indicates James Witcher owned 160 acres as of July 21, 1860. As we will see later in this essay, James K. Witcher would soon move to Hamilton County, into the household of his son, Adam Witcher.
Hamilton County was founded in 1858. It is southwest of Fort Worth and northeast of Austin by about an equal distance. The county is pretty much dead center within Texas. Records indicate Robert Carter and his family became the first permanent white settlers in the county in 1854. I assume this is the Robert Carter who was killed during the Comanche attack on John Witcher’s detachment of Texas Rangers.
Because of growing pioneer settlements in the area, conflict with the area’s indigenous population exploded out of control, notably with the area’s Comanche tribes. From the beginning of their residency in Hamilton County, John and Adam Witcher served in the local militia, which was at the time known as “Texas Rangers.” These Rangers were local citizens who were sworn in for periods of duty for the purpose of protecting settlers from violent Indian predations. In Hamilton County these militiamen were called, “Hamilton County Minute Detachment of Mounted Rangers.” In 1860, the commander of the Hamilton County Rangers was Lieutenant, F. B. Gentry. In March of that year, the muster roll included J. W. Witcher, first corporal and Adam Witcher, private.
Records indicate that on June 15, 1861, Wilber F. Cotton was captain of the Hamilton County company, and Robert Carter (age 52) was listed as First Lieutenant. This list of men does not include the names, John or Adam Witcher, but from subsequent records for that year, we know these two men were riding with Lt. Carter’s company in defense of the settlers of Hamilton County, Texas.
In October of 1861, John and Adam Witcher’s detachment fought Comanche warriors in what became known as the, “Fight at Lookout Mountain.” Various accounts exist of this skirmish. They generally tell the same story, though nuances exist between each version. However, from these publications we know for certain that John and Adam Witcher fought in the battle which resulted in their commander, Lt. Carter, being brutally killed by the Comanche.
From these various (then contemporary) accounts, we can arrive at a general summation of events pertaining to that mid-October, 1861, battle.
During that day’s scouting trip, John Witcher had ridden some distance from the Rangers, when he unexpectedly came upon a group of Comanche warriors. Most accounts of the battle indicate John was hunting alone for deer, obviously intending the meat to be that evening’s meal. After his initial encounter with the Comanche, being outgunned, John furiously rode his horse to a, “thick shin oak thicket,” at which point he dismounted his animal and successfully ran for his life within the concealment of the gully’s vegetation.
All accounts agree the remaining scout of Rangers eventually engaged the Comanche who were chasing John Witcher. That battle resulted in Lt. Robert Carter being killed. The Houston Telegraph newspaper, dated October 24, 1861, records the death of Lt. Carter this way, “Upon getting together after the fight, it was found that Robert Carter, an old and highly esteemed citizen was missing. The next morning he was found dead upon the field, his back scalp taken, and with twenty-five wounds upon his person.” There is no doubt in my mind this Lt. Robert Carter was the same individual many believe to be the head of the first white household to settle the area of Hamilton County, Texas.
John Witcher did make his escape, under the cover of vegetation and darkness, and was found alive the next day. The book, “Gholson Road: Revolutionaries and Texas Rangers,” indicates John had lost his hat and shoes in his hasty escape from the Comanche. Others within the Ranger’s scout party were gravely wounded. Only Lt. Carter was killed. Apparently, the Comanche suffered their own casualties, as indicated by the great amount of blood left behind the fleeing warriors.
At the bottom of this essay, I have inserted my transcription of the 1861, Houston Telegraph story, which provided to its readers a report of the incident. Several versions of this incident can be found in books and articles, such as, “Indian Fights on the Texas Frontier,” by Deaton, E. L., pages 134-138, and, “Gholson Road: Revolutionaries and Texas Rangers,” by Donna Gholson Cook, pages 236-238. Another interesting version of the story is found here. Unfortunately I cannot cite the original source of this record, but its storyline closely parallels other accounts of the same battle. This record lists both John and Adam Witcher, and their involvement in the battle. Therefore at this point in the essay; I am inserting the body of that document.
“Within four years during the terrible decade of the 1860's, two militia officers named Carter were killed by Indians in the country drained by the Lampasas River and Cowhouse Creek.
Both men were frontier leaders, both had families and the loss of each was deeply felt by a people who feared the full Comanche moons next to the wrath of God.
On October 11, 1861, Lieutenant Robert Carter with nine men of Captain Frank Cotton's company of Hamilton County Minute Men, set out on a ten day scout on the headwaters of the Lampasas River.
Those under Carter's command were Grundy Morris, A.W. Witcher, James Mitchell, Joe Manning, Simpson Lloyd, John Witcher, John Hurst, Dave Morris and one other man.
On October 19, without having seen any Indians, they were at the headspring of the Lampasas River, within a day's ride of their homes. Lieutenant Carter sent J.W. Witcher out to shoot a deer for their final camp, which was to be several miles farther on toward Hamilton.
When they reached that place, and Witcher did not make an appearance, Grundy Morris was sent to Lookout Mountain, near present Caradan in Mills County, to search for Witcher, and perhaps assist him in killing a deer.
Just as Morris reached the crest of Lookout Mountain, Witcher, in the valley below, was attacked by Indians.
Witcher and the Indians were about two miles away, but in plain view of Morris, who watched the chase until Witcher abandoned his horse and ran into a thicket.
Morris, knowing that he could do nothing to assist Witcher, turned his horse and raced back to the command, hoping that Witcher could hold the Indians at bay until he could lead the detachment back to his aid.
Morris had not been gone long when the Indians took Witcher's horse and left him, doubtless having observed that he was well armed and could surely kill the first Indian who entered the thicket.
After nightfall, Witcher left the thicket and soon became lost.
When Morris reached the camp [Lt.] Carter immediately ordered a march to Witcher's relief.
Traveling on their back trail, they reached the spring from which Witcher had left them just as night descended. At a steep ravine just above the spring, their horses suddenly alerted them to the presence of something in their rear by snorting and tossing their heads.
They then discovered that the Indians, who had apparently meant to camp at the spring, had fallen in behind them.
Carter did not hesitate a second before giving the order to attack, and the Indians, of about equal numbers, met them halfway. It was now full dark, and difficult to distinguish friend from foe, but at last, by shouts and whistles on the part of the white men, and birdcalls on the part of the Indians, the two parties regrouped on opposite sides of the ravine.
Carter quickly ordered a second charge, and the fighting became hand to hand. John Hurst and Grundy Morris were seriously wounded when the whites next withdrew to their side of the ravine, and Lieutenant Carter could not be found.
A third attack was made, which caused the Indians to retreat. The white men could tell that several Indians, and several of the Indians' horses, were wounded. If any were killed, their comrades carried them away, as was their custom.
When the minutemen reached their camp, Carter was not there, as they had hoped he would be.
So highly was the lieutenant regarded that A.W. [Adam] Witcher, a brother of the man first attacked by the Indians, and J.R. Townsend crept back in the night to the battleground and searched the area on hands and knees for his body, but failed to find him.
On the following day, Sunday, the battered party made its way home, as the wound of John Hurst, who had an arrow lodged in his spine, demanded attention.
On Monday, a search party recovered the body of Robert Carter. He was shot in a dozen places.”
From various clues provided within these publications, the date of this battle must have been the evening of October 19, 1861.
Here is a link to a publication which recounts this same battle. Within this book, “Indian Depredations in Texas,” by J.W. Wilbarger, on pages 478-479, one can read another perspective of the same event.
After the 1861 battle with the Comanche, John and Adam Witcher re-upped their enlistment with the Texas Rangers in 1864. The company of J. M. Rice was commanded by Major G. B. Erath. It was called into service on January 31, 1864. The ranks of that company included John Witcher, 4th Corp., aged 25, and A. T. Witcher, private, aged 22. Since the Civil War was raging in this year, I have wondered what part, if any, this company of Texas Rangers had in the battles of that conflict. They may have been deployed only to protect the home-front.
From a document known as, “Chesley’s Hamilton County Interviews,” by Hervey Edgar Chesley, Jr., one can obtain additional information about John, Adam, and their father, James K. Witcher. In this collection of interviews with the county’s old-timers, certain physical and character traits can be known about these three Witcher men.
For example one interviewee stated that, “John Witcher, unlike his ill-fated brother Adam, was law-abiding and a great hunter. John Witcher had chin whiskers turning gray.” Another account within the document’s series of interviews indicates, “John was a good man, [and] a good woodsman too.”
In another Hamilton County document, titled, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher,” the author compiled information relating to the Witchers of Hamilton County, as well as his own pithy assessments of that data. The document appears to quote a much older letter which states, “On the Company Roster. Among those marked duty on the roll were: John Witcher, age 21, and his brother, Adam Witcher, age 19. Later, the elder brother John became a woodsman, and was on hand if you needed a guide or huntsman, [he] was a quiet and dependable man by all accounts, and with a frosted beard passes without event from our story. We must assume that they both rendered honest and faithful service.” Later in the letter, John was referred to as “patient and easygoing,” unlike his brother, Adam Witcher, who the document refers to as “energetic and ambitious.”
Yet another document, “Hamilton, Texas,” by Chris Emmett, indicates that, “John Witcher joined the Confederate army, survived the war, came back to Hamilton where he made a fine reputation as a reliable woodsman, then faded into the West—where there are no woods.”
Due to the length of this essay, I have not included on this page images of James K. Witcher or his sons, John and Adam. However, you can click here to see these images on another webpage.
As noted by Chris Emmett, it is believed that John Witcher, son of James K. Witcher, eventually left Hamilton County. However as of 1870, John was still residing in Hamilton County, Texas. We can know this, because the 1870, federal census, indicates John Witcher was living with James Witcher, whom I believe was his father, James K. Witcher. In that record, John was listed as a “day laborer,” who owned 400 acres, and was born in Alabama. It appears the enumerator must have been fact gathering from one of the farms clueless children, when he recorded his finding in that 1870 census record, for we are certain John Witcher, son of James K. Witcher, was born in Tennessee.
John Witcher may have unceremoniously faded from Hamilton County’s history, but his brother Adam and his father James K. did just the opposite. These two men went from Hamilton County law enforcement officers to reviled lawbreakers. As we will see, this switch of reputation resulted in the two men being illegally executed by a violent mob in Hamilton County on September 21, 1872.
After the Civil War, it seems Adam had taken up the business of ranching within the lands of Hamilton County. By 1870, records indicate the man had acquired land in the new town of Hamilton, as well as extensive holdings on the Leon River and other places within the county.
In the record provided in Chris Emmett’s, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher,” we are told that, “Adam took him a wife and established a domicile down the old road along Pecan Creek, and to this day the place, with the shade of the Spanish Oaks and the Live Oaks along the stream have a restful look of quiet repose. He soon acquired more personal effects than you would have believed and a brand of cattle spreading over the open range.”
Emmett continues by writing that, “Old Uncle Sam Bonner, who had been the court clerk in the days of John Wesley Hardin, as the aged justice of the peace told me in Comanche ‘“there used to be a fellow named Adam Witcher that used to come over and shoot up the town.”’ There were some who said he was a rustler and others just a nuisance yet he was an outstanding citizen of his time.” Comanche County, Texas, neighbors Hamilton County just to the northwest. Apparently Adam Witcher frequented this county in the 1870s, a practice which probably contributed to his murder.
In his booklet, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher,” Chris Emmitt further develops the rowdy behavior of Adam Witcher in Comanche County, Texas. “One night when Parson Coker was holding a meeting down on Indian Creek in Comanche about 1872, there was a little disturbance. It resulted in a long indictment being presented against our citizen Adam Witcher- rather quaint in wording, alleging he had come up and ‘“sneered and jeered”’ and disturbed religious worship, the pleading further alleging that the congregation at the time were conducting themselves properly.
Immediately attesting Mr. Witcher’s prominence [were] such men as Dave Smith…. Mr William Snell…. Leon Bottoms…. B.F. Gholson…. and perhaps old Captain James M. Rice.
On his peace bond also was William Sneel. And on the court bond at Comanche was old man Tom J. Moss, of the old Moss Crossing on the Cow House- a rough and ready and good man who ran for sheriff and got only a sprinkling of votes, for it was too early for nester political victories.”
Mr. Emmett continues by writing, “When Adam Witcher’s case was called for trial in the district court of Comanche County, Texas, he was ably represented by one of the prominent Waco legal firms, which in some form still exists. They filed for him a successful motion for continuance on the ground that he was at the time at his home ‘“suffering from gunshot wounds”’ and unable to attend court.”
Then Mr. Emmett, in his essay titled, “Hamilton, Texas,” informs us how it is that Adam Witcher received his “gunshot wounds.”
“After Adam Witcher got out of the Comanche jail he rode back to Hamilton. He arrived there loaded to the gills with fightin’ whiskey, and rode about the town seeking trouble…. Well, Adam spied the log schoolhouse and rode up and down and about reviling and cursing. Schoolteacher A.W. Watson [a disabled, Confederate soldier] peeped out the hole in the wall used as a window, and both seeing and hearing Adam, picked up a long barrel shotgun he kept in the corner for emergencies. And thinking that Adam had created an emergency, Captain Watson balanced the gun across the stub of his left arm and blasted Adam from the saddle. When the smoke cleared away, Captain Watson replaced the gun and turned to the blackboard with: ‘“Children, we will now go on with the arithmetic lesson.”’
Mr. Emmett continues by writing, “Days later, Adam Witcher’s ‘“disturbance of religious worship”’ cause was called at Comanche. Adam was not there, but his Waco lawyers were. They filed a motion for continuance which read: ‘“Adam Witcher, defendant, is wholly unable to be in attendance upon the court at this time and defend himself as he is now confined to his bed suffering from gunshot wounds.”’
The court granted the continuance but tried him later. At the trial Foreman Isham returned a verdict of ‘“not guilty”’ on the grounds that the State had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt the allegations of the indictment. The court report appended a note to the verdict that since the indictment alleged there was ‘“sneering and jeering”’ and that ‘“the religious congregation conducted itself in an orderly manner,”’ there seemed to be doubt in the minds of the jury which of these two statements was true!”
Chris Emmett also writes that James Witcher was known as “Old At.,” and that he lived his last days in a log house which Adam Witcher had built upon the banks of Pecan “Crick,” a few miles from Hamilton. I’ll now quote from, “Hamilton, Texas,” by Chris Emmett, as I describe his version of the events leading up to the murder of James K. Witcher and his son, Adam.
“When the County of Comanche got through with Adam he went back to Hamilton again. And there came another Sunday night. This time Tom J. Moss, the teetotaler, as was his custom, attended church services in the church house on Bell Avenue…. After church services were well under way, a terrific noise smote the Sunday night air. There was yelling which vied with the Comanche warwhoop and the Confederate cavalry charge. Mr. Moss looked out the door and he saw Adam Witcher leading the way on his running horse. Old At. came next. Then followed a fastidious young man named Clary and another young man named Muldrew.
When the shouting, cursing drunken revelers approached the church, they emptied their pistols into the church. Result: One casualty. Rufus Price Rice, son of the county judge, was shot slightly in the little finger.
But Old Man Tom Moss stood quietly in the doorway until Adam Witcher came alongside. Then he reached under his coattail and produced an old ‘‘pepper-shaker’’ pistol, which he emptied point blank at Adam. Adam, however, was riding so fast that the bullets did not get there until [his] father At. came along. One slug hit Old At. squarely on the jaw and almost amputated it. He fell from the saddle and the congregation assembled around him. He, then and there, promised that he [Old At.] would not kill any of them if they would promise not to kill him until they put him in jail. That agreement was effected….”
The booklet named, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher,” further develops how Adam and the “Old Man” were executed. It states that the mob eventually captured Adam Witcher and placed him under arrest. Emmett’s booklet then indicates, “Mr. Adam Witcher somewhat older in years, was a man of standing and property, was a fixture in the community, and he could not, or thought he need not, run away. So they dumped him into a log house down on the northeast corner of the square, along with old Man Witcher. Mr Dave Carter was telling the writer that the older vigilance gang counseled moderation and due process of law, but that the other faction turned the ‘“boys”’ loose on them-not modern Boy Scouts doing their good turn. They blacked their faces like negroes, maybe out of respect to the negro police infesting the country in those days, went in the nighttime, broke down the doors, and shot Adam to death and the Old Man for good measure.”
Chris Emmett continues, “One of the boys they say didn’t wash his face very well and went around for two or three days afterwards partly black and partly white. As late as 1932 this boy, then a soft spoken and toothless old man, talking to us, replectively, told us ‘“we were going to hang Clary but old Crockett Hendricks harbored him, the old sonofabitch.”’
Mr. John Martin Blansit said that the next morning after the killing when he was ten years old he rode behind his father, Mr. J.C. Blansit, who resides in the same community down the creek as the Witchers, came to town, where they saw Adam Witcher lying in state, and he was much impressed for he had never seen such a thing before, though he may have seen some of it later in the cattlemen and sheepmen wars in Montana. He said that Witcher was ‘“a dark and tall man.”’
Chris Emmett continues by writing, “So thus Adam Witcher Esquire died without benefit of counsel or clergy in the year 1873, just over a hundred years ago.” [As we will see, other records are clear that the assassinations took place in September of 1872]
At this point in his essay, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher,” Mr. Emmett waxes philosophical about the murder of Adam and James K. Witcher. “Though we are in later days committed to the glories of the nester civilization, maybe we should pause and seek out if possible their point of view, that so broke the peace. This must have been beautiful country in those days, tall native grass to the belly of a horse, gorgeous wild flowers in their season like a Persian carpet, the fleet antelope going with the wind, prairie chickens so thick one had to step around them, the little black bears out in the hills. General James Hailton wrote ‘“the country between the San Gabriel and the Leon is the most beautiful in the state.”’ These men may have seen the coming nester as the despoiler of all this and sought to preserve and protect. Or more likely Adam acted on his own initiative, he may have been mired by drink, or he may have been the impulsive tool of some older heads.”
After the death of James K. and Adam Witcher, probably fearing a grand jury investigation, certain citizens of Hamilton County, Texas, began a letter writing campaign to newspapers around the country. The purpose of the letters was to impugn the character of these two men, which the mob had just murdered, and thus the community sought to justify their crimes.
The citizens who wrote the newspaper articles indicated Adam Witcher had been involved in disrupting a place of public worship at least four times within eighteen months of his death, and that the event which lead to their death was Adam’s attempt to kill two men who were innocently worshipping within church he attacked. Some have since contested that specific allegation. The letters went on to call Adam Witcher a “notorious desperado.” One published letter went so far as to say Hamilton County had suffered, “from the Witchers….more than ever from Indians. Indians every moon would have been preferred to them.” The writer was of course referring to the Comanche depredations suffered by the dreaded “Comanche Moon” raiding parties.
From these series of letters written to various newspapers, it can be concluded that the murders of Adam and James K. Witcher occurred Saturday 21, 1872. Two of these transcripted newspaper articles will be posted immediately below the conclusion of this essay.
Here is my researched opinion of the execution of James K. and Adam Witcher. At first the disruptive “sneering and jeering” of these Hamilton County cowboys around “houses of worship” may seem illogical and bizarre. However, I believe a line found in one of the published open letters may shed light on what triggered their disruptive, criminal behavior. A letter published in the Galveston Daily News, dated September 25, 1872, stated, “Adam Witcher has for years been a terror to this western country, keeping out immigration and almost ruining the county in which he lived.”
These nester citizens (as they were scornfully called) were seen by some early Texas ranchers as a major threat to the open-range way of life. Settlers meant more settlers, whose family farms then erected fences across the grasslands. Therefore, churches and schools were generally not welcomed by some of Texas’ early cattlemen, as they were perceived to enable the establishment of these “nesters.” The arrival of civilization meant the end of their way of life, an existence these ranchers once knew and loved. I believe this encroachment could have been what provoked men like Adam Witcher’s outrageous behavior. Well, that and an unhealthy amount of hard liquor!
Gone was the memory of sacrifices made by the Witcher men, when they once defended the civilian community against Comanche attacks. They were now viewed as the predators, a nuisance to the community, “notorious desperados,” who could justifiably be executed through the punitive actions of the mob. However, records testify the mob ruled unjustly, when it sentenced both men to their cruel death. In hindsight, it seems incarceration in state lockup would have been a more just punishment for the actions of these drunken cowboys.
After the death of James Key and Adam Witcher, various Hamilton County, criminal charges against the men were dropped. Some of these indictments including stealing cattle, but since evidence was never presented or refuted, we of course will never know if these two men were guilty as charged.
The estate records indicate “E. J. Wyatt” made a coffin for Adam Witcher. The value of the coffin was five dollars, which was paid for out of Adam’s estate. Mr. Wyatt received a plow from the estate valued by the executor at five dollars. The administrator of Adam’s estate also recorded that, “As Guardian of Minor Forrest Witcher, I sold on the 1st day in June 1874 one pony horse which had been given to him….” Thus from the estate records, we know the name of at least one of Adam Witcher’s offspring, a certain boy named Forrest Witcher.
I will conclude by quoting the musings of Chris Emmett, from his essay, “The Case of Mr. Adam Witcher.” Mr Emmett wrote, “That did not end religious litigation over on Indian Creek in Comanche. As late as the thirties of this century when holyrollers became so noisy that citizens claimed they couldn’t sleep at night, some came into the same district court and sought a writ of injunction to stop it. And when the Jehovah Witnesses, not intending any disrespect, banged down or were alleged to have, they erected a city ordinance against it, which was fought all the way to the United States Supreme Court and upheld.
Maybe poor Adam when he heard the shouting just wanted to start shooting, and there may have been no one to explain to him the peace that passeth all understanding…. And maybe some of the pistol toting parsons in the old days could have reached [him] some better way. But who would want to live in a community without churches and schools?”
For your research convenience, I have posted below the complete documents from which I have quoted in this essay. Also, you can view images of James “Key” Witcher and his sons John and Adam by clicking HERE.
If you are a descendant of John or Adam Witcher, sons of James Key Witcher, I would very much love to communicate with you. Please drop an email to me.
Wayne Witcher, fifth, great-grandson of Major William Witcher of Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
Desperadoism in Hamilton County.
Hamilton, Hamilton Co, September 26, 1872.
Editors State Journal:
I send for publication the following brief account of one of the most wicked outrages ever perpetrated, with a final termination bloody and just. On Saturday night last the wild desperado, Adam Witcher, who assaulted Judge Osterbout in the street and tried to break up his court, the first court he ever held here, with his father James Witcher, and six or seven others the notorious Bill Clary among them, endeavored to breakup a religious meeting here in town. There were only two men in the congregation whom they had a particular desire to kill, but they cared not how many others should become their victims. They fired at least fifteen shots at and into the church, several of the balls striking the wall above the floor; many other balls must have passed through the house as the fore from their pistols flew in through the door and cracks. But few of the congregation were armed and the parties could not be arrested. From five to ten shots were returned by citizens, on shot passing through Adam Witcher’s jaw.
Providentially, (it could not have been any other way) none of the congregation were hurt. The women and children threw themselves upon the floor, and then their pistols seemed to be pointed considerably upward. Such a scene of confusion and terror can hardly be described. That night, after the outrage, the old man Witcher and two others of the crowd were caught. The next day Adam Witcher was arrested by a crowd of about fifteen citizens, and turned over to the proper authorities. On Sunday night it was feared they would be mobbed, and precautions were taken. As it was not attempted then, it was not much feared afterward; but on Monday night Adam, and the old man Witcher were killed. At the inquest the witnesses testified that fifteen or twenty armed, disguised and unknown men came up from the rear of the guard-house, overpowered the guard, and shot seven balls into the body of Adam and one into the old mans. Nothing, of course, is known as to those who thus took the administration of justice into their own hands, but it is thought to have been done by the best citizens of the county. From the Witchers this county has suffered more than ever from Indians. Indians every moon would have been preferred to them. [A Comanche moon is a full moon -- allowing night travel -- in the autumn, when the rains have returned, there is grass for the ponies, and the barns are stocked from the harvest] This disturbance of public worship was their fourth within the last eighteen months.
Three others of the Witcher party have been tried and convicted.
All quiet now. Very Respectfully.
The Galveston Daily News
Galveston, Friday, October 4, 1872
Hamilton, Hamilton Co., Tex.,
September 25, 1872
Editors News—I send you this item of news, hoping that the newspapers of the State, and older States, will do Hamilton County the favor to copy it. The notorious desperado, Adam Witcher, and his father, James Witcher, were killed at this place on Monday night last [the evening of September 23, 1872]. Adam Witcher has for years been a terror to this western country, keeping out immigration and almost ruining the county in which he lived. On last Saturday night [September 21, 1872] he, his father, and six or seven others, broke up a religious meeting in this place, firing about fifteen shots at and into the house. From five to ten shots were returned by members of the congregation, very few of whom were armed. The women and children threw themselves upon the floor, and none of them were hurt. Adam Witcher was that night shot through the jaws. An outrage so atrocious as this unprovoked attack upon a worshipping congregation, was never heard of. Yet it was Adam Witcher’s third offense of the same kind. He, his father, and some others of his party, were afterwards arrested. On Monday night fifteen or twenty disguised men, thought to be the best citizens of the county, overpowered and disarmed the guard, and put seven balls into the body of Adam Witcher, and one into the old man’s. No precaution of the officers could prevent the mobbing. The violence of their…..regretted, of course, but having ….feels relief, and nearly…..thanks God. These men….worse than fifty Indians to…. They are gone now. I … come on; we have one….counties in the Stats—good …unsurpassed, land …..land for preemptors…
Very Truly yours, Citizen
A desperate encounter with Indians--a scouting party badly cut up.
The Houston Telegraph
of the 4th instant, publishes the following letter from Lampasas, Hamilton county, Texas, on the frontier, under date of October 24th:
A terrible conflict occurred in Hamilton county, about 40 miles above this place, about twilight on Saturday evening last, between a scout of seven or eight citizens and a party of Indians, 12 or 13 in number. The scout had stopped for the night, when Witcher, who had ridden some distance from camp, was discovered by the Indians, who at once gave chase, and pursued him so closely that he was compelled to abandon his horse, and save himself by concealment in the thick shin oak thicket. Grundy Morris, another of the party, who was about three-quarters of a mile from camp, afoot, saw the chase, but not recognizing Witcher, supposed they were in pursuit of a beef, and giving notice to his comrades, they were soon in the saddle and after the Indians, who promptly turned upon them and gave battle, which raged until dark with great fury, when the soon's having exhausted their fire, were compelled to retire.
Upon getting together after the fight, it was found that Robert Carter, an old and highly esteemed citizen was missing. The next morning he was found dead upon the field, his back scalp taken, and with twenty-five wounds upon his person; his horse was lying dead near him. An arrow passed through the calf of Morris's leg, and punctured the sweat leather of his saddle. Generally pinning him to it. Mr. Hurst was shot through the side, the spike of the arrow lodging in the spine, and so firmly was it embedded there, Dis Ryan and Douglas inform me, that in extracting it, the whole body was raised before it gave way — the arrow had previously been broken off near the spike, in an attempt to withdraw it. Lloyd's horse was wounded and died the next day. Townsen's received an arrow in the fore shoulder and one in the hind leg. It is supposed that several of the Indians were wounded, but they managed to cling to their horses. They were subsequently pursued into Comanche county, where they scattered and made good their retreat.
The case of Mr Adam Witcher
First of a trilogy of Assassinations in Hamilton County in the Seventies
(Following a letter written to Chris Emmett, June 20, 1953.)
Not long ago you wrote that you were interested in the history of some of the “maker” citizens of our home town and county. Since you have been adrift so long I might possibly refresh your mind on one of them whose history sort of intrigued me some years ago, though he might have been a “maker” in a more negative sense, depending perhaps on the point of view. That is the story of Adam Witcher, Esquire.
On Scout with Captain Gentry
The first time I see Mr. Witcher on the pages of history is found in the diary of Old Captain Frederick Gentry in 1860 when he was riding from Twin Mountains to Hoover’s knobs and along the Leon and Cow House for Indian sign. The good and genial old veteran of San Jacinto wasn’t having much trouble with the Indians but quite a bit with his own small command. About one-third had deserted and another third never had even reported to duty.
So the Captain sat down and wrote a letter to his old commander, Sam Houston, who was then in the Governor’s chair, about his troubles. Houston replied in strong language that he wouldn’t tolerate such a situation and that none of the delinquents was to get a dime of state money. He wound up by saying a certain Captain Hall would be along at an early date to inspect.
(There is the story of a certain Captain Hall, who several years later was trying to gather up some Confederate deserters down below here during the Civil War and was unceremoniously hung. He was possibly the same man.)
On the Company Roster
Among those marked duty on the roll were: John Witcher, age 21, and his brother, Adam Witcher, age 19. Later, the elder brother John became a woodsman, and was on hand if you needed a guide or huntsman, was a quiet and dependable man by all accounts, and with a frosted beard passes without event from our story. We must assume that they both rendered honest and faithful service.
Most of the young men here as I understand who did not volunteer in the Confederate Army were in frontier companies, thus being denied the privilege of dying gloriously in Shiloh or Gettysburg. And again we see the Witcher brothers in a 1863 skirmish with the Comanches out on Vista Mountain. Others so engaged were “Square” Simpson Loyd and one Hughes, who may be of interest later in the story. In this battle Lieutenant Carter met his death and it seems that John and Adam Witcher carried on a delaying action.
Mr. Witcher makes Quick Advance
Unlike the patient and easygoing John it seems Adam was of an energetic and ambitious and acquisitive turn. By 1870 the records show he owned town lots in the new town of Hamilton, had acquired title to the De La Garza Survey down on the Leon River, and put down gold coin to the unheard of tune of sixbits an acre for the Gregnon Survey just north of town. Part of this he sold off to Thomas Hambright, who served briefly as appointed sheriff. But we must leave the Hambright corner and this interesting family and their relatives the Dinkins and the Doloffs and go on with our story.
Adam Settles on Placid Pecan Creek
Adam took him a wife and established a domicile down the old road along Pecan Creek, and to this day the place, with the shade of the Spanish Oaks and the Liveoaks along the stream have a restful look of quiet repose. He soon acquired more personal effects that you would have believed and a brand of cattle spreading over the open range. Seems he would enjoy this paradise as he rode over the hill and prairies with his spyglass, when barbed wire was yet unheard of. And you might picture him quietly spending his evening in the bosom of his family in his rocking chair and with his fiddle.
But has some Unquieting Habits
Old Uncle Sam Bonner, who had been the court clerk in the days of John Wesley Hardin, as the aged justice of the peace told me in Comanche “there used to be a fellow named Adam Witcher that used to come over and shoot up the town.” There were some who said he was a rustler and others just a nuisance yet he was an outstanding citizen of his time.
With his restless disposition maybe he ought to have gone west and become a big cowman like old Sam Gholson of the Langford’s Cover community this side of Gholson Gap. Or he could have settled in Comanche, roaring frontier town of the time, and if he wanted action have had it out with a young man at the poker table at that time by the name of John Wesley Hardin. We don’t know for sure they got acquainted.
Parson Coker’s Camp Meeting
One night when Parson Coker was holding meeting down on Indian Creek in Comanche about 1872 there was a little disturbance. It resulted in a long indictment being presented against our citizen Adam Witcher- rather quaint in wording, alleging he had come up and “sneered and jeered” and disturbed religious worship, the pleading further alleging that the congregation at the time were conducting themselves properly.
Immediately attesting Mr. Witcher’s prominence such men as Dave Smith, the young man who was first elected sheriff of Hamilton County; Mr William Snell who drove respectable herds up the trail, an honorable man on the Leon Bottoms, dark, bearded and handsome as he rode his prancing horse with his Spencer rifle strapped to his saddle; B.F. Gholson, who told us the story of the Pease River Battle in 1860 sitting on his front gallery in the old rockhouse, a solid man; and perhaps old Captain James M. Rice, who they say followed the path of the right as undeviatingly as he drove his steers on the Gold Rush and back.
On his peace bond also was William Snell. And on the court bond at Comanche was old man Tom J. Moss, of the old Moss Crossing on the Cow House- a rough and ready and good man who ran for sheriff and got only a sprinkling of votes, for it was too early for nester political victories. That came later with a citizens’ uprising on the more open country of Blue Ridge south of Hamilton.
Against the Peace and Dignity of the State
When Adam Witcher’s case was called for trial in the district court of Comanche County, Texas, he was ably represented by one of the prominent Waco legal firms, which in some form still exists. They filed for him a successful motion for continuance on the ground that he was at the time at his home “suffering from gunshot wounds” and unable to attend court.
While he was in this condition it is said that a young lawyer new to the country by the name of Patrick Adamson went down there and by torch light got his signature before the county clerk, Isaac Steen to an instrument in the form of a deed purporting to convey to Mr. William Snell the Gregnon Survey and the extensive De La Garza lands on the river. This may have been intended as security in the form of a mortgage. Mr Snell could have reasonably become uneasy about being on Mr. Witcher’s peace bond.
Along about this time Old Captain A.H.Watson was teaching his private school in a log house up the street in Hamilton. Originally from South Carolina, he had been among the other South Carolinians at Liberty Hill, the Shinoak Ridge country, before coming to Hamilton. Despite the hard riding, loud talk, and hard riding, there may have been more culture here, at least in spots, than now, because of the infusion into the community of college men from the Old South of the Ante-bellum days.
The Old Captain Opens Fire
It was said one day a man on horseback kept riding back and forth in front of the school in a menacing manner as if to break up the school. Possibly also knowing the man, the old captain, and it is a pleasure to have known him in later years, quietly got the shotgun that was leaning against the wall, rested it on the stub of the arm he had lost in the war, took deliberate aim, and shot the gentleman from the horse, and quietly resumed the grammar lesson. Would it be too much of an historical license to say this may have been Adam Witcher and this the cause of the grievous gunshot wounds alleged in the trial?
Court Again Cried
In the fullness of time the cause of The State of Texas versus Adam Witcher was again called for trial before the Honorable Osterhout, of Belton, the not unpopular Reconstruction district judge, in those days met on horseback by the boys and escorted to the several county seats. The state evidently failed to make out a case, though the record is silent as to whether they failed to prove that, “inspired by the solicitations of the Devil,” as the indictment charged, or that as the document further stated had the congregation were conducting themselves in a decorous manner. Foreman Isham brought in a verdict of not guilty.
These trials were not uncommon at the time. Over in Hamilton outlaw Hisaugh, who later had his day in New Mexico, sauntered into a meeting with his fortyfive strapped on his hip and took his seat. He was indicted for disturbing religious worship, tried and convicted, and the case appealed. The higher court after some puzzlement reversed the case, stating in their written opinion that no evidence had been presented except that a bad man went to church, which they may have thought was a good thing.
Back in Hamilton County
Perhaps it would have been better for Adam Witcher and the community if the Comanche jury had convicted him and meted out some punishment prescribed by law, for it seems that the rigors of the trial did not lessen the ardor of his zeal. One night in the next year after the Comanche episode in 1873 meeting was going on in Hamilton. It was in a log house in the edge of the woods out what is now called Bell Avenue. In the congregation were among others Grandma Pierson, who had recently opened up the famous hotel and stage stop on the square, Rufus Rice, then a boy, the first born white child in the county, whom years later I knew as a neighbor. And among the worshipers was the same old man Tom Moss who had gone on Adam’s bond at Comanche.
Hardly had the first hymn been sung or the parson had opened his book when a calvacade of horsemen dashed from saloon row down the street, passed Grandma Pierson’s log house, on beyond the Bell residence, and Captain Saxon’s place, in their mad ride toward the church, dust flying and yelping dogs scampering for cover. And they fired a fusilage of bullets, at, over, or about the schoolhouse. It is said that little Rufus Rice, probably there with his mother, received a slight wound in the hand.
It is not assumed that these men really intended real physical damage or aimed more than to frighten and discourage the nesters who were invading the country of the cowman and the open range. It is impossible of course to definitely name all the night-riders, but the group included Mr. Adam Witcher, Old Man At Witcher, his father, though some doubted his presence, a young fellow named Jim Muldrew who lived out near Moss’s Crossing on the Cow House, and a fastidious young newcomer with shining boots by the name of Clary.
Now old man Tom Moss had gone on Mr. Witcher’s bond over in Comanche when charged with disturbing worship but when he himself was trying to a bit of church going, this was just too much, whether friend or foe. He dashed out,and fired his small “pepper-shaker” pistol, a ball from which is said to have passed through Old Man Witcher’s cheek.
When Jim Muldrew got home that night his father counseled him to get on the fastest horse he could find and depart the country. And it seems that for once he did listen to such advice, for he passes out of our history. And it is said Old Man Muldrew himself migrated not long afterwards. The young man named Clary lingered in the country for a time, layed up in a thicket in the Leon River country, and it is said had food brought to him by instigators or sympathizers.
Most of these boys were footloose, but it has been said long ago that “he who hath a wife and children hath given a hostage unto fortune.” (Francis Bacon). Mr. Adam Witcher, somewhat older in years, was a man of standing and property was a fixture in the community, and he could not, or thought he need not, run away. So they dumped him into a log house down on the northeast corner of the square, along with old Man Witcher. Mr Dave Carter was telling the writer that the older vigilance gang counseled moderation and due process of law, but that the other faction turned the “boys” loose on them-not modern Boy Scouts doing there good turn. They blacked their faces like negroes, maybe out of respect to the negro police infesting the country in those days, went in the nighttime, broke down the doors, and shot Adam to death and the Old Man for good measure.
One of the boys they say didn’t wash his face very well and went around for two or three days afterwards partly black and partly white. As late as 1932 this boy then a softspoken and toothless old man, talking to us, replectively, told us “we were going to hang Clary but old Crockett Hendricks harbored him, the old sonofabitch.”
Mr. John Martin Blansit said that the next morning after the killing when he was ten years old he rode behind his father, Mr. J.C. Blansit, who resides in the same community down the creek as the Witchers, came to town, where they saw Adam Witcher lying in state, and he was much impressed for he had never seen such a thing before, though he may have seen some of it later in the cattlemen and sheepmen wars in Montana. He said that Witcher was “a dark and tall man.”
So thus Adam Witcher Esquire died without benefit of counsel or clergy in the year 1873, just over a hundred years ago. Some have said he counted out a thousand dollars to have Judge James A Eidson to defend him. It was long ago said that the evil men do lives after them but that the good is oft interred with their bones. That finish Adam Witcher but not his affairs for it would seem their effect may have run on down the seventies and caused or contributed to several other assinations.
Though we are in later days committed to the glories of the nester civilization, maybe we should pause and seek out if possible their point of view, that so broke the peace. This must have been a beautiful country in those days, tall native grass to the belly of a horse, gorgeous wild flowers in their season like a Persian carpet, the fleet antelope going with the wind, prairie chickens so thick one had to step around them, the little black bears out in the hills. General James Hailton wrote “the country between the San Gabriel and the Leon is the most beautiful in the state.” These men may have seen the coming nester as the despoiler of all this and sought to preserve and protect. Or more likely Adam acted on his own initiative, he may have been mired by drink, or he may have been the impulsive tool of some older heads.
The Boot on the Other Foot
That did not end religious litigation over on Indian Creek in Comanche. As late as the thirties of this century when the hollyrollers became so noisy that citizens claimed they couldn’t sleep of a night, some came into the same district court and sought a writ of injunction to stop it. And when the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not intending any disrespect, banged down or were alleged to have, they erected a city ordinance against it, which was fought all the way to the United States Supreme court and upheld.
Maybe poor Adam when he heard the shouting just wanted to start shooting, and there may have been no one to explain to him the peace that passeth all understanding.
It is said there was a time when the question of the propriety of public education was debated in the legislative halls, that is, book learning might be all right for lawyers, parsons, and doctors, and some ciphering for keeping books, but would there be anyone wanting to do the ordinary work after too much schooling? And maybe some of the pistol toting parsons in the old days could have reached them some better way. But who would want to live in a community without churches and schools?
That “The Baptists and the Johnson grass have taken over the country,” as stated by one sage is not true.
Shortly after the sudden death of Mr. Adam Witcher and his father, Old Man At Witcher, the widow of Adam Witcher passed away. To complete the record there follows the record in part of the administration of the estate and distribution of its effects.
I be leave to submit the following report of Sales of the Effects of the Estate of A.J. Witcher, Deceased , after advertising according to law to Sell on the 27th day of December, 1873 to the highest bidder on a credit of twelve months on all….
[extensive list of items sold in auction]
As Guardian of the Minor Forrest Witcher I sold on the 1st day in June 1874 one pony horse which had been given to him by C.W. Lutterlow which was bid off by E.D. Smith at 22.50.
[from pursuant court records]
Now comes Isaac H. Steen adm of the Estate of the said Estate as follows…. Said adm. would further state that at the time of the death of A.J.Witcher E.J.Wyatt had a plow in his possession belonging to the said A.J. Witcher worth about 5.00; that the said E.J. Wyatt made the coffin in which the said A.J. Witcher was buried, for which he charged $5.00. As the said plow was never reported in the inventory of the estate of the said A.J. Witcher adm. Allowed said claims to balance & reports accordingly….
Among Captain Gentrys’ fighting men, however, were, at least three who helped make Hamilton County history. At this stage, I will not detail what kind of history they made, leaving that to its proper place in this narrative. Those men were Simpson Lloyd, two brothers, John Witcher (age 21) and Adam (age 19). These three men ran into an Indian raiding party near Hoover Knobs, in the northeastern part of the county near where Old At. Witcher, father of the two boys lived, and they fought the Indians so hard and so successfully that, at least, the Indians would have told old Sam Houston that Captain Gentry’s company was short of recruits.
Now, let us take a look at Simpson Lloyd. Simpson Lloyd was a noted Indian fighter long before he led the Witcher boys at Hoover Knobs…….
Now let us get on the trail of Captain Gentry’s valiant Rangers John and Adam Witcher, again.
John Witcher joined the Confederate army, survived the war, came back to Hamilton where he made a fine reputation as a reliable woodsman, then faded out into the West – where there was no woods.
Adam Witcher remained in Hamilton to make trouble for himself and a reputation which outlasted him, at least, more than half a century. He built a log house down Pecan ‘Crick’ a few miles from town, let his father, Old At – as he was called – move in with him, and became quite thrifty. By 1870 – when he had but two years more to live, as circumstances made it – he owned some lots in the town of Hamilton, had bought two leagues of land in the county, paying in gold six-bits an acre; he had acquired a wife and several children; and had his brand on a large number of cattle running freely all over the county. The source of his income, I do not know.
While Adam and his father, Old At, were range branding cattle and consuming hard liquor, some other people had come to the town and they were attempting to establish a nucleus of civilization. Both a church and a school had been built. Three teachers came to the country, Harry Medford, age 28, Andrew Morris, 34, and a woman, who gave her age as 19, Jane Snow. These were supplemented by another woman, Ann Whitney, who was killed by the Indians near Hoover Knobs, while she secreted her pupils under the puncheon floor, and a one-armed man fresh from the Battle Field of Shiloh, Captain A.H. Watson.
The first church to be built was the Church of Christ. At that time the good brothers and sisters were trying to be harmonious among themselves, so all denominations used the church until other structures were erected. The first preacher seems to have been a Methodist, the Reverend Peter W. Gravis; but I am not informed as to whether or not he was the minister in charge on the occasion I shall now relate.
One of the associates of Adam and Old At Witcher was as unholy a thug as ever wrote a chapter in Texas criminology. He was James Hisaugh. He was known to be a killet with all the aplomb of the Honorable John Wesley Hardin, who, incidentally, was a resident of Comanche, some thirty miles westward…. Adam Witcher’s playmate, James Hisaugh, was entirely unfamiliar with the decorum of churches, so finding himself heavily loaded one evening with Ike Malone’s freshly tapped barrel goods, he staggered around the lot until the church door came by and he entered, taking a seat amidst the clang of his shooting equipment. The good brothers, seeing this plug-ugly in their midst, pounced upon with great suddenness, and he was little more than sober after his sojourn in jail, until he was convicted for disturbance of the peace. Obviously there was to be no peace of the honorable James Hisaugh in Hamilton, so he appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals at Austin. That good and just tribunal handed down a decision which shows it knew both the facts and the law:
“We reverse and dismiss the case against defendant Hisaugh because of a lack of evidence that anything happened except that a bad man went to church.”
Old At. Witcher found it expensive to keep up with his son, Adam’s, pace, so he sold his land near Hoover’s Knobs to Thomas Hambright….
Let us go back to the Witcher trail one more time. While Fred and Samuel were learning to drink whiskey, the career of Adam and Old At was drawing to a close. Adam is heard from over at Comanche where one citizen branded him as a cowthief. Another man thought he was not, but this man said he would say: Adam Witcher is a general damn nuisance in this community.” Adam tried to prove the Comanche County appraisal to be correct. He had evidently heard about Hisaugh’s difficulty growing out of his church attendance, and learning that Parson Coker was holding a meetin’ down on Indian Creek (where Comanche now stands), Adam decided to honor Parson Coker with his presence. He did so, but failed to like what he heard and saw, so – according to the record – he jeered and sneered so loud and so long that the congregation behaving themselves in an “orderly manner” fell upon Adam and locked him so securely in the Comanche County jail that it took Dave Smith, the sheriff of Hamilton County, Jim Rice, the county judge, William Snell, a prominent cattleman, and Tom J. Moss, a renowned teetotaler, to open the jail doors for him.
A sidelight of history at this point is worthy of notice. Shortly after William Snell helped bail Witcher out of jail, he was assassinated from ambush near Hamilton. He left surviving him a son who became notorious in America, Bud Snell, the originator of the rodeo and organizer of Booger Red’s Wild West Show. Tom J. Moss was spared for a better service. Remember this name.
After Adam Witcher got out of the Comanche jail he rode back to Hamilton. He arrived there loaded to the gills with fightin’ whiskey, and rode about the town seeking trouble. It appears from the record that the schoolhouse had been rebuilt after Samuel Hambright glorious day and that Albert Sidney Johnston’s ex-Confederate soldier, who had lost his left arm at the wrist, had entered upon his duty as ‘teacher.’ Well, Adam spied the log schoolhouse and rode up and down and about reviling and cursing. Schoolteacher A.W. Watson peeped out the hole in the wall used as a window, and both seeing and hearing Adam, picked up a long barrel shotgun he kept in the corner for emergencies. And thinking that Adam had created an emergency, Captain Watson balanced the gun across the stub of his left arm and blasted Adam from the saddle. When the smoke cleared away, Captain Watson replaced the gun and turned to the blackboard with: “Children, we will now go on with the arithmetic lesson.”
Days later, Adam Witcher’s “disturbance of religious worship” cause was called at Comanche. Adam was not there, but his Waco lawyers were. They filed a motion for continuance which read:
“Adam Witcher, defendant, is wholly unable to be in attendance upon the court at this time and defend himself as he is now confined to his bed suffering from gunshot wounds.”
The court granted the continuance but tried him later. At the trial Foreman Isham returned a verdict of “not guilty” on the grounds that the State had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt the allegations of the indictment. The court report appended a note to the verdict that since the indictment alleged there was “sneering and jeering” and that “the religious congregation conducted itself in and orderly manner,” there seemed to be doubt in the minds of the jury which of these two statements was true!
When the County of Comanche got through with Adam he went back to Hamilton again. And there came another Sunday night. This time old Tom J Moss, the teetotaler, as was his custom, attended church services in the ‘church house’ on Bell Avenue. Bell Avenue took its name from Charles K. Bell, a renowned resident of Hamilton, one time Attorney General of Texas and the defeated (by Tom Campbell) governor of Texas. After church services were well under way, a terrific noise smote the Sunday night air. There was yelling which vied with the Comanche warwhoop and the Confederate cavalry charge. Mr. Moss looked out the door and he saw Adam Witcher leading the way on his running horse. Old At. came next. Then followed a fastidious young man named Clary and another young man named Muldrew.
When the shouting, cursing drunked revellors approached the church, they emptied their pistols into the church. Result: One casualty. Rufus Price Rice, son of the county judge, was shot slightly in the little finger.
But Old Man Tom Moss stood quietly in the doorway until Adam Witcher came alongside. Then he reached under his coattail and produced an old ‘pepper-shaker’ pistol, which he emptied point blank at Adam. Adam, however, was riding so fast that the bullets did not get there until Father At. came along. One slug hit Old At. squarely on the jaw and almost amputated it. He fell from the saddle and the congregation assembled around him. He, then and there promised that he would not kill any of them if they would promise not to kill him until they put him in jail. That agreement was effected. One kindly soul thought an addendum should be affixed to the agreement – that of medical attention – and off he went to Gatesville for a doctor. However, the extra-contractual consideration was of no avail, for during the night several men all blacked up as negroes – and there were as few negroes in that county as there were total abstainers – broke into the jail and shot poor Adam and Old At to death.
The next day the body of Old At. was laid out in the public square so that all who wished might see. There is no record of what they did with the body of Adam….
September 22, 1872 ended the careers of the Witchers, except Mrs. Adam Witcher followed them in death very shortly thereafter. Then the several minor children left the county. I met a grandson of one of the daughters around Lampasas recently. After the children left, or on December 27, 1873, the ever-obliging County Clerk of the County advertised all the effects of Adam Witcher for sale at public auction…..
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