The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree

 

          Once upon a time a tree stood in front of the courthouse.  It's gone now but it's memory lingers on.  At various times in the history of that tree, from the days of the Civil War until 1919, it's limbs were used to dispatch someone on the way to eternity.  Although many stories have been told about that old tree not many written accounts have been located other then that published on November 27, 1919 (this is different than the date on the article?) in The Record.
          The article does not mention that school had to be closed on Monday due to the excitement in town, or that every one, including nice little girls, tried to view the body.  Nor does it mention that afterward someone wrote a song about the event, the words of which we do not have.
          We don't pretend to be proud of the part our hanging tree played in the history of our country, but we must admit we had such a tree, and it's story must be told.
          Following is the way G. R. Engledow, editor of The Record reported the last hanging on the old hanging tree.  The name of the man who was hung has been omitted.
(by Clovis Herring, Margaret Wood, Fae Boutotte and Neta Ellis.)

Hanging Tree

An Awful Murder
The Record, Centerville Leon Co., TX,
November 27, 1915

          Monday morning just as day was breaking two gun shots were heard in the south part of town, and soon the alarm was given that Jim Sinclair had been murdered at his home, his mother and sister finding him where he had fallen in the horse lot, with a wound in the right eye, and another in the right shoulder, his slayer being only a few feet away when the shots were fired.  Tracks were found leaving the place which led southeast, and his mother gave as her idea that a colored tenant on the farm who had been mad with her son all the fall, was the guilty one.  Deputy Sheriff Wade Lowrance went to the tenants home at once, but he had been there and left.  The negro's brother-in-law was at the house and he stated that he had not seen his brother-in-law that morning.  He gave for his reason for being at the house that he had come to get some clothing for his sister, as she had been assaulted the night before and had come to his house in her night clothes.  Mr. Lowrance and those with him understood this negro to say the woman had been whipped by her husband, but he later changed this part of his story.  Mr. Lowrance came back to town to get men to assist in running down the murderer and all went to the house of Hosea Johnson, where the woman had been, though she had come up the road then a short way to her father's house.  When the men arrived the negroes told that the woman had come to Hosea's at 8 o'clock the night before and she stated she had been dragged from bed at that time and assaulted by Jim Sinclair, her husband being at that time in Centerville, where he preached at the colored Baptist Church that night.  Several men who were with Mr. Sinclair in Centerville that night till 8:30 Sunday night, and knew this was false, as the house was three miles from town and such a thing was impossible.  The woman was sent for , and after being assured that she would not be allowed to be harmed by her husband, admitted that he had made her disrobe and go to her brother's ahead of him and tell this story of the assault by Mr. Sinclair.  He then came, pretending to be looking for his wife, who repeated the phony theory to him.  He then pretended to go back to his house and came back with his gun; then went to other negro houses, asking for shell, and telling of the pretended injury to his wife, at the same time declaring vengeance against her alleged assailant.  He told that he was going to Sinclair's barn and lay in wait till next morning, and when he came out to feed that he was going to blow his brains out.  The horrible tragedy took place as he had planned it.
          His wife, in her statement, admitted she had carried food to her husband in the woods nearby after the killing, and said he had told her  he was going to hide in dugouts in the old Blackshear field a mile or so from there, and was going to shoot as long as he had ammunition when the officers came after him, and that he would kill her if she told anything.
           When the killing occurred Sheriff Cobb was in Normangee attending the bedside of his mother, of whom it was not expected that she could live but a short while.  He was telephoned to, and he got a party in Madisonville to go to the Herring farm after blood-hounds.  Mr. Cobb then came and joined the hunt for the man, while it was 4 o'clock when Mr. Kettleban of the state farm arrived with the dogs.  The trail was then too old for the dogs to run but the search was kept up till dark, when the men came to town to get food, as some had left before breakfast.
          Soon a telephone message from Arch Smith reported that the fugitive had been to a negro house on his farm and had told that he was coming to surrender to the sheriff.  Soon officers, men and dogs were on his trail, but it was raining and dark, the dogs having to be held in lesh, as he being armed, could easily have dispatched them and made his escape had they come up on him alone.  And the trail was finally lost.  Next morning the fugitive went to the farm of Mr. Joel Leathers, and procured some food from a negro, who reported the fact, and the hounds were let loose after him.  After an exciting chase of three or four miles, and when he had gotten near the back waters of the Trinity River, he was made to throw down his gun and climb a tree.  He then surrendered without resistance.
          Sheriff Cobb returned at once to Normangee, after turning the negro over to Mr. Ed Nance, who brought him to town and placed him in jail, and left at once for his home at Leona.
          Wednesday morning the negro was found swinging to a limb on the large oak just in front of the courtyard, and at a point near which old settlers say two other criminals, soon after the war, were made to expiate crimes that seemed too brutal to an outraged people to submit to the technicalities of the law.
          Though a preacher, the man has long been considered a most dangerous character, and the terrible crime which he committed Monday morning, so soon after he had occupied a pulpit, was but the fulfillment of prophecies of many who knew his record.  But for the alibi of his victim, his carefully laid plans of defense might have served him well, not withstanding the good reputation of the young man he so wantonly murdered.
          Jim Sinclair was about thirty years of age, and was the sole dependence of an aged and afflicted mother and sister who is an invalid.  His father died when he was but a lad, since which time he had exerted every honorable means in caring for the family.  In recent years, by industry and perseverance, he had reached independence, and was at the time of his death in position to share with his little household comforts of life never before their privilege to enjoy.
          His body was laid to rest in the city cemetery Tuesday at 11 a. m., Rev. Innes conducting funeral services.
          His bereaved ones have the sympathy of all.