things considered, it was a pretty civilized affair.
There were two murders in Austin
County in 1895. While they occured in distant corners of
the county, they were separated by a span of only 38 days. Both perpetrators
were apprehended and taken to the County
Jail in Bellville.
This sort of situation must have been on the minds of our wise and
august lawyers in Austin
when they passed legislation demanding courthouses be placed near
the center of the county. It certainly made things convenient for
the populace to attend hangings.
|The Sad Day in
Photo courtesy Bellville Historical Society
A man named Alois
Peters was shot while he slept at his home in Wallis.
The assassin thought he was aiming his rifle at Mr. Peter's head,
but (perhaps as a precaution to thwart would-be-assassins) Mr. Peters
had lain his feet where he usually kept his head. The gun barrel was
loaded with all sorts of scrap iron, and the blast left a shattered
bone and a very nasty wound. It would've hurt even more the next day,
had there been a next day. Mr. Peters died from blood loss while an
amputation was being performed.
A Rude Awakening
The culprit, one Clem Strauther, dropped the rifle and it was
identified as belonging to a Mr.B. When the sheriff showed up at Mr.
B's door, Clem was there, but said he "was just leaving."
During the trial Clem tried to frame one Roy Justice, for unknown
reasons. After fierce questioning, Clem (in true Perry Mason style)
broke down on the stand and confessed that he did it.
Judge Teichmueller (who was the father of Minnie, who painted
Post Office Mural 40 years later) set the date of Clem's execution
to be March 18th 1896.
This one took place
on the evening of December 18, 1895 near the community of Rocky.
Rocky, Bierwinkle and "Old Blue"
Dora Emshoff was a widow who had just brought in her cotton
crop and had the money that was to last her all winter. Her 9-year-old
daughter Clara was wrapped in a blanket, but she saw the man
who leveled a shotgun at Mrs. Emshoff and demanded her money on that
lonely dusk-darkened road.
She stood, but she didn't deliver and was shot below her right eye
with a single barrel of birdshot, knocking her backward into the wagon.
The Pastor of the nearby Lutheran Church heard the shot and ran out
into his yard. There he encountered brave daughter Clara, who had
the presence of mind to take the reins and drive for help.
George Bierwinkle, a guest of the Pastor was sent to Brenham
for a Doctor.
The Sheriff was summoned and dogs turned loose. The townsfolk, unaware
that the name "Old Blue" was going to become something of a
cliché in the next century, let Old Blue lead the pack. Trudging through
Rocky Creek during a rainstorm, the pack pulled up baying at a
Inside was Andrew "Buck" Chappell with the proverbial smoking
gun. Unlike Clem, Buck didn't try to blame it on Roy Justice.
Buck was brought before Clara who identified him. Judge Teichmueller
sentenced him to die the same day as Clem, saving Bellville
the cost of another scaffold.
A Lynch Mob
Thwarted and An Attempted Escape
The Sheriff, one
W. B. Glenn, took some wise precautions. When a mob appeared
at his door demanding the jail keys, he turned them over without an
argument. The mob should've questioned why he gave the keys so easily.
They soon found out. The jail was empty and the prisoners had been
barely 15 feet from the mob - hidden at the sheriff's house.
They were taken to a safe place until things cooled off.
On January 20th 1896, someone noticed that the leg irons of both condemned
men appeared to be half-sawn through. Another prisoner said that a
saw had been thrown into the jail and Clem Strauther said yes,
and that it was Roy Justice who threw the saw. It seemed Clem
never gave up trying to implicate Roy Justice.
As the big day approached, the people of Austin
County showed how civilized they were.
Sad Day (after)
Notice the man on the left attempting a better view
Photo courtesy Bellville Historical Society
were allowed to interview the prisoners. Clem gave a speech to other
prisoners, advising them to avoid bad company. Advice was the last
thing they wanted to hear, but since it was coming from a condemned
man; they were polite and listened. Buck proclaimed his innocence.
Both men were baptized.
On the big day, a last meal of bread, biscuits, chicken, ham, cakes,
and pies was provided (a little extra weight might help the 7-foot
Wine was offered and both ate "heartily."
Black suits, with matching hoods, white ties and small boutonnieres
completed their ensemble.
Like they say, nepotism begins at home, and a relative of the sheriff
built the double scaffold for $22.30. The two graves were dug at a
cost of $10.00.
The event took place at the only cemetery Bellville
had. Just North of town in the pines. An area was fenced off with
barbed wire. Tickets were sold (perhaps to pay for the boutonnieres)
and it soon became evident that non-paying gate crashers outnumbered
the paying public.
A crowd of between two and three thousand stood among the pine trees
and witnessed the departure of Clem and Buck. Even freshly Baptised,
their destination was debated.
The lever was thrown at 1:00 p.m.
It was something the townsfolk wouldn't forget. For those with a faulty
memory - a photographer took "before and after" photos.
Bellville Historian Helen Alexander told us that the "after"
photo was used as a postcard with the macabre caption: "Welcome
Information for this story was obtained from an unpublished pamphlet
from the Bellville Public Library by Charles S. Fox
April 2000, Revised April 2001
I enjoyed the hell out of your whole site. I'm trying to think of
the best way to say "Go look at this cool site" to my readers at Houston.About.Com.
I found you via a Google search for some small town thing - can't
recall now. The Double Hanging in Bellville tempted me to go off on
a highly enjoyable tangent.
- Aussie M.