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Texas | Features | Small Town Sagas

Bellville, Texas

by John Troesser

All 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 double hanging in Bellville Texas
The Sad Day in 1896 (before)
Photo courtesy Bellville Historical Society

Murder One
A Rude Awakening

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.

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 the Smithville Post Office Mural 40 years later) set the date of Clem's execution to be March 18th 1896.

Murder Two
Rocky, Bierwinkle and "Old Blue"

This one took place on the evening of December 18, 1895 near the community of Rocky.

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 darkened house.

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.

the crowd after the hanging, vintage photo
The Sad Day (after)

Notice the man on the left attempting a better view
Photo courtesy Bellville Historical Society

Reporters 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 drop).

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 to Bellville."

Information for this story was obtained from an unpublished pamphlet from the Bellville Public Library by Charles S. Fox of Houston.

© John Troesser
April 2000, Revised April 2001

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    See Texas Small Town Sagas

  • Reader's Comments:
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    - Aussie M.

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