Monday morning in Texas’ larger communities,
parking around courthouses is hard to find as another wave of prospective
jury members respond to their summons.
But in early
Texas, the judicial system performed its necessary work on a much-less
regular basis. When district court convened, an event that sometimes
only happened once every few months, it was a big deal.
When a court date approached, a county seat town filled with lawyers
and litigants, prosecutors and defense attorneys, witnesses in both
civil and criminal causes, potential jurors, the curious and those
only interested in making a buck or two off everyone else.
Such was the case as court was about to convene in Paris,
seat of Lamar County, in the summer of 1851. Organized in 1840 when
Texas was still a republic, a decade later Lamar County had nearly
4,000 citizens, with another 1,085 slaves. One of those free residents
was a gentleman named Tucker.
otherwise identified in the newspaper account of what soon transpired,
operated a popular inn and tavern in Paris.
With court in session, Tucker (a Lamar County history lists a Fleming
Tucker and Goodman Tucker as residents at the time) always enjoyed
a brisk business.
So many members of the Bar being in town, more than a few of them
leaned against another kind of bar the night before the presiding
judge would be gaveling court to order. Even so, with cases to present
or fight against in the morning, the conviviality eventually died
and his numerous guests retired to their beds at their usual hour,”
the Bonham Advertiser politely assumed, “and, after a night of profound
and undisturbed slumber, woke, every mother’s son of them coatless
and pantaloonless. Some daring thief had entered their sleeping
apartments, and had abstracted and carried off every rag of clothing
belonging to every soul in the house.”
The crime came to light slowly as individuals awoke to find they
had nothing but their hats and long johns to wear for that day’s
To their credit, most of Tucker’s guests saw the humor in what had
happened, “laughing long and heartily at the ridiculous figure each
other cut while shying and dodging about in search of his missing
Lady Justice may have been blind, but not the residents of Paris,
who must have wondered why so many red-faced lawyers were slipping
around town in their underwear. Fortunately, not much time passed
before someone found the purloined pantaloons and other items of
apparel stacked in the courthouse square.
Soon, however, what at first had seemed like nothing more than a
practical joke became much less funny. As it turned out, a crime
had been committed not only against the peace and dignity of the
state but the North Texas legal establishment.
“Every pocket,” the newspaper reported in regard to the collective
wardrobe of all the lawyers in town, “had been rummaged, every red
cent taken–all were empty. Several…had lost all their money, and
the lawyers attending the court were reduced to a par with the clients
who had the day before lined their pockets for them.”
More than $400 had been stolen, a lot of money in ante bellum Texas.
Never identified, the thief got off scot free. Had he been caught,
he sure would have had a hard time finding an attorney willing to
take his case.
© Mike Cox
- October 2, 2014 column
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