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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Naked Lawyers
in Paris, Texas

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Every 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.

Tucker, not 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 down.

“Mr. Tucker 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 judicial proceedings.

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 clothing.”

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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