they've seen the best and worst of humanity, lawyers are among our
When Joe Tonahill of Jasper
passed away a few years ago, East
Texas not only lost a great attorney, but a skilled yarn-spinner.
Many of his stories were in the courtrooms where he achieved his fame.
Years ago Tonahill was trying a railroad crossing case in which a
train struck a car. The principal witness was an elderly man with
a wooden leg. Tonahill asked him:"Well, did you see the wreck when
the train ran over the car and killed my client's son?"
The witness replied: "Yeah, I came out of the house when it happened."
Tonahill continued: "Well, tell us about it."
The man said: "Well, I got an old blue tick hound and he lays on the
front porch and listens for the train. It can be a mile away and he
feels the vibrations, and he knows its coming. If the train blows
a whistle and it rings a bell, my dog will answer it. On that day,
it didn't and my old dog sure was disappointed."
With that, the defense attorney jumped to his feet and objected: "Judge,
we're having to listen to hearsay from a dog."
was trying another railroad crossing case and was questioning the
train's elderly engineer.
He asked him: "Do you think the reason my client didn't see the engine
was that the railroad had failed to cut the brush on the right-of-way
and it blinded you?"
The engineer thought a minute and replied: "Either that or these damned
cataracts I got."
Tonahill also told the story about a laywer named Spivey who had won
a case and the jurors had been dismissed. As the jurors filed out
of the courtroom, one remained in his seat. The judge reminded him
the case had been settled.
The juror replied: "I can't leave, judge. I'm Mr. Spivey's juror."
another case, Tonahill was defending the accused in a Newton County
murder case. The man had killed another by slicing him in the jugular
vein. Before the trial, the man was being prepared by Tonahill.
"Now, Ernest," he began, "we're getting ready to go to trial and I
want to ask you again. When you were in this fight, you accidentally
cut this guy with your knife. Is that right?"
Ernest replied, OOh, no, lawyer, that was no accident. I've killed
too many hogs. When I heard that big thing (the jugular viein) go
errrcccch, I knew I had him."
Tonhill replied, "Now, Ernest, if you tell it that way, you'll ride
Ernest thought a minute and replied: "Lawyer, let me tell you about
before Tonahill rose to promience, J.J. Collins of Lufkin
was one of the best courtroom attorneys in Texas.
He, too, was a remarkable storyteller.
In a Lufkin
courthouse, Collins was prosecuting a murder case in which a man
named Hosea was killed. In a dramatic case, the defendant's lawyer
walked to the courtroom window, looked toward the heavens, and called
out in a somber voice: "Oh, Hosea."
The courtroom became very quiet and the lawyer said, "No answer."
He repeated the scene twice and the atmosphere became increasingly
dramatic. At that point, Collins addressed his fellow lawyer: "Counselor,
you'll have to holler a little louder. Hosea can't hear you down there."
Things Historical September
1, 2003 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided by the East Texas Historical Association as
a public service.
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of 40 books about East Texas.)
Bowman's East Texas