Early 20th Century Madisonville: Six years for a murder verdic

Posted 5/19/20

“Conviction at Madisonville,” in the June 21, 1905, edition of The Houston Post, included “Madisonville, Texas. June 20. Seth Harrell was convicted in the county court for selling whiskey in a local option precinct, and was assessed $25 and twenty-five days in jail. Quite a lengthy docket is before the court. Ranger Captain McDonald and Ranger Dunnway are here attending court.”

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Early 20th Century Madisonville: Six years for a murder verdic

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Recently I discovered two collections of interesting old newspaper clippings about the Madisonville area.

For decades after the Civil War, Madison County was reputed to be wild and wooly, unsafe for average folks. Earlier Musings detailed evidence of some incidents which are therefore left out here, but there is more proof below. Some reported local fires, which have always plagued us.

For the next few weeks, I’d like to share my favorite stories about shootings, stabbings and even a couple that made me laugh. The stories are titled like the originals, and listed in chronological order, noting the publications that printed them. This is the second in the series.

“Conviction at Madisonville,” in the June 21, 1905, edition of The Houston Post, included “Madisonville, Texas. June 20. Seth Harrell was convicted in the county court for selling whiskey in a local option precinct, and was assessed $25 and twenty-five days in jail. Quite a lengthy docket is before the court. Ranger Captain McDonald and Ranger Dunnway are here attending court.”

“John Brownlee Acquitted on Charge of Murder,” from the March 9, 1906, issue of The Houston Post, stated, “Madisonville, Texas, March 8. The jury in the John Brownlee case at Centerville returned a verdict of not guilty last night. The defendant was charged by indictment with killing Wall McDonald in a boys’ fight in this city several years ago. The case was moved to Walker County on change of venue and later transferred to Leon County.” (Please notice that the case is detailed somewhat above, and that killing took place July 30, 1900! The matter was finally settled almost six years later!).

“Young Man Missing from Normangee Since March 24 Dies from Knife Wounds Inflicted in Woods,” in the April 19, 1908, edition of The Liberty Vindicator, stated “The body of Ed Amsler, the cotton buyer, who was reported missing from his hotel here since last Tuesday night, was found in a pool of water near the Houston and Texas Central track about ten miles of here Tuesday morning. He had received three knife wounds in the region of the heart and his left arm was cut to the bone at the wrist. The body was badly decomposed and was interred here about dusk Tuesday afternoon. The coroner's inquest was held over the remains and the verdict was that death resulted from the wounds inflicted either by his own hand or by unknown parties.”

“Shooting Near Madisonville,” in the Aug. 4, 1909, issue of The Houston Post, said, “Madisonville, Texas, August 2. What may prove a fatal tragedy was enacted in the public road six miles above this place this morning at 8 o’clock, when Will Burk, of Madisonville, received two charges of birdshot from a gun in the hands of Morgan Hager. Dr. Speer attended Burk and after dressing his wounds pronounced him very seriously, though not necessarily fatally injured. Burk was hit with nearly one hundred shot, the wound covering one entire side from his waist to the top of the head. Mr. Hager surrendered to Sheriff Payne his afternoon and after waiving an examining trial was released on bond.”

“Third Big Fire of Year Occurs at Madisonville,” from the June 12, 1912, edition of The Bryan Eagle, included “Another disastrous fire was discovered in the business house of J.L. Cleere Monday morning at 1 o’clock, and when discovered had almost destroyed this building. The house of D. Brizzolara, across the street and which was occupied by Thompson Bros., General Merchandise, was ignited and this was also burned to the ground. Thompson Bros. had a stock of $15,000, with insurance of $4,500. Brizzolara had no insurance on the house; loss about $700. Cleere had a stock which amounted to $6,000, with insurance of $3,000. His property loss was $1,600. This was the third big fire that Madisonville has had since February 6 of this year.”

“Young Girl Killed. Youth Was Arrested.” from the Nov. 13, 1912, copy of The Bryan Eagle, stated “Miss Irion McWharters was shot and killed Monday in the Cobbs Creek Community. Clifton Plunkett was arrested and brought to Madisonville and jailed. Miss McWharters had refused to marry Plunkett. Miss McWharters was only 17 years of age, while Plunkett is about twenty years of age. It is alleged that the young man attempted his own life previous to the arrest.” (a later article had the deceased age as 16 and stated that Plunkett pled guilty and was sent to Huntsville to serve a life sentence.)

“Lenard Hall Killed,” in the June 28, 1915, issue of The Bryan Eagle, read “Madisonville, Texas, June 28. Lenard Hall was shot in the stomach at 12:30 Tuesday morning and died at 4 o’clock, three and one half-hours later. The shooting occurred on the street here when he and Joe Green, night policeman, had a dispute. Hall lived in the Center community and came here to attend a show. A number of relatives survive.”

Join us next week for another round of the violent past and ribald politics of the county.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison Street, is usually open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. In these unique times, it’s best if you call ahead, 936.348.5230, if you hope to visit. You may wish to support the Museum by giving your time as a volunteer or with a monetary donation (P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864).

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