Posts Tagged ‘McClain’

William Smearman Murdered With a Sticking Knife

August 31, 2009
Original Image from

Original Image from

William Smearman, of Huntingdon, was stabbed at a camp meeting near Newton Hamilton on Thursday while quelling a disturbance, and died soon afterward.

Daily Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport, Pennsylvania) Aug 26, 1884

Smearman murdered NYT aug 22 1884 copy

The PDF of the above article can be found HERE


HUNTINGDON, PA, Jan 18 — The case of Curtin McClain, of Orbisonia, this county, who was tried at Lewistown last week for the killing of Wm. Smearman, of this city, at the Newton Hamilton camp meeting last August, the jury at a late hour last night returned a verdict of murder in the first degree. The general expectation was that the verdict would be of a less degree.

The Indiana Democrat (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Jan 15, 1885


Escaped from Mifflin County Jail.

William Prindle, of Belleville, held for horse stealing; Ben Taylor, a negro, held for disorderly conduct, and two Germans, charged with highway robbery escaped from the Mifflin county jail, at Lewistown, last night. The two first named have been retaken, but the Germans are still at large. Curtin McClain, under sentence of death for the murder of William Smearman, had an opportunity to escape with them, but refused to go.

Daily Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport, Pennsylvania) Aug 13, 1885


Gov. Pattison of Pennsylvania has fixed the 19th of November next for the execution of Curtin McClain, under sentence of death for the murder of William Smearman, in a brawl at a camp-meeting last year.

The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Sep 24, 1885

scales of justice

McClain to be imprisoned for Life.

The pardon board held a secret meeting on Thursday last, at which the members reviewed the new evidence in the Curtin McClain case, convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. At noon they decided to recommend a commutation of the death sentence to imprisonment for life. They are all of the opinion that he committed the act, but that it was not done at a time to justify a verdict of murder in the first degree. The action of the board knocks out the decision of the supreme as well as the lower court and the jury.

The Indiana Democrat (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Nov 5, 1885


By Associated Press.

Harrisburg, May 17. The Board of Pardons recommended pardons today for Curtain McClain, of Orbisonia, serving a life sentence in the Western penitentiary for murder; John Kelly, of Susquehanna, voluntary manslaughter; William H. Trout, of Lebanon, larceny; J.C. Fox, Allegheny, misdemeanor; John Keller, Allegheny, larceny.

The board refused to commute to life imprisonment the sentence of Frank J. Krause, of Allentown, and commuted that of William Hinchliffe, of Philadelphia.

Daily Gazette and Bulletin (Williamsport, Pennsylvania) May 18,  1900



The deal was closed late Saturday for the sale of the Newton Hamilton camp meeting grounds to the McVey Real Estate Company, for $8,000. The purchase includes the buildings and grove of virgin white oak timber, which will be cut and converted into lumber and the plot of ground sold as building lots.

The plot has been the site of annual camp meetings of the Methodists of the Juniata valley for half a century and was one of the great show places of the valley. In fact it was often a grave question whether the good done at these sessions overbalanced the evil until 1882, when Curtin McClain, of Orbinsonia, killed William Smearsman, of Huntingdon, with a butcher knife in a drunken brawl on the grounds, after which it dwindled to almost nothing. Of late years it has been used chiefly as a summer resort, the cottages being rented for the summer.

Clearfield Progress (Clearfield, Pennsylvania) May 6, 1920



820 North 16th St., Harrisburg, Pa.

Hugh Brown, we are told, obtained a warrant for a tract of land in 1762 upon which the borough of Newton Hamilton is situated, but apparently some attempt at settlement was made shortly as the name of Muhlenberg was given to the locality back in Provincial days. The record shows that after Brown’s death the land then passed to Margaret Hamilton, as she was assessed with sixty acres in 1783. Probably the name was changed to Hamiltonville about this time, then to Newton Hamilton about 1828 when the locality saw boom times by construction of the Juniata Canal. In that year the settlement is said to have consisted of but four log huts, but erection of a number of inns, stores and homes soon followed.

Camp Meeting Grounds Established 1872

A hundred and ten years after Brown’s warrant a stock company was organized with a capital of $16,500 for the purchase of thirty-six acres of land nearby and erection of suitable buildings thereon for the purpose of holding annual camp meetings. Thus the

Juniata Valley Camp Meeting grounds came into existence.

These meetings, which were held for ten days each August, always drew a heavy attendance from all parts of Pennsylvania, and on Sundays excursion trains were operated from such distances as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, when thousands of visitors crowded the village and camp grounds.

Unfortunately, many who came had no thought of attending services held upon the grounds and a lawless and vicious element who became intoxicated, caroused and insulted women and children and defied all attempts to enforce law and order, was always certain to be in town.

Huntingdon Man Was Murder Victim

On August 21, 1884, a group of young men from Orbisonia came to Newton Hamilton under the influences of liquor and continued indulging to such an extent that all became exceptionally boisterous and belligerent. Soon afterwards they were observed starting from the “sheep-pen” (an enclosure built near the station to permit control of crowds in boarding trains) in pursuit of some young fellow who dashed towards the woods in an effort to escape. The young man was William Smearman, of Huntingdon. The cause of the difficulty was never explained fully and subsequent developments showed that Smearman bore an excellent reputation in his home town and had never engaged in altercations of any kind. However, he was apparently overtaken and his lifeless body, found soon afterwards, indicated he had been stabbed to death.

Undeniable evidence was promptly uncovered, pointing to Curtin McClain of Orbisonia as the slayer, and Constable McElhone and Editor B.E. Morrison of Newton Hamilton arrested McClain at his home on the following day. En route to Lewistown, McElhone and Morrison found it necessary to leave the East Broad Top train approaching Mount Union and proceed a short distance along the Pennsylvania Railroad, where an eastbound train was instructed to take them on board, as it was feared McClain would be lynched upon arrival in Mount Union. With the prisoner lodged in jail at Lewistown, Sheriff Garett departed the next day for Orbisonia and arrested three of McClain’s comrades who were implicated in the crime.

The murder of Smearman, occurring upon grounds set aside for religious activities, came as a distinct shock to the people of Pennsylvania as many papers of the state had carried a daily account of proceedings at the camp grounds by reason of unusual interest manifested by their readers. The tragic affair came on the closing day of the season, causing some speculation as to whether the annual event could survive and if the terrible happening would lead directors of the association to announce its abandonment.

McClain Found Guilty; Sentence Commuted To Life Imprisonment

McClain’s trial before Judge Bucher in Lewistown in January, 1885, brought out that Smearman had left a widow and two small children, the youngest but a few months old, and the accused had made a confession which his attorneys tried to have expunged. The district attorney was aided by R.M. Speer of Huntingdon. The jury, after being out many hours, returned a verdict of murder in the first degree against McClain.

A request for a new trial by attorneys Andrew Reed and F.H. Culbertson was refused by Judge Bucher on March 26. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court (the Superior Court had not been created), who likewise refused the appeal in June 1885.

Various attempts were then made to have the Board of Pardons review the case for the purpose of commuting McClain’s sentence to life imprisonment — Governor Pattison had set the date of execution for November 21, 1885 — and in this they were successful.

The following excerpt is taken from the Board’s findings:

“The evidence discovered since the trial and sentence presents a case not free from difficulty, and while the new evidence serves in some degree to raise a doubt as to whether the killing was not in a conflict under great excitement and hot blood, and before reason had sufficient time to resume her sway, it does not raise that character of doubt that if we were sitting as jurors would require us to acquit the prisoner or even to reduce its degree, but on the contrary, the weight of the evidence submitted still leaves us with the belief that the prisoner inflicted the fatal wounds, and that he is a man so reckless of the rights of others as to be dangerous to the peace and order of society. But remembering that we are not to overlook the fact that a refusal by us now to act would consign the prisoner to death, we feel that at such a time and under all the circumstances of merciful exercise of our jurisdiction, to recommend the commutation of his sentence to that of imprisonment for life.”

It will be noted that the Board of Pardons, while finding little to justify commutation for McClain, did not wish to assume responsibility for his execution. Smearman, it was claimed, had struck McClain in the mouth, thereby arousing the latter’s anger which led to the slaying. Such an alibi would have appeared weak indeed against the fact that McClain had purchased the knife which was used to kill Smearman, just the day before in Orbisonia. This fact showed beyond all doubt the vicious intention of the slayer, who deliberately sought a quarrel.

Tragedy Claimed Another Life

The tragedy had claimed the life of another, however. Two months before McClain’s sentence was commuted Henry Smearman, aged 27, died from grief over the loss of his brother. He also resided in Huntingdon and likewise left a young widow and two daughters.

McClain was taken to the Western Penitentiary with previous assurance by his friends that good conduct would greatly aid his chances for a pardon. The writer is unaware if any such efforts had been made before 1896, when, according to the Pittsburgh Times of January 4, a determined effort was started in McClain’s behalf by James M. Place, a publisher from Harrisburg, who was said to have been a friend of the McClain family.

According to the Times, Place claimed his search for evidence during the intervening ten years disclosed that McClain had not committed the murder; that he was not even in any fight upon the camp grounds; the slayer was a person who had promptly left the country and he (Place) would furnish the name of the guilty one. Place’s statement brought a quick response from Editor Morrison, editor of the Newton Hamilton Watchman, previously recalled who said:

“The statement (Place’s) of McClain is pure fabrication. ****Curtin McClain bought the butcher knife, was seen with the butcher knife in his possession on the steamboat at Newton Hamilton and on or near where the murder was committed. And McClain was proven to be the man who started the fight. Furthermore, McClain confessed to the writer, who was one of the officers that brought him from Orbisonia, that he killed Smearman because he (Smearman) hit him in the mouth. If McClain was put on trial again there is positive proof, by newly discovered evidence, that he was the identical man that committed the cowardly deed, and none other. We trust that the law will be allowed to take its course, regardless of Mr. Place’s efforts to free a cold-blooded murderer.”

Whether Morrison’s outburst served in balking the plan to free McClain is unknown to your chronicler, who made an effort to learn the outcome. However, during a visit to the home of Mr. and Mrs. D.P. Bowman of Orbisonia the past Summer, the closing act in McClain’s career was unfolded.

Pardon Granted McClain

Mrs. Bowman produced a clipping from “The Grit” of May 19, 1900, captioned, “McClain Is Pardoned,” and telling how the prisoner had been granted freedom by the Board of Pardons a few days earlier. “The Grit,” in quoting a special correspondent from Harrisburg said:

“Curtin McClain yesterday had the stigma of murderer removed from him. The Board of Pardons recommended his pardon by the Governor, and the Executive, in response has caused to issue the document that restores this young man to freedom, and to his friends, but alas! not to his aged mother, who firm in her belief in his innocence of the crime of which he was convicted over 15 years ago, had labored and lived in the hope of seeing justice done her son, only to totter to the grave disappointed in the one desire of her life, a few short weeks before the correctness of her faith was made manifest to all the world, and her erring but too severely punished son was released from a felon’s gloomy cell and bidden to walk again in the bright light of the sun, a free man.”

Yes, McClain was freed. James Place and Attorney Culbertson had won another victory for the prisoner through the Board of Pardons. Once could easily sympathize with McClain’s heart-broken mother, but what of the two broken homes in Huntingdon which McClain’s brutal crime had created? In this instance justice did not triumph.

The writer learned from the Bowmans that McClain had gone to some section in Franklin County after his release and nothing further was heard of him.

While the shocking affair left a certain stigma on the Newton Hamilton camp grounds, the management made every effort to have full protection of the camp and a group of guards from Lewistown and Huntingdon was used for this purpose. The annual gatherings apparently lost little patronage as the seasonal visitors continued to tax the grounds and railroad facilities for many years afterwards.

Somewhat curious about McClain’s progress after given his freedom, the writer stopped at the office of the Board of Pardons several months ago. A ledger taken from a vault revealed various steps in the former prisoner’s career from the time of the murder to his release from prison, and here a final line was inscribed, “Granted pardon May 17, 1900,” which concluded all information the office possessed of Curtin McClain.

Daily News (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) Dec 8, 1951


If you want to read more about the case: McClain versus Commonwealth, can be found on pages 263-270, in:

Pennsylvania state reports, Volume CX.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania


Cases Argued at January Term, 1885, May Term, 1885, and October and November Term, 1885


According to information found on, after Curtin McClain was released, he lived with his daughter and her family in Cambria Co., PA.  His death record (he died in 1940) states he was a hotel proprietor, one census record lists his occupation as proprietor – confectionery and an earlier one lists labor – hotel.

The Brown Brothers: Execution Day

January 2, 2009
Old West Hanging

Old West Hanging

The background articles about the Brown family and the murders committed were posted Dec 30, 2008. I can’t figure out how to link back to the post.


History of Their Crimes.
(Special Telegram to the News)

DENTON, via Pilot Point, Nov. 21.– Some years ago, within the recollection of children born at the outbreak of the war, a man was hanged in Denton by a mob. A gallows, rude and ???????????? ?????? today almost upon the same spot, for the ????????? of crimes committed by two young men, who, like the executioners of the man, had taken the execution of the laws into their own hands. The first death ?????? ended the earthly career of a black fiend, and the last was the ex???? of two of the most savagely bloodthirsty whtie men who ever darkened the doors of a penitentiary.

whose sould were launched into eternity were George and Andrew Brown, natives of Missouri. They were the terror of Montague county, where they were directly and indirectly implicated in fourteen murders.

The criminals paid the death penalty for the murder of Doc McClain, in Montague county, in May 1876, this fourteenth known victim of the “vigillante,”of which they were members. They were jointly indicted as principals in the district court of that county. Their father, George Brown Sr., and the oldest brother Jesse Brown, were also indicted, but were charged with being accomplices who were not present when the crime was committed, but who prior to its commission advised, commanded and prepared arms and aid for the purpose of assisting the principals in the execution of the dead. In June, 1877, all the defendants united in an application for a change of venue, setting forth this usual statutory grounds, and supported by the affidavits of eleven resident citizens, who bore witness to the high state of feeling existing against them in the county. The application was granted, and the court ordered the venue changed and the cause transferred to Denton county, together with three other cases, in which the Browns and their confederates were charged with the murder of R.S. Morrow, in September 1873; Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, in June 1875; and Freeman Batchlor, in November, 1875. Before the cases were transferred by change of venue, George Brown, Jr., was tried, on a severance, forthe murder of R.S. Morrow, found guilty of murder in the first degree, and appealed from the judgement of conviction. The cause was still pending in the court of appeals when he was arraigned for

At the February term of the district court of Denton county, 1876, Andrew, Jesse and George Brown, Jr., were placed upon their trial, they having been duly arraigned, and their plea of not guilty having been entered in Montague county before the venue was changed. The testimony established the fact that Doc McClain, a stranger in the neighborhood, was killed on Farmer’s creek, in Montague county, in May, 1876. On the morning of the day McClain was killed, the principal witness for the prosecution saw George Brown, Jr., Andrew Brown, Sampson and John Barrass coming towards and pass out of sight into a ravine, near the banks of which the deceased was killed. The witness saw the deceased walking ahead of him in a bridle-path toward the ford of the creek about the same time that he noticed the armed party enter the ravine. The deceased walked about one hundred yards further when the witness saw the party rise up from behind the bank and shoot at the deceased, who immediately fell and commenced struggling as though he was in agony. A minute later he saw George Brown, Jr., run out of the ambush and shoot McClain with a pistol, when he (witness) hurriedly left the vicinity, fearing that if seen he would be killed. He concealed the facts until the Browns were brought to trial, not having even intimated the murder to his brother, although the following day they had in company passed the scene. McClain was buried near the spot where he was killed.

Another witness testified that on the day before the killing, George Brown, Jr., told him that deceased was spotted and would be gotten away with, and that on the day following the murder he was approached by Jesse Brown, who asked him, significantly, “Has George got you under control?” and then developed that it was expected that he would go to the scene where the inquest was being held over the body of McClain, and casually inform the jury that he had seen three men from the Indian nation, on the morning of the killing, looking for a robber, and express the belief that they “got away with Doc.” This conversation occurred within ear-shot of a school-house, and was heard by the teacher, who subsequently, together with Johnson, was ordered out of the state under pain of death if he remained or spoke of what he had overheard. Another witness, Joseph Collier, who had known the deceased in Grayson county, and had met him in the neighborhood, testified that in a conversation with Jesse Brown, after the killing, about a written warning he had received to leave the county, Jesse had promised to protect him. The deceased, Brown said, was a thief, and some one had followed McClain from the nation and got away with him. The witness’s brother lived at Johnson’s in the same house with McClain, and had been forced to flee the county. Jesse Brown, speaking of him to witness, said: “Joe, you know, you and I have been friends. Your brother John is a young fellow. I sent him word to get out of the country to keep from being killed. He is young, and

if he is a thief.” The result of the trial was that George and Andrew Brown were found guilty of murder in the first degree with the the death penalty assessed, and Jesse Brown, the accomplice, was found not guilty and acquitted. A motion for a new trial was made, the main ground of which was to obtain the testimony of their co-defendant, Jesse Brown, and of whose testimony, up to the time of his acquittal, they were deprived by virtue of the fact that he was jointly indicted and on trial with them. In addition to the sworn statement of the defendants as to what this new witness would swear, the affidavit of Jesse Brown himself sets out the facts that he would contradict the main witness of the state in his declaration with regard to statements made to him by ?????; and further, that he would prove that on the morning of the day McClain was killed three armed strangers came to his house and inquired for McClain, whom they said parties from Red river and the nation were hunting; that one Milas Miller had told him that he was going to kill McClain, about a week before the deed was committed; that this party from the nation was watching round Johnson’s house (where McClain and young Collier were living) for them, and said if they did not leave the country they would kill them; that Miller had told him that he had found out, in the Indian nation, that McClain and Collier were members of an organized band of thieves, and that there was a party coming over to kill them; and that he warned young Collier, who was a brother of a hand on his farm, to leave the country or he would be gotten away with. The motion for a new trial was overruled, and an appeal was subsequently taken from the judgement of the court.

Before the motion for a new trial in the McClain case was filed, Andrew Brown was put on trial for the murder of R.S. Morrow, for which he was indicted jointly with his brother George, Albert Haw and J.W. Bell. Haw fled the country, and is a fugitive in the mountains of Virginia, and Bell was arrested, bailed, jumped his bond, and has taken refuge in New Mexico. George was tried in Montague for this crime, convicted of murder in the first degree, and appealed his case, which was reversed by the superior court. The facts elicited on the trial of Andrew Brown were that R.S. Morrow had settled on a pre-emption claim in the neighborhood of the Browns, on Farmers creek, in Montague county. He lived on good terms with the Browns, but was under the ban of the vigilants. On the night of the 14th of September, 1873, his mules were turned out of his pastures by J.W. Bell, a member of the vigilants. The next morning, on discovering the absence of his mules, he started to hunt them up, accompanied by his six-year old boy, and a lad from the nation. As they were about crossing the ford, where McClain was subsequently murdered, a volley was fired, riddling him with buckshot and bringing him down from his horse. While attempting to regain his feet one of the party of murderers rushed up from the bank, threw him on his back, and placing the muzzle of his gun under Morrow’s chin, fired, tearing away the windpipe arterius. The children were carried back to the homestead by the frightened horses, after the discharge of the volley, unhurt, although Morrow was riding between them when he was first shot. Early the next morning Andrew and Jesse Brown were soon armed in the town of Montague, and apparently on the alert. They stated that Morrow had been killed, and fearing that a mob would rise and hang them, they had come to town for protection. They gave themselves up to the authorities, and on preliminary trial the same day before J.M. Grisby, a justice of the peace, they were

In a conversation in 1875, with one of the witnesses for the state, Andrew Brown told the witness that Jesse Brown had always poked and worked him up to the murdering point when a man “in their beat” had to be disposed of, and that he and George never would have killed R.S. Morrow, if it had not been for Jesse and the old man. “My father and Jesse,” he said, “were after us every time we came home to kill Morrow, and offered us all the money we wanted to do so; but when we finally did kill him, the old man never even gave us supper when we went there the night of the killing.” The boys were married and lived on farms of their own in the vicinity, which is known as the Brown neighborhood. The defense in this and the McClain case attempted to introduce evidence which would go to show that these murders were the result of lynch trials, and the parties to the deeds ?????ed as executioners, but the court overruled it in every instance, the unknown parties alleged by the defense not being on trial. The jury in the Morrow case returned a verdict against Andrew Brown of murder in the first degree. It is from this judgement of conviction that Andrew Brown brought his case to the court of appeals, where it is still pending.

The next case called, and before any steps for a new trial in the McClain case were taken by the defense, was that of the state against George and Andrew Brown, who were indicted jointly with George Ross?, Thomas White and M.B. Wal?er, for the murder of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, wife of Rat Morrow. The Browns were the only defendents brought to trial. White had been arrested and released on a heavy appearance bond, which he jumped before the term of the court convened, at which Jesse Brown was tried for the murder of Batchlor; M.B. Waller had fled the country before the indictment was found, was last seen in eastern Kentucky, and is supposed to be now in British America, near its southern boundary line; George Ross turned state evidence, and was the witness whose testimony convicted Jesse Brown, who is now serving the term in the penitentiary. In order to clear the cause of legal entanglements, the case against George Brown for the murder of Rat Morrow–which as above stated, had been reversed by the court of appeals and remanded to the lower court in Montague county for a rehearing– was dismissed, and he, jointly with Andrew Brown, was arraigned in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow. The state in this case dis???ed for murder in the first degree, and the defendants plead guilty to

The facts show that after the murder of her husband Mrs. Morrow moved with her two children to St. Joe, where she occupied rented premises. The bed she occupied was near and in front of a window. Two years subsequently, about ten o’clock at night, a volley of seven shots was fired into the bed. For some reason unknown, she and her children were sleeping on a pallet on the floor. Startled by the volley, and realizing, doubtless, what she had feared, she ran out of the house to take refuge in the house of a neighbor. As she ran through the garden several shots wer fired at her, one taking effect in her thigh and breaking it. While  down George Ross, Andrew Brown and others of the party closed in and finished her with pistol balls, and leisurely remounting their horses rode away. The mruder was for the double purpose of suppressing her testimony in the case of her husband and to wrench from her children her pre-emption claim to the homestead on Farmers creek. It is alleged, to travel outside of the record, that before moving she placed a tenant on the claim who was to hold it in her name for twelve months to perfect her title. This tenant, at the expiration of the year, claimed that she had abandoned the claim and he had settled on it as a pre-emptor.

In this case Geo. Ross, M.B. Waller, Thomas White and J.C. Thompson, members of the vigilants in the Brown beat, were jointly indicted as principals, for the murder of Freeman Batchlor, in November, 1875. Jesse Brown was also indicted, but he was charged with being an accomplice, who was not present when the crime was committed, but who furnished arms and a horse to Geo. Ross to execute the deed while Batchlor was out with the party on the cattle trail. All the parties to the murder fled the country excepting Jesse Brown, on learning that the matter was being investigated by the grand jury of Montague. The whereabout of Ross was known to authorities, and at their suggestion Gov. Hubbard offered a reward for his apprehension. The action of the governor was made known to the county authorities in Arkansas, where Ross and his wife had taken refuge. He was arrested and brought back to Montague on a requisition of the governor, and at the first term of hte district court held afterwards, “poached” and was used as a state witness on the trial of Jesse Brown, as an accomplice, who was convicted and his punishment assessed at twenty-five years in the penitentiary, which term he is now serving at Huntsville.

Batchlor was a member of the vigilants, as was George Ross. They had been warm personal friends up to within a month of the horrible murder. The belle of Farmers creek, a buxom lass of seventeen, was the cause of the estrangement, Batchlor and Ross being rivals for her hand. The former was the favorite of the lass. The courtship was yet in the bud, neither of the rivals having formally proposed marriage. Ross was bold and unscrupulous, and the favorite with the younger members of the vigilants. On a trumped-up charge, the death of Batchlor was debated in committee and defeated by Jesse Brown, who suspected the crookedness of the charge. Subsequently Ross an his friend got a quorum together and passed the death sentence. Batchlor’s horses, together with those of Waller, White, Ross and Thompson, were stampeded in the direction of the nation, where Batchlor was invited to go with the party to drive them back. Toward nightfall he suspected that Ross would attempt foul play, and informing him of his suspicion, warned him if he made “a bad break” he would kill him. They encamped that night on the banks of Red river. While the party were lying down on their blankets chatting, Waller shot Batchlor in the right side, Ross gave him the contents of two barrels in the left side. While Batchlor was yet alive he robbed him of his shirt-studs and collar button, drew his head over the trunk of a fallen tree,

with his hunting-knife, and threw it into the river, where his body was also thrown afterward. Returning to their homes the party circulated the report that Batchlor had been killed in a difficulty with an Indian, who had, according to the report in the nation, thrown  his body into Red river. A few months afterward Ross married the belle, and, when the crimes committed by the vigilants were begun to be inquired into by the outraged citizens of Montague county, fled to Arkansas where his wife followed him. The shirt-studs and collar-button of Freeman Batchlor were of gold and peculiar in shape. When Ross testified on behalf of hte state in the trial of Jesse Brown, he had them on, and they were recognized by every one present who had known Batchlor in life. His testimony was point blank that, prior to Batchlor’s murder, Brown had advised, commanded and encouraged him and the others in its commission, and prepared arms and horses for the purpose of assisting him and Waller in the execution of the deed.

After sentence was passed in the case convicting George and Andrew Brown of murder in the second degree in the cause of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, the punishment for which was fixed by the jury at thrity years in the penitentiary, the defense filed a motion for a new trial in the McClain case on behalf of George and Andrew Brown, and a similar motion on behalf of Andrew Brown in the Rat Morrow case. The motion was overruled in both cases and appeals were taken. Pending the notion of the court of appeals, sentence was passed on the criminals in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, and the convicts taken to Huntsville and placed in the penitentiary to serve out the thirty years term. Subsequently the court acted on the McClain case, affirming the judgement of the lower court, but the appeal of Andrew Brown, in the Rat Morrow case, is still pending. On the oder of the district judge, and by advice of hte attorney general, the prisoners were taken out of the penitentiary and brought to Denton to receive the death sentence in accordance with the mandates of hte court of appeals. After sentence, the last effort of their attorney was for a commutation of the sentence from death to penitentiary for life, based upon the facts that the condemned young men were deluded and beguiled by the quasi-military

into their organization and thence into the several deeds of bloody murder with which they are charged; that hey had been in the penitentiary, under a plea of guilt of murder in the second degree, where they were serving a thirty years term when the death sentence was passed on them; that the jury that returned the verdict against them, joined in a petition ????????? the law had left it discretionary ?????????? they would have fixed the ?????? imprisonment for life; that the officers and authorities of the state prison at Huntsville, where these criminals have recently been confined, also forwarded strong recommendations for commutation, based upon the good behavior of these prisoners and that the citizens of Montague, Cooke, Grayson and Denton counties, after viewing the circumstances of the killing, petitioned for executive clemency.

These petitions were signed by some eight hundred citizens of Montague county, said to be representative men; some five hundred citizens of Cooke and Grayson counties, and about the same number of citizens of Denton county., including the officers of the county, excepting the prosecuting attorney, the members of the bar generally, and Miss Callie Forester and a number of ladies of Denton, who are noted at their homes for acts of kindness and charity, and their exemplary religious and moral bearing. These petitions were left with Gov. Roberts by Mr. M. Fulton, the indefatigable attorney of the defendants, who called the attention of the executive to all of the points. The governor took the matter under advisement, promising to telegraph the result, and the attorney left without encouragement. The response came on the day indicated, and with its perusal perished the last, earthly hope of the criminals.

On Sunday last the reporter of the News visited the condemned in their cell. George is of medium size, lean, and wiry in his movements. His eyes are small, hazel in color and penetrating in gaze. While his mouth and chin indicate great firmness, there is nothing in his features suggestive of brutality. He is intelligent, expresses himself with ease, and is above the average frontier-raised mad in education. Andrew is over the medium in height and in frame a fine specimen of the muscular farmer. His eyes are blue, and frank in expression. His face and head are round and his features German. He is full of life, and is a jolly fellow in manners and conversation. When the reporter entered the jail he found the passageway between the iron cage and the walls of the jail occupied by ladies and gentleman of various denominations who were holding a union prayer meeting. During the intermissions between the hymns, the criminals and their fellow prisoners would talk with the visitors upon religious subjects and about the status of their cases.

In an interview with George Brown, after religious service, he gave the reporter a rambling history of the vigilants. It appears from his statement htat a vigilance committee was organized at Red river station in 1872 to drive outlaws out of the county, which was then the readezvous of the worst characters in the Indian nation, and on the Texas frontier. In 1873 Brown’s father moved to Montague from Grayson county. The old man located on Farmers creek. During the first month on the new farm his horses and cattle were preyed upon by the outlaws on Red river in the nation. His complaints to the authorities lead to his boys’ connection with the band. Maj? Bronson was the reported head of the vigilants, who appointed a captain in every precinct in the county. The object of hte organization was to assist the civil authorities in bringing to justice horse and cattle thieves, and other bad characters. Toward the close of that year some members of the committee took the administration of the law into their own hands, and hung or shot the outlaws wherever caught. The vigilants in Brown’s beat were opposted to this summary proceeding, and confined their operations to apprehending had characters, and turning them over to the authorities for punishment. Sampson Barras, a brother-in-law of the Browns and now an inmate of the penitentiary, was

in the vigilance organization. His confederates were Dave Priso?, Abe Walins, George Imboden, George Howard, James Wise, George Richardson, Bill Brands, James Drake and others. The murders committed by the lynch party were made known to the Browns by their brother-in-law, and afterward, in a number of cases, confirmed by some of the above parties confessing their participation in the killing. The knowledge thus obtained, George says, has led to his, Andrew and Jesse Brown’s conviction for some of the crimes committed by the lynchers. When the outrages of hte lynchers aroused the citizens of Montague, and the murders committed begun to be looked into by the authorities, their conviction of death became necessary to the safety of the lynchers. Testimony was manufactured and conviction secured. “Iti s a notorious fact,” Brown said, “that Sirton remarked in the witness room that we must swear to enough to convict them, that is Jesse, Andrew and myself.” When asked by the reporter for the names of some representative men in Montague county who were members of the vigilance committee, he replied, “I have nothing to say concerning them. They acted for the public good, and in assisting the authorities in suppressing crime, they advanced the prosperity, peace and quiet of Montague. If you must know my feelings toward them, I tell you I will never say anything against a good man and citizen, no matter what I know on him.” The prisoner was calm and resigned to his fate. His parting words to the reporter were, “I hope that my friends and the justice-loving citizens of Montague will see to it that the judicial investigations wind out square for then in the final wind-up all will come right.”

Promptly at 1.35, the hour fixed for execution, the condemned were brought from the jail and


The sheriff read the death warrant and the governor’s refusal to commute the sentence to imprisonment for life, at the close of which George Brown addressed the crowd, in a five minutes speech, during which he said that he had made a statement for publication which would show that he was not more guilty than others who are at large.

At the conclusion of his speech Rev. Dr. Grafton, of the Cumberland presbyterian church, read the fourteenth chapter of Job; two hymns were sung, in which the concourse joined. Andrew Brown refused to speak, and maintained to the last that he was innocent of the murder of McClain.

the only member of the family present, left the gallows before the trap was sprung. Handshaking was indulged in for several minutes. At 2.10 the ropes were adjusted and the black caps put on and their legs and arms pinloned. At 2.18 the sheriff cut the trap-rope, the drop fell and the criminals were

George died in nine minutes, his neck being broken. Andrew died in eleven minutes of strangulations.

The execution was witnessed by seven thousand people.

of the condemned was brought about by a family quarrel, and the jealousy of Andrew’s wife, whose husband was a gallant among women in the neighborhood. She and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Barros, were devoted friends, and sided against the Browns in the quarrel, during which the boys were charged with the assassination of R.A.F. Morrow, which they tbreatened to make public. A meeting of the vigilants was called, especially for the purpose of posing the death decree on the women. Their husbands were present at this meeting and sanctioned the proceedings. The plan agreed upon was that Barros’s wife should spend the following Saturday with Andrew Brown’s wife, when they were to be assassinated; and the crime charged to outlaws who had been driven out of the county into the nation. Barros informing his wife of the plan, and guarding her against ??y allusion to the matter, secrectly made his way during the night to Montague and informed county attorney Matlock of the situation, and made a full confession. He swore an affidavit against the Browns for the murder of McClain, upon which affidavit they were arrested. The Barros family removed the same day to Montague. During the investigation of the McClain murder the vigilants took fright and several of them turned state’s evidence when the catalogue of crime committed by the vigilants became known. Mrs. Barrow is sister of the Browns, both of whom are married. Andrew leaves two children and George a son by his first wife. His second wife abandoned him.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Nov. 22, 1879

The Brown Family: When Vigilantism Turns to Outright Murder

December 30, 2008
Texas Vigilantes

Texas Vigilantes

George Brown, Sr., and his sons, George Jr.,  Andrew and Jesse, along with others, evidently started out as vigilantes in the wild west of Texas, but soon began to abuse the power of justice and went on a murdering rampage over several years before being convicted. George, Jr. and Andrew were eventually hung for their crimes, but not before 14  people were murdered.

The Gainesville Gazette contains the following shocking narrative: “Monday, Nov. 2d, three men went to the house of the Estes brothers — three bachelor brothers living together — at Post Oak Tavern, Montague county, and there took breakfast, after which the strangers took two of the Estes brothers out and murdered them about one-half a mile from the tavern, and left. The same night, while friends were sitting up with the corpses, the same party that murdered the two brothers returned and dragged the remaining brother out of the house, a distance of fifty yards, and there murdered him. The parties were unknown to the citizens of the country in which the murders were committed. The Estes brothers, report sayeth, bore an unenviable reputation.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 12 Nov 1874

The Denison News contains the following account of a terrible crime: “Wednesday night, the 15th of April, a party of eleven men surrounded the house of a widow woman named Mrs. Morrow, or Marrow, and commenced firing at the building, and through the windows and doors. It is estimated by those in the neighborhood that thirty-five or forty shots were fired, thirty of which it was found the next morning had struck the house. Mrs. Morrow was hit three times, one bullet taking effect in the right shoulder, one struck her in the leg, and the third hit her in the small of the back, penetrating the bowels, which last proved fatal. She lived an hour, or an hour and a half. A physician was summoned, but he could render no assistance. There are two suppositions given to account for the cowardly attack on Mrs. Morrow– one is based upon a rumor that she was cognizant of certain persons having been engaged in stealing horses, and had threatened to expose them; another that she is the only witness of the killing of her husband, which occurred about a year ago. A man who was also a witness was either put out of the way or induced to leave the country not long since. The murderers are still at large.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 07 May 1875

The North-West learns from Mr. Johns that developments have recently occurred in Montague county that implicate a family of Browns, consisting of George and George Brown Jr., Jesse and An?a Brown, living near Red River, as the murderers of Rat Morrow and wife, a man by the name of Bachelor and a Mr. McClain. Some of these murders were committed near two years ago, but no certain clue to the murders had been obtained. Recently some domestic difficulties occurred resulting in one of the Brown’s wives leaving her husband, and threatening to revenge herself for wrongs she has endured by informing the public who were the murderers. This determined the murdering party to protect themselves by putting her out of the way, and one of the number was ordered to kill her. He refusing to obey, became another dangerous element, and was sentenced to a like fate. He flew to the authorities for protection and the secret was out.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 04 Oct 1876

The Gainesville Gazette gives the following account of the wholesale assassinations which have prevailed for three years in Montague county: Three years ago R?t Marrow and the Brown family and several other parties living near Burlington, in Montague county, on the beef trail, got into a dispute about some cattle, and a short time afterward R?t Marrow was killed. Mrs. Marrow, the only witness to the murder of her husband, had the parties indicted. Threats against her life were made, and finally her house was burned and her body riddled with bullets. Some of the neighbors who took sides with the Marrows, shared similar fates–among whom were the three Easters brothers, who were killed in August, 1874,– Bachelor, whose headless body was found in Red River about a year ago, Kozier, whose body has never been found, but supposed to have been thrown into Red River, and a young man named McLain, killed last spring. Several parties who were witnesses to some of these bloody deeds have been intimidated and driven out of the country, and for this reason it has not been known until recently who were engaged in the murders. The citizens had a meeting a few weeks since, and from their movements a man by the name of Barris became uneasy and made some remarks that caused them to believe he was implicated. In the meantime, he had a falling-out with his comrades, and fearing that for knowing too much he would be put out of the way also, he went to some citizens and told them that if they would protect him he would tell who were the guilty parties, which they agreed to, and he gave the names of quite a number of individuals. Two of whom, Jesse Brown and Geo. Brown, Sen., have been arrested and put in jail; the others are still at large. Barris, who is a relative of the Browns, was also engaged in the murders, but says he was forced to it from threats. Great excitement prevails, and it is feared Barris will also be killed if not closely guarded.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 05 Oct 1876

The Ben Kribbs (Krebs) mentioned below will get his own post. It is quite a spectacular (and not in a good way)  story as well.

Ben Kribbs, the principal in the terrible murder of the England family in Montague county, has been tried and sentenced to death. The jury were out only five minutes. He appealed…..Geo. Brown, murderer of Robert S. Morrow, three years ago, has been sentenced to be hung, but also appealed.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 23 Nov 1876

The sheriff of Montague county, assisted by twelve rangers, brought down six Montague county prisoners to Gainesville last week, and lodged them in the Gainesville jail for safe keeping. The prisoners are all charged with murder, two of whom — Cribs and Brown — have been tried, and found guilty of murder in the first degree. They are waiting the decision of the Appellate Court.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 21 Dec 1876

Gainsville Gazette: From Mr. J.D. Taylor we received the following list of prisoners now confined in our county jail: From Denton–T.E. Bailey, charged with theft; John Russell, arson; A.G. Hall, theft; D.B. Deason, forgery; C.F. Mack, theft; Wm. Lunsford, theft; Geo. McDonald, (col.) assault. Montague County — Geo. Brown, A.J. Brown, Jessee Brown, Jessee Brown Jr., L.P. Preston, B. Kribbs, murder. Cooke County — J.G. Swaggerty, assault to murder; J.W. Roberson, murder; B.A. Cameron, swindling; Joe Johnson, J.W. Hughes, J. Robertson, Charles Shole, theft; W.D. Brown, assault to murder; Frank Widener, aggravated assault; J.A. Carrol, arson; Frank Kidd, drunkeness. Clay County — John Reed, Charles Holder, (col.) murder.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 11 Jan 1877

Monitor The court of appeals having affirmed the decision of our district court in the George Brown and Andrew Brown cases, those murderers will be hanged in Denton. They were charged with committing several murders in Montague county, but got a change of venue to Denton county.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 04 Jun 1879

A final account(s) will follow this initial post, and will give lots of details about the various murders and the fates of the accused and convicted. The article is a long one, so I may break it up into more than one post.