Big Horn Smith, Fannin County, Texas

 

In the years 1845-6 and 1847, the good citizens, of the county had a great deal of trouble with a gang of thieves and outlaws. They were never able to convict them before the courts, for want of evidence, and they were heartily sore and tired of the repeated thefts and depredations of this band of men. So, on one occasion, the whole southeast portion of the county rose en masse, and arrested about fifteen men. They then retired to a suitable place, elected a Judge, a prosecuting attorney, and empanelled a jury. The accused were arraigned, tried, found guilty of various crimes and summarily hung. Some of the parties who were present at these trials are yet alive, and say that there was no difference in the conduct of the trials before this tribunal and the regular courts, except that witnesses in giving in their testimony were not con-fined to the facts of one case, but were required to testify as to every criminal act of the accused within their knowledge. This immense latitude of the various witnesses was Sufficient to make out a case against all the parties, and the county was forever ridded of their presence and mischief.

A short while after this occurrence, the subject of this sketch, Big. Horn Smith, (called so on account of a tremendous powder horn he always wore) married the widow of one of the parties who were hang. This fact taken in connection with others, and suspicious circumstances, led his neighbors and the people generally to believe, that he was particeps criminis, with the late gang of thieves. He was accordingly notified to leave the county. This he refused to do. A citizen by the name of' Nails, was delegated to deliver the message to Big Horn, and from that day his spleen against Nails steadily enlarged, until one morning they met at the edge of Bois d' Are bottom. From this meeting until the terminus of Smith's career, there are two versions of the story. One version deprecates the course adopted and carried out by the people, while the other approves it. Taking into consideration the late turbulent state of the government, the unsettled condition of society, the fact that Texas was then flooded with "bold bad men," and the wanton disregard for human life on Smith's part, perhaps the latter version of the case, is the better one.

As Nails drove out of the bottom on the other side of Bois d' Arc, he saw Smith standing at the edge of the dense brush, with his gun. He seemed to think that the only chance to save himself, was to leap out of the wagon and wrest the gun from Smith, which he could have easily done, as he was almost a giant in strength. As he jumped to the ground toward Smith, the latter fired ; an ounce ball went through Nails' brain. Smith fled into the dense swamp, and the young man who was in. the wagon with Nails, brought news of the tragedy to town. The Sheriff and his posse hunted the bottoms of Bois d' Are long and thoroughly, but to no purpose; Smith could not be found. Finally one day he was seen by a young man who undertook to arrest him. Smith, shot the young man through the arm, from the effects of which Wound he died shortly afterwards. Then Big Horn fled the country, and stopped some-where near Austin. He had not been there long when a young man from Fannin, who was over there on business, recognized him, and secured his arrest. He was at once brought back to Bonham. The Sheriff notified the district Judge, and a special term was ordered, for the trial of Smith. He employed counsel, and on the day that court convened, filed a motion for continuance. During the trial of this motion the court took a recess for dinner, and while the Sheriff was conveying Smith to a place of confinement during the recess, he was .met by a body of men, who told Smith that they wanted to see him have a fair trial, but that trial must be had at once, and that if he persisted in his motion for continuance, and the same was granted, he would not live to see the next day's sun. Big Horn made some curt reply, and passed son. After dinner the motion was pressed, and the grounds for a continuance were such as to leave the court no ' alternative but to grant it, which he did until the next regular term. That night Smith was taken -from the room where he was confined, not clandestinely, but openly, and carried a short distance from town and hung.

There are several yet living who witnessed this lynching, and for many years afterward they made it convenient to hunt squirrels in secluded woods, while the grand juries were in session.
Many of the older citizens believe that Big Horn was wrongfully hung, and that he acted in self-defense in both instances. They further believe that the suspicions of his rascality and connection with any band of outlaws were wholly ungrounded, and that it was the vast amount of stock and lands he was acquiring, which moved some of his less thrifty neighbors to want him out of the county.

That question however, is not likely to be any better settled than at present. Smith's story for meeting Nails at the edge of Bois d' Are bottom, was, that he (Smith) had been to town that morning, and had left his powder horn on the grocery counter, was going back after it, when he saw Nails coming up oat of the swamp, through which the road was only wide enough to admit the passage of wagon and team, walled up on each, side with dense thickets, and was waiting there for Nails to pass out. When Nails came up, he cursed Smith and said to him, "I thought I gave you your orders to leave this county!'' and jumped out of the wagon toward him, when he fired.
There is but one Judge who has or will pass upon this case, and he alone can right it. The popular mind however has already approved the manner of Smith's going.

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