Leon County Murder of 1918

BLACKSHEARIANA

 

October 15, 1918

  • R.K. Blackshear of this city received a telegram Sunday afternoon advising him that his brother C. H. Blackshear who lived in Oakwood had been shot and killed in Trinity River bottom near that place about two o’clock. His brother left a wife and child.

 

 

On October 15, 1918 Charles Blackshear was riding on a wagon loaded with pigs. The wagons driver is an unidentified African American man who was driving. The wagon was headed to Oakwood Texas and was in the Trinity River bottom area. As it passed a small farmhouse that a tenet farmer rented from Mr Blackshear the renter, an unnamed White Man was concealed on the roof of the house next to the chimney. As the wagon traveled in front and very near the house the renter shot him as he passed by. Charles Blackshear fell from the wagon reportedly still alive but wounded. The wound was sufficient enough to cause him to tumble from the wagon onto the muddy road. The man who had fired upon him then ran up and put the gun barrel at the base of his head and shot him dead.

 

Charles was one of 5 children born to Rufus King Blackshear and Martha Ellen Blackshear Vanderveer. They had been well to do plantation owners in both Anderson and Leon County. Their homeplace in Leon County was known as Blackshear Bend and is located near Oakwood.  Several family members are buried there, and the cemetery is supposedly accessible.

 

 

Charles Blackshear was of a small stature and slim build. He was reportedly of quick temper and being small often resorted to settling his quarrels with a pistol, having had several such scrapes before his death in Oakwood.

 

He was reported to have owned several farms that he rented to African Americans. During the first World War he rented one to a white man who it was said he treated like his black tenants. As a result it was said at the time that was why he was murdered by said tenant. At the time of his death he was unarmed.

 

The following year in 1919 a trial was held in Centerville Texas the county seat of Leon. The Blackshear men who attended all wore pistols and traveled together in a group. I might add that Leon County was and still may be the most backward county in Texas.  It was only dirt roads then and no rail connection.  The roads were so full of stumps that a new Packard car cannot travel them.  The one hotel had only corn shuck mattresses and I could not sleep.  So I was up at 5:00am and I noted all the horses and wagons that had come into town during the night.

 

There were men on horseback with rifles or shotguns across the saddle horns. There were wagons with entire families the women wearing sunbonnets and men with firearms on them or by their side.

 

Leon County Texas was a very corrupt place. In order to have the murder of my Uncle tried we had too employ two attorneys to assist the then Leon County District Attorney to augment the efforts of a conviction. They were all paid by the family in order to try and convict the murderer.  It was the first white man since the Civil War tried for murder there. The lawyers employed to assist at the prosecution were Dug. Dachields and his brother.

 

The trial lasted for several days and had night sessions too. Ultimately the murderer of my uncle was sent to Prison for Ten Years.  We had hoped he would have been hung after the trial. Instead he was sent to State Penitentiary for 10 years but did not spend much time there as his family obtained him a pardon from Ma Ferguson.  It was her husband while Governor of Texas who had fired my Uncle Edward as president of Prairie View Normal School. It later became a University.  I have not been in touch with my widowed Aunt who is now a Mrs. Harlow or my first cousin from her first marriage. He was 16 in 1932.

 

Wm. S. Blackshear (Santa Barbara California)

 

 

THE STATE OF TEXAS COUNTY OF LEON

I, W H. Hill, Clerk of the County Court in and for Leon County, Texas, do hereby certify that the above and foregoing is a true and correct copy of the Will and Inventory in the Estate of William Blackshear Deceased as sanie appears of record in Vol. I. Page 335 and 354 Probate Minutes in and for Leon County, Texas.

GIVEN UNDER MY HAND AND SEAL OF OFFICE, this 20th day of March A.D. 1934.

  1. H. Hill, County Clerk.

By Laverne Needham, Deputy

 

 

 

 

The Fergusons

 

the all-time leader in giving pardons in Texas was the late Gov. Miriam A. (Ma) Ferguson. Mrs. Ferguson, the first woman governor of Texas, had been elected governor after her husband, “Farmer Jim” Ferguson, had been impeached and removed from office. In one of her first actions as governor, she asked for a list of all prison inmates who were scheduled for release in 1925 who had clean records. During her first 70 days in office she turned loose 239 convicts with pardons in their pockets. In comparison, her predecessor, Gov. Pat Neff, only pardoned 92 convicts during his entire four-year administration.

 

During his short two years in office, Farmer Jim had shown a bizarre interest in Texas convicts. During his administration, prison reform was a very hot issue. Farmer Jim was convinced that the prison system was corrupt, brutal and inefficient. His concern apparently rubbed off on his wife as well.

 

When Ma pardoned those 239 convicts during the first two months in office, a firestorm of controversy developed throughout the state. Visitors outside her capitol office noticed more and more ex-cons, families of convicts and others lobbying to get pardons.

 

As governor, Ma Ferguson could only sign and formalize the pardon. The preparations and other details were handled through her husband, thus rumors – whether true or real – quickly floated about the capitol that Pa Ferguson was on the take.

 

One story that made the rounds in Austin was that a father had contacted the governor’s hubby about a pardon for his son, an inmate of the state prison at Huntsville. The man was told by Ferguson to come to his farm on the weekend and they would discuss the situation. When the prisoner’s father arrived, Ferguson took the man to the corral fence where an old, worn-out horse was being held. Ferguson asked the man if he would pay $150 for the horse. The man said he was too worried about getting his boy out of jail to discuss buying a horse.

 

“That’s too bad,” Ferguson said. “If you bought that horse, your son could ride home on him from Huntsville.”

 

Ma Ferguson’s record as the state’s first governor is marred by the huge numbers of pardons she handed out during her two terms in office. By the time she left office, she had issued 3,595 acts of executive clemency, including 1,318 full pardons and 829 conditional pardons, a statistic that is unlikely ever to be matched again by the Texas governor’s office – or any other office.

 

The Fergusons apparently did not gain a great deal of profits from the pardon caper. Both died broke, and they lost the family farm.