Tommie Horrell, the First Murder Victim
Buried in Crosby County’s First Last Resting Place
Among the few dozen grave markers in the cemetery that is the last vestige of Emma, onetime seat of Crosby County, Texas, is one dramatically inscribed with the word MURDERED.
Tommie Horrell, born July 24, 1890, and died January 5, 1894, had not reached his twenty-fourth birthday when his life was ended, according to Spikes’s Through the Years: A History of Crosby County, Texas, by someone who took his wagon and team and “left him dead in a canyon.” About the victim—and the perpetrator—nothing further is said in published sources.
Who was the unfortunate Tommie Horrell, and what canyon was the site of his death? His surname readily calls to mind that of a clan involved in one of Texas’s most protracted blood feuds, the 1870s “Horrell Wars” analyzed in detail by David Johnson in his 2014 book and by many previous studies. Indeed, Tommie proves to be a scion of that family; he was three years old in 1873 when his father, Ben Horrell, was gunned down in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Scholars have not previously made connections, however, among members of the tightly knit, infamous Horrell and Grizzell families of Lampasas and a thread of northward migration, hardscrabble livelihoods, and crime that follows them to Buffalo Gap, the cradle of Taylor County, in the 1880s and on to Crosby and Dickens Counties by the 1890s, where once again they come under the scrutiny of protection men “Pink” Higgins and “Bill” Standifer. Further, relationships among representatives of law and order, such as Taylor County judge John Watts Murray (later publisher of Crosby County’s first newspaper and an organizer of the towns of Emma and Crosbyton), and Taylor County attorney Frank Hamilton, who married Ben Horrell’s widow and raised the orphaned Tommie Horrell in Buffalo Gap, have not previously been established or examined.
As for Horrell’s killer, one James Russell Bell, nineteen years old, was arrested, tried in neighboring Floyd County, and convicted for first-degree murder and in September 1894 sent away to the penitentiary in Huntsville; he would later receive a Christmas pardon by Gov. O. B. Colquitt, a noted reformer of the penal system. Court records, not always complete in West Texas towns of that era, are being sought, to shed light on motive and other circumstances.
Even if such documents do not come to light in time for the WTHA conference, recently uncovered biographical information expands significantly on published studies of Emma, Crosby County, and the West Texas frontier of settlement in the late 1800s. It is hoped that the present paper will form the basis of an application for an additional Texas historical marker for the Emma cemetery.
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