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Deadly family feud in Knox
I discovered recently that Knox County had a “Hatfield vs. McCoy” family feud back more than 100 years that ended with four men dead.
David Cook from Tennessee called me last month to say that he was coming to Knox City to place a marker for a Joseph “Red” Mitchell, a family member who had been shot and killed on Christmas eve at the Frizzell Drug store in downtown Knox City.
We made arrangements to meet at the Knox City Cemetery so I could get a photo, but the man bringing the marker was delayed in Vernon. I got the photo the next day, but Cook had already started back home with his son who he picked up in Arkansas.
When Cook went into more details about what had happened, I quickly decided the complete story had to be told and asked him to send more details about what happened.
Mitchell was a rancher who had land in King, Knox and Wichita counties and had served as the sheriff of King from 1907-1910. The nickname came from his large red mustache. He also owned the Mitchell Hotel in Knox City with his wife, who wanted the kids to go to school there.
This was at a time where Knox City had more residents than it does now, attracting all types, including a gambler named Sil Morton, who found enough amateurs willing to test their luck that he could make a living. Morton took up residence at the Mitchell Hotel and caught the attention of Mrs. (I never could find her name) Mitchell, who spent all her time there while Red was at the ranch during the week.
Mitchell found out about the affair and came looking for Morton, saying that Morton “wouldn’t see another sunrise.”
Morton reportedly told a few folks: “No ….. is going to run me out of town.”
After both men spent the night at the hotel and had breakfast there, Mitchell left first and waited for Morton in the lobby, shooting him as he entered. It was reported that Morton had a gun in his hand, but never got a chance to shoot. He also had a rabbit foot in his pocket, but his luck still ran out.
Of course, Red was arrested, but two different trials ended with hung juries. Meanwhile, a bitter custody battle was going on between the Mitchells in another court.
That’s when brother-in-law George Douglas entered the story by arriving from Tennessee, saying “no ….. should live to testify.”
Douglas took matters in his own hands, waiting in ambush in downtown Knox City on Christmas eve 1916 and killing Mitchell.
When a nearby lawman arrived to see what was going on, Douglas also shot and killed him. Douglas, of course, was charged with both murders, but the prosecutors decided to first have a trial for killing the lawman, as there were more witnesses to that shooting. The trial was held in the courthouse in Benjamin.
That’s when Mitchell’s brother, Bill, entered into the story. During a recess on the 11th day of the trial when it appeared no jury might be found, Bill managed to sneak a gun into the headband of his Western hat, shooting and killing Douglas and wounding two others.
Bill’s first trial ended in a hung jury when four of the jurors wanted to give him the electric chair and no punishment could be decided. When Bill started acting crazy, he was then put on trial to decide if he was sane. He was, but when the next trial was held in Wilbarger County, the district attorney couldn’t find enough witnesses and Bill was set free.
An article in the 1990 Spring issue of the Wichita Heritage Magazine written by John Bunyon Rhea, an eyewitness to the last killing in Benjamin, proved very helpful in providing certain details of the story in even more details.