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There always seem to be different versions of all stories depending upon who you talk with. That’s why I always used to like radio commentator Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” programs.
If you remember, I recounted a story back in December about the case of King County sheriff/rancher J.J. “Red” Mitchell from one of his cousins about a marker being placed at the Knox City Cemetery.
It seems Red killed a gambler named Sil Morton, who had been giving a little too much attention to his mail-order bride. That’s when the Mitchell-Douglas feud erupted. Later, brother-in-law George Douglas killed Red, and then Red’s brother Will killed George in the Knox County Courthouse. All this happened more than 100 years ago, and none of the killers served any time in jail.
Thanks to C.H. Underwood of O’Brien, I can now pass along a few more interesting tidbits. Underwood tells me that his grandmother, Carrie Gage Underwood, was Morton’s niece.
“Because of Sil’s examples, his three Gann sisters…Carrie, Ada and Mattie…who married three Underwood brothers…Noah, Chris and Gayla… would never let anyone play cards in their home,” he said.
Underwood also mentioned that the saga of the Mitchell-Douglas feud had been mentioned in Bill Neal’s book “Getting Away with Murder in the Texas Frontier.”
Well, after interviewing him prior to his induction into the Big County Athletic Hall of Fame next month, I finally got to hear Neal’s account which helps tell the rest of the earlier story.
Neal goes into great detail about the killings and trials, but I wanted to at least cover what happened to Ellen, Red’s wife, and tell you why Red’s brother avoided justice.
Red’s homemade will left his estate, including a 5,000-acre ranch, to his three minor children. Of course, the portion of the ranch that was acquired after his marriage was community property, and she got proceeds from that. She obtained custody of the kids and ended up with all of the estate. She later married J.C. Barkley in Fort Worth.
Neal’s account about the killing of Douglas included more details than I had before, including the fact that the trial ended with a hung jury…8-4 for acquittal.
I also found out that Ellen was in the courtroom and actually made an effort to get to Will’s pistol on the floor. But she was beaten to the weapon by county attorney John Banger Rhea. Neal wrote that Rhea said Ellen told him she had regularly carried her own gun into the courtroom, but had left it back at her hotel room that day.
Neal also wrote that Douglas had a premonition something might happen and had asked Sheriff W.S. Britton to allow him to carry a weapon into court. He was not given the OK.
In Will’s first trial, the jury in Baylor County decided he was guilty, but couldn’t decide on a penalty. Eight voted for life in prison, and four for death. The result was a hung jury.
Neal added that today’s law provides for a two-part criminal trial, focusing on guilt or innocence first and then on the punishment. If a jury can’t decide on the punishment in a capital case like this, it would have to go with the lesser penalty of life in prison.
I mentioned in the earlier column that the state dismissed the case likely because of not enough witnesses. However, Neal summed up the issue in a different manner, saying “everyone just got tired of this jinxed and emotionally divisive prosecution and quietly settled it.”