Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Other Thing My Ancestors Did for Entertainment

The Brinlees had a somewhat different view of entertaining pastimes than the Floyds had. The Brinlees preferred murder, or to put it more delicately, killing.

One of the first things I did after subscribing to Genealogy Bank was to enter “Brinlee” for a search of all Texas newspapers that are on Genealogy Bank. I haven’t waded through the entire set of articles that popped up, yet, but fully half of the ones I’ve checked involve Brinlees committing some sort of crime. Mostly murder, though.

Not that we weren’t aware that Brinlees have a strong penchant for this type of activity. Starting with the earliest Brinlees:

- We know that George and Hiram Sr. were tried for several counts of murder and attempted murder in the days of the Republic of Texas.

- And then there are the stories that one of Hiram’s sons was tried for murdering a man in Montague County and that Hiram Sr. spent much of his fortune on lawyers for his son’s defense (perhaps that is why an article appears about him losing his property in Red River County….)

- We also know of the modern-day (1970s) “Bristow Bomber” – Rex Brinlee – who tried to blow up a witness who was to testify against him in a criminal trial and ended up killing the man’s wife, instead.

But there were even more cases that showed up on Genealogy Bank. Here are a few highlights:

Case # 1 – W. C. Brinlee, lawman of Westminster, Collin County, Texas

“Examining Trial of W. C. Brinlee Set for Today” (from the Dallas Morning News, 25 September 1917)

“The examining trial in the case against W. C. Brinlee, charged with the murder of J. Boss Hughes by complaint filed in Justice Stewart’s court, was continued until this morning when called yesterday. The absence of an important witness caused the delay. District Attorney Lively announced that he would resist the granting of bail in the case.

“Hughes, a resident of Roff, Ok., was shot and killed at 10 o’clock Saturday night and Main street at Central avenue. Brinlee was arrested by police.”

“Jury on Brinlee Case Had Not Reported at Midnight” (from the Dallas Morning News, 29 November 1917)

“The murder case against W. C. Brinlee, charged with killing Jesse Hughes on September 22, was submitted to the jury in Criminal District Court No. 3 at 3:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Most of the day was consumed in arguments. At the close of the case Judge C.A. Pippen complimented the attorneys on their uniform courtesy toward the court and each other and on their expedition in trying the case.

“Brinlee relied upon a plea of self-defense, his witnesses testifying that he was attacked by Hughes before he shot and that a companion of Hughes, who was present at the time of the killing, had threatened his life. Brinlee is City Marshall of Westminster, Collin County, and a number of witnesses from that county testified that his reputation there is good.

“The jury was still out at 12 o’clock last night.”

“W. C. Brinlee Found Guilty and Given Suspended Sentence” (from the Dallas Morning News, 30 November 1917)

“A verdict finding the defendant guilty of manslaughter and fixing the penalty at a suspended sentence of two years, was returned in the Criminal District Court yesterday morning in the case against W. C. Brinlee, City Marshall of Westminster, charged with the murder of Jesse Hughes of Oklahoma. Hughes was shot and killed at Central avenue and Main street on the night of Sept. 22. Brinlee pleaded self-defense. The jury had been out since Wednesday afternoon.”

[The suspended sentence hints that the jury may have recognized some merit in the plea of self-defense.]

Case #2 – William and Dave Brinlee (presumably William Hiram and David Francis Brinlee)

From the San Antonio Express, 2 June 1870:

“Killed. – We have learned with regret that on Friday last (29th ult), a young man by the name of George Walters, a citizen of this county, was shot and stabbed by William and Dave Brinlee, at a Mr. Fitch’s, 10 or 11 miles north east of this place. We are informed that Walters has since died and that the Brinlees, one of whom was wounded by young Walters, have gone to parts unknown. – McKinney Messenger

From the Dallas Weekly Herald, 16 July 1870:

“Last week, Capt. Bush, Sheriff, learned from some sources that the Brinlees who killed Waters [Walters?], a short time since, were in Dallas county, and made an attempt to catch them. Procuring assistance from Dallas, he in connection with Deputy Sheriff Nicholas, of Dallas, surrounded the house in which they were supposed to be, but when the place was searched next morning they were gone. He, however, found a man named Anderson, a brother-in-law of Brinlee, who offered resistance and was shot in the thigh by one of the posse. Anderson stands charged with a crime in Fannin county. Captain Bush, after having the wounds examined by a physician, proceeded to bring his prisoner to this county, transporting him in a wagon. He, necessarily had to travel slow, supposing his prisoner to be worse hurt than he really was, and only reached the neighborhood of Plano the first evening. Here he stopped for the night, and while he was eating his supper, his prisoner sprung from his pallet and made his escape from his guards. This is the first one who has made his escape from the new sheriff, and, from what he says, as he is disposed to censure himself more than anyone else, it will make him doubly vigilant in the future. One thing is being demonstrated by him, and that is that those who violate the law cannot consider themselves safe when they pass the county lines.

“Captain Bush speaks in very high terms of the officers and citizens of Dallas County, who promptly rendered assistance when called on. – McKinney Enquirer.”

[This could possibly be the same as the case of the son alleged to have murdered someone in Montague county.]

So there you have it. My ancestors liked to sue each other and shoot people for entertainment.

(While I have written this with a little sarcasm in the tone, it is not a light or humorous subject. I knew that there were some killings in the Brinlee history, but have been shocked that it was more than just a few, and that the ones I have found may only be scratching the surface. No wonder Grandma Brinlee gave up family research.)


  1. Not sure how to say this, but I have been, mmmmm, enjoying, reading your posts about your, mmmmm, "entertaining" ancestors.

  2. i have enjoyed it too. wow! never a dull moment with your ancestors.

  3. Oh Goodness, I'm a bit shocked too. Taking each other to court is one thing... The benefit of having "interesting" ancestors is that they are better-documented than well-behaved ones. Looking forward to what you find next! Jo

  4. Absolutely fun! Texas and their outlaws! And what fun is family, if you can't sue them! These stories should be compiled for a book. Readers love this type of entertainment.

  5. Carol - I hate to admit it, but while one half of me is appalled, the other half is absolutely fascinated. Kristin - Thanks - and you know, when I first started, they didn't seem quite as lively as they turned out to be. ip and Kathleen - yes, I'm trying to picture it this way - "Y'all just wanted something interesting for your descendants to find out!"