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Sunday, August 1, 2010

1990 Interview with Blanch Toole, Sabine County Historian


Interview with Blanche Toole, Sabine County Historian

Summer of 1990
Sabine County Jail and Museum
By Ed Wetterman
Transcribed from cassette recorder.

Isaac Hickman died in the Civil War and he married Mary Ann Parker.  When he died, and Elmore Harper got back—his wife had also died, he married Isaac Hickman’s wife.  The kids were farmed out to this one and that one, and you will find Isaac Hickman’s sons in Isaac Wright Low’s household…. Little Ike married Melissa Travis.  He had a sister, Amanda, who married a Conner, and Isaac Wright Low was his [Isaac’s] guardian.  Mary Ann didn’t live too long.  She had one child that was a Harper, but I don’t know too much about Mary Ann.  I think she was a sister to Mathew Parker, who was an Assistant Chief Justice here [Sabine County, Texas].  I know a lot about your little Ike who lived down on Brushy.

Well, I think he [Isaac Hickman] died with measles or something…in Marksville, Louisiana in C.S.A.

Isaac Hickman Low had a daughter Amanda who married a Conner.

Elmer Harper was her [Mary Ann’s] son with Elmore Harper.

John Paul Hyden used to live down there.  [Ike Low and his family] lived on Brushy creek, and John lived on down lower, and he had to pass Ike’s house to get to school, and Melissa’s mother [Saphronia White-Travis] would come and stay with them when she had a baby, and she [Saphronia] out-lived Cannon [Travis] many years..., but Saphronie smoked a pipe, and Ike was known for his stinginess, he was very tight with everything, so he wouldn’t buy her any tobacco, and she would run out of tobacco.  When John Paul would come along going to school, she would ask him to get her tobacco, and she told him that when he got of age he could marry any of her daughters that he wanted, and he said he was just as scared of her as he could be.  I have seen her picture.  This county [Sabine] is full of Travis’, if you’re kin to the Whites’ and Travis’, you are kin to everybody.

I know where he lived [Ike].  It’s a country-dirt road, and it is very interesting, and you would go across what is called Brushy, which is sort of what you would call a sort of slew-creek, you know, it does not run too much, and you go up a steep hill and they lived right up on that hill, and the hill went down to a little stream in the back of the house.  That was where Little Ike lived in the woods.

Little Ike married Melissa Travis.  The Travis family was a big family and one of the daughters, they called her Aunt Dump, her name was Saphronie Paulina, I believe she married Fed Conner, and his father was Willis Conner.  The Conner family got into a mess with the law. There were two guys murdered in Holly Bottom, and they were accused and convicted of it. They were put in jail and they broke out of jail and took to the woods.  They lived out in the woods as outlaws.  Well, the families were divided over it.  You see there were Anthony’s married to Travis’, and Little Ike Low was married to one [Melissa Travis], and they were messed up with all the families in the whole area.  It was a great big mess.  Well, Little Ike was against them, his wife was a sister to Saphronie who was married to Fed [Conner], but never the less he was against them. .Well, eventually everybody in the whole county got to hunting them because they were afraid of them, and all of them [Conners] got killed gradually until it got down to the old man [Willis Conner], who was in the woods by himself....One morning his grandson, a little boy, carried him some breakfast, and they [the posse] found him that way, and there was a big shooting and the old man and the little boy wound up dead.  In the books, Little Ike doesn't get too much credit for being very good to Saphronie Paulina, who as a widow [of Fed Conner].  They all had a hard time getting by....Of the two men who were murdered, one was Kit Smith, and the other was Eli Low, a grandson of Eli Low, and the son of Jackson Green Low.

...Eli Low, the one who was murdered, had married a Sarah Tatom. Kit Smith was killed with him, and he had married a Conner.  The families dropped the whole business.  They just wouldn't talk about it, because they were all so mixed up that in order to live they had no choice but to drop the whole thing.  All the tales actually come from people who have researched it and dug it up.  The Rangers wrote some books and they wrote it in their point-of-view, and Mr. Combs wrote it as a tale from one of the Harpers, who had married a Conner.  So you get these slanted versions, and the whole fact of the mater was, regardless of who was guilty and not guilty, they were convicted and broke out of jail.  The people that helped them escape went to the penitentiary, but they went into the woods as outlaws.  Thereby, they created seven or eight years of complete havoc, and no telling how many were killed due to their going into the woods.  Now that was a tragedy.  He [Willis Conner] never did consider anybody but himself and his family.  He had fought in the Civil War, he was a good citizen, and they even had schools....

The one who convicted them was old man Dr. Cooper, who had married a widow with three daughters.  One of his daughters married Charlie Conner, one of them married Kit Smith,  and one married Alex McDaniel, and they were all mixed up in this thing.  Alex was there when they viewed the bodies, and they all made testimony and so forth.  Dr. Cooper's daughter by this second wife, she was a Harper, named Octavine, and she was a teacher and she boarded in the Conner household to teach school to these people, as well as Nancy Conner, who was the baby girl, and she had married a Harper, and she had some material on her loom to make ...[Octavine] a dress.  Of course, Octavine noticed the material, and she noticed the dress that Nancy made, and when they pulled the padding off the dead bodies in Holly Bottom, they had the material in the padding [the wading used in the guns when shooting].  She testified that she had seen the cloth on the loom in the Willis Conner household, so Octavine was really the one that stuck 'em [convicted them].

...[Ike] was the third Isaac really....Isaac Wright Low was the one that raised them [Little Ike and his siblings].  Mrs. Nancy told me that her daddy took them [the children of Isaac Hickman Low and Mary Ann Parker] into his home and kept them.  She said her mother always had said that he would take anybody in.

...Cannon [Travis] was a character...he first settled out here on what deed records called Sugar Creek, and they lived there until the man who owned all the land on the other side of Housen Bayou, on 87 South, died and Cannon bought that estate and as his children got married he would give them land and they all lived around him, and just down that bayou is where the Conner thing happened you see, and one of them was killed there in a crib [barn] on his field or maybe a little over towards where Little Ike lived.

...Cannon liked to drink and he helped organize this Church [First Baptist Church of Hemphill].  I'm sure he was a very wealthy man because he owned all that land and he was probably as wealthy as anybody in that church.  He would get drunk and they would kick him out, and he would come back and apologize and they would forgive him, and give him a job to do in the church, and he would do it again, and he would come back and apologize.  That was the way they actually entertained themselves in the church.

...Old Cannon [it was Dan] Low married a Smith.  They were later divorced, and he remarried and they are buried in a cemetery just down here off 87 in Newton County.

...You heard the name Scrappin' Valley?  ...He [Dan Low]  and his sweetheart, this Smith girl, were in this church and they got into a fight and she whipped him all they way out of the church, and so people named it Scrappin' Valley, and then they were married.  They later divorced and he remarried and is buried in the Mayflower Cemetery on 87.

...If you want to get confused just look up Cannon [Travis] on the 1880 census.  It's not right.  Somebody made it up.  He has got a different wife- her name is Elizabeth.  Saphronia outlived him and they did not divorce or anything....I figured out the census taker for some reason didn't want to go to Cannon's house, so he made it up.  He name was Saphronia Lee, not Saphronia Elizabeth, and see some of the children are listed and are right, but that is a mess.

...John Wesley Hardin came through here one time.  He got into a scrape at the Courthouse and had to leave, he shot an officer in the hand.  He was staying out here at Dr. Cooper's.  You know he married a Harper, and her brother's were there, and John Wesley was working with her brothers stealing cows, horses, or whatever.  Anyway, when he got in the scrape- he had walked up here and had left his horse out here where the Dr. lived.  So when he had this scrape, he jumped on somebody else's horse and got home right ahead of the law.  They were coming up behind him, and his horse was named Cody, it was black, and he couldn't get the gate open.  John Harper was there-Dr. Cooper's wife's brother- and he [John Wesley Hardin] had to jump the gate with Cody to get away, and Cody got a bullet in his hip.  Anyway, he just went through the woods and ended up at Cannon Travis' house and spent the night.  The next morning he got his clothes and took off.  Well, Elmer Harper was Sheriff [Mrs. Cooper's daddy].  Well, they didn't look for him too hard- they didn't care.  During the shooting Mrs. Cooper yelled, "Don't shoot Pa, you'll hit John!"  Gracie Berenthia [Mrs. Cooper's] name.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Texas Rangers in the Feud and Pete Loggins

This comes from The 1887 Conner Fight on the Sabine by Paul N. Spellman c2003.

Mr. Spellman offers some great incite into the feud.  I wish I could share the entire article, but I do not want to infringe on his copyright.  You can find this at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum.

Here are some of the more interesting  extracts and details from the article:

"First light, March 31, 1887. The Ranger company stood six abreast in the bottom of the dry gulch, their Winchesters and pistols at the ready. Not twenty paces in front of them, three shadowy figures crouched frozen in the thick underbrush while a fourth flanked the scene in a sniper’s position. Not a breath of wind stirred along Lick Branch; not a twig or leaf moved.

One of the crouching figures stood up, his shotgun pointed at the Ranger line. The movement attracted the attention of every man standing around the creek bed.
Then all hell broke loose."

 

 When the Conners broke out of jail and took to the woods, the adjutant general of Texas sent in "Ranger Captain William Scott and Company "F" to take care of them.  They tracked Alfred "Alfie" Conner into Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana and captured him in 1887.

 

 "Scott's force in Hemphill included Sergeant John Brooks and Private John H. Rogers-later, two of the famous "Four Captains" of the turn of the century..." 

 

 "Uncle Willis Conner fired into the melee from his sniper's position, and the bullet struck Ranger Jim Moore in the heart.  Moore collapsed, his rifle flung into the underbrush. Carmichael bent down to him.  Moore managed a crooked smile for a brief moment and then died."

"The Conner fight along the Sabine in 1887 was one of the bloodiest encounters for the Texas Rangers.  It left in its wake both accolades for bravery and steep criticism from some for the unsuccessful confrontation.  It also left a legacy of fact and fiction, high drama and legend, and a place of significance in Ranger lore."

 

In the Article Outlaw with two faces, Bob Bowman tells us a little more about Pete Loggins, one of the men who broke the Conners out of jail.

Here is the article by Bob Bowman:

In July of 1888, Rupert P. Wright, dressed in rags and one eye blinded by his own hand, pleaded for mercy on a charge of bigamy before an Arkansas judge.

To those who knew Wright, his appearance and demeanor were far removed from the days when he was a prominent newspaper editor, attorney, and aspiring legislator in Little Rock.

But they would soon learn that he was also an escaped murderer, forger, arsonist and jail breaker named Pete Loggins from
East Texas.

Born Lewis L. Loggins in 1848 near San Augustine, Loggins moved to
Jasper County in 1871, became a printer, studied law and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1874.

Seemingly on his way to success, Loggins married, sired three children and was elected county attorney for
Jasper County. But he soon returned to San Augustine County to practice law and edit a local newspaper.

Between the late 1870s and early 1880s, Loggins’ law practice and newspaper career prospered and he became well known in
East Texas.

But in 1881 his career took a deadly turn when he and a friend, Abe Smith, forged a land document for 1,107 acres near Hemphill. When his crime was discovered, Loggins fled to
Arkansas and married again.

On an 1882 trip to Hemphill he was arrested, but set fire to the jail and escaped. When Smith turned state’s evidence against Loggins on the forgery charge, Loggins ambushed him at a sawmill and killed him.

Loggins also became an ally of outlaw Willis Conner and his sons Fed, Bill, Charley, Leander and John, who were indicted for murdering two men in 1883 during a feud over wild hogs.

When the Conners’ trial began, it was transferred to San Augustine on a change of venue and the Conners were placed in jail there. In March of 1885, Loggins helped break Willis Conner and one of his sons from the jail.

Loggins apparently left
East Texas in 1885, assuming the name of Rupert P. Wright and became a reporter and city editor for the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock, where he covered the Arkansas Legislature, and made friends with influential politicians.

Wright/Loggins eloped to
Searcy, Arkansas, in 1887 with Alice White, a farmer’s daughter. It was his fourth known marriage and his past soon caught up with him when a former wife charged him with bigamy at Searcy.

Loggins fled to
Tennessee, but was hauled back to Searcy by a police chief, placed on trial and given a five-year prison sentence. While in the Searcy jail he attempted suicide twice.

In 1892 he was released from prison on good behavior after four years, but was seized by lawmen from
Sabine County, Texas, on pending charges of murder, forgery, arson and jailbreaking in East Texas.

Loggins was convicted of murder and jailbreaking in Hemphill, but served only five years at the old State Prison in Rusk, where he studied medicine.

He became a physician and practiced at Willis in
Montgomery County, where he was killed in 1905 by a former constable in a fight over a woman.

Pete Loggins remains one of the most intriguing outlaws in frontier
East Texas and even his descendants in East Texas remain puzzled about his strange life, the details of his death and his burial site.





 

 

The Lowe-Conner-Smith Feud Ends

On February 11th, 1885 a new trial was held for Fed Conner. He was again found guilty and given life imprisonment. The case was again appealed, but on March 30, 1885 the court's verdict was affirmed. It was sometime shortly thereafter that the Conner's escaped from the Sabine County Jail. Ruth Sibley Davis stated that local tradition held that on the day the opinion of the Appeals Court was issued that Willis Conner "held up his forefinger and stated, 'tonight.' And that night the break-in of the jail occurred.

The Hemphill jail was made of logs and several men had come to break the Conner's out. These included Pete Loggins, Alfred Click, Wade Noble, Dutch Watkins, W.E.T. Ogletree, Sterling Eddins, Jim Sanders, Alfred Conner and Leander Conner. The men tried to "force open the jail and were forced to dig under the jail an opening large enough for the imprisoned men to be freed." This must have taken some time and been fairly noisy, but no one interferred, including any lawmen who may have been in the vicinity. Willis, Fed, William and John escaped into the woods, but their friends and family were arrested and convicted of assisting in the jail break. Only Pete Loggins and Alfred Click escaped and were never tried for their part in the jail break, as they left Texas at the time.

Joseph Combs wrote that the Conners immediately sent word that they "would never again submit to arrest and would fight to the last man against any effort to take them into custody." Ruth Davis stated in her book that the conner escape brought about a "reign of terror" in the Southern part of Sabine county. Apparently many people were afraid to go into their fields to work or to enter the woods to hunt for fear of the outlaws. Henry Fuller stated that the Sheriff of Sabine County "made no effort to arrest the men he had known for years as his neighbors and friends."
 
The Texas Rangers
Eventually the Texas Rangers were asked to help apprehend the Conners. The first attempt failed "due to the dense woods and the refusal of local officers to cooperate with them." A second attempt was made around March 31st of 1887. Company F of the Texas Rangers was composed of Captain William Scott, Sergeant John Brooks and Rangers Harvey, Fenton, John Rogers, J.H. Moore, Frank Carmichael and William Treadwell. They were accompanied by a squad of local citizens who had volunteered to help and one Baldy Alfers who reportedly had "promised to lead the Rangers to the Conners." The other volunteers were W.W. Weathered, James Polly, Henry Harris and Mr. Toole.

According to Mike Cox's book, Texas Ranger Tales II, Captain Scott and his men "approached within three hundred yards of the outlaw camp deep in the pine trees." At day break Captain Scott sent two Rangers and four citizens to the left of the camp, while he and five other Rangers went to the right, leaving the two groups approximately eighty yards apart. The Conners had laid in ambush behind trees less than "thirty feet away." They opened fire on the surprised Rangers. Captain Scott later wrote that "Private Moore fell dead from the first volley fired by the Conners. Myself, Sergt. Brooks & Private Rogers, each fired two or three shots before being disabled each of us having recieved serious wounds. The fight continued some seconds longer, Private Carmichael shooting whenever he could see one of the Conners."

The Rangers on the left with the citizens "rendered but little assistance during the fight, the citizen squad none." Captain Scott believed that "had the squad come to our assistance we would have captured the entire Conner gang." The fight must have been terribly confusing and ferocious. The Conners had four highly trained dogs that also attacked the Rangers at the time. William Conner was killed "with four bullets." Combs stated that "when Bill Conner fell mortally wounded, he continued to fire from his knees." Willis, John and Fed escaped into the woods. The four dogs were killed as well as the Conner's pack horse.

The Rangers had suffered perhaps their worst defeat. J. H. Moore was dead, Captain Scott "was shot through the lungs," and Brooks lost the two middle fingers of his left hand and Rogers was wounded in the arm and his side, his life having possibly been saved by an account book in his pocket which had deflected a bullet.

Rogers and Brooks recovered and became known as two of the greatest Ranger Captains in Texas History, though the Rangers left Sabine County and did not return to tussle with the Conners ever again.
 
The Feud Ends
Now only Willis, Fed and John were left. They went deep into the woods and reportedly prepared for a final stand. John Conner must have decided that it was a battle they couldn't win as one day he took his horse and abandoned Willis and Fed. According to Ruth Davis, he went to Louisiana and started a new life.
The local officers still refused to take action against the Conners and the populace remained in fear of the outlaws. Someone hired a private detective to find the Conners. He disguised himself as a cattle buyer and went throughout the county talking to everyone he could. He apparently discovered that Willis and Fed traveled "the same trail one day a week to pick up supplies sent by their relatives." Local officers, finally driven to do something, hid in a small shack near the trail and waited to ambush the Conners. Combs stated that, "When the two were almost even with the shack, the officers opened fire. Fed was wounded slightly, but not enough to destroy his accuracy with his rifle." Willis fled as Fed exchanged fire with the Posse, reportedly shooting a hinge off the door of the shack as one officer tried to peep through the crack. Fed was finally felled by an officers' bullet and lay dead on the trail. Willis escaped back into the woods, now a lone outlaw. 

Nineteen days later, on November 13, 1887, Willis' twelve year old grandson, Thomas Williams, was taking a meal to his grandfather. The boy had been tracked by men searching for Willis. It is not known if these men were officers or a community posse, but they obviously had decided to bring an end to the feud. These men opened fire on Willis and killed him, but they also killed the boy. Combs stated that the men opened fire without warning killing Willis and young Thomas. Fuller stated that the detective had followed the little boy and had opened fire, killing both Willis and Thomas. Did Willis have a gun at the time? Did he exchange shots with his killers? It is unknown, but the end of the tragic affair had finally come about at the cost of seven lives and untold terror, fright and sorrow for the families of Sabine County Texas.

Final Thoughts
 
I have written this article for those interested, as I am, in the History of Sabine County, Texas. It has not been my aim to cause any hard feelings or to attack the good families of Low, Conner and Smith in East Texas. I believe we need to study such tragedies and work to keep similar episodes from ever occuring again. I have been contacted by many Low and Conner descendents and most of the comments have been complimentary. I hope I have done justice to this treatise.

In my opinion the Conners were convicted with circumstantial evidence in a manner that would hopefully not happen in today's courts. Were they guilty? Who can really say. They were guilty of escaping jail and causing the unhappiness that resulted from their actions. These same families continue to live in the area to this day and have even continued to intermarry and carry on many of the noble traditions of deep east Texas. It is a tragic tale that needs to be remembered. For good or ill, it shaped all those it touched, so that the descendents of these people still live with it.

 

Sources
Ruth Sibley Davis, Neighbor Against Neighbor: An East Texas Feud
Joseph F. Combs, Gunsmoke in the Red Lands "The Conner Feud", 1966.
Henry Clay Fuller, A Texas Sheriff: A.J. Spradley, "The Case of the Conners", 1931.
Mike Cox, Texas Ranger Tales II, 1999.
Outlaw with two faces, an article by Bob Bowman.
The 1887 Conner Fight on the Sabine by Paul N. Spellman 
Captain John H. Rogers, Texas Ranger by Paul N. Spellman (University of North Texas Press, 2003)
 
1991 Interview with Blanch Toole.
1992 Interview with Jack Lowe.
Numerous tales past down in the Lowe family and many emails from Conner descendants.

The books are hard to find.  I received a copy of Gunsmoke in the Redlands from a relative, and a copied version of Neighbor Against Neighbor: An East Texas Feud from Blanch Toole, a Sabine County historian who sadly died a few years ago.

The Lowe-Conner-Smith Feud Begins

The Basic Facts!


In the 1880's several of Sabine County's families became embroiled in an unfortunate shooting feud that disrupted the whole community. Fathers, sons, daughters and cousins became engulfed in the fighting that would ravage the county from 1883 to 1887.

It began with the murders of Eli Low and Kit Smith in Holly Bottom off Housin Bayou in the southern part of Sabine County. The bodies were found about ten feet apart and the men had been shot in the back. The funerals were quickly held and many thought it suspicious that the Conner family had not attended.
It was known that the Conner and Low families had argued in the past about free-ranging and the building of schools and roads. Apparently many angry words had been exchanged, but the situation had never erupted into violence.

After a short investigation, Willis Conner, along with his sons, Fed, William, John and Charles were indicted for the murders and held without bond. Charles and Fed's trial was held first and they were found guilty. Charles was sent to prison for twenty-five years. Fed was given life in prison, but successfully appealed his case and was retried. He was again found guilty. He would never serve, however, as the jail was broken into and Willis, Fed, William and John escaped into the countryside- where they began a running war with the law enforcement of the day.


The Texas Rangers were called in to assist in arresting the Conners, but were ambushed and one Ranger, J.H. (Jim) Moore was killed. William Conner was also killed and many others were wounded. Willis, Fed and John escaped the battle. The Rangers, having suffered a grievous defeat, left Sabine County and did not return. John Conner then abandoned Willis and Fed and according to Ruth Sibley Davis in her book Neighbor against Neighbor, moved to start a new life in Louisiana.


The people of the county, wanting to end the violence, began to pressure local officers to arrest the Conners.

Eventually, a private investigator was hired and disguised as a cattle buyer went through the county looking for clues to the Conner's whereabouts. He learned that Willis and Fed's families left food and supplies for them on a trail somewhere deep in the woods. An ambush was set up and Fed Conner was killed. Willis escaped, but was killed a few weeks later, when his young grandson, a boy of twelve, was coming to give him food. The boy had been tracked and followed by a posse and in the ensuing gunfight, Willis and the boy were killed.

This sad situation finally ended the Low-Conner Feud which had divided the county for so long. For years, no one wanted to discuss what had occurred as it was simply too divisive and the families too intermingled to be considered a worthy subject of conversation. I've done extensive research into this feud, and I'll publish it here.

The In Depth Story:
The following is a prose report regarding the circumstances of the 1883-1887 Low-Conner feud. It is abstracted from many sources and I tried to write it in a time sequenced manner.

All the information presented here was taken from the books Neighbor versus NeighborGunsmoke in the Redlands, and from Appealate Court records, Sabine County records and A Texas Sheriff, A.J. Spradley. I have searched through these records and tried to understand the who's, what's, when's, where's, why's and how's and to relate these in this writing. That being stated, please understand that my own interpretation of the events may be mistaken, as may be the interpretations of others I have referenced. The tragic feud took place a hundred and seventeen years ago and the full story may never come to light. When I write that Jim Bob stated "whatever...." , I am quoting the court records as reproduced by Ruth Sibley Davis.
 
Background information
Sabine County in the 1880's was a place of change and transition. The county had long been a main entry point for American's coming to Texas across the Sabine river. The Confederate South had been defeated fifteen years before and Texas had suffered through an age of Reconstruction under an occupying armed force. African Americans had gained their freedom and had received governmental aid, support and protections throughout most of the late 1860's and mid 1870's. However, at the end of the Reconstruction period, they had been left to try to get by as best they could. All the families had to learn how to live in a new age that has come to be recognized as the "Old" or "Wild" West.

Due to dangers from outlaws, Indian raids and a general lack of trained law enforcement personnel, people took to carrying guns for self-protection. Many families in the West raised cattle and hogs and this would also become a source of trouble, feuds and bloodshed as the "Free-Rangers" would let their cattle graze wild and the farmers would occasionally lose large crops as a result. Other times, the cattle would get mixed in with other groups and mistakes, if not outright theft, would occur. People would change brands, crop-mark the ear's of the animals, cut off tails and many other things to take ownership of someone elses free-range cattle. This sort of practice was sometimes known as "Dogging". The dogging of the Conners hogs would be a major cause of the violence that would break out in the 1880's in Sabine County, Texas.

The Conners
 
The Conner family came to Texas in 1857 from Tattonall County, Georgia. The family patriarch was Willis Conner. He was born in Georgia in 1823 and had married Piercey Douglas. He served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and was known as an intelligent, capable and tough old man.
 
Willis and Piercey had a large family and had the following sons: William (Bill), Freredick (Fed), Alfred (Bubba), Charles, Leander and John. The family ran a farm about five or six miles east of Hemphill and had several hundred head of hogs that they free-ranged in Holly Bottom, into which, Housin Bayou, a small creek ran.
 
According to Joseph Combs in his book, Gunsmoke in the Redlands, Willis was a leader in the community and often "supported campaigns for better schools and improved roads, as well as other progressive movements. His activities brought the wrath of his opponents down upon his head, and the community began to divide along lines of philosophy."
 
Some of the families that often disagreed with him were the Low's and the Smith's. These two families had been in Texas for some time, the Low's since the 1820's, and were well known in the community. The Low's, Smith's and Conner's had all intermarried with other families in the community and were all related in some way. For instance, Fed Conner had married Nancy Pauline Travis, a daughter of Cannon Travis. Another Travis daughter, Malissa Cordelia, married Isaac Low and Leander Conner had married Caroline Smith, the daughter of John Smith and Amanda Low. Charles Conner had married Julia Scruggs, a daughter of Jessie Scruggs and Grace Harper, and Elmer Harper's son, Jessie had married Mary Ann Smith. Jackson Green Low, the father of Eli Low, had married Alma Harper. The community had become a large extended family with many connections to each other.

These familial relations made the 1883-1887 Low-Conner feud such a tragic incident in the lives of the community, that it would be years before anyone would openly discuss the subject. It all probably started with the differences in political opinions, but tempers eventually became inflamed and small incidents took on larger proportions.

Combs stated that "on one occasion, Kit Smith and Charles Conner had a disagreement about who would play the violin at a dance. This disagreement was not peacefully settled- both carried a grudge and quarrelled at frequent intervals."

Sam W. Everett, a local who had occasionally lived with the Conner family and had worked as a laborer for them, later remembered that around July of 1883 he had witnessed Bill Conner and Eli Low, the son of Jackson (Jack) Green Low, passing " a few words" at a bridge raising over Six-mile creek. Apparently they did not settle their differences and Bill Conner "afterward talked as though he was not satisfied." Sam also remembered that the "Conners customarily cursed and abused Jack and Eli Low about bothering their hogs," and that the Conners "cursing and abuse of Eli Low and Kit Smith was common fireside talk." Willis, John and Bill seemed to have been the most vehement and "cursed Jack Low, Eli Low, George Williams, and Kit Smith unanimously."

Joe Ford, a local African-American, recalled that about the last week of November, 1883, he was at the home of Fed Conner and had overheard Willis Conner speaking to Fed: "When are we going to stop them damn rascals?" to which, Fed replied, "The first chance we get." Willis retorted, "If we don't stop them soon, we won't get any hogs this fall." Joe, at another time, was eating breakfast when John Conner came to Fed's house carrying some gun cartridges in his hand and said, "These are what will take them in. If a man won't do right, you ought to make him." Joe would later testify that he thought the cartridges looked larger than buckshot and that in neither conversation had he known exactly who the Conner's were discussing.
Miss Octavine Cooper, a local young lady who had lived with the Conners for the previous six years, stated that on Sunday, December 2, 1883, she had been sitting at the dining table with Mrs. Charles Conner and his children when she reportedly heard Charles say that Bill Conner had "told him that Eli Low had run his (Billy) Conner's hogs out of Holly Bottom. And that he (Charles) was going to help Billy watch the Bottom, and that Eli Low had better not run them out again.

Jack Low, Eli Low's father, lived about ten miles East of Hemphill and he later testified that on December 4, 1883 at approximately 8:00 am, he and his son Ike had met Fed and Willis Conner at a crossing of the Six-Mile Creek. Willis apparently hailed him to come over to talk and stated that, "By God somebody has been bothering my hogs." Jack stated that he had not. Willis then said, "If you have not, your boys have, and they must stop it." The conversation apparently went on this way for around half-an-hour, and Willis also reportedly told Jack, "You and Eli ran over a hog of mine in the road six or eight years ago. By God you cannot deny that." Jack then stated that if his sons were ever caught "dogging or abusing the Conner stock" that he was willing to "pay for any damage resulting," and that he supposedly asked the Conners to "watch his boys and promised to watch them" himself. This apparently did not satisfy Willis as he reportedly stated that "You may watch a wolf all summer, and yet he will eat the pigs in the Fall." Then Fed Conner said, "Fussing is bad business. We had as well drop it and go on to the ones who have done it." Willis then told Jack that "If anybody catches me bothering their stock, I want them to shoot me down like a wolf and leave me in the woods, and I intend to do the same and make it my rule." Jack then warned Willis that in such a course, innocent people might be hurt. Willis replied, "When men dog my stock, I know whether they do it accidentally or on purpose."

At the end of the conversation, Jack turned to go and when he did the Winchester he had been carrying with the butt to his hip, shifted and pointed toward the Conners. "Willis Conner jumped somewhat, brought his gun to half present," and told Jack to "take that gun off me." Jack did and continued on his way.

The Murders

On December 5, 1883, the day of the murders of Eli Low and Kit Smith, John Marshall, who had been hired by Willis Conner to split rails, was working with Joe and Clark Ford after dinner. Willis with sons, Fed, John, Charles and Bill had said they were "going to Holly Bottom hog hunting," and had rode past them in a Northeast direction. He later testified that all but Bill had been carrying guns. About an hour later it had begun to rain and within a short time, heavier showers fell. During this time, Joe Ford, stated that he heard "four distinct shots. The first two shots were fired in quick succession from shot guns. A slight intermission was followed by two discharges from rifles. These shots were fired in the direction of Holly Bottom. These shots were also reportedly heard by a neighbor, Alex McDaniel and that he had "thought it strange that anyone would be hunting while heavy clouds were threatening a storm."

Earlier that day, Eli Low had gone to visit his friend Kit Smith, and after lunch the two had decided to return to Eli's home to mold some new bullets. Mrs. Sallie Low, Eli's widow remembered that when Kit had started to return home, that he asked Eli to go with him. Eli "consented to go as far as Holly Bottom saying he had some hogs to look after." They reportedly took their guns and rode on horseback into the Bottom. Sallie later stated that a "slight rain fell about fifteen minutes after the two men left" and that it had "rained harder toward night." Sallie thought she had heard the "report of a gun late that evening." Neither Eli, nor Kit would return home.

The next morning Sally decided to go to Kit Smith's home to try to find out what had happened to her husband, and according to Ruth Pitt Sibley, she decided to go around Holly Bottom, instead of through, due to the density of the forest in the area. Kit's wife, Mary, while seven months pregnant had also waited up and worried, and the two ladies went to the nearest neighbor, Alex McDaniel for help.


Alex helped organize search parties and began to look for Eli and Kit. He got Jack Low, George Williams, William Ferguson, John Ener and Elmer Harper to help him. They formed two searching parties and met up in Holly Bottom, where they discovered the bodies of Eli and Kit. "The bodies lay about ten to twelve feet apart, between Holly Bottom and Housin Bayou. Smith lay on his back, his feet under him, his head rest [sic] on the ground, and his hands drawn upward. He had been shot through the head. Low's body lay on his face, partly in the water, with hands drawn up underneath and near his face." The party moved Eli's body from the creek, but did not disturb Kit's. Kit's gun was empty and broken down at the breach and was laying near his head. Eli's gun was in the water. Eli's horse had been found about a hundred yards from the bodies and had been shot in the side. Kit's horse was "found in his field" and had not been shot. The search party sent for Dr. J.W. Smith and waited with the bodies.

When Dr. Smith arrived he described that the two men had been dead for about twenty-four hours. "Smith was shot through the right side of the shoulder and in the back, with buckshot and through the left temple with a large rifle ball. The man who shot Smith in the back and shoulder must have been standing behind him. The shot in the temple ranged downward into the throat, toward the body." Eli had been shot in the eye, from a "very short distance and downward. Low was otherwise shot in the shoulder, these two wounds being inflicted by mixed loads of buck and squirrel shot." Dr. Smith also stated that Eli had "two pistol balls wounds", in his back and that his hands were drawn up near his face, and in "one hand he held a piece of gun patching. Two peices of patching were found on Smith's body; one piece of colored new cloth, and the other a piece of white domestic. Since most people at that time made their own bullets, they would use pieces of cloth as wadding for the cartridges. The pieces of patching were seen and described by the members of the Jury of Inquest. The colored piece was "checked in two or three colors, blue, white and copperars. The white was a very small stripe."

The two bodies were then taken home and prepared for burial. At the funerals, many friends and relatives noted that Willis Conner and his family had not attended. The community, worried by what had occured, decided to have all the men of the area meet and make statements as to where they were on the day of the murders.

The Conners did not attend and many began to believe they were involved. The Conners were arrested and indicted for the murders of Eli Low and Kit Smith.

The Trial
 
According to Ruth Sibley Davis, when the officers went to arrest them the Conner men "protested their innocence and remarked it would be impossible for the State to make a case against them." Some in the community must have believed the Conners might try to escape justice, as the District Attorney requested that they be removed to a jail in Nacogdoches county as he felt the "jail of Sabine County is not safe and insufficient to confine the defenders."
 
The community was divided and many stood to protest the arrests and to support the Conners, including a local newspaperman by the name of Pete Loggins. Others declared the Conners' guilt and demanded justice.
Fed and Charles Conner were the first to come to trial and were tried jointly. Despite NO direct evidence of their guilt, the circumstantial evidence was considered strong enough that they were convicted of the murders of Eli Low and Kit Smith. Fed was convicted of murder in the first degree and given a life term. Charles recieved a lesser sentence of murder in the second degree and was given twenty-five years in the penitentiary. The convictions were appealed and the cases heard by the Court of Appeals in 1884 to retry the "wholly circumstantial" nature of the evidence.
 
The first to testify in the appellate trial were those that discovered the bodies of Eli and Kit. The main pieces of evidence testified to were the pieces of gun patching that had been found on the bodies. (See above.) Then the widows of Eli and Kit testified about their husbands whereabouts on the day of the murder. Then, Jack Low testified that the Conner's had threatened Eli regarding the "dogging" of their hogs. (See above.)

 
Next came some of the most damaging testimonies. Miss Octavine Cooper testified that when she had lived in Charle's Conner's home, that she had heard the Conner's discussing Eli Low. (See above.) She then identified a piece of the colored homespun cloth that had been used as gunpatching. She stated that "Willis Conner had a loom at his house some six weeks before the killing. They loom at that time contained a piece of cloth very much like the piece of evidence." She also testified that she had seen "Miss Nan (Willis Conner's daughter) with a new dress made of the same fabric exactly like the sample in evidence."
 
Then others testified of the previous arguments and difficulties between the Conners, Lows and Smiths. (See above.) Then Joe Ford, the African American who had worked for the Conners testified for the State.
Joe testified to working on the Conner farm on the day of the murders and that he had watched as the Conners had ridden in the direction of Holly Bottom. He stated that Willis and Charles each carried a rifle and shotgun, and that Fed and John each carried a rifle. He also stated that he had seen William (Bill) Conner "put a pistol in his pocket." Joe stated that it started to shower and later a heavy rain fell. Joe said he heard "four distinct shots" coming from the direction of Holly Bottom.
 
He then testified that "about half a hour after dark Willis, John and Fed Conner came back to Willis' house driving some hogs." He went on to state that "Willis Conner met his wife at the steps. She then asked him 'Did you do what you went to do?' Willis replied, 'Yes by God I did.' His wife then asked, 'Are you sure they are dead?' 'Yes by God they are and they won't steal anymore of my stock." Joe stated that he had listened from behind the corner of the room.
 
Joe then testified that later that evening he had went "entirely around the house and hid behind the chimney of the room in which the Conners collected." Joe stated he heard William Conner say, "I guess the son-of-a-bitch won't curse me any more. I took two pops at him with John's Smith and Wesson pistol, and she is as good as Mollie ever rubbed her leg over." Joe then stated that Willis said, "Eli begged mightily, but it was just a year too late. It didn't do any good. he had no business bothering my stock. He had warning not to go into my stock range."
 
This testimony, despite being hearsay, proved to be very damaging to the defense's case, but is very unusual in that Joe had been brought before Judge Whittlesey on two different occasions before the first trial and had not testified to any of the above information until the Appeals trial. When cross-examined regarding this he stated that he "was afraid to endanger his life."
 
The Appeal hearing ended with Charles Conner's conviction being affirmed and he was transported to begin his twenty-five year sentence. Fed Conner's conviction was reversed and remanded back to the County Court for retrial.

More to come...

Ike Low and Melissa Travis (122 and 123)

Ike Low and Melissa Travis

(4 Stars) The youngest child of Isaac Hickman Low and Mary Ann Parker was Isaac (Ike) Low.  The family traditions that I learned from my grandfather, Leslie Lowe, stated that Ike was an orphan, and that he never talked about his family.  Young Ike must have been affected by his father’s death while he was a young boy, and once Mary Ann died, Elmore Harper (her second husband) separated the children by farming them out to various cousins to raise.

Young Ike was raised by his father’s nephew, Isaac Wright Low, and it is assumed that he often felt isolated or different from the rest of the Low family.  There are several reasons for this deduction.   First, Ike never talked about his family or relatives.  All he would say was that he was an orphan.  This made researching his early life very difficult since I didn’t know where to look.  Sabine county historians, as well as various family traditions state that Ike was known for his stinginess, or as Blanche Toole said, “He was very tight with everything.”

Ike was born on December 11, 1862, and he married Melissa Cordelia Travis, the daughter of Cannon Travis and Saphronia White, on January 10, 1882.  Ike and Melissa had eleven children that I am aware of.  They are:

            1.  Henry  born in 1883
            2.  Tom  born on March 27, 1884
            3.  Mattie  born in 1886
            4.  Dan born in 1890
            5.  Cannon born in 1892
            6.  Jim born in 1894
            7.  Emma born in 1896
            8.  George born in 1889
            9.  Winnie born in 1898
            10.  Alvin born in 1902
            11.  Harvey born in 1903
L to R:  George Lowe, Unknown, Tom Lowe

Jack Lowe, a son of Tom Lowe, remembers that “Ike had a log house.  It was a real good house and it had a dogpen [run], a hall down the middle, and he had a kitchen off making an L on one end of it.”  Jack went on to say that it was a large house with both a front and back porch.  Ike and Melissa’s home, outside Hemphill, Texas, was on a steep hill that went down to a little stream called Brushy.  Jack Lowe remembers that Ike did not have a well, and that he would load a wagon with seven or eight barrels that he would take down to the creek to fill with water.  Ike would pour the water into a cistern until it was filled.
 
Sabine county in the 1880s was still included in the Big Thicket territory.  The Big Thicket spanned several East Texas counties and it is said that if a person wanders into the Thicket, out of sight of the road, he may be lost indefinitely.  Sabine county remained a “frontier” county until well into the twentieth century.  That is, people often settled disputes independently of the law.

All food was grown on local farms and families were self-supporting.  Much of the land on which the Low family lived came to be called “Scrappin’ Valley.”  The families would often fight among themselves and others.  With each generation, the land would be divided among the children and their families.  Intermarriages were not uncommon and a gunfight could easily be caused by a dispute over hogs.  In a sense, the Low family did not change over the years.  As with the original clan, they still feuded among themselves, as well as with other clans.

One of the major incidents in Ike and Melissa’s lives occurred shortly after they were married.  Melissa’s family, the Travis’, was a very large family, and one of Melissa’s sisters, Saphronia, married Fed Conner.  Fed was one of six  sons of Willis Conner.  The other sons were Bill, Alfred, charles, Leander, and John.  It seems that on December 5, 1883, Eli Low, a cousin of Ike’s, and friend, Kit Smith, were clearing some land in what was known as Holly Bottom.  Holly Bottom was not far from Brushy—where Ike and Melissa lived.  According to family tradition, a big rainstorm hit and Eli and Kit decided to go hog hunting.

  The Conner family operated a small farm about six miles east of Hemphill, and they had several hundred head of hogs that were allowed to run free in the unfenced forest.  This was at a time when many people were at oddd over whether to allow ranchers to “freerange” their cattle and hogs.  Many farmers were against the freerange animals, as they would get into gardens and cause all sorts of trouble.  The situation in Sabine county had slowly escalated to the point were townspeople were carrying guns and threatening each other.

Family tradition states that the Conners rode up on Eli and Kit, shooting them both, and starting the Low/Conner feud.  Eli and Kit’s bodies were found covered by a cloth.  The Conners were charged and convicted of the murders and were placed in  jail in Hemphill while awaiting transfer to a state penitentiary. 
  In January of 1886, the jail was broken into and the Conners escaped.  The people that helped them escape went to jail, but the Conners fled into the woods and became outlaws, professing their innocence to all who would listen. 

The Conners, by fleeing into the woods, caused suffering in many families in Sabine county.  Almost every family was related in some way to every other family and this was a very tragic affair to all of them.  Blanche Toole stated that althought Melissa’s sister ws married to Fed, “he [Ike] was against them.”  Blanche went on to state that eventually everyone in the “whole oounty got to hunting them.”  Jack Lowe stated that he remembered his grandfather, Ike, telling him about the feud, and that Ike had, despite his feelings towards the Conners, “fed them some” while they were running from the law.  Even the Texas Rangers got involved, and one of them, J.H. Moore, was killed.  Eventually all the Conners were killed, or ran away, and the feud ended.  Blanche stated that, “ in the books, little Ike doesn’t get too much credit for being very good to Saphronia Pauline Conner,” who was the widow of Fed Conner and Melissa’s sister.  They all had a hard time getting by after the feud ended.

When Melissa had a baby, her mother, Saphronia White-Travis, would come and stay with them to help look after the house and the children.  Ms. Toole told me a story that involved a Mr. John Paul Hyden.  John used to live down from Ike and Melissa and had to pass their house to get to the school. Well, Saphronia, now an elderly lady, smoked a pipe and Ike wouldn’t buy her any tobacco.  When she ran out of tobacco, she stopped John and told him that if would buy her some tobacco, he could “marry any of her daughters he wanted.”  John was a very young boy, and remembered being scared to death of her.

On August 1, 1908, Melissa died and was buried in the Hemphill Cemetery.  Ike later married a Ms. Emma Clark.  Ike’s children seemed to be satisfied with his marriage to Emma.  Jack Lowe stated that his father, Tom owe, felt that Ike “needed somebody to take care of him.”  Ike and Emma had three children:

            1.  Wiley
            2.  Jack (Judge)
            3.  Winnie

  Ike died on August 12, 1923, and it is believed that Emma moved back to Louisiana to be with her family.
Ike Low

Facts and Trivia on the Lowe Family


According to one family tradition, George, a son of Ike and Melissa changed the spelling of the name from Low to Lowe, because he was receiving another George Low’s mail and couldn’t get the Post Office to ever straighten out the problem.  He changed the spelling and it has been spelled Lowe by every generation since.  Many of the other relatives also began spelling the name with an e about this time as well.

Another tradition states that another son of Ike’s,Dan Lowe, was engaged to marry a Smith girl, and that the two attended church together.  Apparently she got mad at him one day during a service and began beating on the poor fella, chasing him out of the church in front of everybody.  From that day on the land the Lowe’s lived on became known as “Scrappin’ Valley.”  As to the couple, they did get married, but the marriage didn’t last too long and they were soon divorced.  I can’t imagine why!

A Note on the 6th Generation

This is by far one of my favorite generation of ancestors as far as stories go.  There are many stories for this generation and it's going to take me some time to tell all I've found, heard, or discovered.  Of course the pictures are starting to dwindle now, but I'll try to include something to make it more interesting.  Stay tuned cousins,

Ed

6th Generation Ancestors

Families of Wetterman, Wehring, Wachsmann, Neutzler, Wolfe, Ramsey, Moore, Ricketts, Low, Travis, Ferguson, Frisby, Marshall, Simmons, Gray, and Carter.

(4 Stars) 94. Heinrich Wettermann born January 1, 1842 in Essenheim, Oldenburg, Prussia (Germany) He died on November 18, 1905 in Giddings, Lee County, Texas.  He married 95. Karoline Wehring who was born on May 25, 1847 in Germany.  She died on February 16, 1923 in Giddings, Lee County, Texas.  They had the following children:  45. Charles Henry, 96. Emma Willimene, 97. Herman Henry, 98. Bertha (Bettie), 99. Otto Heinrich, 100. Minnie Marie.

(5 Stars) 101.  Johann Wachsmann born May 13, 1832 in Prussia (Germany).  He died May 5, 1895 and is buried outside of  Lincoln, Texas.  He married 102. Karolina Neutzler.  She was born on August 28, 1841 in Prussia and died on March 11, 1938 in Manheim, Texas.  They had two children:  103. Adolph, and 46. Anna Amelia.

(5 Stars) 104.  John Peeler Wolfe born February 1, 1856 in Tennessee.  He died June 15, 1910 in Tennessee.  He married September 23, 1880 105. Martha Tennessee Ramsey.  She was born November 4, 1859 in Tennessee and died March 16, 1942.  They had the following children:  106. Cora Jane, 50. Prince Albert Houston, 107. John Franklin, 108. Inez Josephine, 109. Joseph Talmadge, 110. Horace Brunner, 111. Mack Gordon, 112.  Jessie Milton.

(4 Stars) 113. James Henderson Moore born February 14, 1834 in Corinth, Mississippi. He died March 28, 1893 in Mississippi.  He married August 28, 1867 in Corinth, Mississippi 114. Mary Jane Ricketts.  he was born October 8, 1849 in Corinth, Mississippi, and died August 24, 1918 in Waco, Texas.  They had the following children:  115.  Sam Etta, 116.  George Washington, 117. Jefferson Davis, 118. Robert Edward Lee, 119. Jacob Franklin, 120. Marcus Dworett, 121. George Henderson, 51. Martha Iredell.

(4 Stars) 122.  Isaac (Ike) Low born December 11, 1862 in Sabine County, Texas.He died August 12, 1923.   He married January 10, 1882 123. Malissa Cordelia Travis in Hemphill, Texas.  She was born November 25, 1867 in Sabine County, Texas, and died August 1, 1908 in Hemphill, Texas. Ike married second wife: 124. Emma Clark c1910.  Ike and Malissa had the following children:  125. Henry, 126. Tom, 127. Mattie, 59. George, 128. Dan, 129. Cannon, 130. Cannon, 131. Jim, 132. Emma, 133. Winnie Mae, 134. Alvin, 135. Harvey.  Ike and Emma Clark had the following children: 136. Wiley, 137. Jack (Judge), 138. daughter (Winnie also?)

(4 Stars)  139. Hardy Richard (H.R.) Ferguson born August 31, 1854 in Mississippi.  He died May 3, 1914 in Sabine County, Texas.  He married October 10, 1888 in Jasper County, Texas 140. Ella Frisby.  She was born December 5, 1874  and died December 20, 1940 in Sabine County, Texas.  They had the following children:  141. Albert, 142. Florence Almar, 143. Julia Arula (Sulie), 144.Lola Vester, 145. Merne, 146. Emma, 147. Jack, 60. Nora Ella, 148. William Marion, 149. Fannie.

(4 Stars)  150. William Jackson Marshall born November 4, 1865 and died January 18, 1920 in Blue Springs, San Augustine County, Texas.  He married 151. Sarah Ann Simmons.  She was born 1866 and died 1929 in San Augustine County, Texas.  William and Sarah had the following children:  152. Dovie, 153 Geneva, 154. William Jackson, 67. Van Daniel.

 (3 Stars) 155. Marshall Sidney Gray born October 3, 1864 in Alcorn, Mississippi and died August 29, 1917 in Brookland, Texas.  He married January 11, 1887 in Alcorn, Mississippi 156. Winnie Opal Carter.  She was born February 27, 1867 and died November 16, 1936 in Sabine County, Texas.  Marshall and Winnie had the following children that I can document: 157. Tom, 158. Mary, 159 Luther C., 68. Bessie Beatrice, 160. Walter R., and 161. Alma.