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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Uncle Silas and the Hanging

I should have figured that folks would want the same thing that I went looking for, the exciting bits of history. We like the action and intrigue even if it is slower paced than today's movies. Our minds paint great pictures.

For those outside of the area, we are anticipating 47 degrees of mostly sunny weather here in Fallon, Nevada, USA, with about 10 cents worth of a chance of rain. I have to tell you that out here on the valley floor, we don't expect to see it. With an annual precipitation rate of 7 inches (rain and snow moisture) it doesn't happen much.

Sgt Mikki and Hurricane Jessi are full of energy this morning as evidenced by the destruction and disarray of our beautiful sun room, now a doggie day care, until Jessie is more trustworthy and will go outside on her own. Rugs are apparently better for flinging about than walking upon. If we put these two on a treadmill hooked to generator we could power the whole neighborhood! They are outside now, terrorizing floating leaves, or cats who dare to walk the fence. 

In Nevada we live in the "Old West" where cowboys still work cattle and Native American people still live in the same areas they did when the white travelers walked west. This area where Fallon is located was the last extreme section before the mountains and then the lush valleys of California. 

The history of this area tells of the wagon trains carrying gold seekers and settlers and their hardships crossing the hard-pan alkali desert where you got all the heat you could stand in the day time and shivered in your blankets at night. The only water you could be sure of, is what you carried with you. No matter what, you had to reach the Sierras before the snow fell and blocked the passes. To not do so, was to die.

In the late 1980's I decided to do something that was both crazy and exciting. To combine the love of western history and my enjoyment of riding my horse, I rode the dreaded 40 mile desert alone on horseback  in late July. I wanted to know what it was like for those who made that crossing. Of course I didn't give it 100% accuracy or I would have had to get myself completely exhausted by walking across the US first and add dehydration from dysentery and lack of clean water. But I did what I could.

That however, is another story, for another time, and in fact is as of yet, unwritten. If there is sufficient interest in hearing that tale I might be persuaded to write it. Just ask for "Riding the 40 mile desert".

But to get back to the story requested, that of Uncle Silas and the misadventures of 1880's Texas justice. 

I can tell you that I believe the story to be completely true. We visited the area, talked with family still living there, and researched in the county records. You are getting a peek into a strange but true tale of the old west in rural Texas where justice was often one man's opinion.

Here then is:

Uncle Silas and the Hanging

This story was related to me by my aunt, who heard it many times from her mother, (my grandmother) who was the niece of Silas, and the daughter of his brother John. I also heard the tale told in 2000 when I went to Texas and spoke to my cousins, the direct descendants of Silas. The story is written as it was related to me.

Uncle Silas

Back in the early part of his life Uncle Silas got himself in some kind of bad trouble, either stealing a horse, or I think maybe even killing a man, but I’m not sure as Pappa wouldn’t tell me. Anyway, he got arrested and was taken away to stand trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he was dead.

A date for his execution was set and upon the eve of that dreadful day the jailer being a dutiful man, came around to inquire as to what Silas would like to have for his last meal. Upon getting no response from the prisoner, the jailer entered the cell and found Silas unable to move and barely able to speak. Suspecting that it might be a trick, the jailer stuck Silas with something sharp hoping to provoke a response that would give the ruse away and make him the better off with the Sheriff for catching the culprit in his own cell, before he could make good his escape. Which he was sure was the real game afoot!

To his dismay, no matter how he poked, prodded, or stabbed, Silas did not respond. In fact he showed no reaction at all and the jailer was now sure that he had been tormenting a paralyzed man.

Being ever mindful of his duties, the jailer immediately reported his prisoner’s terrible condition to the Sheriff, who after tests of his own went straight to the Judge who had sentenced Silas to be hanged. The Sheriff reported these most unusual circumstances which had befallen his prisoner and the tests that they had conducted with no resulting reaction.

The Judge being a God fearing man, and probably up for re-election, said that Silas being paralyzed was God’s will and His punishment and that he could not hang a paralyzed man.

He gave the order and the Sheriff immediately sent for Silas’ brother John Wesley to come and fetch him home to be cared for until he should die on his own.

John Wesley and their mother Elizabeth came as quickly as they could, given that they were some distance away on the ranch and had to travel by buckboard in order to be able to carry Silas home.

On their journey home, being more than one day’s travel from their ranch, they had to camp for the night along the way. While they were attending to the business of the camp fire and meal making, a voice spoke out from right behind them, nearly scaring them into the next life.

The loud and clear voice asked, “Are those beans you’re cooking? I’m awful hungry.”

They turned to find Uncle Silas standing there, waiting hopefully for a plate of beans.

“I thought you were paralyzed!”, his mother said.

“I was! And you would have been too, if they were going to hang YOU in the morning!” was Uncle Silas’s reply.

They never came looking for him and he never went and volunteered to be hung. So that was that.

Notes for this story:
Transcribed from audio recording.

Family (last) name omitted for privacy.

Silas was born in 1866 and died in 1932 both in Turnersville, TX.

The near hanging event would have taken place in the late 1880’s. (Probably 1887)

This part of Texas was on both the Chisolm and Bosque Trails and full of wild types passing through.

The court records of his trial were lost when the building burned in a lightning caused wild fire.

His descendants investigated in an attempt to clear his name but no one has ever been able to prove what Silas was charged with, or what proof they had against him. Silas proclaimed his innocence before and after the trial and claimed another man had done the crime. No other man was located, so Silas was charged.

He was arrested in Gatesville on another occasion for disturbing the peace and being drunk which gained him some time in the lock up. During his stay there he nightly picked the lock on his jail cell and climbed up on the roof, stating to his mother that it was just too hot to sleep inside the cell. He was always back in his cell for breakfast.

Silas moved to the Oklahoma Indian Territory after his near hanging and worked there, eventually getting married and having children. After Oklahoma became a state he moved back to Texas.

My grandmother (Modena) was born in 1895 and raised in the same part of Texas where all of this happened so her information and recollections were first rate. Her mind remained sharp until her passing in 1981. I greatly regret not getting more information from her when I could have.

So there you have it friends. Tell me what you liked, or did not like, and feel free to ask questions.


  1. What a great family story! I can't think of a single story in my family that would even come close.

  2. The stories are there, the key is to get to the older relatives to find out what they remember. They will tell you that they don't know anything at first, but once you get them talking you will find out things that will amaze you.

    For example a friend in Hollywood, FL got his great uncle talking and found out that he used to play paddleball with Al Capone at the very same courts that my friend and I played on at Hollywood Beach in the 1960's. I researched the story for him and sure enough, there are records, even photos, of Al Capone playing there. It was said that Capone held meetings on the court while they played because the Fed's were bugging his residence and spying on him constantly. We even found a photo of my friend's great uncle eating with the gangster at a local restaurant.
    Thanks for commenting.