All families have their histories, the usual cycles of life – those events such as deaths, births, marriages etc. that perpetuate the family line. But often lost in the mist of time, are those events that may have been pivotal for some families. Accounts of these incidents often become blurred over time as the stories are handed down from one generation to the next, be these events of fortune, or misfortune. And so it was with the Hill family that lived in Callahan County between 1877 and 1890.
Occasionally, fate is kind and allows many elements and circumstances to come together affording us the opportunity to revisit a moment in time. Such is the case with a story which circulated in our family involving our great uncle who was apparently shot to death by a neighbor’s son in 1889. My brother and I have spent several years doing family research and eventually we decided to check out this story. Consequently, we pulled together information from a variety of sources (i.e;census records, land deed searches, birth and death records, trial transcripts and visiting a fair share of cemeteries)
I will begin by introducing you to some of the players in this story beginning with a few members of the Hill family who lived in Callahan County and other people in the area as well.
Our great grandparents were Pharoah and Susan Hill. They were land owners and residents of the Admiral area since 1877. They lived just south of the Admiral cemetery. They had also owned properties in east Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. He also had a brother who lived in Kerrvillle, Texas. Pharoah was born in 1829 and his wife Susan (Middleton) in 1833. Both had roots in Alabama. But Pharoah’s line of the Hill family as a whole started its long history with Texas in 1846.
Although Pharoah and Susan had a total of 12 children, we’ll only mention a few which had connections in Callahan County. Three of their children still living with them in Admiral was a daughter, Sallie Hill. She died in 1887 at age 19 and is buried in Admiral cemetery. There was also their youngest son, Farrar (Fad) Hill whom I was named after in 1947. He was born in 1875 in Rusk. And Araminta Hill born in 1873 in Rusk.
Our grandparents were Elbert and Emma Hill (Elbert being another of Pharoah’s sons and my younger brother was named after him). Elbert and Emma were also property owners living just west of the Admiral cemetery.. Elbert was born in 1860 at Rusk, Texas and his wife, Emma (Pearce) was born in Orange County Texas in 1861.
Elbert and Emma w/our father in Emma’s lap
Pharoah’s oldest son was John R. Hill whose land was located just south of cemetery. Just a few months after his sister Sallie died in 1887, he married Sophie Martin. She was born to H.C. and Ophelia Martin in Sanatobia, Mississippi in 1869. John and Sophie are both buried at Admiral cemetery. And nearby is where our story really begins – just how John came to be buried at Admiral at the young age of 35, by other than natural causes.
A brief article appeared in the Baird Weekly Star, dated Thursday, December 12, 1889. It reads as follows: “News came last night from Deep Creek that young Harris, son of R J Harris had shot John Hill. Hill was shot twice, but whether seriously or not is not known. Dr. Powell was called to see the wounded man. No particulars. Later – Bust Harris came in with his father this morning and surrendered to the Sheriff. The shooting occurred yesterday at R J Harris’ place on Deep Creek. Just before going to press news came that John Hill is dead.”
Our research yielded the following: Sometime shortly before sunset on Wednesday, December 11th, 1889, four shots rang out from a .45 caliber pistol in the feed lot of the Harris Ranch south of Baird near Admiral. John R. Hill had ridden to the ranch and verbally confronted J.H. (Buster) Harris (about 17 years old). The argument centered around a criminal charge J.H. had filed against John, accusing him of carrying a pistol at Morgan’s Thresher some months before. The trial transcripts indicate that during the encounter at the Harris ranch, John never dismounted his horse. After an exchange of words with J.H., John reined his horse around to leave. After doing so, J.H. fired his pistol at John four times and striking him twice. One bullet struck his hip pocket but did no damage as the bullet struck a coin that was in his hip pocket. The 2nd bullet went through his left thigh lodging itself into the saddle. John managed to remain mounted on his horse and continued on his way home but only made it as far as his father-in-law’s, H.C Martin. The local physician, Dr. R.G. Powell, who was summoned to Martin’s home that same evening, evaluated John’s wound as non- life threatening . However, since X-Rays had not yet come into being, there was no way Dr. Powell would’ve known that the bullet had severed a main artery. John bled to death by the next morning (Dec. 12, 1889). He was buried at Admiral Cemetery.
Census records and land deeds indicate John lived in the Admiral area since about 1877. He listed his occupation as a “farmer” but was also known to raise livestock along with his father Pharoah , primarily horses and cattle! His parents, Pharoah and Susan Hill ; two brothers, Elbert and Fad and two sisters, Aramenta and Sallie were also residents in the vicinity of Admiral. Another brother, George, was living in Ft Mc Kavett, Texas.
At the time of John’s death in December of 1889, his wife Sophie, was pregnant with their second child, John Henry Hill. Their first child died in May of 1888. John Henry would live to be about 64 and was married at least twice. He died in 1953 and is buried in Ross (Baird) Cemetery. To date we have been unable to locate any children of John Henry’s.
About 3 ½ yrs prior to John’s death, he donated 2 acres of his land to School District #7. However, further research my brother did showed it was apparently never used for that purpose. John’s 20 year old widow, Sophie spent the remainder of her life in the Baird area, presumably with the Martin family. She died in 1941 following complications from gall bladder surgery and is buried in the Admiral Cemetery , in the Martin family plot along the Eastern fence line. Apparently there was no space left to bury her next to her husband as an access road passes immediately to the right of John’s grave.
Sallie, John’s 19 year old sister, died of influenza in 1887, about 2 years before his own death. She is buried a few yards south in the same row as John and the Hill babies at Admiral. In fact, John had purchased and installed Sallie’s tombstone in September of 1889, just weeks before he was killed. The tombstone was ordered from John A. Bergin & Son’s Fort Worth Marble Works for the sum of $25.00.
Three Hill infants are buried at Admiral. Willie and Winnie were born to Elbert and Emma Hill. And one infant that was born to John and Sophie Hill. John is buried next to his infant.
A trial was held in Baird on Nov 7th, 1890 charging J.H. Harris with John’s murder. About seventeen witnesses were called. The trial took one day and the jury returned with a verdict the following day. This resulted in a 2nd degree Murder conviction and J.H. (Buster) Harris was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. However, his conviction was overturned 2 years later by the Texas Appellate Court based on improper jury instruction. Upon J.H.’s release he returned to Callahan County and eventually married Amanda. They would have two children. But it seems J.H. outlived both his children and his wife. J.H. died in July of 1953. The Harris gravesites are only a few yards from John’s gravesite.
There are five individuals buried at Admiral cemetery who were summoned to testify at Harris’ trial. Those were George Weeks (a close friend of John’s), H.C. Martin (John’s father-in-law), Ophelia Martin (John’s mother-in-law) , J.P. Ligons, and R.J. Harris (J.H.’s father).
Other Callahan County residents who testified included R.G. Powell, Elbert Hill (John’s brother), A.L. Brickerstaff, Cyrus Campbell, Gabe Smart, J.R. McClusky, Ben Williams, John Boren, J.D. Mitchell and Theo Morgan.
The District attorney prosecuting the case was B.D. Hopkins. The defense attorneys were J.E. Thomson and John Bowyer. The court clerk was A.N. Jackson and the Jury Foreman was W.L. Lovelady. The Justice of the Peace was E.K. Kane and the Sheriff was J.W. Jones. The presiding Judge hearing the Harris case in Baird was J.H. Conner.
Just down the road (FM2228) at the Callahan City cemetery are three other individuals who testified. They were Cornelius Estes, John Mathews and William Maltby.
Within months of Johns death, Elbert and Emma moved on to Sonora, Texas where eventually our father and his sister was born. By 1894 they moved on to western Oklahoma. They homesteaded a farm there and were also part owners in a saloon at Sayre with Araminta’s new husband, David Sullivan.
John’s youngest brother, Fad, was bent on avenging his brother’s death so his parent’s (Pharoah and Susan) felt it was time to leave Admiral. They initially moved to Ft McKavett. But within a few years, circumstances of that era presented opportunities which made the notion of moving to western Oklahoma quite attractive, so most of this (Pharoah) Hill line picked up and moved east to Oklahoma. Fortunately, there was no further bloodshed regarding the shooting incident. Pharoah, Susan, Fad, Elbert and Emma are all buried in the vicinities of Sayre and Cheyenne, Oklahoma.
Pharoah and another infant of Elbert and Emma’s had the dubious distinction of being the first occupants of two different cemeteries in Oklahoma.
Pharoah died in 1901. His son Fad, looking for a decent place to bury his father, traded a wagon and a team of mules for a piece of land overlooking Sayre, Oklahoma and present day I-40. It has since been known in the community as the Sayre-Doxey Cemetery.
Elbert and Emma had two more infants after moving to Oklahoma. The first infant son was to be the first buried on the corner of a neighboring homestead belonging to friends Pat & May Lacey, just southeast of Cheyenne. The Lacey’s eventually deeded this land in trust as the Kiowa cemetery. Elbert and Emma are also buried there along with a second infant. Elbert and Emma passed away in, 1905 and 1907 respectively.
Briefly mentioned previously are two of John’s siblings, George and Aramenta. George lived a long life with his wife Annie in San Angelo, Texas .and are buried there. His sister, Aramenta, married in Oklahoma. Her husband, David Sullivan became co-owners along with the Hill’s in a saloon they operated in Sayre.
The Hill family continues to thrive and annual reunions are held regularly in Sayre, Oklahoma and Medina Texas.