Cause of Courthouse and Jail Burning
By Bud Ratliff

In the year 1878, a certain horse thief whose name was Jim Weldon was riding on the range in company with a man whose name was Witter. They came upon a nice saddle horse. Weldon told Witter that the horse belonged to him. He caught the horse saddled him and rode him away. The horse belonged to my Wife’s father, who soon missed the horse and began to hunt and inquire about him. Mr. Witter hearing about it came over and told about Weldon riding the horse away. This happened in the south part of Brown County, I was living there at the time. (Ratliff had a farm located on the county line off what is now FM 45.) 

We knew the history of Weldon. He had a brother in law, who lived in Kimble County near Junction City. He too was a bad character. I told my Father-in-law that Weldon would go down there, I thought. So I saddled a good horse and proceeded to go after him. It took me 6 days to go and come. When I got to Junction City, he had not yet arrived, so I gave the Sheriff a full description of the man and horse and in a few days he came in and was arrested and brought back to Brownwood. He stayed in jail for several months. He decided that he could burn a hole in the jail and make his escape. He tried it but the smoke was so bad that he had to call for help to keep from suffocating. The sheriff, R. B. Wilson rescued him from the burning building but the jail and courthouse burned down and in the mean time and while he was in jail, Mr. Witter, the only witness, was breaking some “broncs” for my father. He had 2 of them staked out. He would carry his saddle out every morning and ride the “broncs”. One morning, as usual, he carried his saddle out and some low down murderer was lying in wait and shot him down. This ended the horse (theft) case, as he was the only witness. But the grand jury indicted him for burning the jail and courthouse. He was tried and convicted and given 7 year sentence to the pen. G.? Goodwin and John W. Goodwin were his attorneys.

I was the main figure in his arrest and conviction.

Another instance where I helped to enforce the law is as follows:
About the same year, another notorious thief had stolen some property and was caught with it. Officer Riley Cross, who still lives in Brownwood, proceeded to arrest him. He resisted arrest and drew his gun. Cross did not want to kill him so he let him go for that time. But went before the County Judge, whose name was R. P. Conner, and swore out a bench warrant for him, which means to take him dead or alive. Mr. Cross summoned several other men, I was one of them. We found him and attempted his arrest. But again he resisted and began to shoot. The first shot went through my clothes, grazed the skin on my left side. I saw there was no other chance but to shoot. I had a Winchester rifle, so I took aim and the first shot, I brought him down and so ended the life of a desperate character.

I came to Brown County in 1874. At that time Brownwood was only a small village. It now has a population of about 15,000. 

The following are some of the officers of Brown County in an early day:
Welcome W Chandler was the first County Judge. Greenleaf Fisk was the first surveyor. Henry Ford was County Clerk in 1876. R.B. Wilson was Sheriff in 1878. Brooke Smith was one of the first to engage in the banking business.

Some of the first men to engage in the mercantile business were as follows:
W H Knight, John L Gilbert, John C Burney, J C Weakley, T Bair Hall and Harryman R R Young, Smith and Steffins, John G Lee, Sol Tanner.

Some of the pioneers of Brown County were as follows:
L P Baugh, Mary Baugh, Ike Mullins, Sam Windham, S P Burns, Riley Cross, Brooks Lee, J Jones, Dan Mosely, Billy Brown, R J Foresyth, John Glass, John Driskill, Henry Baker, George Plumer, Mr. Harris, Chas Gentry, Noah Chandler, James Cross, Marion Cross, William Cross, J J Ramey, Hiram Smith, James Smith, J R Looney, Walter Daniel, Henry Fry, W H Posey, Socrates Martin, J C Teague, Bill Russell, Robert L Russell, Lonzo Utzman, W H McCoy, Tom Simmons, Henry and Bill Middleton, W H McBride, P Mathews, William Bratton, Capt Wood, Dorey Wood, L J Honea, Jap Keelin, Modie Coggin, Sam Coggin, Clay Parks, Sam Lacy, Gary (Firry) Sanders, Noah Sherrod, Tom Wilson, Henry Irebread, W M Hooper, W G McAdden, Tom McAdden.
This was typed in 2008, from a copy of a letter written by Bud Ratliff at approx 80 years of age. The original letter is in possession of Betty Gordon his granddaughter, who lives here in Brownwood. Randolph Presley Mathews was the victim of the said horse thief who burned the jail and courthouse with all the county records.

More information on the fire:
Prisoners in the jail decided they would escape by burning a hole in the floor and crawling through the hole. They succeeded in setting the floor on fire but there was no escape from the smoke and the men almost suffocated. Jim Bevans was deputy sheriff under R.B. Wilson, and he managed to get the door open and drag the prisoners out, as they were not able to walk or stand alone. 

One man was tried, convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for this fire. He stayed in the pen less than a year. While on duty at Huntsville, he evolved a plan to secure a pardon. He ate soap and would cough and spit every direction until he was granted a pardon on the grounds that he had tuberculosis and might spread the disease throughout the prison. He returned home, and in less than six months was hale and hearty. Later he stole a bunch of horses and left the country and has never been heard from since that time. Printed in Banner Newspaper printed May 6, 1936.  (In the life and Lives of Brown County People; Brown County Historical Society Book 1 Second Edition Indexed 1988, compiled by Lorene Bishop assisted by Melba Course; Pg 23)
There was a James R Weldon born 1858 in Texas in the 1880 census in the Coleman County jail. Which stands to reason that if the Brown County Jail was burned down they could get someone close by to hold their prisoner for them. 

While trying to piece together his list of some of the pioneers of Brown County, I found the following

L P Baugh –Levin Baugh – 10/28/1842 - 6/2/1913 – Baugh Roberts Cemetery
Mary Baugh –
Ike Mullins – Isaac Mullins -8/8/1819 - 6/1/1881 – Eurika Springs Ark – being treated for maglancy of lip
Sam Windham – 9/10/1842 - 12/1/1927
S P Burns – 
Riley Cross – 7/23/1829 - 7/1/1901 
Brooks Lee –
J Jones -
I M Mosely –
Billy Brown – B F Brown 72 yoa  d-5/30/1909 Zephyr Cemetery (born abt 1837)
R J Foresyth –
John Glass – John Andrew Glass 6/16/1852 - 2/23/1925 Zephyr Cemetery
John Driskill – John Jefferson Driskell 12/13/1822 -11/3/1896 Zephyr Cemetery
Henry Baker –
George Plumer – George Plummer 10/14/1844 - 5/21/1937 May Cemetery
Mr. Harris –
Chas Gentry – 
Noah Chandler –
James Cross – James Madison Cross JR
Marion Cross – Francis Marion Cross
William Cross – William Bailey Cross
J J Ramey – John James Ramey 9/4/1848 - 11/29 1895 Greenleaf Cemetery
Hiram Smith – Hiram C Smith 12/16/1883 - 4/16/1956 Zephyr Cemetery
James Smith –
J R Looney –
Walter Daniel – Walter S Daniel 9/18/1960 - 5/28/1942 Greenleaf Cemetery
Henry Fry – Henry James Fry
W H Posey –
Soc Martin –
J C Teague –
Bill Russell – William Henry Russell 4/16/1880 - 7/10/1956 Greenleaf Cemetery
Robert L Russell – R L Russell Sr 6/21/1856 – 6/2/1937 Greenleaf Cemetery
Lonzo Utzman – James Lonzo Utzman 1861 – 1938 Indian Creek Cemetery
W H McCoy –
Tom Simmons –
Henry Middleton – Henry & Mary Middleton – Henry died 1898 Mary died 1892 Indian Creek Cemetery
Bill Middleton –
W H McBride –
P Mathews –
William Bratton –
Capt Wood – Capt S. H Wood – 8/2/1824 - 2/2/1897 Elkins Cemetery
Dorey Wood –
L J Honea – ? Lou Genie Honea 12/9/1874 - 5/11/1939 Elkins Cemetery
Jap Keelin –
Modie Coggin – Moses J Coggin 1/14/1824
Sam Coggin – Samuel Richardson Coggin 2/23/1831
Clay Parks – William Claiborne “Clay” Parks -
Sam Lacy – Sim E Lacy (Simeon) 7/29/1876 - 6/21/1967 Blanket Cemetery
Gary (Firry) Sanders –
Noah Sherrod –
Rom Wilson –
Henry Irebread –
W M Hooper –
W J McAdden – 
Tom McAdden -

We thank the Brown County Museum of History for sharing this story with us from documets they received at the museum. 

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