Once Upon a Crime: “Woe, Woe, Woe”

Burwell Christmas Evans was aptly named: born on December 25, 1844 in South Carolina.

evans-bcWhen the Civil War began he was a student at the Citadel military college in South Carolina. Just sixteen years old, he enlisted in the Confederate army and was allowed to serve as an aide to an older brother. After the war, in 1872, not yet thirty, he headed west,  settled in Fort Worth, and opened a dry-goods store downtown. (Photo from Evans descendant Anne Maddox.)

evans-ellaIn 1877 Evans married Ella Dryden. (Photo from Anne Maddox.)

evans 80B. C. and Ella would have three children: Lena, Albert, and Ethel.

evans-childrenLena, age eleven; Ethel, three; Albert, eight. (Photo from Anne Maddox.)

In 1876 dry-goods merchant B. C. Evans began offering customers something more than suits and rugs: On the second floor of his store he opened Fort Worth’s first respectable live theater. Illuminated by kerosene lamps, such noted entertainers as humorist Josh Billings (akin to Mark Twain) performed in the theater upstairs. In a different vein, also on the Evans stage, Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels brought the cancan to Cowtown. Ew la la, hubba hubba, and yee-haw, y’all!

1877 entertain evans hallThese ads are from the 1877 Daily Fort Worth Standard.

evans hallPhotographer Charles Swartz took this photo of Evans Hall, its stage filled with several prominent citizens in costume, including B. B. Paddock, J. C. Terrell, and W. C. Stripling. (In 1877, Paddock’s Fort Worth Democrat reported, police interrupted a concert at Evans Hall to collect overdue taxes from Evans. Evans told the officers he had made arrangements with Tax Assessor-Collector Robert E. Maddox to pay the taxes and even offered to pay the money to the police on the spot. But the police insisted on taking Evans to jail. Evans quickly bonded out, but the Democrat was outraged, said the entire police force, including City Marshal Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright, should be fired.) (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

 

Entertainment notwithstanding, for the first few years Evans’s business lost money. But eventually he prospered, and his store stretched along 1st Street from Main to Houston. By 1884 Burwell Christmas Evans was a wealthy man at the age of forty.

evans in schwarzThis image of the Evans building is from photographer D. H. Swartz’s Photographs of Fort Worth.

evans 1886 wellgeFrom the 1886 Wellge map.

On the front page of each issue of the Fort Worth Gazette the Evans store ran a large display ad.

evans pageBut in the July 7, 1889 issue, two columns to the right of the usual B. C. Evans Co. ad, readers saw the headlines of the lead story:

John W. Davis had been an Evans store employee for six years. But Davis’s drinking had forced Evans to demote him. Then, on the morning of July 6, 1889, Davis had been drinking when he arrived at work. Evans gave him a choice: Stay sober or find work elsewhere.

About noon Davis left the store and walked down the street one block to A. J. Anderson’s sporting goods store (where the Worthington now is; see lower left of map). Davis bought a .41-caliber pistol and returned to the Evans store. At 3:40 Davis approached Evans, who sat reading the Gazette. Davis fired through the newspaper. The five shots were heard all over downtown. Evans fell to the floor. Minutes later, as four physicians attended to him at the scene, Evans died.

Davis was arrested at the scene. As he was about to be led away to jail, he said, “I must get my hat.” Not finding his hat, he picked up a straw hat from a store display and told a clerk to charge it to him.

Evans’s body was taken to the family home at 610 Lamar Street just south of today’s YMCA building.

Davis was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to be “yanked into eternity” on September 1. But his attorney challenged the constitutionality of the Texas penal code, and in 1890 the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Davis was granted a stay of execution.

But Davis’s conviction was upheld, and the execution that would transport him to “the great white throne” was scheduled for August 10, 1891. On July 29 Davis was in his jail cell, listening to the hammering. The hangman’s scaffold was being erected. But shortly after the scaffold was finished and tested, John W. Davis suffered a seizure and collapsed. He died a few hours later. The Gazette of July 30 listed the cause of death as natural, but other sources whispered that someone had smuggled poison to Davis.

Burwell Christmas Evans is buried at Oakwood Cemetery. Note that his widow Ella died on Christmas Day—the day her husband was born. The Evanses’ daughter Ethel married Walter R. Bennett, whose father founded the Acme Brick Company.

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10 Responses to Once Upon a Crime: “Woe, Woe, Woe”

  1. Anne Maddox says:

    I discovered something interesting last night… Ella Dryden Evans (wife of BC Evans) had a sister named Larissa Dryden. Larissa married Joseph Lee Williams, and their son, Frederic, married Ann Elizabeth Sanguinet, a daughter of Marshall R Sanguinet. I had no idea about that, and my dad didn’t know about that either. I knew my family was friends with Sanguinet, but I had no idea they intermarried.

    • hometown says:

      I did not know that. But am not too surprised. I’ll bet that if you read enough newspaper society pages from back then, you would find those people attending the same social functions. Sanguinet was an active Arlington Heights socialite, and prominent folks then, as now, moved in a fairly small circle/dating pool.

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