In the course of his eighty-eight years he would survive the Battle of Gettysburg and Union prison camps, have a city named after him, and become the patriarch of a family of thirteen children and one hundred grandchildren.
But surely January 4, 1912 was among the happiest of all days in the long life of William Letchworth Hurst (1834-1922).
In 1860 Hurst, wife Mary, and children (including two-year-old Nathan) were living in Claiborne County, Tennessee.
After the war, by 1870 Hurst and his family had moved to Tarrant County from Tennessee by covered wagon, a trip of six weeks.
In 1881, when Hurst’s son Nathan was twenty-three, two strangers had paid Nathan $10 to help them drive some horses north to Gainesville and sell them. Unbeknownst to Nathan, the two men had stolen the horses. Soon the law was on the trail of the trio. When confronted, the two men fled, but Nathan, not knowing that the horses were stolen, stood his ground. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to twelve years in prison at Huntsville.
After three months in prison Nathan Hurst escaped—on a mule—and disappeared.
Soon after, a young man named “William Hammond” arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri and began to make a name for himself as a prosperous, honest businessman, family man, and civic leader. He served as deputy sheriff and constable. But members of his household did not know about his past.
Meanwhile, ever since Nathan Hurst had escaped, father William Hurst had worked to secure a pardon for his son. He collected the signatures of the jurors who had convicted Nathan. He applied for a pardon to three successive Texas governors. All refused. “Let the wrongdoer return to prison before he is pardoned” was their stance. (Photo from Tarrant County College NE.)
Finally, in late 1911 William Hurst appealed to newly elected Governor Colquitt, stressing the exemplary life of the man known as “William Hammond” of Missouri. Colquitt was moved. He granted the pardon on Christmas Day 1911.
William Hurst, by then seventy-eight years old, personally delivered the pardon to his son in Missouri on New Year’s Day 1912. And on January 4 father brought son home—home to the family farm south of the town of Hurst, home to resume a life interrupted. (The “Hurst lake” in the clip is Hust Lake, named not for the Hurst family but rather for John A. Hust, the county’s first tax assessor, who lived nearby.)
The Hurst homestead is labeled on this 1895 map near “Hurst” Lake and the water mill of R. A. Randol.
“William Hammond” soon legally reclaimed his birth name. Nathan Hurst also revealed his past to his wife and children. Wife and children left Missouri and joined Nathan and his father at the Hurst family farm.
The reunion of father and son lasted only nine years. Nathan Hurst died in 1921. Clip, from the May 18 Star-Telegram, does not mention his interesting past or list his father as a survivor.
William Letchworth Hurst died in 1922. Clip is from the June 27 Star-Telegram.
William Hurst is buried in Bedford Cemetery. His son is buried in Mount Olivet.
Postscript: Why is that city called “Hurst”? In 1903, as the Rock Island railroad was laying track to connect Fort Worth to Dallas, the railroad wanted to lay its track across land that William Letchworth Hurst owned near present-day Highway 10 (including land where Bell Helicopter is). Hurst granted a right-of-way. In return, when the railroad built a depot, the Rock Island named it “Hurst Station.” A town grew up around the depot. The town, still known as “Hurst Station” into the 1930s, incorporated as “Hurst” in 1950.