In 1880 William Terry Wise was a young farmer in Johnson County, following a plow across a field. By the night of October 2, 1884 Wise was a Fort Worth deputy marshal, following a trail of paper scraps across a place called the “Terra Incognita.” That trail would lead Wise straight into an ambush and a shallow grave.
Some background: Wise was Fort Worth’s first plainclothes police detective, according to historians Selcer and Foster in Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen (Volume 1).
Wise was appointed by City Marshal William Rea. Listing is from the 1885 city directory.
Wise had grown up in Johnson County. The 1880 census listed him as a teenaged farmer.
In December 1882 Wise had married Marshal Rea’s niece, Dora Boydston James. Clip is from the January 21, 1883 Fort Worth Gazette.
Part of Wise’s job as deputy marshal was escorting prisoners to and from other jurisdictions. In September 1884 Wise escorted to Mississippi a man wanted in that state. While in Mississippi Wise learned that two men—Swofford and Marksbury—who were wanted in Texas might be at large in Mississippi, so he returned to Texas to get extradition papers for the two men. He went back to Mississippi, hoping to capture the two men and bring them back to Texas. However, after Wise returned to Mississippi, he soon concluded that Swofford and Marksbury were not in Mississippi after all. But, Selcer and Foster write, Wise stayed on to join in the manhunt for two other suspects—two local men wanted for murder: Dock Bishop and Bob Lamar. Rewards for the two men totaled about $1,000 ($25,000 today). Posing as a rich cattleman, Wise befriended Jim Bishop, a cousin of Dock Bishop. Jim Bishop agreed to betray his cousin to Wise. Jim Bishop told Wise that he would take a bottle of drugged whiskey to the two fugitives, who were holed up at Lucknuck Creek bridge in a wilderness area popular with desperadoes and moonshiners that was known as the “Terra Incognita.” All Wise had to do was follow a trail of scraps of newspaper that Jim Bishop would leave behind him as he rode to the hideout of the two fugitives.
On the night of October 2, 1884 how far away the plowed fields of Johnson County, Texas must have seemed to the farmer-turned-manhunter as he rode in the darkness through the Terra Incognita. Wise did not know that the man who had betrayed Dock Bishop to Wise also had betrayed Wise to Dock Bishop. Wise followed the trail of newspaper scraps—straight into an ambush. He was gunned down.
Searchers found his body the next day in a shallow grave.
William Terry Wise was twenty-three years old.
Notified of Wise’s murder, City Marshal Rea appointed Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright as acting marshal and went to Mississippi to hunt personally for the killer of his niece’s husband. But Rea returned to Fort Worth empty handed.
Rea (pictured) then sent three men—a deputy, Dora’s father, and Wise’s brother—to Mississippi to try again. They, too, returned to Fort Worth empty handed.
Then Rea tried a different tact: On December 10 he wrote a letter to H. C. Lamar, uncle of suspect Bob Lamar. Rea suspected the uncle of being the brains of the Bishop-Lamar gang although not an active participant in the gang’s crimes.
The Gazette reported that on December 16 the sheriff of Lafayette County, Mississippi, wrote Rea to say that Dock Bishop and Bob Lamar, the men wanted for the murder of William Terry Wise, were behind bars. Jim Bishop was later charged as an accomplice.
On December 17 the Gazette reported that Bishop and Lamar had been arrested.
Even though the three Fort Worth officers dispatched to Mississippi had returned empty handed, on December 22 the Gazette said a raid by the three men had made the Mississippians “think the woods are full of Texans.”
When Dock Bishop went on trial in 1886, Marshal Rea was present. Clip is from the Gazette.
At their trial Bob Lamar and Jim Bishop were acquitted, but Dock Bishop was convicted. Bishop was scheduled to hang on July 3, 1886. Clip is from the June 12, 1886 Milan Exchange in Tennessee.
Maintaining his innocence (“I am guilty enough of other crimes committed to be hanged, but I did not kill Mr. Wise”), on July 3, 1886 Dock Bishop was executed. According to news accounts of the time and to historians Selcer and Foster, City Marshal William Rea not only attended the hanging but also returned to Fort Worth with the hangman’s rope and presented it to Rea’s niece, now the widow of William Terry Wise. Clip is from the July 8 National Tribune of Washington, D.C.
Wise was buried in Mississippi, his remains never brought back to Texas. Soon after the hanging of Dock Bishop, Wise was immortalized in that part of Mississippi by a poem. Despite its title, the poem “The Ballad of Dock Bishop” is more about the murdered than the murderer:He is a bold, true officer Attending to his duty, No thought he gives to nature bright, Nor the night’s calm, holy beauty. He follows scraps of paper thrown Into the path before him, By one in whom his trust he placed Who threw a glamour [spell] o’er him. He’s walking swiftly to his doom, But, alas! He does not know it; He sees naught of the danger there; Oh, God! If Thou would show it!
In 2002 the Texas lawman buried in “foreign soil” in Sarepta, Mississippi in 1884 was given some overdue recognition. The grave of Fort Worth deputy marshal William Terry Wise was given a tombstone by members of the Fort Worth Police Department:
(Photo from Find A Grave.)