In the Line of Duty (Part 2): The Long Letter of the Law

Deputy William T. Wise was Fort Worth’s first plainclothes police detective.

He was appointed by City Marshal William Rea.

Wise had married Rea’s niece, Dora Boydston James, in December 1882. Part of Wise’s job 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 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 the two Texas suspects were not in Mississippi after all. But he stayed on to join in the manhunt for two other suspects—two local men wanted for murder: Dock Bishop and Bob Lamar. Wise posed as a rich Texas cattleman and 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. 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 fugitives. On the night of October 2, 1884, Wise followed the trail of newspaper scraps—straight into an ambush. Wise was shot to death. His body was found buried in a shallow grave.

William T. Wise was twenty-three years old.

Notified of Wise’s murder, Fort Worth City Marshal Rea appointed Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright as acting marshal and went to Mississippi to hunt for the killer personally. 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.

Rea then 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 Fort Worth Daily 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 T. Wise, were behind bars. Jim Bishop was later charged as an accomplice.

At their trial Bob Lamar and Jim Bishop were acquitted, but Dock Bishop was convicted. In 1886 Dock Bishop was hanged. According to news accounts of the time and Fort Worth historian Richard F. Selcer in his Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, City Marshal William Rea not only attended the hanging but also returned to Fort Worth with the hangman’s rope and presented it to his niece, now the widow of William T. Wise.

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 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!
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