J. C. Terrell was a pioneer Fort Worth attorney. In this excerpt from his Early Days of Fort Worth memoir (1906) he tells of a religious about-face that occurred at a time in Fort Worth history when two crimes were not tolerated: stealing horses and disturbing worship.
(Photo of Terrell from his book.)
Bill Seburn’s Conversion
In 1867, when a pocket pistol constituted the most important part of every Southern gentleman’s attire, and when excellent Robertson County (Kentucky) goods, supplemented with Tuck Boaz’ and Jud Roland’s moonshine, sold in our markets overt at a reasonable figure, every man was a law unto himself. While ordinarily human life was held rather cheaply, lynch law for aggravated offenses for many reasons necessarily and rightfully obtained. Justice did not travel with leaden feet, and taxes were nominal. Two crimes were never condoned—theft of horses and disturbance of religious worship. They were severely punished, without the benefit of clergy.
There then lived on Village Creek, in Tarrant County, one Bill Seburn, a large man with a heart as big as a court house. He had been a good soldier, was freckle-faced, with sorrel, bushy hair. He occasionally indulged. His truth was found at the bottom of a bottle, and when Bill so found it he invariably exploded with voice and pistol, not to injure, but merely to celebrate. He then became unto himself a small Fourth of July.
An old-fashioned Southern Methodist camp meeting, led by Capt. (Rev.) W. G. Veal, afterwards first commander of R[obert]. E. Lee Camp, was being held at Henderson Springs, on Village Creek. Early Sunday morning found me there. A large brush arbor and a number of tents and wagons argued a big meeting. From near a grove a man mysteriously beckoned me to approach. I cautiously obeyed, and when he turned I recognized Bill, who appeared with a day-before-yesterday haggard look, and with troubled face and averted eyes, he slowly said: “Cap, yesterday at the Fort, at old Ed. Terrell‘s [saloon], I tanked up on whisky and started home with a full bottle. Passing here I saw two or three men and a lot of women holding a prayer meeting. I rode under the arbor, and just for fun shot into the brush overhead. I don’t remember exactly, but my wife told me all. Oh, it is awful! What shall I do?” I told him that from a legal view there was no hope, that no one was ever acquitted in Texas of that crime proven. I asked him what church his wife belonged to. With a deprecatory nod toward the camp he answered: “That shebang over there.” Seeing that he was contrite and enhungered, I advised him to about-face on his sins and join that church. Looking quickly up, as with newly inspired hope, he answered, “You reckon?”
The day meeting was not a success, but at night, after a “powerful sermon” from the text, “The harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and I am not saved,” succeeded by a prayer from a gifted woman, in a weird and shrill voice, uncapping hell and dwarfing Dante’s “Inferno” itself, and a call for mourners with the hymn, “Show Pity, O, Lord; O, Lord, Forgive.” Imagine my surprise at seeing Bill approach the altar, followed by neighbors and happy brethren.
The very biggest brand had been snatched from the burning.
Bill proved true to his vows, is now in the Panhandle of glorious Texas, with cattle on a hundred hills, and is begirt with numerous children.
Justice [James] Grimsley took no cognizance of the offense. The grand jury failed to indict. Hence . . . I lost a fee. “So let the Lord be thanked.”
(Photo of Grimsley from Terrell’s book.)