Cold Case on the Clear Fork: “To Heaven or Hell, One”

It was one of Fort Worth’s first recorded murders; it remained unsolved for thirteen years; and its victim was the patriarch of a family who remains prominent a century and a half later.

The Edwards family has been in Fort Worth since before there was a Fort Worth, farming and ranching and developing land since 1848, eventually owning four thousand acres sprawling from West Vickery Boulevard southwest along Hulen Street and the Clear Fork of the Trinity River and on to Benbrook.

The Clearfork mixed-use development between Hulen Street and the Union Pacific switchyard is just one modern development on former Edwards land. Clearfork is bisected by Edwards Ranch Road. The Overton Woods and Overton Park additions also are reminders of the Edwards family. The Tanglewood addition also is on former Edwards land.

edwards barn aerialThe barn of patriarch Lemuel Edwards, dating from the 1850s, still stands on family land off Hulen Street. See the yellow E on the previous satellite photo for location.

But when Lemuel J. Edwards arrived from South Carolina to claim a 640-acre Peters Colony land grant on the Clear Fork, there was not yet a military Fort Worth, much less a city of Fort Worth. Where Edwards built his house (yellow E on aerial photo), mesquite trees were the skyline, coyotes were the evening minstrels, and the word neighbor was a decidedly relative term. Lemuel’s son Caswell Overton Edwards (1851-1941) is said to have been a childhood friend of boys of nearby Native American tribes.

The Edwards family was listed in Tarrant County’s first census in 1850. The county had 672 “free inhabitants” (soldiers and civilians) in its 897 square miles.

edwards-1895-sam-streetThis detail of an 1895 county map shows the L. J. Edwards survey, bisected by the Clear Fork, and the ranch of son Cass Overton Edwards (born 1851). (This map detail is rich in history: Just west of Lemuel Edwards’s survey are the surveys of E. Wilburn and E. H. Burke. Wilburn and Burke family cemeteries still exist. On the far left of the map is Train Robber’s Bridge. On the right is the “Stove Works.” At the top are the “electric railroad,” Ye Arlington Inn, Lake Como, the powerhouse of H. B. Chamberlin’s Arlington Heights development, and a survey of land given to Davy Crockett’s widow Elizabeth for his service in the Texas Revolution. The hashed line running from the upper-right corner is a dirt road that would become Camp Bowie Boulevard. The hashed line hugging the Texas & Pacific track would become Vickery Boulevard. And just northeast of the Edwards survey, the Samuel C. Inman survey would be the setting of a double murder that has remained unsolved far longer than did the Edwards murder: In 1976 two people would be shot to death at the Cullen Davis mansion.) (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

edwards gant-page-001edwards gant-page-002edwards gant-page-003edwards gant-page-004edwards gant-page-005Lemuel J. Edwards came to own a lot of land in part by buying land grants. Above is the documentation of the transfer of a 320-acre Peters Colony land grant from George Shields to Edwards in 1858. The land was located six and a half miles southwest of Fort Worth on the Clear Fork—where Edwards built his huge ranch. The document is difficult to read but interesting. For example, notice who signed the survey notes: John Peter Smith, who for a while worked as a surveyor.

Also in 1858 this classified notice appeared in the Dallas Herald. Edwards and James Dunlapp had “taken from a runaway negro” on the Clear Fork a sorrel horse.

By 1869, also living with Lemuel and his wife Elizabeth Overton (today the street Overton Terrace, in Overton Park addition, points directly into the Edwards ranch driveway) were their daughter and her new husband, James Creswell, who was about twenty. Father-in-law and son-in-law did not get along, and in early October Creswell moved out of the house; his wife remained behind with her parents.

About that time James Creswell told his uncle, Ambrose Creswell, that Lemuel Edwards owed him $30 ($540 today). James Creswell told his uncle that if the debt was not paid, James would kill Edwards.

On the evening of October 7, 1869 James Creswell returned to the Edwards home. Mrs. Edwards saw that he had a pistol (borrowed from C. C. Fitzgerald), which he tried to hide from her. That night Creswell was in Fort Worth, where he had a horse shod on Weatherford Street. Creswell mentioned that he would be leaving town the next day. One of the farriers asked him where he was going.

Creswell’s reply was chilling: “To heaven or hell, one.”

The next morning, October 8, Creswell returned to the Edwards home on horseback. Son Cass Edwards was cutting hay in a field. Creswell asked Cass where Lemuel Edwards was. Cass told Creswell that Lemuel was walking back to the house. Creswell rode off in that direction.

Minutes later Cass Edwards heard a gunshot from the direction in which Creswell had ridden. Cass Edwards found his father shot in the back of the head in a creek 150-200 yards from the house. Cass recognized the hoof prints of Creswell’s freshly shod horse near the body.

Creswell was indicted for murder. Sheriff C. L. Loucks searched for him for two days, but Creswell had vanished.

The trail remained cold for thirteen years.

edwards head 12-15-82 clarksville standard

Then, suddenly in 1882 “considerable excitement was created.” James Creswell was found to be in custody in Freestone County, using the alias “Henry Williams.” He was brought back to Fort Worth to stand trial. Note that the original indictment of Creswell had been lost in the courthouse fire of 1876. This report in the Standard of Clarksville, Texas on December 15, 1882 is from a Fort Worth Gazette story.

edwards caught 12-15-82 clarksville standard

Creswell had been arrested for horse theft in Freestone County. While in jail he talked too freely, and the sheriff became suspicious. Tarrant County Sheriff Walter Maddox confirmed that Creswell was wanted for an 1869 murder in Tarrant County. Son Cass Edwards, then thirty-one, was described as “a wealthy cattle man.”

Sheriff Maddox collected the $300 ($7,500 today) reward offered by Cass Edwards.

edwards case 1883

I have taken some details of the crime from testimony at Creswell’s trial and appeal in 1883.

edwards 1900 pen censusCreswell was convicted of murdering his father-in-law and sentenced to life in prison. In 1900 Creswell was listed in the census at Rusk State Penitentiary.

edwards prisonPrisoner 1255 was pardoned in 1904. While in prison he had been punished for smoking in his cell, fighting, and gambling.

edwards wortham censusCreswell and wife Mollie are listed in the 1920 census of Wortham in Freestone County, where Creswell had been captured in 1883.

edwards creswell graveJames Lytle Creswell died in 1929 and is buried in Wortham Cemetery. (The middle initial T. on the tombstone is incorrect.)

edwards lem wideLemuel J. Edwards is buried in Pioneers Rest Cemetery. The son-in-law who had vowed he was going “to heaven or hell, one” had outlived his victim by sixty years.

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17 Responses to Cold Case on the Clear Fork: “To Heaven or Hell, One”

  1. Sloane Creswell Northridge says:

    I have heard of this story…. my great-great grandfather was Ambrose Creswell.
    It’s quite fascinating to know you are a real part of Texas history!
    -Sloane Creswell Northridge

  2. Robert Rumph says:

    Thanks for getting back to me! and for the link – Fascinating read. Still trying to piece all this together as I am working on a family tree. Not sure which daughter James Creswell would have been married to. I’ll keep digging

    • hometown says:

      It may be that both James and his uncle were married to Edwards daughters. I pass Lem’s old barn often and wonder where it happened.

    • R Hendrix says:

      James married Matilda Edwards in 1868. They had one daughter, Etna. Matilda remarried by 1875 to John W Burford.

      James hid out under the assumed name of James Henry Williams. He remarried to a Mary Ann “ Mollie” Cameron.

      James was pardoned in 1904 and continued to live in Freestone county under his real name. He died at age 80 from injuries he received in an auto accident in Mexia TX.

  3. Robert Rumph says:

    Lemuel Edwards is my GGG Grandfather. I loved reading this, but unfortunately I do believe James Creswell was NOT Lemuel’s son-in-law. Ambrose Creswell (the uncle) was the son-in-law. Ambrose is buried next to his wife, (Lemuel’s daughter), Martha Ann Edwards in Pioneers Rest Cemetery, block3,Lot 45 in Ft. Worth. James Creswell would have to have been married before he married Mollie, who was b.1860 according to the above picture. The Ft. Worth Star Telegram, page 7, Magazine Section of May, 1927 gives a good detail of Lemuel’s children. I come form Cynthia Edwards line. If I’m wrong please let me know. Thanks for writing this.

    • hometown says:

      Mr. Rumph, I got most of my information from records of Creswell’s appeal. Here is the link to download.
      Below are excerpts about Creswell’s relation to the Edwardses. Of course, witnesses could be incorrect. I will get the Star-Telegram article. Thanks.

      COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS.
      AUSTIN TERM, 1883.
      [No. 26601
      JAMES CRESWELL v. THE STATE.
      “Ambrose Creswell, an uncle to the defendant, was the first witness presented by the State.”
      “When a small boy the defendant lived with the witness [Ambrose]; later he lived with his father, and after that with the cowboys. The witness could not say how old the defendant was at the time of the killing of Edwards, as the family record had been lost in an overflow. He may have been twenty-one, but the witness did not think he was so old. He [I take this “He” to be James, not witness Ambrose] had been married to the daughter of Edwards but a short time before the latter was killed. The witness could not now say that he ever saw the defendant after the killing until he saw him in court.”
      “Fannie Snaden was the next witness for the State. She testified that she lived with the family of Lem Edwards at the time he was killed. Cass Edwards, who had been out west, was living there at the time, as was also the wife of the defendant, but the witness did not know where the defendant was then living himself. The witness saw the defendant at Edwards’s house”
      “Cross-examined, the witness stated that she did not know whether or not the defendant had a pistol on this visit to the house. He did not say what he was going to do—merely asked where Cass and the old man were going. The defendant’s wife was in the garden with her mother, old Mrs. Edwards. The defendant did not go to the garden. The witness saw the defendant when he left the house. He left in a slow walk. No one besides the witness was in the house at the time.”

  4. Douglas Crowell says:

    Thank you so much for the research you have done. My Grandmother was Pearl Frances Swearigen Robinson, my G-Grandmother was Etna Laura Creswell Swearigen, my GG- Grandmother was Matilda Frances Edwards Creswell Burford, which takes me to her Father my GGG Grandfather Lemuel Edwards. Im 56 years old and have heard a lot of stories from my Mother, she is 81 and now has Alzheimers. Those stories are fading.

    • hometown says:

      Lemuel Edwards was a true pioneer. I bike through his old ranch at least twice a week, and as I pass his barn I try to imagine what life was like for him on the lone prairie.

  5. Kristine Fenner (Gatlin) says:

    Is there a date of birth on Lemuel J Edwards gravestone? Do you have access to it?

    My cousin was doing research on the Gatlin family tree, and I see Lemuel J Edward and the Creswells on my tree, but the dates don’t match up.

    I see on mine that Lemuel was born in 1859 in Missouri, but died October 8, 1869….that makes him 10 years old! Lol!

    He was married to Elizabeth Overton, and has a daughter, Martha Ann Edwards (my great-great grandmother)born September 10, 1847.

    Clearly, the birth year for him on this tree is wrong.
    Thanks in advance for any help.

    • hometown says:

      I have e-mailed you three photos that should help. The birth date is Feb. 18, 1805. I also have a post that includes Burke Cemetery, which has some Overtons.

  6. Suzanne Gunter Sheppard says:

    Nice catch Barney. I had no idea about this history & I lived right there & knew the family!
    I still remember the hidden room Cass showed me the Edwards used to hide from the Indians! Sadly, Cass told me it’s not there anymore.

  7. Sarah Biles says:

    Great story, Mike, & a new one on me. Now I’m going to try to see that barn.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Sarah. The barn is hard to see without trespassing. When the leaves are off the trees you can see it best from the bike path parallel to the creek.

  8. Sir,

    Where you tell the story of Creswell asking Cass Edwards where Lemuel was you state:

    “Cass told Edwards that Lemuel was walking back to the house.”
    I believe you meant:

    “Cass told Creswell that Lemuel was walking back to the house.”

    Do you know the rest of the family tree? I believe that Cass Overton Edwards’ son, Cass I died young or disappeared and Cass II, who started Cassco and was the father of Cass, Missy Rogers, Crawford & Mary Martha Richter was raised by his grandfather Cass Overton Edwards 1851-1941.
    Call to discuss, if you like: 817-834-6600

    • hometown says:

      You are certainly correct, Mr. Holland. I have made that correction. Thanks. I do not know much about the family after Lemuel. The family still owns a lot of property in southwest Fort Worth. Lemuel’s old barn got a new roof recently. The architect Preston Geren Jr. married into the family.

  9. Ria says:

    Like your two articles on Lytle B. Creswell. Where do you have access to such old newspapers? I also wrote an article on my Westland TX History Group facebook page about the same Creswell family. He had a sad life because of misfortunes and deaths throughout his life. Take a peek at the Facebook page if you like. I also just self published a book about Westland covering 100 years of history. I also noticed that James Brown Miller owned land in Westland during his “ real estate” years. Love reading your daily articles.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Ria. Here are the newspaper archives that I have access to:
      Newsbank via Fort Worth public library (library card)
      Portal to Texas History (free)
      Chronicling America (Library of Congress) (free)
      Star-Telegram and Register archives 1897-1999 via Newsbank ($20 a month)

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