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, 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

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