One of the cardinal "rules" of genealogy is the warning that oral tradition is at best flawed, but usually contains a grain of truth. It is often very difficult to prove or disprove elements of oral tradition.
This photograph appeared on facebook recently and sparked a great deal of discussion. It is a picture of John Reeves, taken in 1905 just moments before he was executed in Clarksville, Texas for the 1904 murder of his wife, Minnie:
One facebook follower objected to the angle the photographer used to shoot the photograph. Something about it rang false. For the follower, it seemed to discredit the photograph as authentic. I'm not sure why this seemed like such a curious angle. The photographer was obviously not on the gallows and did not have access to another structure that would make him level with the scaffold. That left him with the only option to shoot up from the ground. I've seen a lot of execution and lynching photographs, and this one does not seem all that odd. In fact, it is a bit refreshing to see the convicted still alive rather than dangling lifeless at the end of the rope.
Another facebook follower voiced an objection to the writing style of the period newspaper article that accompanied the photograph although the article was cited as being from the Honey Grove Signal newspaper. To the reader, the language seemed too over the top to be authentic. Yet another facebook follower found the use of the word "ozone" in the article suspicious, claiming that the ozone had not been discovered that early. Perhaps not, but I found the word ozone being used in newspapers as early as 1881; it referred to a "pure" form of oxygen that was being used for medical purposes. The article was, in fact, very over the top, and very in keeping with the period. Below is the orginal article:
My take away from all this is that most people of the 21st century have spent very little time reading early journalism or looking at early photographs. I think I would have just shrugged off the whole thing, except I remembered my grandmother, who had spent most of her life in Avery, Texas, telling me about the murder of John Reeves' wife. In her version, John Reeves had killed his wife and buried her in the garden. Then he told her father that she had run off. Her father noticed that some of the plants in the garden were wilted and dying, but had been fine the last time he'd been there, so he ran a metal rod down in the spot and found her body. My curiosity was piqued.
Yet another, facebook follower was curious enough to search the internet and came up with this bit of information about the murder, which can be viewed on a genealogy site for the "Descendants of Douglas Childress":
"Notes for MINNIE MAHALA MCCUISTON:
She suspected her husband and his father were making counterfeit money using a foot stone of a grave marker from the De Kalb Cemetery threatened to turn them in to the law. he killed her by sticking her in the heart with a hat pin. He then saddled the horse and took it into the woods, let the reins drop so that it would look like she had been thrown and the horse had run off. The next morning he told that she had left after an argument. The Sheriff became suspicious after seeing a scratch on his face.The garden was freshly plowed even though there had been a heavy rain the night before and there was some fresh clay showing on top of the ground. They search the garden with wagon rods and Samuel McCuiston, Minne's father found her body about 2 feet underground, wrapped in a quilt. John Reeves was tried and convicted and hanged for her murder. the tome stone of Minnie reads,"Minnie, the daughter of Martha and S.. McCuiston."
There was no mention of her married name!"
This information appears to also be based on oral tradition. I wondered how much of it could be proven. So far this is what I've found:
John H. Reeves married Minnie Quinn in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas on 18 May 1897.
She was the widow of Thomas Quinn, who she married on 7 July 1895 in Red River County, Texas.
John H. and Minnie Reeves only appear together on the 1900 census along with Minnie's daughter Eula, who the census taker recorded as Ulah Reeves. It may be that Eula was using her step-father's name at this time or that the census taker made an error.
4 July 1900, Pct. No. 8, Red River Co., TX:
Reeves, John H. head W M Nov 1877 22 M-3 b. TN fb. TN mb. TN
----- Minnie wife W F Sept 1876 23 M-3 1-1 b. TX fb. MO mb. MO
-----Ulah s-dau W F Jan 1892 7 S b. TX fb. blank mb. TX
Unless familysearch.org's wedding date for Minnie McCuiston and Thomas Quinn is in error, Eula's birth predates their marriage. If that is the case, Eula's surname would have been McCuiston. Eula's mother Minnie was buried in the Garland Cemetery in Red River County, Texas where her parents are buried. The Reeves name does not appear on her tombstone. It seems likely that Eula was taken in by her McCuiston relatives, probably her grandparents.
On 28 Jan 1906, Eula McCuiston married W. J. Morrow in Red River County, Texas. She was only 14 years old. On 7 June 1907, Eula and Will Morrow, who were living on Anderson Creek in Red River County, Texas had a son whose given name was not recorded. This son does not appear with them on the 1910 census:
2 May 1910, Boston Road, Pct. #8, Red River Co., TX, p. 308:
Morrow, W.J. head M W 27 M-1 4 b. MS fb. MS mb. MS
-----Eula wife F W 18 M-1 4 2-1 b. TX fb. un mb. TX
-----Elais son M W 3/12 S b. TX fb. TX mb. TX
This census shows that Eula and W.J. Morrow had been married for four years, and that Eula had given birth to two children, only one of whom was still living. Evidently, the child born in 1907 was deceased.
Eula was still living in Red River County, Texas in 1918 when she was named as W.J. Morrow's permanent contact on his WWI draft registration card.
The murder of Eula's mother Minnie (McCuiston) Quinn Reeves was one of the most gruesome events to ever occur in Avery, Texas. The execution of her husband John Reeves for her murder, brought thousands of spectators to Clarksville. One wonders where Eula was on the night of the murder. Was she present at the execution of her step-father?
The following articles appeared in Texas newspapers. None of them support the idea that Minnie was stabbed in the heart with a hat pin. None of them support the story that John Reeves and his father were counterfeiters. Although John Reeves' father was arrested in conjunction with the murder of his daughter-in-law, Minnie, he seems to have been released and does not seem to have ever been tried let alone executed. In addition to these newspaper articles, John Reeves' appeal is available online: John Reeves v. The State, No 2992, Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas Decided November 23, 1904.
WOMAN'S DEAD BODY FOUND
Husband Arrested, Charged with the
Crime and Taken to Jail at Paris
for Safe Keeping
Special to The News
Clarksville, Tex., April 4--Last Thursday morning Mrs. John Reeves was missed from her home. From the best information it is stated a search was made through the neighborhood, but no trace of her could be found. Sunday the search was continued and in the freshly plowed garden some clay was found which appeared to be from a greater depth than the plow had gone and parties began probing the ground with an iron rod. They found a place where the rod penetrated several inches and begun digging and found the body of the woman wrapped in a quilt. Her tongue protruded from her mouth and finger marks on her throat indicated she had been choked to death. John Reeves, husband of the dead woman, was arrested.
Last night the officers received a message that the people were aroused, and fearing mob violence, they took Reeves to Paris for safe-keeping.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Tues. 5 April 1904]
Special to The News
Paris, Tex., April 4.--R. Reeves and J.H. Reeves, charged with killing the latter's wife near Avery, Red River county, were spirited from the Clarksville jail last night and brought here about daylight by a couple of Deputy Sheriff's to escape possible violence. Sheriff Carpenter kept their arrival a secret. All is quiet tonight and no trouble is anticipated.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Tues. 5 April 1904]
Sheriff Expects the Release of the Elder Reeves
Special to The News
Paris, Tex., April 5 - R. Reeves, who was arrested with his son, J. H. Reeves, in connection with the killing of the latter's wife near Avery, Red River County, and brought with him to Paris for safe-keeping, was taken back to Clarksville today by Sheriff Dinwiddie and Deputy Scaff. Mr. Dinwiddie stated that he would probably be released. J.H. Reeves, the husband of the dead woman, is still in jail here.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Wed. 6 April 1904]
John Reeves Wishes Death Sentence
Changed to Life Imprisonment
Special to The News
Paris, Tex., Feb. 2 -- John Reeves, under sentence to be hanged at Clarksville on Feb. 17 for wife murder, has sent a petition, through an attorney of this city, to Gov. Lanham, asking that his sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. The petition bears only the signature of the brother and brother-in-law of the condemned man.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Fri 3 Feb 1905]
Special to The News.
Clarksville, Tex., Feb. 14--The petition gotten up to have John Reeves' penalty of death changed to a life sentence, which was sent to the Governor a few days ago, has not been heard from and he is to be hung publicly on next Friday at 2:30 o'clock.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Wed. 15 Feb 1905]
WIFE MURDERER EXECUTED
John Reeves Executed at Clarksville This
Afternoon for Crimmitted
Paris, Texas, Feb. 17.--Between the hours of 1 and 2 o'clock this afternoon John Reeves was hanged at Clarksville, thirty miles east of Paris, for wife murder. The crime was committed last May, when the woman was choked insensible and buried before life was extinct.
When her death was discovered excitement was so intense that the husband was brought to Paris to save him from the mob.
Reeves made a full confession and was baptized before the execution.
[Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Ft. Worth, TX; Fri. 17 Feb 1905]
JOHN REEVES HANGED FOR MURDER OF WIFE
EXECUTION AT CLARKSVILLE WITNESSED BY THOUSANDS
Broke Her Neck and Buried Her Body
Under the Onion Bed - Had Apparently
Lived Happily With His Victim
Clarksville, Tex., Feb, 17.--(Special)
John Reeves was hanged this afternoon for the murder of his wife. Sheriff Dinwiddie sprung the trap at 2:08 and the body was cut down fourteen minutes later. The neck was broken. The execution was public and was witnessed by several thousand people.
After being cut down the body was taken by his relatives to Avery for burial. Reeves joined the Catholic church and was baptized by Father Kelly yesterday afternoon. He made no public confession and during the ride from the jail and while on the scaffold, said nothing except to the priest.
Story of the Crime.
John H. Reeves was convicted in the district court at Clarksville on June 22, 1904, of the murder of his wife, Minnie, during the night of March 30, preceding. The case was affirmed and rehearing denied and Judge Denton passed sentence on him Dec. 28. A petition for commutation, was presented to Governor Lanham, but was denied.
Reeves and his wife lived on a farm near Avery, Red River county. Mrs. Reeves was the daughter of Jesse McCuistion, a prosperous farmer and was a widow with one little girl, when she met Reeves, about eight years ago. He went to Avery from Fannin county, worked for McCuiston as a farm hand, and married his daughter. The father gave the daughter a farm and stock, and for seven years Reeves and his wife lived and prospered and were apparently happy. There was no apparent motive for the crime.
[Source: San Antonio Express; San Antonio, TX; Sat. 18 Feb 1905]
CLAIMED BY GALLOWS
LIFE OF JOHN REEVES, CONVICTED
OF WIFE MURDER, IS BROUGHT
TO AN END
PRESENCE OF GREAT CROWD
Largest Gathering Ever Seen in
Clarksville Witnesses the Legal
Execution of Sentence
Special to The News
Clarksville, Tex., Feb. 17 --At 2:09 o'clock today John Reeves paid the penalty with his life on the gallows for wife murder. He refused at any time to make a statement or to say anything concerning the crime. Just before going to the gallows and in response to the questions by Sheriff Dinwiddie as to whether he wanted the death warrant read, he replied that he did not, and was conducted straightway to the hack that conveyed him to the place of execution. The trap was sprung at 2:09 and at 2:23 he was pronouced dead.
Reeves joined the Catholic Church yesterday morning and Father Kelley, the local priest at this place, was with him to the last. The remains were shipped to Annona this afternoon for interment. It is estimated that the hanging drew the largest crowd of men ever witnessed at this place, great numbers coming on all trains, as well as from the country.
The crime for which Reeves paid the penalty with his life was committed March 31, 1904, three and one-half miles west of Avery, a small station on the Texas and Pacific Railway, east of this place. The particulars of the crime are as follows:
On the day before the crime was committed that night Reeves and his wife worked together building fence. They had a contract to supply a neighbor with water, and quitting in the afternoon, they hauled the water as usual. While at this neighbor's house Mrs. Reeves remarked that they must hurry back, as her husband was going fishing that night. Reeves says that he went fishing that night, and returning about 10 o'clock, found his wife had retired and he went to bed himself. The next morning on rising he said his wife was missing. Going out into the yard he found the horse at the gate with the side saddle on. Going to the stable and taking the animal's tracks, he found it had gone into the woods about half a mile away and then returned to the home. He then spread the news that his wife could not be found and general search was made by the neighbors, which lasted until Friday, when Sheriff Dinwiddie began to suspect foul play and arrested Reeves and placed him in jail. Reeves had some scratches on his face, which he claimed were made by a projecting shingle in the shop when he went to get a single-tree on Wednesday to plow the garden, which he claimed to have done before hauling water. Sunday morning while neighbors were searching the premises at Reeves' for a clew to the mystery Mr. McChristian, father of the missing woman, found in the newly plowed garden where there were lumps of fresh clay which he knew the plow could not have turned up. Already suspicious that his daughter was buried under the plowed ground, he had a rod of iron with which he was searching for soft ground to a depth below that broken by the plow, and at this point he found it. Officers were notified and went down on the noon train. Esquire E.M. Posey, Justice of the Peace of Precinct No. 8 having already been notified. On digging down they found the body of Mrs. Reeves wrapped in a blanket. Her tongue was out, finger marks were on her throat and her neck twisted and broken. There were several other small bruises on head and body.
Justice E.M. Posey held the inquest and returned the verdict that she came to her death by violent deeds. Later Reeves made the statement that he had killed his wife and only gave as a reason that the was drunk.
During the entire time of his confinement in jail he refused to see but few people, except old acquaintances, and would not talk up to the very last with any one about his life except that the was born in Tennessee, had lived in the Territory, but for the last ten years had resided in Texas, the greater part of the time near Avery, and that he had never been arrested before in his life.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Sat. 18 Feb. 1905]
Clarksville Times: The manner in which a greater interest is shown in the bad rather than in the good deeds of an individual, while always evinced, has this week been more forcibly brought to our mind than ever before by the great number of calls and requests for extra copies of the Times containing an account of the crime, trial and execution of John Reeves. These calls have not only come from around us, but many letters have been received from other States as well. No matter what the deed may be, no man in Red River County could accomplish an act of love, charity or kindness an account of which would be sought with one-tenth the eagerness that has characterized that of the recent unpleasant episode in this sity [sic].
There is a great deal of human nature in Red River County as well as elsewhere.
The man Reeves committed a shocking crime and was fittingly punished. We are all endowed with more or less morbidity of mind, and nothing appeals to our mental appetites more urgently than tragedy. It is an inheritance from primeval ancestors who survived through the rule of the survival of the "fightingest." Cycles of years have refined man to a degree; that is, he is apparently further removed today from the vicarious passions which governed his progenitors of two thousand years ago. But more thousand years will be required for his complete emancipation from the thralldom of an inherent lust for blood and combat.
[Source: Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Sun. 26 Feb 1905]
The last article was written as a sermon to warn other young men to avoid following in the footsteps of John Reeves:
Our Lay Sermon
But few men, perhaps, who witnessed the scene most sickening in this city this afternoon failed to stop for one moment and reflect: "It might have been." All men are born into the world with a future--the future of their choice, and while but few reach the topmost round in their chosen vocations all men attain that degree of success in any pursuit that their efforts warrant.
John Reeves, whose soul was ushered into eternity this afternoon, was no exception to the general rule. His surroundings may not have appeared to him as favorable as those of some other people, yet he failed to take advantage of the opportunities afforded. Many of his schoolmates and boyhood friends are no doubt today placed in positions of trust and worthy of the confidence bestowed.
With John Reeves the case is different. Arrested, bound, imprisoned, convicted and slain by his fellowmen, his career has yet only begun. Once more must he be judged for the crime which cost him his life today--then, eternity.
John Reeves was once an innocent child, the object of a devoted mother's guiding hand, and earnest prayer, once a young man with a broad and useful future, once a peaceable, law-abiding citizen, and once upon an equal with other men in the greatest country on earth.
The scenes have been shifted, the acts have ended and all that remains tonight to remind the peope of a busy world that a criminal of the darkest type has been executed is the black coffin supported by two plain chairs in a lonely little home near the scene of one of the most brutal murders ever committed in north Texas. Tomorrow the remains will be interred.
But a few miles from the grave to be made tomorrow is another mound which contains the remains of one to whom was once promised the love and devotion of a husband at the altar of God. Were those solemn obligations fulfilled--they "might have been."--Clarksville Times.
"It might have been.
It might been different with John Reeves if he had been true to the teachings of his early childhood. It might have been that he would have been a man of the truest type, with lofty ambitions, a clean soul and filled a place of usefulness and honor in this world if he had been strong enough to withstand temptation and had walked in the paths of honor and rectitude.
But he did not.
On the contrary, he was led from proper paths by evil associations and rapidly went from bad to worse. He did not have the manhood to put evil things behind him, but listened to the insidious whisper of the tempter until he reached the very bottom of human degradation and crime.
John Reeves was convicted and hanged for the murder of his wife.
The woman he had sworn to love, honor, and cherish in the sight of God was found murdered and her body buried in the garden where John Reeves had been plowing as unconcernedly as if no human life had been sacrificed. The body of the woman gave evidence of having undergone a fearful struggle for life, and John Reeves' person also bore evidence of the same kind. He was convicted by the jury, his sentence was affirmed by the higher court, and there was nothing left for John Reeves to do but to make his peace with God and pay the awful penalty for one of the most hideous crimes ever perpetrated in Red River county.
But it might have been do different.
God Almighty, endowed this man with a good mind. He was given the power of discerning between right and wrong, and in his bosom was placed the same mentor that has been placed in every human breast. When thoughts of murder came into that man's heart he knew they were wrong. He realized he was violating and outraging the laws of both God and man, but it did not deter him from his purpose. Conscience was of no avail. His oath to protect this woman was a nonentity, human instinct gave way before the red fire of brute passion and anger, and the hand of the man was raised against the woman and raised to kill.
It was an unnatural condition, but that fact did not operate as a deterrent in the dire results. The strength and anger of man was pitted against woman's frailty, and the woman suffered death at the hands of the man. This is not the first time in the annals of time that such crimes have been committed. The criminal history of the country is reeking with just such incidents, but that is no justification.
In every such incident that has ever transpired it might have been different.
The Good Book tells us that the wage of sin is death. This man sinned grievously and has reaped his reward, even as others who come after him will reap the same form of reward. But God knows it might be different.
It may be true that the human heart is naturally depraved. It may be true we are conceived in sin and born in sin, but those facts do not license us to commit every form of sin known to the decalogue. Neither does it imply that it is impossible for us to largely overcome the inclination to sin.
Of ourselves we can do nothing except to determine with God's help we will strive to abstain from sin. That we will lead pure lives and turn a deaf ear to temptation, and that we will strive to place ourselves in line to claim the promises of the true and living God. The world is all around and about us. It is teeming with snares and pitfalls for the feet of the unwary, and he who hesitates is lost. There must be a buckling on of the armor of righteousness, and a firm and unyielding determination to stand only for the things that are right in the sight of God.
The death administered to this unfortunate young man should not be without its admonitions to the young men of today. Many of these are no doubt well started on the very same path that the feet of this man have trod before them. Few of them may be natural murderers at heart, but when a man once starts out in life as an associate with criminals his downward career is by rapid and easy grades. He soon reaches the point where there is almost total obliteration of all the real feelings and instincts of the human and these superseded by the instincts of the brute. When this period is arrived at there is absolutely no hope. The end is in sight, and it is an end that is truly horrible to even contemplate.
But it might be different.
Reader, resolve in your heart that it shall be different at least in your own case. If you have started on this rapid sliding scale, call a halt right now and turn back to the things that are right and clean. You have an immortal soul at stake, and you cannot afford to do these things that lead to death and destruction. Instead of "it might have been," quickly resolve that with the help of God it shall be.
"Whatsover a man soweth, that also shall he reap."
[Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Ft. Worth, TX; Sun 12 Mar 1905]