Village Weekly – May 27, 1976
|A Dave Brown sketch shows how Hood County’s only legal execution was carried out in 1876. An old newspaper clipping provided the description. The hanging was held just north of town and caused a lot of excitement among Granburyites.|
In its 110 year history, Hood County has had one official execution by hanging and local legends have put the execution on just about every tree north of the square.
The man executed was 79-year-old “Coonie” Mitchell. He was executed in 1876 for the shooting deaths in 1874 of members of the Isaac Truitt family.
Several books have been written on this feud that continued until after 1900.
Mitchell was convicted and sentenced to death, even though he did not take part in the shootings. His son Bill reportedly did the shooting. Bill was not captured until 25 years later. He was acquitted in a trial here, but was taken to Shelby County in East Texas and after two or three mistrials was convicted of the murder of James Truitt, the son whose testimony had convicted “Cooney” Mitchell. This killing occurred in 1886.
The last trial was in 1910 and in 1912 Bill Mitchell was sent to Huntsville to begin serving a sentence.
Jake Caraway found a clipping of a story from a 1912 Fort Worth paper, telling about Mitchell going to prison. The story briefly recalled the long feud and contains an eyewitness story of the execution of “Coonie” Mitchell.
Here is the way John W. Davis told the story in 1912. He was 11 years old and lived on a farm with his parents.
“The execution caused lots of excitement in Granbury at the time. The elder Mitchell was 79 years when he paid the penalty. More than 2,000 people witnessed the hanging.
“A report spread among the crowd the day of the hanging that Bill Mitchell and a band of 500 men would rescue the old man and the sheriff secured a guard of 100 men. When the rumor spread there was a stampede, the like of which I never saw.
“My father and our family drove to Granbury to see Mitchell hanged. We were in a wagon with spring seats. Hills sloped into a ravine on either side of the improvised scaffold – nothing more than a wagon, which was to be drawn from under the doomed man, two poles, crossbar and rope.
“We unhitched and sat in the wagon to witness the execution. Boys climbed trees and people gathered everywhere for a point of vantage that they might see the hanging. When the report that Mitchell’s son would come to rescue the old man, people ran in every direction and boys dropped from the trees. The elder Mitchell was standing on the wagon waiting for his doom, and the sheriff spoke to the crowd to keep quiet as there was no danger. Most of the crowd remained and Mitchell and his band did not appear.
“Mitchell was asked if he had anything to say and he made a remarkable speech. He talked until they called time on him.”
Later research shows that at the time of the execution the man everyone feared was living in the brush and desert country near the Mexican border.
Bill Mitchell lived under an assumed name, married and raised two daughters in the wilds of the New Mexico mountains. He finally was caught when his daughter gave her true name when she got a marriage license.
Two years later Bill Mitchell went to prison for life, he walked away from the prison a few days before Christmas. If he was ever sought, it was a limited effort and he died a natural death in Arizona when he was past 75 years old.
Sheriff Wright, who carried out the court ordered execution, in his written report of the hanging, said the prisoner was taken a short distance north of town to a proposed scaffold and executed. Three doctors pronounced the prisoner dead.
From Davis’ description of the event and the size of Granbury at the time, it is possible that the hanging took place just north of Lambert Branch and east of the old city electric generating plant.