Hood County News – January 27, 2001
Nelson “Cooney” Mitchell and his family moved to Hood County from Arkansas by way of Erath County around 1867 and settled in the south portion of Hood County that now bears his name, Mitchell Bend.
The rich, fertile land of the Brazos River basin proved profitable for the kind, hard-working farmer and his family.
Always considered by his fellow Hood Countians to be a giving man, Cooney proved that when he and his family aided a stranded P.M. Truitt family within the shadows of Comanche Peak.
Cooney took the Truitts back to Mitchell Bend and helped the family get settled in their new surroundings. Cooney even paid for the ministerial schooling of P.M.’s son James and bought the young man his first suit.
Cooney’s own words stated the assistance he afforded the Truitts. “He purchased the farm on which he lived, together with corn, cattle, hogs, etc…I bought the indebtedness of Truitt―Truitt acknowledging the justice of the debt.”
When Truitt didn’t pay Mitchell for the loan, Cooney filed suit against him in the Hood County courts. From that point on, it was not a friendly situation between the families.
In a time in the county’s history, circa 1870s, records had a habit of being lost, destroyed and several courthouses of the time were burned to the ground with the hint of arson.
On March 28, 1874, after a day in court in which no agreement had come, the families set out for the long trip to Mitchell Bend.
Cooney’s son Bill, along with family friend Mint Graves, rode their horses ahead of Cooney’s wagon. On board with Cooney was William J. Owens.
Riding ahead of the Mitchells were three of the Truitt boys―James, Sam, and Isaac. The three Truitt boys seesawed with Bill Mitchell and Mint Graves, taunting each other as young spirited youths sometimes do.
As Bill and Mint rode off in pursuit, Cooney was heard to say, “Give ’em hell boys!”
What exactly happened next was then, as it is now, unclear, but when the gunsmoke cleared from the treetops, Sam and Isaac Truitt were dead and James Truitt was injured. It isn’t known who fired the first shot in the deadly melee.
The news spread throughout the community and soon Cooney, Owens and others were arrested. Bill Mitchell escaped and hid out for years.
Due to an enraged jury and a community cry for justice, Cooney, 80 at the time, was sentenced to die at the end of a rope.
Cooney lingered in the Hood County jail, which was, at that time, a crude log cabin on the southeast corner of this historic district, above the banks of the Brazos River.
On the night before his scheduled execution, Cooney’s young son Jeff was shot and killed while trying to sneak in an overdose of laudanum for his father.
While in prison, Cooney wrote a booklet, explaining the events that led to his incarceration and sold them for 25 cents in an attempt to provide for his family.
In the booklet, Cooney stated of the infamous day of the murders, “From the action of the Truitt boys on that day, and knowing the feeling existing between my family and that of P.M. Truitt, I certainly expected trouble, and that of a serious character, but did not know what it would when it did. And it took place without any advice or encouragement.”
After several appeals were denied, Cooney stated, “I heard it calmly. It was expected. I could not be agitated by the fear of the nearness of that event, which in the nature of things at my age must so soon take place, and which deprived me of but little of the pleasures, joys, sorrows or anxieties of earth.”
Cooney was taken to the hanging tree―which was located on Reunion Street in the northeast portion of the city―on October 8, 1875. The sheriff gave Cooney a moment to speak.
Cooney again stated his innocence. He also sent a verbal message to his son Bill, to avenge his death against the “liars” that had placed him in this predicament.
Years later, Bill Mitchell calmly walked into the East Texas house of James Truitt, and in front of the preacher’s family, shot the former Mitchell family friend through the head.
Cooney remains the only man to be legally hanged in Hood County. (ed. note: Robert Tucker was hanged in Fort Spunky by a vigilante posse, after a trial, for horse theft in 1870)