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Hub-and-Hub Race, 1888



RIOT ENDS IN BLOODSHED


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STRIKERS IN AMBUSH FIRE ON THE SHERIFF’S POSSE.

RIFLES IN THE HANDS OF THE KNIGHTS DEFEAT THE OFFICERS, WHO WERE FORCED TO RETREAT WITH THEIR WOUNDED -- GREAT EXCITEMENT IN THE TOWN.

Newspaper Account / April 3, 1886

FORT WORTH, TEXAS, April 3. -- At 10 o’clock this morning 1,500 persons assembled at the Missouri Pacific Station to see Sheriff Maddox send out a train, which he said last night he would do or die in the attempt. At 11 o’clock an engine, with 20 armed deputies, backed into the yard to take out a train of 20 cars when ready. The engine backed down the track, but subsequently the train pulled out for the south and reached the New-Orleans Crossing, two miles south of the city. The suggestive quiet that marked the passage of the freight train through the city was not without its sequel. When the train left the station it was under the protection of a posse of officers commanded by Jim Courtright. What followed is reported by a railroad employe who was on the train. He says that when the train stopped it was noticed that several men were congregated on the track in front of the train. The posse’s commander approached the man and asked why they impeded the progress of the train, to which they replied that they had nothing to do with it, that they were not armed and had no intention of interfering with the road. As the officers returned to the train they noticed several men sitting or lying on the grass, a few yards from the train. The entire posse advanced toward the man in ambush until they reached the ditch alongside the track, when they commanded a throwing up of hands. The command was obeyed, but as the hands came up they brought Winchester rifles with them, which belched forth a deadly fire, it is said with fatal effect. There were, perhaps, 100 shots fired. After the first fire the posse advanced and continued firing. The ambushers retreated behind some piles of ties, which proved a most excellent breastwork, and from the security of which they poured a murderous fire into the posse. From this position they were finally dislodged and driven beyond range of the posse’s pistols.

The casualties among the posse were found to be three -- police officer Ford was shot through both thighs, special officer Dick Townsend was fatally shot through the left breast near the nipple, and special officer Charles Sneed was shot through the heart and jaw. The casualties among the ambushers is only a matter of conjecture, though there seems to be good grounds for saying that three or more of them were wounded, probably fatally. The same authority says that there were half a dozen or more horses visible from the train that was ambushed which it is believed belonged to the ambushing party.

The posse carried the wounded men aboard the train, which backed into the Union Station, where the wounded were lying when the reporter saw them.

(Story continues below)


From another source the following was obtained: it was the determination of the strikers that no trains should run on the Missouri Pacific, injunction or no injunction. It was arranged that should the train pass through Fort Worth it must be stopped elsewhere. To this end a number of strikers had been detailed to watch the road south of the city. The train arrived at the crossing when it was flagged by the strikers. Not obeying the flag the strikers next resorted to throwing a switch. As the men approached and threw the switch they were fired upon by the posse, and the fire was promptly returned by the men in ambush. The narrator says it was not the intention of the strikers to resort to violence unless forced to, but when they were fired upon they returned the fire. They were well armed and their work shows that they were pretty good marksmen. One thing may be set down as settled, continued this narrator, and that is: “No train will be allowed to pass over the Missouri Pacific until the demand of the strikers for arbitration is acceeded to.”

Another account says: “When the strikers at the crossing stopped the train the guards asked why they did so. The answer was a volley from Winchesters in the grass. The guards returned the fire with the result above mentioned.” There were at least 1,000 men in the mob.

2:30 P.M. -- Several hundred merchants and citizens are now marching down Main-Street, all armed with Winchester rifles and shot guns. Seven men are now dead and a number are wounded. Gun stores are closed and under guard. One of the guards shot at the crossing has since died.

Another account says: Last night the Sheriff and his deputies were busily engaged in serving writs on and of injunctions against the strikers and their confederates, and by the time this morning dawned the most of them had received an official notice to keep away from the yards of the Missouri Pacific Railway, and warned them against interfering with the servants of the company in their efforts to take out trains. The effect of the writs was to keep the yards clear, and at 9 o’clock this morning not a man, save the employees, could be seen in them. In the streets, however, near the yards, could be seen knots of men who had collected to see what would be done. Today at 10 o’clock the officers began to collect at the Union Station, and numbers of them were stationed in the yards. At 10:15 o’clock a dozen or more of them went to the roundhouse and in a few minutes Engine 54, loaded down with armed officers, pulled out and steamed up the Missouri Pacific yards. As it rattled past the crowd collected on either side of the road derisive cheers went up from a hundred throats, but not a man attempted to interfere with the movements of the engine or to prevent it from coupling on to a caboose which was standing on a side track. Having done this the engine was run on to the main track and then backed up the road to Hodge, from which point it was to pull a freight train into the city. For nearly two hours the crowd awaited the return of the engine with the train from Hodge, and as the minutes rolled by the amused themselves in various ways. The raw weather could not scatter them, and the men wrapped in heavy overcoats were continuously stamping their feet to keep warm.

At 11:30 o’clock the engine left Hodge, and at 11:35 o’clock steamed into the yard. The train consisted of the caboose and 10 cars loaded with coal. As the train approached Sixteenth-street a crowd rolled out, but halted on the line of right of way and remained there. Not a man made a move toward the train, but at the lower end of the yard three women, wives of strikers, appeared on the track, one of them armed with a red flag, which she waved as a signal for the engineer to stop. Of course no attention was paid to this, and the train passed on and by the Union Station and continued on its journey south. The suggestive silence that marked the passage of the freight train through the city was not without its sequel. When the train left the depot it was under the protection of a posse of 12 officers, commanded by Jim Courtright, special Deputy United States Marshal. Some of the officers were Deputy Marshals and others members of the regular police force. The train proceeded slowly to the crossing of the Fort Worth and New-Orleans Railway, about a mile and a half south of town. The train stopped, as is customary before crossing. The switch was found open and two men stood near the crossing. The officers approached the switch, and as they did so they discovered five men with Winchester rifles partly concealed in the weeds a few yards distant. The entire posse advanced toward the man in the ambush. They had reached the ditch alongside the track, when they ordered the throwing up of hands. The command was obeyed, but as the hands came up they brought Winchester rifles. The officers were armed only with revolvers. They demanded the surrender of the strikers. Both sides opened fire almost simultaneously, there being not more than a lapse of two seconds between the time the first and second shots were fired. As to which side fired first eye-witnesses differ. After the first fire the posse advanced and continued firing. The strikers retreated behind some piles of ties which formed most excellent breastworks, and from the security of which they poured a murderous fire into the posse.

The casualties among the posse were found to be three. Police Officer Fulford was shot through both thighs. Special Officer Dick Townsend was shot twice through the left breast near the nipple. He died at 5:30 o’clock this afternoon. Special Officer Charles Snead was shot through the throat and jaw. His wounds are fatal. Drs. Vocker and Farrar, of the Missouri Pacific Hospital, say that Snead and Fulford cannot possibly survive.

The strikers remained at the scene of the conflict for some time after the train returned to the city, when they secured the Winchester of their wounded comrade and started off for the Sycamore Bottom, all carrying their rifles. Nace was left on the prairie. As soon as the train reached the city the posse was formed, armed with Winchesters, and started in pursuit of the murderers. It is estimated that there were 20 men among the strikers, but of those only 5 or 6 carried Winchesters. Tom Nace, the wounded striker, was brought to this city in a wagon this afternoon, and as soon as the officers learned of his whereabouts he was carried to jail, where he will be strongly guarded. No other arrests have as yet been made. The Knights of Labor claim that the first shot was fired by the officers, but the weight of the testimony is against the proposition.

Sheriff Maddox this afternoon organized two companies of citizens, which were armed with Winchester carbines and marched to the station, the avowed determination being to suppress all opposition to law.

The people are in a terrible state of excitement, and appear completely dumfounded. The breach between the law and the strikers has been widened, and the bitterest expressions can be heard on every side.

The news of the shooting spread like wildfire through the city. Sheriff Maddox passed along the street ordering the citizens to arm themselves with Winchesters and report at the station at once. Businessmen closed their stores and answered the summons promptly. Gun stores were emptied inside of an hour. Crowds surged into the streets, when mingled with the throngs, and bedlam reigned.

The officers hastened from the station to arm themselves with Winchesters, and, securing horses, left town on a gallop to search the Sycamore Bottom for the men who had done the shooting. William Hale, constable of Precinct No. 1 in this city, gives the following account of the affair:

“I was on the train and was an eye-witness to everything that occurred. I was in the next car to the caboose. We were not dreaming of any trouble, when the train stopped. I jumped down to see whether the switch had been turned. There were five or six men on the west side of the track that I took to be strikers. They were near the engine, and the officers about the forward part of the train began to search them for weapons. About this time a squad of four or five men and the other side of the track who were squatting on the grass about 100 yards from the track, opened fire on the officers. They had Winchester rifles and handled them rapidly and well. We returned fire, but were at a disadvantage, as we had nothing but six-shooters. There wasn’t a Winchester on the train. I think that Fulford, Townsend, and Sneed were all hit by the first volley. Seeing that we were fighting with heavy odds against us on account of the difference in weapons, we got the wounded men on the cars and came back to the city. I suppose that about 100 shots were fired altogether. The number of men on our side did not exceed a dozen. I judge about half that number of strikers were engaged in firing on us.”

C. E. Nicewarner, fireman of the engine, took in the situation fully. He says: “We were going about 12 miles an hour when approaching the switch at the crossing, when I noticed several men near the switch. We stopped the train and some of the Deputies jumped off and searched. Four men, who had thrown the switch which would have sent us down the Fort Worth and New-Orleans track, were placed under arrest, when all of a sudden the crack of a Winchester was heard, followed quickly by four or five other shots which came from five men in a clump of weeds about 200 feet southeast of the locomotive. Dick Townsend stood in front of the locomotive, and was hit at the first fire. The officers returned fire from their pistols, and the firing became general on both sides. Dick Townsend fell back against the pilot but rallied and emptied his revolver, when he crawled into the cab of the locomotive bleeding terribly.”

Officer Fulford was seen at his residence tonight, and, though in great pain, told the terrible tale of the shooting as follows: “We had stopped at the switch where the ground was open, but on a line with where I was on the train was an embankment, made by digging the cut, the Earth being piled up higher than my head where I stood on the train. Some of the others were searching for men in front, and I went up on the embankment, where I saw several men lying down. Just then I heard a shot in front. I turned in that direction and saw five or six men with Winchesters. One of the men was J. R. Hardin, a carpenter, whom I knew. He leveled his Winchester and fired at me. The ball passed through my thigh. I stood a few minutes and saw three or four strikers fall as our men fired, when I fell to the ground.”

Related Jim Courtright stories: A Texas Murderer’s Capture, The Notorious Luke Short Shot, Death Ending a Debauch

 

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