By Capt. Roy F. Hall
The Examiner. McKinney, Texas
October 31, 1963
At dusk, March 6, 1869, a man rode up to the J.B. Wilmeth home, three miles north of McKinney, and asked if he could spend the night. He was, of course, invited to alight and make himself at home, as was the custom in those days. His horse was taken care of and he joined the family at supper.
During the course of the evening he found that J.B. Wilmeth, with his eight sons, had been in the Confederate army, and warmed up a bit about himself. He said that while he had not been in the army he had got away with his quota of “Yankees” as a free ranger. He said that his home was north of the Indian Territory and that he was making his way back there after selling a wagon load of apples in Dallas and to the south. He was a fine looking man, being over six feet in height, well built and the possessor of a big black mustache. In all, he made a favorable impression on the Wilmeth family.
He was riding a bay horse and a fine saddle which he said he had purchased in Dallas after selling a wagon and team. He remarked a time or two that he was a pretty good shot with a pistol, and had a good .44 cap-and-ball pistol in his saddle bags. Mounted and ready to leave he showed the gun to Wilmeth saying, “No gun ever killed more Yankees than this one”. Now, let us drop back a bit and take up the history of this man, who gave his name as Bill Wilson.
William Wilson was born on October 2, 1829, on the Little Piney river in Phelps County, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains. At the beginning of the Civil War, 1861, he was married and the father of four children. He took no sides in the North-South dispute, but remained peacefully at home on his mountain until a Union soldier snatched his wife and family from his home and burned the house to the ground, Union Army commander in the vicinity had accused him of stealing horses from the Union Army and of being a Southern guerrilla.
Wilson took, so to speak, to the war path. He harassed the Union forces whenever possible, organizing raids on their wagon trains and killing several soldiers of detachments sent to arrest him. This he kept up until the end of the war, at which time the Union Government had a heavy price on his head. Many of his friends and relatives were killed, and others burned out of house and home, but Wilson was only arrested once, and then made his escape.
At the end of the Civil War, 1865, the search for him intensified and he knew that sooner or later he would be apprehended. Being arrested, he knew, meant death, so he left without giving anyone an idea as to where he was going. He went to Arkansas where he purchased a wagon and team and took a load of apples to Texas. He sold these at a very high price in Dallas and south of there, bought a horse and saddle and started back to Missouri. We will now take up the story from the morning he rode away from the Wilmeth home.
Shortly before noon, on March 7, two men rode up to the Wilmeth home and asked if a man had spent the night there, giving a description of him. They stated that the three were friends but had gotten separated in McKinney and they were anxious to find their friend again. Assured that the man had left early that morning, they rode off north.
The two men followed the Upper Bonham road to a point a mile southeast of present Melissa, they struck the road used during the Civil War between the Hampton Mill – later Squeezepenny and Sherman, and turned north on it. At Belmont Farm – the Scott home two miles northeast of the present Melissa – they ascertained that Wilson had passed that way earlier in the day and rode on.
A mile north of present VanAlstyne they saw Wilson riding along ahead of them through the woods in the valley of the small creek there. Riding slower, they put on a fake conversation with each other, waving their hands about as if in a hot argument. Wilson, when he saw them, turned hi horse in the road and waited for them to ride up. They rode close, still in the hand waving conversation, which apparently disarmed Wilson, a very cautious man.
Fifty feet away, they pulled their pistols and opened fire on Wilson. A lucky shot – as it proved later that neither was even a fair marksman – struck Wilson in the breast. Another hit his horse’s shoulder, causing the animal to whirl and throw the wounded man off. Before he could recover the two were on him, pouring a series of bullets into the downed man. Wilson was dead within a few moments.
The men then dragged Wilson to one side and partly covered him with brush and leaves. The saddle was stripped from the wounded horse and he was slapped into the woods. Taking all of Wilson’s possessions, which included his pistol and less than $200 in cash, the men took his saddle up behind one of them and turned back southward. After dark, they came to the home of Steward Mallow, an elder brother of Oliver Mallow who lived on a hill in the south part of Trinity settlement, and asked to be taken in for the night. This request was granted. (His name appears as Steward in the family record. His home was just east of the north end of the viaduct on Highway 75 over East Ford river. It was a box house, and was razed only a few years ago. A big cedar tree marks the site.)
In the meanwhile events were fast breaking against the killers. W.C. McKinney and two others were out hunting stray stock when they heard the series of shots a half a mile to their southwards. The firing was so unusual for one shooting at game that they rode at a gallop in that direction. As it happened, they came across the wounded horse in the woods. Stopping a moment to ascertain that it was a gunshot wound, they primed their guns and rode out into the clearing through which the road ran at that point. Being trained frontiersman it took them only a few minutes to read the signs of the killing. They followed the trail where Wilson had been dragged into the brush and quickly found him. They saw the two men had mounted and road back along the dirt road the way they had come. To them, the picture was complete. It was quickly decided that one of them on the best horse should ride to Sherman and report to the sheriff, while McKinney and the other man followed the trail of the murderers. They were to leave pieces of handkerchiefs tied to bushes to mark their route in the event the killers left the main roads.
Again luck was against the murderers. The pursuers met a horseman just north of the Scott home who told them he had met two men on horseback just north of Jesse Ordenduff’s place, one man carrying an extra saddle behind him. McKinney and his men pushed on. When they pulled up to the Orenduff place, McKinney hollowed to the house. “Hello. Hello. Jesse! Can you put up two travelers for the night?”
Orenduff came to the door and asked them to alight and come in. They did, asking him quietly if he had seen the two men. Orenduff had not, so they rode on to the Steward Mallow home where the procedure was repeated. Here Mallow came to the door on their hail, and walked out to the road. In a low tone he told them the two men were there, and he as scared. He found a saddle in his corn crib with blood all over it, and the saddle had not been there before the two men came in for the night. In a loud voice he then told McKinney that he was sorry but he had no extra room. Telling Mallow to act as if nothing was wrong, that help was coming, they rode off to the south, circled back and took station on the road halfway to the Orenduff home, awaiting the Grayson County Sheriff.
The man sent to Sherman quickly located Buckhorn Simpson, the sheriff of Grayson County and Simpson soon rounded up seven men as a posse and took the road south. The man had ridden from where the murder took place to Sherman in less than three hours. The sheriff’s posse reached W.C. McKinney shortly after midnight and found the killers had been located. Knowing the men would remain the night at Mallow’s, the sheriff sent a man on a horse borrowed from Jesse Orenduff to McKinney for aid. The posse then quietly took positions around the Mallow house, far enough away so as not to disturb the Mallow dogs and alert the murderers.
In McKinney, Deputy Sheriff T.B. Wilson, and William Short gathered four men and rode back with the messenger and reported to the Grayson sheriff. Just before dawn they charged up to the doors and windows of the Mallow house and shouted for the two men to come out or be killed. They came out and were taken to McKinney and lodged in jail. George A. Wilson was the Collin sheriff at that time, but was out of town on that night.
Feelings ran high in the county against the killers, whose names were ascertained to be William O. Blackmore and John Thompson, both claiming to be from Missouri, though their actual homes were never proven. They were taken on horseback to Sherman for trial, the posse traveling back roads in order to avoid an angry outbreak by the people, but a traveler had been slain in a brutal manner in their midst, and a traveler, in those days, was one to be aided and helped along the way. Men could “fall out” and fight but a traveler was one set apart, to be protected.
The trial was about as swift as the arrest had been. At the time, Texas was under Reconstruction rule and all the judges had been appointed from Carpetbaggers by the North. As it was the opinion of all that the man Wilson had been a Northern man, while one of the killers had claimed he had served in the Confederate Army, the result of the trail was a foregone conclusion. The two men would surely be hanged.
James W. Throckmorton of McKinney, recently disposed by the Union Army as Governor of Texas, was engaged to defend the two murderers. He had no chance at all of having them acquitted. Every motion he made was overruled by the court and the two men were convicted and were hanged at the courthouse in Sherman on April 2, 1869.
The incidents in this article may strike you as being unusual; the fast riding on horseback and the attitude of the Sherman court toward Bill Wilson. The man sent by W.C. McKinney rode to Sherman late that afternoon, and the Sherman posse rode back down to McKinney after midnight. This was a feat of horsemanship regarded as not out of the ordinary 100 years ago, when such long rides were common, but it compares favorably with what we can do today in automobiles.
It was rather ironical that the Sherman court did exactly what all the people wished them to do in hanging the killers, though for reasons that were exactly opposite to the feeling of the populace, Ex-Governor Throckmorton undoubtedly knew what Wilson was, but to bring such out in court would have meant the freeing of the murderers. Sheriff Simpson was a Southern man and cautioned Throckmorton several times during the trial to go slow, as he might say something that would “cook the deal”, so he too must have known Bill Wilson’s feud with the Union Army.
Wilson went practically to an unknown grave. I have searched every square yard of the site where the killing occurred and I can find no grave of any kind, and none of the old timers in that vicinity know of one. Anybody know of any whereabouts?
Back in Missouri it was reported from Arkansas that Wilson had been killed in Texas, but all there believed it a hoax to throw the bounty hunters off his trail back in Missouri, also a book was written on the life and ravages of Bill Wilson, the author not knowing of his actual demise. Its title is: “Bushwacker”, a true history of Bill Wilson, Missouri’s Greatest Desperado. A Story of Blood.