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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

BLOODY CHRISTMAS
The Murder Of LaSalle County Sheriff Charles B. McKinney

by C. F. Eckhardt
Cotulla, Texas, the county seat of LaSalle County, lies in the deep brush country of South Texas, just about 65 miles northeast of Laredo. Today the main artery in town is I-35, for Cotulla is directly on the most-used of all NAFTA routes. A little over a hundred years ago, the main travel artery was the International & Great Northern Railroad.

It was cold in Cotulla on the morning of December 26, 1886. Mrs. Galloway, from the now-ghost town of Twohig, about 8 miles south of Cotulla on the I&GN, arrived at the sheriff's office. She swore out a warrant accusing one Lorenzo Dow White of the heinous crime of rape, made worse by the victim being her eleven-year-old daughter. The girl, who accompanied her mother, verified the accusation. With the warrant in hand Sheriff Charles Brown McKinney, known as 'C. B.,' and his deputy, S. V. Edwards, known as 'Pete,' boarded the train for the stop at Twohig.

In Twohig the two officers were met by 'Bud' Crenshaw and Jim McCoy. Apparently they were friendly, or at least showed no hostility. McKinney and Brown hired horses in Twohig and rode toward Crenshaw's home. Crenshaw and McCoy got there first and were waiting. Each had a Winchester in his hand, but again, displayed no hostility. The sheriff asked Crenshaw to talk with him, and the two went a little distance away from the house. The sheriff remained mounted, Crenshaw was afoot. At about the time the sheriff and Crenshaw began to talk, McCoy asked the deputy for a chew of tobacco.

This was apparently an agreed-on signal. Immediately Crenshaw raised his Winchester, jammed it under the sheriff's chin, and fired, killing the officer instantly. As he fell from the horse, Crenshaw shot him three more times. McCoy, a one-legged man, then raised his weapon and shot the deputy, who had turned at the sound of the first shot. Deputy Edwards was hit in the back, through one shoulder blade. The deputy's horse then bolted. McCoy fired again but missed the second shot.

Immediately a 40-man posse was organized to hunt for Crenshaw and McCoy. The Webb County sheriff was contacted by telegraph. He and four deputies began to go up the Rio Grande in an effort to cut off the fugitives, who were believed headed for Mexico.

Sheriff McKinney, 28, married and the father of several children, was buried December 27, in Cotulla. Apparently the sheriff was well-liked, for the report says the funeral was attended by "every man, woman, and child of the area."

On December 28 Governor John Ireland authorized a reward of $500 for the arrest of the two men involved in the sheriff's murder. LaSalle County offered an additional $500 for each man, and local ranchers matched that with yet another $500. This made each fugitive worth $1250, a tidy sum in 1886.

Governor Ireland dispatched Captain George H. Schmidt's company of the Frontier Battalion of the Rangers to Cotulla, since feelings were running very high. It was very likely there would be a lynching if the men were captured. The Rangers arrived on December 31 and made camp in an abandoned building. The town seemed quiet, so after eating supper the men were given leave to have a drink if they cared to.

As they were on the way to a saloon, they were startled by three shots. They found George E. Hill on the floor of John Kerr's store, three bulletholes in his body. He was still alive, and identified his assassins as Silas Hay and Frank R. Hall. Hay was the sheriff's father in law, and apparently had some reason to believe Hill was involved in the murder. Hill denied that vehemently before he, too, died.

Within days a man named Headly White was arrested and charged with being an accessory in the murder of Sheriff McKinney. His brother, Lorenzo Dow White, was also arrested and charged with rape. Headly White was allowed bail, but Judge D. P. Marr denied bail to the other man.

Crenshaw, also a married man with children, was given away by an acquaintance who wanted the reward. He camped during the day near a waterhole deep in the brush, visiting his wife and family at night.

Six Rangers went to the campsite and set up an ambush. When Crenshaw rode in just after daybreak they covered him with rifles. He immediately opened fire on the Rangers, who shot him out of the saddle. Three days later McCoy, who had been hiding in the brush, surrendered, saying "I'd rather be hanged than live a stray dog's life any longer."

McCoy was tried in San Antonio, there being no way of getting anything that looked like an impartial jury in LaSalle County. He was convicted of murder in district court in June of 1888, and sentenced to hang. His attorneys immediately moved for a new trial, which was denied. They then filed an appeal, which affirmed the lower court's action. A request for a rehearing was denied. The attorneys then circulated a petition for clemency, getting over 2000 signatures. The petition was submitted to the new governor, Lawrence S. 'Sul' Ross, himself a former Ranger. Ross found no reason to overturn the sentence.

On August 23, 1889, at 11:33 AM, James McCoy was hanged in the LaSalle County jail. He left a wife and son. On the scaffold, he said "In all my life I never done but one dirty trick. I helped Sheriff McKinney and Deputy Edwards murder a Mexican just outside of Cotulla, and we sat down and drank a bottle of whiskey by the body. I have been murdered by Edwards' testimony. McKinney was sheriff, but he was not a good man. He led me into wrong; he was afraid of me and deputized a lot of outlaws as sheriffs. One of them shot my leg off. McKinney had fixed up the scheme when I was laid up. He said I was a (deleted from original). I have killed two men but I stood my trial and got clear. Murdering the Mexican was the only dirty trick I ever done and McKinney helped. His friends have crowded me so I thought I would tell this. I have not been a good man and I'm sorry. That is all I have to say."

Exactly what he was talking about, no one in Cotulla knows to this day. There were, so far as people could tell, no Mexicans who had mysteriously gone missing in the county. McCoy gave no indication of where or when the alleged murder took place, nor where the body might have been put to dispose of it. No evidence has ever been found implicating Sheriff McKinney and/or Deputy Edwards in the murder of anyone, Mexican or Anglo.
C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" >

April 15, 2007 column

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