IT OR GET A SHARP STICK IN YOUR EYE|
Henry was a steel-drivin' man"
East Texas Sewing Needle Jail Break
by Norman Conquest
The Night Before
The facts are few; that is if there are any facts at all. A reader named
Deborah from South Carolina thought since we're called Texas Escapes, we just
might have heard about a legend that's been in her family for well over a hundred
years. It seems that one John Henry Vaughn, aka W. F. Vaughn was
being held up in an East Texas jail on unknown charges. Actually he was
detained. Someone else might've been held up. Anyway, there was a successful
escape, it involved a sewing needle, and included a man that when asked to
write his "John Henry" actually wrote: John Henry.
Now Deborah knows
that John Henry Vaughn Jr., son of the aforementioned, was born in 1906
in Panola County. He is known to have written about this escape, although
it is not known where. Probably a newspaper fairly close to where the escape took
place. Since jails (at least the brick ones) were usually in county seats, an
educated guess would be somewhere around Center, Carthage or Henderson.
Vaughn's sister is thought to have been married to Frank and Jesse
James' stepfather. Frank James (not known for an overly inventive imagination)
sometimes used the name Joe Vaughn when he was visiting the area. It has been
proven that Frank James did visit the area, signing the guest-book at the Collin
County jail on at least one occasion.
Anyway, Deborah, like most of us,
failed to take notes when the story was being retold. Advice to younger readers:
pay attention and take notes! Texas Escapes wants every 10 year old to have a
notepad and clipboard with them at all times.
|What stands out
in Deborah's mind is the following: |
A crime of some sort was committed, and John Henry Vaughn was detained.
The charge may have been "misappropriation of an equine."
John Henry (when you have the name John Henry, no one simply calls you John) seems
to have had a sewing needle secreted somewhere on his person. Times being
what they were, steam-driven metal detectors were quite costly for East Texas
city budgets. Maybe the needle was thrown through the jail window in the dead
of night (hard to find), or maybe it was baked into an éclair (easier to find).
John Henry put that needle to good use. Without benefit of thimble or glove,
he scratched away at the mortar that held the bricks and made good his
escape. The needle was never much good after that for sewing. This is one
of the reasons women are reluctant to loan their sewing tools. If you don't believe
us, ask your wife for her sewing scissors.
Although there's no account
of the next day's activities, it would be safe to assume that the jailers were
shocked and saddened that John Henry wasn't there for breakfast. After eating
John Henry's share of biscuits, the jailer sounded the alarm. A posse was rounded
up and dogs were unleashed. No one is certain why the dogs were unleashed, but
as soon as they were back on leashes, the manhunt was on.
part of the legend that has survived is that John Henry hid in a tree and
dropped to the ground after the main body of searchers had passed under him. Another
searcher, seeing John Henry asked if he had seen anything of himself. Unfortunately
we have no record of his reply or facial expression.
|So there it is. If
you wanted a nice tied-up ending it's not here. It's like most things
What it is, (depending on the meaning of the word 'is") is a
great family yarn that Deborah can't quite knit a sweater from because
of the loose ends.
If you're from East Texas and have some time
on your hands, you might want to check the newspaper files of your hometown. Deborah
would appreciate it, and we're always glad to write more about East Texas.
Deborah wrote that from John Henry and Mary Jane Vaughn's marriage,
there came a total of 13 children. Two or three may have followed career
paths that let's just say didn't include law enforcement.
trying to find out if her Grandmother, Mary Mae (May) Vaughn, who
was born May 4th, 1905 does indeed hail from Winona. Any Smith County
readers will be given a dinner-for-two if they can verify this. You don't
even have to be from Smith County.
Our thanks to Deborah for submitting
this story. You can almost smell the pines of East Texas.
be Emailed at DebjohnB@aol.com.