19th century newspapers often said of moribund individuals, George
W. Franks realized he "could not live." Please, he struggled for breath
to say, bury me with Tom.
George wanted to share the same grave with Tom Jones because they
were best friends. Not only were George and Tom good buddies, they
enjoyed a profitable business relationship. The two operated a saloon
in Cottonwood, then
a thriving little town in southeastern Callahan
Born in Berryville, Ark. in 1857, Jones came to West Texas from Leavenworth
County, Kan. at some point before 1880. Not only did he and George
soon go into partnership, Jones lived with George, his wife and their
two children. For George, Tom was like a younger brother.
Everyone in town would lament what ended up happening, most particularly
dated back to 1875 or 1876, not long after the U.S. Cavalry and Texas
Rangers cleared the frontier of hostile Comanches and Kiowa and in
the process opened half the state to settlement. J.W. Love, the first
homesteader in the area, wisely chose acreage near Cottonwood Springs
at the head of Green Briar Creek about 10 miles east of the first
county seat of Belle
Plain. (That place became a ghost town after the new town of Baird
was established.) Good soil and a reliable water source enabled Love
to bring in a good crop his first year of farming. Since land only
cost $5 to $15 an acre, other farming families soon arrived to put
down literal and figurative roots in the vicinity of the springs.
By September 1882, Cottonwood
had a post office with Lenson C. Helton as first postmaster. Not a
year later, however, the government shuttered the facility in April
1883 and did not reopen the office until that August. Even then, the
office only opened when mail arrived.
are as peaceful sounding as the wind rustling the leaves of a cottonwood
tree, but despite its pastoral name, Cottonwood,
Texas soon earned a reputation as being tougher than a cotton
Though he would not have opportunity to relish the honor, a man
named Gabe Starr has the distinction of being the first person to
die at the hands of another in Cottonwood's
wild early days. Starr annoyed someone at a dance and ended up doing
one last jig on the floor with a bullet hole in him.
The second and third victims of gun play in Cottonwood
were Wash Brown and Jule Haggler. They had a falling out in one
of the town's two saloons and took their fight outside to Main Street.
While it would seem logical enough in the days of the Wild West
for one of the men to have shot and killed the other, a recent arrival
from Indian Territory-someone later remembered only as Moss-settled
the argument by killing them both. Why Moss felt compelled to intervene
with double deadly force is not explained in what little has been
written about Cottonwood.
Perhaps he was having a bad day. Or maybe he had been a party to
In December 1882, George Franks and Tom Jones threw a party at their
saloon. Excessive sampling of their inventory led to a difference
of opinion among friends. Alcohol seriously diluting their mutual
regard, the two compadres stepped out to Main Street to resolve
the issue Dodge City-style.
Given the temporary chemical impairment of their reflexes, both
men did some impressive pistol shooting. Each put a bullet or two
into the other. Tom died on the street where he fell, but George
lived long enough to become sufficiently sober to realize he had
killed his best friend. That's when he asked that they be buried
The two BFF's were homicides numbers four and five for young Cottonwood.
The sixth resident to die with his boots on was Jim Champion, stabbed
to death by someone named Vaught. After the knifing the killer made
for the brush where he hid out for a couple of days before committing
Someone named Thompson became the seventh homicide victim when a
fellow named Scarf Daniels brained him with a wagon yoke over some
matter or the other.
The town's eighth murder victim was Martin Bowen, who had a "difficulty"
with George Hambrick while the two hoed cotton in a field belonging
to John Heyser. Not packing a pistol or even a knife, Hambrick did
the best he could with what he had, beating Bowen to death with
anyone else died violently in Cottonwood,
it's not mentioned in a history of Callahan
County published in 1986. Despite eight killings in only a few
years, the town continued to grow, reaching its peak population
of 360 in 1890. Cottonwood lost its post office in 1975 and by 2010
the U.S. Census showed only 40 residents. The only remaining building
is an old bank built in 1911.
Today, the once busy Cottonwood Cemetery is quiet as, well, a graveyard.
Among 500 or so graves, there's the weathered tombstone for George
Franks, noting his birth on New Year's Day 1848 and his departure
from this world on Dec. 12, 1882. Next to it over their common grave
is the simple stone of Tom Jones. The narrow, white marble slab
bears only his name with no mention of a friendship cut short by
whiskey and lead.