The Hancock Inquest – Graphic Details – Suspicions – Nightmares

The Hancock Inquest is a fascinating document filled with peculiar details, opinions and suspicions about the murder of Susan Hancock that were never published.  I thought it would be worthwhile to transcribe the handwritten document in full in order to facilitate its examination and consideration.

The testimony of witnesses including Dr. William Burt, Dr. R. S. Graves, William Scaggs, Theodore Clark, Moses Hancock, Hester Campbell, David Hagy, A. M. Persinger, Jack Williams, Belle Williams and Caroline Mason, was taken on December 29th and 30th, following Susan Hancock’s death on December 28, 1885.

William Burt in his capacity as a medical doctor provided a graphic description of Susan Hancock’s injuries, including how he thought they had been inflicted.  He also gave a detailed account of his interview with Moses Hancock and his examination of the crime scene.

David Hagy, who was a boarder with the Hancock family, provided a brief account of his activities that evening and drew a map of the premises which detailed the layout of the house and where the body was found.

The Hancock’s white neighbors expressed suspicion toward the black residents of the neighborhood who lived only one block further to the east.  Theodore Clark testified that he believed that one of those neighbors, Hester Campbell, knew “a great deal about it” and that “there were certain parties down there…who knew more about all these murders than they would like to tell.”

Hester Campbell, who evidently had a reputation for clairvoyance, recounted a dream about the murders, “I saw it in my slumbers two or three weeks ago…”  It is interesting to note that in her dream it was “…the white folks… coming here to murder you all.”  Hester had also previously fired a pistol on more than one occasion at a man lurking around her house, and Clark and another neighbor, Jack Williams, both testified that a “tall black man wearing dark black new looking clothes” had been seen in their yards that night.

Clark and Scaggs both directed suspicion toward hack drivers.  Clark noted that hack drivers frequented Water Street and Scaggs recounted an incident in which Susan had called out to a passing hack driver – the implication being that Mrs. Hancock was inappropriately familiar with a black hack driver, possibly Jack Williams, who lived a block away.


Moses Hancock’s testimony is particularly poignant.  He recounted the little details of how he spent the evening with his wife – reading by the fireplace, eating cake, smoking a pipe.  He stated that Susan sometimes had nightmares and would cry out in her sleep, which was what he thought he had heard that night.  He got up to check on her but found she was gone.  His testimony of what happened next was straightforward but there were several eerie details – the doors that he thought had been locked were wide open, the killer had been in his bedroom first and took some of his clothing which was later found in the yard.  The perpetrator fled the scene as soon as Hancock came into the backyard, jumping over a 6-foot high picket fence.  It is interesting to note that Hancock expected the perpetrator to flee toward the east and ran in that direction to cut him off, but instead the killer ran the opposite direction, toward the northwest, and escaped.  Hancock did not go in pursuit, but went back to his injured wife and called for help.

Note:  I have transcribed the handwritten documents to the best of my abilities, although there are still few words I can’t make out.  I have not corrected any spellings.  I have added punctuation and paragraphs in some instances.

Thanks again to Christy Moilanen and the Travis County Archives for making these historic documents available.  See the originals here: Hancock Inquest 1885 [PDF]

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Testimony taken before Wm Von Rosenberg Jr. J.P. Travis Co. Tex. and the jury of inquest over the body of Susan Hancock, deceased, taken this the 29th day of Dec. 1885.

Dr. W. J. Burt being sworn states:

I am a physician and surgeon.  On the night of the 24th 25th of Dec. 1885 I was called to Mrs. Hancock’s bedside on E. Water St. in the city of Austin about 12 o’clock at night.  On my arrival I found Mrs. Hancock lying on a quilt in the floor in the front or main room very bloody – bleeding freely from the wounds in the left side of the head & from the right ear and a occasionally vomiting as much as a cup of blood at a time – She seemed to suffer – [?] & eventually moving her




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body.  I found the wounds described in my report of the autopsy.  There was no evidence of an outrage to the person.  I saw Mr. Persinger, Mr. Hancock.  (He being the only neighbor of the family present.)  I do not now remember who the others there were.  The bed pointed out to me as upon which she was lying when injured was bloody.  The sheet was bloody (about a foot square) near the head of the bed.  I only now remember the one blood spot.  A trunk in the room was open & clothing confused and & scattered, so also with clothing in the corner of the room.  I noticed in the back of yard near the S. E. corner of the kitchen a pool of blood.  Say from ½ to 1 pint of blood.  A young man, (a barber at the Raymond House) came for me.  The wounds of the head appeared as if made with a heavy instrument such as the pole of




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an ax or another instrument as described in my work of autopsy. – [?]

From the blood in the bed it is my opinion that it came from the wound in the right ear and that the wounds on the side of the head were inflicted after the body was taken out of the house.  The wound on the head would have produced more blood than I found in the bed unless the body was moved instantly.  Hancock told me that he [?].

After we had cared for the woman as physicians – I took Mr. Hancock into another room of the house & sat down on the bed & talked with him about the occurrence.  He said substantially:  That he and his wife were at home alone and had been smoking by the fire place between 10 and 11 o’clock.  His two daughters being out at a party.  They pushed to the front door &





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left the lamp burning on the piano and he & his wife each went to bed.  She to the N. E. room and he to the S. E. room of the house.  He said he was awaked up with a noise which he took to be his wife with the night mare to which she was subject.  He went to her room.  He found her gone & the bed bloody.  He went out through the other room where a table is and ran over a chair [?] [?].  About that time heard a noise as if a falling body & heard groaning.  He ran out there & found the woman lying on the ground & saw a man running toward the back fence who jumped over the fence & ran away.  He threw a piece of brick bat at the man as he ran.  He then picked up his wife and brought her to the platform calling to Mr. Persinger to come & help him that his wife was killed.  When I got there he (Hancock)




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had on his clothes – that is his pants – he had no coat on – one pair of his pants were found in the back yard while I was there as I was told.  I found a match box out in the yard which I was told the pants were found.  This box he said was in his pants pocket that night.

When Hancock and I went into his room and sat down on the bed there was blood on the bed.  I had been in that room before and saw a blood spot or stain as large as the palm of my hand on the sheet.  It appeared as though a bloody garment had been rubbed over it.  This was the bed occupied by Hancock as he said.

W. J. Burt, M. D.

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 29th day of December A. D. 1885. William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.

Dr. R. S. Graves being present and knowing Dr. Burt’s testimony say that his testimony would be practically the same except he did not [?]




page 6W. T. Scaggs being sworn testified:

The deceased Susan Clementine Hancock was my sister and was the wife of M. H. Hancock.  They have been married about 20 years.  They came to Austin last March.  They have lived where she was killed all the time since the came here except the first month.  They lived in what was called the Brown Row of Houses.  I live near the A. N. W. Depot.  For the post two months I have known but little of my sister.  At one time when my sister & Mrs. Persinger were at my house when a hack driver passed & my sister called to him & said hallow where are you going.  The Hackman did not stop & I said to my sister why do you speak that way to the hack driver & she said she knew him and if he had known her he would have stopped.  From the manner of my sister in calling to the Hack driver she seemed to be familiar with him.




page 7Mrs. M. J. Folwell who lives at Waco told me that she thought the Brown Row was frequented by Hacks.

W. T. Scaggs

Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 29th day of December A. D. 1885 William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.

T. M. Clark being sworn testified:

I live at 305 E. Water St. City of Austin.  About 5 houses in the middle of the next block from the Hancock’s place.  I drive the Capitol Ice wagon.  I have lived there 15 mos.  Hancock has lived there several months, something like 5 or 6 months.  I was slightly acquainted with Mrs. Hancock & the young ladies & I knew Mr. Hancock quite well.  Our families did not visit.  I am generally at home at night.  I have been watching at and about my place at from about 9 o’clock to 12 or 1 o’clock at night ever since these murders was been being committed.  I have frequently seen hacks passing that street




page8and have been in the habit of noting any one passing in the alleys whom I saw.

On last night on Mr. Hancock’s gallery I told him that I thought there were certain parties down there in that neighborhood who knew more about all these murders than they would like to tell & that by watching that neighborhood they could find out something that I did not believe that they would have to go far to find the parties who did the work.

I believe the negro woman Hester who is out in the hall now knows a great deal about it.  My reasons for that belief are about 1 month ago there were 4 pistol shots fired in the rapid succession.  I ran with pistol to see where the shots were fired from & as I ran around the corner I had two men coming towards me.  I haled them & found that they were Mr. Wedell and Leonard one a policeman.  We could not find where the shots were fired from.




page9We finally found that this woman Hester had fired the shots.  She said she shot at a man who was coming toward her house & she did not know that she could get protection.  As I have heard from my wife she told Caroline Mason that she had once since then fired on the same man on Dec. [?] 85

About ½ past 8 or 9 o’clock while at my stable I heard some one [?] my stable […?…] After he passed I saw that it was a tall black man wearing dark black new looking clothes.  At about ¼ before 12 o’clock the night of Dec. [?] Jack Williams a colored man came & called me to come quick that there was a man in the [?] yard.  I got a light & went over there & Caroline Mason said that he is at Sti[?] corner.  I could not find.  Jack described the same man who I saw in the alley that night early (Caroline Mason claims that Hester said to her yesterday that she knew a good deal & that she knew the Hancock murder was going to be committed & that she knew of the things are yet to happen).





page10Caroline lives at 307 E. Water St.  & Hester lives at 309 E. Water St.

T. M. Clarke

Sworn and subscribed before me the 29th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.


M. H. Hancock witness testified as follows:

Susan C. Hancock deceased was my wife.

I reside on East Water Street No. 203 in City of Austin, Travis County, Texas.  I have been residing at this place with my family ever since March last.

My family consisted of myself, wife now deceased, Lena Hancock, Ida Hancock my children, a young man has been boarding at my house by the name of Dave Hagy.  He has been living there for about two months.





page11I am well satisfied that no one took supper at my house on the 24th of December 1885 but myself, my wife, my two daughters & Mr. Hagy.

We ate supper about seven o’clock that evening, may have been before seven I do not recollect.

Mr. Hagy and my wife left the house after supper.  Mr. Hagy went to the barber shop to get shaved so he said and my wife went over to Mr. Persinger’s and from there she went with Mrs. Persinger to the shoe store.  I think that my wife said that she went to Mr. Peacock’s shoe store.  My understanding was that my wife went with Mrs. Persinger to Mr. Peacock’s shoe store to either have the buttons on Mrs. Persinger’s shoes changed or had gone there to get Mrs. Persinger’s shoes that she had left there to have the buttons changed.  It was about one half hour or three quarters of an hour before my wife got back home.  Mr. Hagy got home a little afterwards.





page13From supper up to the time Mr. Hagy came home I never left the place.  Mr. Hagy and my two daughters went away to a party after Mr. Hagy returned from the barber shop.

I and my wife never left the house after Mr. Hagy and my two daughters went off to the party.

I think that it was a little after eight o’clock when Mr. Hagy & my two daughters left the house for the party.  The city town clock either struck eight a little before or after they left the house.

I do not know of anyone having come to my house during the time that Mr. Hagy & my two daughters had gone to the party and before I and my wife retired for the night.

On the night of 24 the day of December 1885 my wife retired in the room in the North East corner of my house and I retired in the room joining her room on the south – kind of a back room.





page13Mr. Hagy occupied the South West room joining my room.

The room in the North West corner of the house being the largest room in the house was used for a sitting room, it has a fire place in it.

There is a door opening left in the wall between my room and the one my wife occupied but it is closed up by the back part of a wardrobe standing against it in my wife’s room.  During the time that Mr. Hagy & my two daughters were gone and before I & my wife retired I think that I and my wife were reading for a while, while reading we were in the large room by a table near the fire place.  When my wife had gone to the shoe store I did not know that she had gone until she came back.  I never asked her where she had been, but she just told me.  I did not tell her that I objected to her going out, never told her any such thing.





page14I think that it was about nine o’clock when I and my wife retired – on the night of the 24th Dec 1885.

When we retired one lamp was left in Mr. Hagy’s room burning and one in large room on the piano which lamp was also burning.  The two out side doors were both shut and I think locked.  The windows were all down and fastened with a latch – the curtains were all left down.  The two blinds on the two front windows were open they were not shut – the other windows to the house have no blinds to them.

The first noise I heard was that my wife came into my room after we had retired for the night and went up to the table in my room and cut off a piece of cake and handed it into the bed to me before I got up and she took a piece also and we went into the




page15large room and sat at the fire place and ate it and I smoked my pipe.  I do not know how long we sat there, I sat there long enough to smoke up a pipe full of tobacco and a little longer, we may have sat there one half hour or longer I do not know.  We then went back to bed.  None of the other folks had come home then yet – it must have been 10 or 11 o’clock, I heard the clock strike but do not know if it was 10 or 11 o’clock.  I awakened a second time that night, I heard some noise it reminded me of the noise of night mare.  I got up and went to the room where my wife went to bed – the light was still burning and all the doors were wide open and propped upon, when I went into my wife’s room I found that she was not there.  I only noticed that my wife was not there and the quilts in




page16her bed were rolled over to one side.  I then ran back through the room where I slept in hearing some noise as some one was groaning or strangling.  I did not go to my bed but went on through my room and as I went out of my room at the door I struck a chair and I made some noise and I then heard some noise as if something dropped.  I did not know where it was but after I heard the noise as if something dropped the groaning sounded louder.  I was still running and came up to where she was lying on the ground, she was still groaning and as I stooped down and caught hold of her and saw that it was her, I then saw some person about twenty or twenty-five feet from me running.  I ran after him and in running I picked up a brick and threw at him as he went over the fence.




page17When I made the throw I was near the privy.  I then ran around the stable and went to the gate on the east side of the stable thinking that the man would run down the alley – but instead of coming down the alley he ran around the northwest corner of Mr. Burnett’s place and ran down towards the river.  The man that I saw must to have been a pretty good sized man he was about my height.  I am a good sized man, my height is about five feet and eleven & ½ inches.

I then ran back to where my wife was lying.  I took her and carried her to the platform south of the house leading to the kitchen from my room.  Mr. Persinger then came to where I was and helped me to carry my wife into the house.  Before Mr. Persinger came Mr. Hanel who lives in




page18the next yard came to the partition fence in his night clothes having heard me hollow, asked me what was the matter, I told him that some one had murdered my wife – at the time Mr. Hanel came to the fence I was just picking my wife up to carry her to the platform between my room and the kitchen then it was when Mr. Persinger came Mr. Hanel while at the fence said her would dress and get his horse and go for a doctor.

Mr. Persinger helped me to carry my wife into the large room, I then went into my wife’s room to get some quilts to lay her on and when I went in to get them I noticed blood on the pillow & sheet on my wife’s bed.  I got a quilt off my wife’s bed and put it under my wife’s head.





page19Mr. Hanel brought the ax around the house to where I and Mr. Persinger were at the platform where I had carried my wife.  Mr. Hanel said, “here is the ax”.

After this it was when I and Mr. Persinger carried my wife into the house.

Mr. Brunet came to my house at about the time I put the quilt under her head.

The quilting or pallet that was placed under my wife was gotten out of her room not from my room.  I do think that it was over a quarter of an hour after we put down the pallet before Dr. Burt came.  I left my pants in my room at the head of my bed on a chair and my coats were hanging up on the wall at the head of the bed.  After I took my wife into the house I went




page20into my room and looked for my pants.  Up to the time I found my pants I am not able to say whether or not I was at or on my bed.  After I got up & found my wife I hardly know what I did do.  A policeman came & got the ax.  It was my ax.  The ax Hanel brought around there was my ax.  It was bloody on the pole of the ax.  The blood was about like the wound on my wife’s head.  I saw no nail or painted instrument about the place.  I am not acquainted with the Phillips family – I never heard of James Phillips that I know of.  I do not know of my daughters visiting the Phillips family.  I did not receive any injuries there that night.  Haggy came home with my daughters from the party ½ hour after my wife was found.  They left to go there together near 8 o’clock that night for the party & I saw none of them that night any more until ½ to ¾ hour after my wife was found.  I know




page21of no one who had ill will against me or my wife.  My wife visited but [?] [?] had a good deal of company.  For the past 4 or 5 years she has been sick with Rheumatism.  She was 43 years of age.  We have been married since 1866.

M. H. Hancock

Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 29th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.

Hester Campbell col. Being duly sworn testified:

I live on Water St. in this City.  Have lived there since June last.  Come from San Antonio.  I have been married but my husband has been gone 8 years.  I was acquainted with the Hancock family.  Had known them in San Antonio but did not do any thing for them there.  I come here before they did.  I saw it in my slumbers 2 or 3 weeks ago and again Friday before Christmas that something was going to happen down there.





page22I was working at Townsend’s wagon yard and I dreamt that I went out into the country & that Julia McCullough come running over saying Hester you all had better get away, the white folks is coming over here to murder you all.  I thought that first as she got there they all ran & left me & that some one shot me & I then woke up & was with my children.  And then last Friday night a week ago I had another dream.  I dreamt of great distress at first I thought it was fire and a great crowd all colored people, but instead of being fire it turned out to be murder.  In my dream I saw a colored woman who I knew but I could not call her name.

Hester Campbell X her mark

Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 29th day of Dec. 1885.  Wiliam Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.




page23D. C. Hagy, being sworn testified:

I am boarding at Hancock’s for near two months.  My house is in San Antonio.  I have been working at the carpenter’s trade.  I am a single man.  I took supper at Hancock’s on the evening of the Dec. 24 / 85.  We ate supper about 7 o’clock.  The entire family & myself took supper there.  I was acquainted with the family in San Antonio.  Had known the old man for 3 years or more.  Before going to the party on the night of Dec. 24 / 85 I came up town after supper & was gone from ½ to ¾ of an hour.  No other person left the house that I know of after super & before we went to the party.  Hancock did not go off before we went to the party.  I do not know of Mrs. Hancock’s leaving the house that night.  She was at the house when I left & when I came back after supper & before going to the party.

In the Hancock house the following





page24is a diagram of the same –














page25Mr. Hancock & his youngest daughter usually slept together in the S. E. Room of the house.  Mrs. Hancock & the oldest daughter usually slept together in the N. E. room of the house & I slept in the S. W. room of the house.  We left to go to the party about 8 o’clock.  Lena & Ida Hancock & myself went we stayed there until about near 12 o’clock.  The party was a Mr. Ivey’s, South of [?] brick store.  I think the relations of the family were peaceful.  He drank once in a while & a little made him feel funny.  I did not stay at the party all the time it was going on.

D. C. Hagy

Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 29th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.




page26A. M. Persinger being sworn states:

I live on the corner of E. Water & Brazos St in the city of Austin.  I have lived in Austin since 1873 and at my present house since Feby. Last.  On the night of Dec. 24th 1885 I was at home.  I went home about half past 6 o’clock & went to bed about 8 o’clock.  I was not out of my house after.  I went home until after Mrs. Hancock was [?]  I live about 20 to 25 feet from the Hancock house.  I got home before dark on that night I did not see or hear of Mrs. Hancock being at my house that night.  I do not think she was at my house after I got home.  I knew her.  My wife was at home or came home after the time I got [?] she said.  She had her up to Peacock’s store to get some shoes fixed.  She said Mrs. Hancock had been




page27with her.  My wife did not leave the house after I got home that night.  I was in bed asleep with my wife when the disturbance occurred at Hancock’s.  My wife woke me up.  My wife spoke of the disturbance & went with lamp to back door.  I then heard Hancock call my name.  I got up & put on my pants & shoes on & went out the front way.  Hancock then said “somebody has murdered my wife and dragged her off”.  I went over to the premises & found Hancock with his wife on the platform at the back door of the house.  The first thing I did was to call to Mrs. Hancock to know if she knew any thing.  She made no response.  When I first ran out of my house I looked all around the premises it being a moon light night but I saw no one except Hancock.  He was in his drawers & underclothes and […?…] said he could




page28not find his clothes.  I saw no one get over the fence & no one at any time saw any body about there or running away from there that was suspicious.  I saw no rocks thrown at any one.  I asked Hancock if he knew any thing about it & he said he saw a tall man with dark clothes run away but could not tell whether he was white or black, but said he threw a brick bat at him.  I went to bed about 8 o’clock and before going to bed ½ hour I shot off my pistol 3 times.  My wife sat up until about 10 o’clock.  I suppose it was 4 or 5 minutes after my wife woke me up before I went out & when I got there Hancock had his wife on the platform.  The back fence was a picket fence 6 feet high.  Hancock’s pants & clothing were found in the yard.

I did not see Hancock go into his room until the Dr. came.  I did not go to the bed in which Hancock slept & I did not see him go into that room at any time




page29after the woman was found and before Dr. Burt got there.  The lamp was burning light in Hancock’s house & the doors front and rear were wide open.  There was no light in Hagy’s room.

A. M. Persinger

Sworn to before me this 30th day of December – 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J. P.

Jack Williams being sworn testified:

I live on E. Water Street city of Austin – I was at home on the night of Dec. 24, 1885 – I went home before work and remained there without leaving until the next morning.  I live 1 block distant from Hancock’s place.  I know nothing of the trouble there until the next morning.  I know nothing about it.

Jack Williams

Sworn to before me this 30th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J.P.




page30Belle Williams being sworn states:

I am the wife of Jack Williams.  I was at home all night on Dec. 24th 1885.  Jack was there also.  We slept together and neither one of us left the house that night.  About 2 o’clock by our clock, which was not correct, I heard of Mrs. Hancock being killed.  We did not get up Jack was awake & heard it also.

Belle Williams X her mark

Sworn to before me this 30th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J.P.

Caroline Mason being sworn testified:

I was at home asleep on the night of Dec. 24, 1885.  I was at home all night.  I got home before dark.  The next morning after the murder Hester Campbell told me that she had a dream & saw the things in her dream.  I never heard her speak of it until after the murder.  I did not hear of the trouble until after it was all over




page31when some officers came to my house with a colored man for me to identify & they spoke of Mrs. Hancock having been killed.

C. Mason

Sworn to before me this 30th day of December A. D. 1885.  William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J.P.














page32Austin, Texas, December 30th 1885

We the Jury of inquest over the remains of Susan C. Hancock find that the deceased came to her death at about half after six o’clock p.m. on the 28th day of December A. D. 1885 at her residence No. 203 East Water Street, in City of Austin Travis County Texas from the effects of fracture of skull and a sharp pointed instrument being driven into her right ear said injuries were inflicted by the hands of a person or persons unknown to the Jury between the hours of Eleven and Twelve o’clock p.m. on the 24th day of December AD 1885 in the premises occupied by the family of the deceased at No. 203 East Water Street in the city of Austin Travis County, Texas.

J. H. Maxey

M. M. Long

F. K. Wright

W. M. Robertson

J. M. Davidson

Ed Junck

Attest William Von Rosenberg, Jr. J.P.



Mothers and Sons


Unidentified albumen print.

One morning before dawn in the summer of 1883, a strange persistent cry echoed through a west Austin neighborhood and caught the attention of two women, Sophia Phillips and Sallie Mack, both of whom lived nearby. They went to investigate and much to their surprise they soon came upon an abandoned infant lying in the grass. There was no sign of the mother. Inquiries were made but no one could find where the child had come from. The infant was described as a beautiful baby girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and later many couples came forward with offers to adopt her. In the meantime the child was placed in the care of Sallie Mack, an African American caretaker and laundress whom the newspaper referred to as “Aunt Sally, …a kind-hearted colored woman.” (1)

A little over two years later another girl would be found lying in the grass in the same neighborhood; but in a terrible reversal of the foundling, the girl, Eula Phillips, daughter-in-law of Sophia Phillips, would be found murdered. Like the foundling, Eula would be placed in the care of Sallie Mack who was given the heartbreaking task of cleaning Eula’s lifeless, battered body in preparation for burial the following day.

Unidentified albumen print. Austin, TX.

Unidentified albumen print. Austin, TX.

Sallie Mack (1830 – 1919?) was born in Virginia about 1830. Records indicate she was living in Texas by the 1850s and she was perhaps in Austin by that time but she doesn’t show up in city records until her marriage to Barney Cook in Austin in 1876. (Although married to Cook, she evidently still went by the name Mack and all four of her adult children used Mack as a surname.)* In 1885 Sallie and Barney lived on Colorado Street across from City Hall, about a block east of the Phillips residence. Sallie Mack is listed in Travis County Census through 1910 and in the City Directory through 1918, living with her granddaughter Jeanetta Addison and great-granddaughter, Erma. 

Sallie Mack was evidently a resilient woman who had spent her life attending the needs of her family and her neighbors and was evidently a well-respected member of the community.  The same could not be said of her son, Alex Mack, whose criminal history and reputation did him no favors when he was found in the vicinity of the Ramey murder in August of 1885. According to police, Mack fled the scene and was apprehended after being pursued by bloodhounds. Marshal Grooms Lee considered Mack a prime suspect but he did not have enough evidence against Mack to get an indictment against him for murder.

Alexander Mack (1857- ?), born in Texas, Sallie Mack’s oldest son, Alex, had the notoriety of being one of Austin’s most frequently arrested citizens, with charges ranging from drunk and disorderly conduct and fighting to petty theft. In the early 1880s he worked in the Club House Saloon on Congress Avenue.  He eventually served time in the State Penitentiary in Huntsville and there are records of him being arrested in Austin into the late 1890s. 

On the night of 3 October 1885 Alex Mack was taken into custody by Marshal Lee and police officers James Conner and Isaiah Johnson.  Accompanying them were two Pinkerton detectives who had been brought in to work on the case after the Ramey murder.

According to a statement given by Alex Mack to the Austin Dispatch, the officers beat him and staged a mock lynching in order to extract a confession from him. At that time Pinkerton Agents were notorious for their strong-arm tactics and the Mack incident reflects the Pinkerton’s modus operandi of brute force and intimidation to achieve their desired results. However in this instance the plan backfired when Mack did not confess or cooperate. Afterwards Mack told the story of his abuse while in police custody to the Austin Dispatch. Marshal Lee offered his rebuttal to the charges in the Austin Daily Statesman saying Mack’s injuries were only the result of his own struggles against lawful arrest.

The Austin City Council authorized a select committee to look into the incident and the committee (whose members included Jesse Driskill and former sheriff, Radcliff Platt) heard testimony from witnesses including Sallie Mack, who testified on behalf of her son. Marshal Lee, Officers Conner and Johnson declined to appear before the committee.

Soon afterwards, Sallie Mack made another appearance in an Austin courtroom – at the trial of Sophia Phillips’s son James for the murder of his wife Eula.

Sallie Mack testified, for the State, that she lived near the Phillips house, and, about two o’clock on the night of the killing, she was called by Mr. George Allen to attend and assist the Phillips family. A large crowd was gathered when witness arrived. When Eula’s body was brought in, it was washed and dressed by witness, and then was laid out in the parlor. (2)

Sophia Todd Phillips (1826-1888) was born in South Carolina as was her husband James. The Phillips were married in South Carolina; they briefly lived in Louisiana before eventually settling in Austin, Texas in 1855. James Phillips was a builder and had a carpentry shop on the premises of the Phillips residence. They had five daughters (including a set of twins) and one son, James Jr.

On the night of the murder of Eula Phillips, Sophia Phillips was the first to discover the scene of the crime, to see the blood-stained bed and to speak with her injured son.  She was the first witness called by the prosecution during the subsequent trial, but it was stated that she “was so distraught by the agonies of that tragic night that she could not now be exact as to all the particulars.” (3)  While she did describe some episodes of James’s ill temper she also she defended her son, stating he had quit drinking four or five weeks before the murder, and she stated that he had settled down and was looking for a job. She also stated that after she told him that Eula was dead he had stated, “then I’ll go to hell for I can’t live without her.” (4)

There are some striking similarities between the Mack and the Phillips families:  both families had lived in Austin since the 1850s and had likely lived in the same neighborhood for much of that time. Sophia and Sallie were approximately the same age. Sophia Phillips had six children, Sallie Mack had four that are known. Sallie Mack undoubtedly made herself available to neighborhood families that needed domestic help and the Phillips would have employed her on occasion.

The parallels between the Phillips and Mack families in relation to the Servant Girl Murders are also notable. Both Sophia’s son James and Sallie’s son Alex came under suspicion in connection with the Servant Girl Murders, although for different crimes under different circumstances.

While James Phillips’s treatment at the hands of local law enforcement does not compare to what happened to Alex Mack, James Phillips was actually convicted of murder by an Austin jury. In a turn of events that might be considered surprising for the time period, Alex Mack was exonerated of the charges against him and the police officers who abused Mack that were held to account for their treatment of him.

James Phillips, Jr. (1861-1929) was born in Austin. James married Eula Burditt in 1883 and had one son, Thomas, in 1884. James was tried and found guilty of the murder of his wife Eula in 1886. That conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals later that year.

James’s brief tumultuous marriage to Eula was documented in unflattering detail by the local newspapers in which he was portrayed as an immature, jealous, drunkard; however it is unfair to judge his entire life by the negative press he received for a few weeks in 1886.

The Austin City Directory listed James’s occupation as “teamster” in the late 1880s. James continued living at the family residence until 1891 when he married Ida Hart. The couple moved to Georgetown, Texas and over the years James worked variously as a farmer, a music teacher and a carpenter. (Interestingly, the Phillips lived next door to J. Frank Dobie while Dobie was a student at Southwestern University).

James and Ida went on to raise four children before Ida’s untimely death in 1910 at the age of 41. James and Ida Phillips have numerous descendants still living in Texas.

The Phillips residence on Hickory Street was sold and demolished in 1891.  James Phillips Sr. and Thomas Phillips moved in with George and Dora Allen, James’s older sister.  James Phillips Sr. died in 1909.  Sophia Phillips’s other daughters remained in Austin and were married and had families, many of whom spent the rest of their lives in Austin.

* African American wives would sometimes keep the last name of a deceased husband to memorialize their affection and respect for the late husband.

1. Austin Weekly Statesman 19 July 1883.

2. James Phillips vs. The State. Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Appeals of Texas. 1883-1889. Austin : Hutchings Printing.

3. Ibid

4. Ibid

All photographs from the collection of the author.

The Great Bat Slaughter of 1885

Bats 1885Austin, Texas is the seasonal home to a large population of Mexican free-tailed bats who spend their summers under the Congress Avenue bridge on the edge of downtown.  According to Wikipedia it is the largest urban colony in North America, with an estimated 1.5 million bats.

The Congress Avenue bat colony is a popular tourist attraction and bat aficionados line the bridge on summer evenings to witness the impressive display as the colony departs into the skies over Austin at dusk.

By contrast, in the 1880s the presence of bats in Austin was not met with the same enthusiasm.  As the city grew in the late 19th century, the area bat population increasingly sought refuge in the urban setting, frequently roosting in downtown buildings, barns and homes.  Austinites regarded them as household pests, straying from attics into dining rooms and disturbing suppers.

In March 1885, William Frank “Doc” Carver, better known as Dr. Carver, a former dentist,  hunting guide, and self-styled frontiersman, was making his way across Texas starring in a touring shooting exhibition that showcased his renowned marksmanship skills to large and enthusiastic crowds, sometimes with local challengers, shooting contests and wagering.

Dr. Carver had started his career as an exhibition marksman in the late 1870s; he briefly teamed up with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but by 1885 he and Bill Cody had parted ways and Carver was touring with his own show company.

Dr. William Frank Carver 1883

Dr. William Frank Carver 1883

For the highlight of his show in Austin, Carver had announced that he would shoot 1000 bats in 80 minutes. A large crowd attended the show at the Capital State Fairgrounds (located in what is now Hyde Park).  The Statesman described Carver’s show, the targets and techniques, some of which were provided by the crowd and kept as souvenirs.  After an afternoon of shooting of targets, “the real fun of the occasion — the shooting of the bats” commenced.  The roosting location of the bats is not named but it was possibly the fairground pavilion, which evidently must have housed enormous numbers of bats in the immediate vicinity. (see diagram below)

As the bats took to the sky at dusk, Carver used a repeating shotgun to lay waste to the bats.  The Statesman reported “it fairly seemed to rain bats, but the slaughter never ceased.”  Dr. Carver successfully killed 1000 bats in 78 minutes.  The Statesman praised Carver’s accuracy and “powers of endurance that few men possess.”

Bat Face Illustration North American Fauna No. 18. 1897.Ironically, after the smoke cleared Dr. Carver suffered the indignity of being fined for bat hunting without a license.  The fine was levied by Justice of the Peace Von Rosenberg, who perhaps prefigured Austin’s contemporary bat conservationists or more likely saw the opportunity to add a few extra dollars to the city coffers.  The Statesman subsequently defended Carver with the opinion that “it ought not to require any license for the extermination of the winged nuisances” and that “the next legislature should provide a bounty for their destruction”.

In spite of Dr. Carver’s onslaught, Austin’s bats remained and thrived.  Dr. Carver’s shooting exhibitions toured the world the world for the next decade.

Capital Fair Grounds 1882

Capital Fair Grounds 1882


Austin Daily Statesman. 31 Mar 1885.