The Lynch Family Murder

The account below is based on factual evidence, with a few deductions based on that evidence and a little embellishment to make the story more interesting.

145 years ago, in 1878, Texas experienced one of the worst mass murders in its history.

George Lynch's parents came to Texas shortly after it had won its independence from Mexico in 1836.  They bought a small tract of farm land in rural Grimes county near the remote stagecoach stop of Nolansville 1 where George was born in 1839.  He and his brothers and sisters learned to work on the farm as soon as they could walk, feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, getting water from the well and other chores.  They learned to tend and weed the fields and pick cotton, milk the cow and gather vegetables.  Fishing and hunting was both a pastime and a necessity to provide food for the family.  As he grew older, he learned how to mend and build fences and to fell trees and prepare them for building barns, sheds and cabins.

Violence wasn't unusual in early Texas.  It had been an empty wilderness with herds of wild horses and buffalo and scattered Indian tribes only 50 years previous.  The settlers faced daily struggles providing for shelter and food and combatting the elements, sickness and disease.  These pioneers on the Texas frontier were acutely aware of the possibility of Indian raids, cattle rustling and other criminal activities.  The Texas Rangers, sheriffs and constables found it difficult to patrol the large, mostly unpopulated, territory, leading to the people to resort to vigilante justice.  Petty disagreements often escalated to physical violence, riots and even murder.  In addition to the everyday conflicts, the Texans had seen numerous organized conflicts in Texas, often involving the Texas Militia, including its battles for independence, the campaigns to combat Indian depredations and the devastating Civil War.

Most people lived isolated lives on farms and ranches, with neighbors often a mile or more distant.  A few lived in small villages and towns often having only a saloon and a general store and larger communites might have a blacksmith or drayman or a post office or church.  More established communities would provide a one-room schoolhouse to provide education for the children.  Those towns and villages were where people got their supplies and shipped cotton, cattle and farm produce to larger city markets.  They also might attend occasional social functions like dances and holiday celebrations there.

Geo & Cylannae marriage license
Lincoln-Hamlin parade flag
Lincoln-Hamlin flag

The family of Joseph and Missouri (Cobbs) Hargrave arrived from Louisiana in 1848 with their two chilren2 and settled on a farm in the same area as the Lynch family.  Their eldest daughter was Cyllanae.  She had been born in Vermillion Parish, Louisiana in 1842 and she met George Lynch as they grew up near each other.  As they entered their teens, George began to court her, and when he turned 20 and she was 17, they went to Hockley, in Harris county,3 and married there July 4, 1860.4

A month after they married, in August of 1860, George joined a committee against abolitionism at Hockley and signed a "resolution of vigilance"5 which expressed support for the actions taken at Occoquan, Virginia6 where they opposed the election of presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln and his vice president choice Hannibal Hamlin and tore down the presidential campaign banner erected by twenty-four black Republican citizens of Occuquan.7

The local community, and the state, was in a stir over the possibility of the Republicans taking the presidency as they had promised to abolish slavery which was vital to the economy of the region.  Further, the thought of the federal government telling them what to do was repugnant to them.

In September, a month after his signing the resolution in Hockley, George and Cyllanae had moved to Lynchburg, where he took a job as a clerk in Thompkin's General Store, as shown on the 1860 census and their first child, a daughter named Caroline, was born.

Tempers were rising throughout the southern states over abolition and, in December of 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed quickly by Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.  When the guns of war sounded at Fort Sumpter, George enlisted in the Confederate cause, joining the Texas 20th Cavalry.8

The family was poor, and when George left to fight for the Confederacy, Cyllanae couldn't care and provide for their home and infant daughter by herself, so she moved back to Courtney in Grimes county to be with her family for support.

George Lynch, while with the 20th, fought in the Battle of Galveston in January of 1863 under General Magruder when they expelled the occupying Union troops.  Two years later, the war was over, and the 20th surrendered in Galveston June 2, 1865.  George returned to his wife and five year old daughter at Courtney, but George's absence during the war and the difficulties of reconstruction following it proved especially challenging for the Lynch family, so George filed for help as a Confederate Indigent Family. 9  The next year, 1866, they had their second child, Loraine, followed by two more children, Marion and Joseph, in Courtney by July of 1870.10

The Lynch family moved to a farm in south Waller county, on Spring Creek near Field's Store and not far from Hockley, where George built a log cabin, with one end cut out for a mud and stick chimney, and two attached sheds for food storage and a smokehouse.  They had four more children there.  Cyllanae maintained the home, performing many tasks, including taking care of the babies, knitting clothes, washing them at the creek and darning them when they were worn.  She was fortunate to have an iron kettle and skillet which she used to cook stews and soups and also to make soap and candles.  She had to stoop over the fireplace to cook the meals and bake bread in the iron skillet  When she was not caring for the children and mending clothes, she was canning and smoking food to prepare for the winter.  She also planted flowers and a small plot of vegetables just outside their home.  George provided for his family by selling crops, cattle and hogs.  He taught his children to help their mother and to assist him plow, plant, weed and harvest the vegetables and to pick the cotton he grew to be taken to the gin.  He began work before daylight and worked until after dark.  Game was plentiful, and he could often bring back something for the family to eat.  After work, he would return for the evening meal and help put the babies to bed.  The family's recreation consisted of swimming in the creek, hunting and attending preachings at the homes of neighbors and an occasional celebration or dance in Hockley.

Musco Boulware was a cotton planter from Fairfield county. South Carolina11  He moved his plantation to Alachua county, Florida by 1852 and is on the 1860 census there.12  In 1860, his plantation was valued at $5,300 and his personal fortune was given as $10,180, with eleven slaves13 to work his fields.  He lost his slave labor in 1865, following the Civil War, which hurt his cotton production and sometime after 1870, he moved to a place on Spring Creek in Waller county, Texas, next door to the George Lynch farm.

A map showing the rail lines connecting the places we know George visited and the red X shows the approximate locaton of the Lynch Home.
1879 Map – red X approximate location of the Lynch home.

The relationship between the family of Musco Boulware and George Lynch unfortunately wasn't friendly.  The great disparity in the economic circumstance of the two families could have been part of the problem.  Fences were difficult to build and maintain, and cattle would sometimes cross into adjacent fields and trample the crops and this was definitely a bone of contention between the families.  George was active with a group combatting cattle thieving in the area and was secretary to it, and that may have added to the contentious atmosphere between the two families.

The tension between the Boulware and Hargrave families grew until one of Musco's sons, Reuben, on two occasions pointed a gun at George.  George reported him to the sheriff both times and Reuben was fined.  Reuben's older brother, William, on one occasion, assaulted George while he was returning home from Fields Store, pulling him from his wagon and beating him severely.

In August of 1878, George & Cyllanae Lynch had their eighth child, a son they named Hayes.  George and the boys had been busy getting the cotton picked and prepared for market.  Shortly after, the family experienced an unimaginable tragedy as Cyllanae contracted an illness and, after a few days, she died.  George was left with a family of eight children to provide for and a farm to tend.  The children, led by Carrie, who was 17, had to continue with their farm chores and, additionally, they had to take over the household chores, making meals and caring for their infant brother.

The next month saw the days getting shorter, with mild temperatures and cool nights.  On Monday, September 10th, a strong norther caught the people of east Texas by surprise with sharply cooler temperatures, gale force winds and heavy rain in Galveston, damaging some of the boats.14   The norther caused unpleasant conditions as far inland as San Antonio15 and brought drenching rains across the coastal plains.  The days that followed were brisk and pleasant with occasional rain showers..  It was the end of the summer growing season and the crops were being harvested and the fields plowed under for winter planting, but the recent rain and muddy ground made it more difficult.

George and his kids had been working the last few weeks bringing in the corn and beans and other vegetables and picking their cotton to take to Hockley to sell.  The first thing Thursday morning, the 12th of September, George butchered a hog and put the meat in the shed he used for a smokehouse to preserve it.  The younger kids performed their daily chores, including gathering the eggs from the chicken coop and feeding the hogs and cattle.  The boys worked outside, gathering more vegetables from the garden and picking fruit from the trees.  These were brought into the house so the older kids could can some of it in preparation for winter and use the rest for meals.  George was busy that afternoon plowing the fields in preparation for a winter crop.  The older children, seventeen-year-old Carrie and twelve-year-old Lorine, supervised the rest in doing their chores and then the younger ones went off to play down by the creek.

It was another long day for George and the children.  They were tired and it was getting dark and time to turn in for the night, when one of his children ran out to tell him they'd seen an ox grazing and trampling the crops.  He didn't know whether it was his ox or someone else's, but he didn't want it damaging his plantings, so he saddled his horse and went looking for the animal.  The sun set about half past six16 and it was already getting dark, but a full moon17 rose about an hour later,18 giving him some light but he was unable to locate the beast so, about 9:00, he came back to the house, where Carrie and Loraine, his two oldest daughters, told him they'd seen the ox go back around the pond.  It was late and the children needed to be fed and put to bed, and there was an infant to attend to, so he called it a day, unsaddled his horse and put it in the shed and went inside to have supper with his family.

After they'd eaten, the dishes were washed and put away and the candles were put out and they settled down to sleep.  George didn't go to his bed, as he wanted to wait for the infant to wake up so he could be fed and have his diaper changed, but he was exhausted, so he lay down on the floor next to the baby.

While waiting for little baby Hayes to wake up, he dozed off.  He was awakened around midnight by an unusual noise outside and he got up and went to see if it was the ox.  Looking around in the moonlight, he saw something move out by the road and went to investigate.  What followed would become one of the worst crimes in all of Texas' history.  Someone stepped out from cover and shot George in the chest.  He stumbled backward in shock and the assailant shot again, breaking his collar bone, whereupon George fell unconscious.  Thinking they'd been successful in killing him, they proceeded to torch his house – with his children asleep inside.  In the span of an hour in the wee hours of Friday the 13th, everything George had worked for his entire life, his home and his children were taken from him in that awful conflagration.

A distant neighbor, Harry Lado, heard the report of a gun and got up and looked out his door.  He saw what at first he thought was moonlight reflecting off the smokehouse on the east side of the Boulware residence, but realized it was a fire.  Stepping outside, he saw that the Lynch house was on fire.  About the same time, young Mattie Boulware woke up and looked outside and shouted "Mr. Lynch's house is on fire" and aroused her family.  Lado hurriedly dressed and went to investigate and was joined by another neighbor, James Hargrave, a brother-in-law of George Lynch.  When they reached the terrible scene, the fire was intense and very hot and the north part of the house fell in as they approached.  They found George lying incoherent in the lane with gunshot wounds to his chest and neck.  They tried to stop the bleeding and they picked him up and carried him to Mr. Weaver's, a neightbor about a mile away.

The next day, justice of the peace, John Pinckney, went to investigate and appointed six men as a jury of inquest to help him.19  The inquest found that all eight children had perished in the blaze and, strangely, it appeared that not one of them had moved from where they slept.  Suspicion was immediately cast upon Reuben Boulware, but he was asleep in his bed when it occurred, as confirmed by his family,20 and no other person was implicated at that time.  George was taken to a nephew's house in Hockley where he was attended by a doctor who extracted the bullets and found they were .22 caliber balls fired from a pistol.  One of the coroner's jury, 27 year old Robert Finklea, considered a valuable witness in the investigation of the murders, was himself murdered at Hempstead only four days later,21 adding to the mystery surrounding the case.  (The citizens of Texas were, understandably, suspicious of the law enforcement in Waller county 22 and suspicion was cast on the coroner, John M. Pinckney, but his reputation was strongly defended.) 23

George was unaware of the fate of his children until being told by one of his friends, upon which time he wept uncontrollably and realizing all he held dear was gone, he sank into a deep depression.  He swore he would find the murderer or murderers, if it took him the rest of his life, but he was in a lot of pain from his wounds and there was fear the killer might try to finish the job, so his relatives prevailed on him to stay in Hockley where he had friends and relatives to help him and to watch out for any sign of danger.

Sometime before the murder of his children, he'd had several altercations with a young man of 22 named John Binford.24  George had Binford arrested for drawing a gun on him and they later drew weapons on each other.25 26  A month and a half after George was shot and his family murdered, he was walking in town when he saw John Binford and he discharged both barrels of his shotgun at him, wounding him severely.27  He later told investigators that his shooting Binford was over an old grievance.  He expressed the belief that Binford was looking to kill him and that he shot in self-defense but that he did not believe John had anything to do with the killing of his family.28

The mystery surrounding the murder of the Lynch children was compounded by the fact that George couldn't recall exactly what had happened, offering several different versions, causing some to suspect that he had killed his own children and had shot himself to cover it up, but the evidence clearly showed he did not shoot himself and there was nothing substantive to support the suspicion that George had committed the crime.  No other person was remotely considered as a suspect in the foul deed.  The governor offered a substantial reward for evidence,29 but nothing useful was uncovered.

The brutal killing of his family had occurred near Field's Store in the southern part of Waller county, that county having been known for some time as a place with an unusually high amount of violence, earning its county seat, Hempstead, the nickname "Six Shooter Junction".  True to that tradition, exactly one year to the day after George Lynch's family was murdered, another Hargrave brother-in-law, Frank, killed a son of his old neighbor, Musco Boulware III, who was named Musco IV at Field's Store.  Witnesses said the shooting was prompted by an argument over a horse race,30 31 but some suspected it might be revenge for the killing of Frank's nieces and nephews, the children of his older sister Cyllanae and her husband George Lynch.  Musco Boulware IV was 23 when he died and Frank Hargrave was 19 when he shot him.

George wasn't a man easily frightened and he wasn't worried about being targeted by the killer of his family, but the pain and grief was heavy on him, and he needed to find a way to support himself and to try to forget, so he left for Leadville, Colorado.  Perhaps he followed someone he suspected of killing his family, but it's more likely he was bitten by the gold-rush fever, prompting him to leave Texas and go to a town only recently established because of the gold and silver being found in the vicinity32 where he is found on the 1880 census as a miner.33  Leadville was considerably different than anything he had known before – it was a rough and tough mining town of saloons, assay offices, bordellos – fast talkers and swindlers – where everyone was a newcomer, strangers looking to get rich with avarice, covetousness, envy and suspicion around every corner.  And the environment took some getting used to – it was at 10,200 feet elevation, just below the tree line, and the winters were uncomfortably harsh, unlike the sea level east Texas coastal plains he was accustomed to.

He partnered with Charles Lyles on a claim and they dug in the hard ground and panned the streams for gold near Leadville.  As often happens, disagreements built between the two claim holders, culminating in a fight and George shot and killed Charles, something he attributed to self defense.

George was arrested, tried and convicted of murder June 18, 1881 and given a life sentence in the Colorado Territorial Prison.  Twelve years later, on April 24, 1893, he received a pardon from the Colorado governor because of good behavior and letters of support from friends.34

Nothing further is known about George Lynch and the identity of the killer of his children remains a mystery.  Someone named George Lynch has been found advertising as a mining consultant in New Mexico and another in south Texas, perhaps the same person, perhaps the same George Lynch but nothing has been found to indicate the identity of any of them.  A G. W. Lynch bought 80 acres in Weiland, Hunt county, Texas in 1901.  Once again, it is not known who this person was or what became of George Lynch.

End Notes

Lynch Family Murder Menu:

This article has adhered to the known facts as they exist.  No record has been found of George Lynch's early years – nothing about his parents or siblings.  Newspaper articles indicate his father and a sister were still living at the time of the murders, but they haven't been identified.35  That same article also says his sister married J. Eberly.  No record of such a union has been found, but his sister-in-law, Virginia Ann Hargrave, married Jerome Eberly and another sister, Fanny Hargrave, married his brother William.

The first operating railroad began in 1853 and quickly grew to service the area where George Lynch lived.  A reporter wrote of a trip he took by wagon in 1854, after 10 days of rain, from Houston to Hockley, a distance of about 40 miles, and said it took 1-1/2 days with an overnight stay due to the muddy roads.  He later made the same trip by train in 1857 saying it took 1-1/2 hour.

Questions:

  • Why did Geo. Lynch shoot John Binford? 36
  • What evidence was Robert Finklea going to give before he was murdered by Ed Young?  He was reported to have been a "valuable state witness". 37
  • Why did John Steele want to impede the investigation into the murders?  He was one of six men appointed to the jury of inquest by J.P. Jno. Pinckney, but it was alleged he tried to stifle the investigation. 38
  • Was the case "Lynch v. The State, 24 Texas Ct. App., 350" related to the Lynch murders? 39
  • Why did George move to Leadville, Colorado? 40
  • Why did he kill Beuford and Charles Lyles? – (Did he kill Beuford or was that an error in reporting?) 41 42
  • Did he relocate to New Mexico or south Texas after his release?
  • Is he the G.W. Lynch who bought land in Weiland, Hunt county in 1901?

The "22 ball" bullet that was extracted from George Lynch in 1878 was likely fired from a Smith & Wesson Model 1 that fired .22 rimfire bullets.  Rimfire bullets were first produced in 1854 and the type used in the Model 1 are still used today.  The Model 1 was introduced in 1857 and production ended in 1882.  It was a single-action revolver that held seven .22 short black powder cartridges.  It was very popular and more of the S&W Model 1 were sold than all other revolvers produced at the time in the U.S.A. combined. 43 44  In 1860, it sold for $12.50 which, adjusted for the change in value of the dollar, would cost about $365 today.  Other revolvers were of larger calibers, e.g. .32, .44. .45LC, etc.

S&W Model 1, 1st generation.

Footnotes

  1. Nolansville — History of Navasota, Texas Staff Writer; Explore US.
  2. 1850 census, Grimes county, TX; Joseph & Missouri Hargrave United States Census, 1850 FamilySearch
  3. Lynchburg, Texas Hazelwood, Claudia, Handbook of Texas Online
  4. Texas, County Marriage Index, 1837-1977 marriage of G. W. Lynch & C. Hargrave, July 4, 1869, Houston, Texas; FamilySearch; image 387 of 698; multiple county clerks, Texas.
  5. Citizens' Meeting At Hockley. The Weekly Telegraph, (Houston, Tex.), Tuesday, August 21, 1860, p. 3, col. 1. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  6. History of Occoquan, Virginia Visit Occoquan Virginia
  7. The Troubles At Occoquan. Richmond Times-Dispatch, (Richmond, VA.), Monday, July 30, 1860, p. 3, col. 2. Newspapers.com transcription
  8. Deduced from surrounding evidence (see: G.W. Lynch: Civil War)
  9. Confederate Indigent Families Lists of Texas 1863-1865. Geo. Lynch, Grimes county, Texas. San Marcos, Texas: L. Mearse, 1995.
  10. 1870 census George & Plomonia Lynch; Courtney, Grimes county, Texas United States Census, 1880 FamilySearch
  11. 1850 census, Fairfield county, SC; Musco Boulware United States Census, 1850 FamilySearch
  12. 1860 census, Alachua county, FL; Musco Boulware United States Census, 1860 FamilySearch
  13. 1860 slave schedule, Alachua county, FL; Musco Boulware United States Census, 1860 FamilySearch
  14. The Norther The Galveston Daily News, Wednesday, September 11, 1878, p. 4, col. 3. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  15. San Antonio norther: Sept. 10, 1878 The Galveston Daily News, September 11, 1878, p. 4, col. 2. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History.
  16. Sunrise, Sunset Time for Houston, Texas, USA World-TimeDate.com
  17. Moon Schedule For September 12 1878. Waning Gibbous Moongiant.com.
  18. Moonrise, Moonset, and Moon Phase in Houston, Texas, September 1878 Timeanddate.com
  19. Giving The Testimony Taken At The Inquest, But Sheds No Light And Furnishes No Clue To The Guilty Party - - A Black Business. The Waco Daily Examiner, (Waco, TX), Sunday, September 22, 1878, p. 3, col. 1-2. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  20. Deduced from surrounding evidence
  21. Robert Finklea Killed. Telegram, (Brenham, Tex.), Friday, October 4, 1878, p. 1, col. 4. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  22. Affairs In Waller County. The Galveston Daily News, (Galveston, TX.), Wednesday, October 16, 1878, p. 1, col. 6. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  23. Character Of J. M. Pinckney. The Galveston Daily News, Wednesday, October 16, 1878, p. 1, col. 1. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  24. John Addison Binford (1856-1928) 72 years old. FindaGrave.com
  25. Details Of The Lynch-binford Shooting. The Galveston Daily News, Saturday, November 9, 1878, p. 1, col. 4. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  26. Lynch Destined For Stormy Life. The Brenham Weekly Banner, Friday, November 18, 1878, p. 2, col. 8. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  27. Shooting Of Jno. Binford By Geo. Lynch. The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, November 7, 1878, p. 1, col. 7. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  28. John Binford Defended. The Galveston Daily News, Tuesday, November 26, 1878, p. 4, col. 1. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  29. Reward Increased For Murderers Of Lynch Family. Brenham Weekly Banner, (Brenham, TX), Friday, October 25, 1878, p. 2, col. 1. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  30. Boulware Shot By Hargrave. The Daily Banner, (Brenham, TX), Wednesday, October 15, 1879, p. 1, col. 1. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  31. Frank Hargraves Taken To Hempstead. Brenham Weekly Banner, (Brenham, TX), Wednesday, October 17, 1879, p. 2 , col. 8. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  32. Leadville, Colorado Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
  33. 1880 census Geo. W. Lynch; Lake, Colorado United States Census, 1880 FamilySearch
  34. George Lynch Pardon; Inmate Number - 605; Archive No: 1012.05/001-060145b. Colorado State Archives, Monday, April 24, 1893. Colorado State Archives transcription
  35. What Is Termed The Hockley Horror. The Tri-Weekly Herald, (Marshall, TX), Saturday, October 05, 1878. P. 1, col. 6. Newspapers.com transcription
  36. Details Of The Lynch-binford Shooting. The Galveston Daily News, Saturday, November 9, 1878, p. 1, col. 4. (ibid) University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  37. Ed Young, Charged With Murder Of Finkley. The Galveston Daily News, Wednesday, October 22, 1879, p. 1 , col. 4. Newspaperarchive.com transcription
  38. John Steele Killed By Col. Kirby. Norton's Union Intelligencer, (Dallas, TX), Saturday, May 31, 1879, p. 1, col. 2-3. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  39. McDade V. The State Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in The Court of Appeals of Texas, Vol. XXVII, Austin, TX, Hutchings Printing House, 1889, pp. 641-709. Google Books transcription
  40. 1880 census Geo. W. Lynch; Lake, Colorado United States Census, 1880 (ibid) FamilySearch
  41. Questions About George Lynch. The Galveston Daily News, Sunday, July 3, 1881, p. 2, col. 4. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
  42. George Lynch Killed Charles Lyles. Brenham Weekly Banner, (Brenham, TX) Thursday, June 9, 1881, p. 3, col. 2. The Portal To Texas History transcription
  43. Firearm Facts Of Yesteryear: The Model 1 Smith & Wesson
  44. Smith & Wesson Model 1 Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Newspaper articles may be read at Timeline of News Reports.