The Lynch Family Murder
(Research into the murders is on-going and the content here may change.)
A Very Cold, Cold Case.
The rolling hills and plains of coastal east Texas was
The coastal plains of East Texas, recently home solely to wildlife and Indians, were slowly being tamed. The raids by the Karankawa and Cherokee, though fresh in their memory, had subsided, thanks to Stephen F. Austin's Rangers. Isolation, the weather, insects, wildlife and disease still troubled the settlers. They lived a harsh, frontier life and many of the settlers were unprepared, physically and emotionally for it, particularly women who had emigrated from the northeastern part of the United States. George Lynch and his wife Cyllanae were used to the hardships, George having been born shortly after the Texas Revolution near Navasota in Grimes County and Cyllanae born in Louisiana before coming to the new state of Texas.
George W. Lynch married Cyllanae (or Selinda) Hargrave July 4, 1860 in Houston, Texas. 1
Levi and Lucienne Hargrave's daughter Selinda was born 1843 in Vermillion parish, Louisiana. George W. Lynch was born about 1836 near Navasota in Grimes county. They married July 4, 1860 in Harris county, Texas where her name was recorded as Cyllanae.
The newlyweds are found the next month on the 1860 census in Lynchburg, Harris, TX. This town was founded by Old Three Hundred Colonist Nathaniel Lynch who ran Lynch's Ferry. He died 1837 but his family ran it until 1848. One other person with the surname was an Old Three Hundred settler -- James Lynch. Nothing has been found about George W. Lynch's ancestry so his relation, if any, is unknown. The 1860 and 1870 censuses say he was born in Texas. Was he related to the Lynch Ferry family?
The family is on the 1870 census in Courtney, Grimes county, TX. He was 34, b. Texas, farming and was married to Plomonia (27, b. LA). All the children were b. Texas: Caroline (9), Lusenia (4), Marion (3) and Joseph (1). They moved to the farm where the crime occurred sometime after 1870.
A terrible crime occurred under the cover of darkness September 13, 1878 in Waller county, 7 miles northwest of Hockley on Spring Creek. 2 The eight children of George W. Lynch were murdered and burned beyond recognition when their home was set afire while they slept. Lynch himself suffered two gunshot wounds but escaped the conflagration. Suspicion initially rested on Reuben Boulware, a neighbor with whom he had some dispute about cattle and who had twice assaulted him with firearms. George reported the incidents and Boulware was arrested and fined each time.
Spring Creek forms the boundary between Waller and Harris county, just south of Fields Store.
Here is what I think (may have) happened. The reader is encouraged to read the newspaper articles below and form their own opinion. Be careful of repetition as it doesn't necessarily imply truth or fact, only laziness on the part of the reporter in not wanting to board the train and then hire a carriage for a ride to the scene of the crime. It's far easier to copy what someone else writes, and that is precisely what often happens in the newspaper of the day.
George Lynch and some of his neighbors had been wrestling with the problem of cattle theft for some time and he was part of a group actively trying to stop it. It was September, and the nights were cooler and darkness came earlier, so he retired from his labors on his farm to his home for dinner and to sleep. His eight children included an infant whose birth may have precipitated his wife's death three weeks before, so he and his oldest daughter, Carrie, 17 years old, had to feed all the children and tuck them into bed. Everyone lay down to sleep, only a lone kerosene lamp shone in the darkness and all was peaceful. George was awakened, possibly by a knock on the door, but more likely he heard a noise outside and went to investigate whereupon he confronted a person or persons messing with his cattle. One of them shot him, twice, leaving him in an unconcious stupor. Thinking him dead, the evildoers set fire to his house to finish the job. It is not known if any of the children roused from their slumber, but they were all incapacitated by the smoke and burned to death. The children and the house were totally destroyed. The man or men had left and George regained consciousness enough to crawl away from the fire into the lane, where neighbors found him incoherent.
George was critcized for giving differing versions of what happened, causing some to doubt his story and casting suspicion on him. Confusion about the circumstances of a traumatic event, especially when the victim is hurt or incapacitated, is common and he was found suffering from two serious gunshot wounds and barely conscious and incoherent lying outside his home.
Probably the most egregious example of editorial malfeasance is seen in the Galveston Telegram, copied in the Brenham Weekly Banner of Friday, September 20, 1878 on the top of page 1 3 and the Waco Daily Examiner 4 of the same date whose reports were that of a masked intruder and George holding his child when shot and the children being killed by a hatchet blow to the head. The "creativity" of the report was so onerous to Justice of the Peace John Pinckney, who did the inquest, that he felt compelled to correct and chastise the Telegram for its errors, a copy of that appeared two days later in the Denison Daily News, also on page 1. 5 He wrote "I never heard of a masked person being seen until I found it in your paper. Have seen no one who has. Who could have made such statements to your reporter at Hockley I know not. Lynch did not have the child in his arms. There was no hatchet found near Miss Carrie. There were no fractured skulls found. How that idea got out I can't imagine, for the skulls were ashes.". Denison Daily News, Sept. 22, 1878
* * Jno Pinckney said the childrens' skulls were ashes. How can that be? A house fire can reach 1,500 degrees F (815 C) at the ceiling. It takes about 2,000 F (1100 C) to destroy bone. They were lying on the floor of the house, which would be the coolest part of the fire. Perhaps the ceiling collapsed on them and continued to burn, but would that destroy the integrity of the skulls sufficiently to say they were ashes?
On that awful night, Lynch said he was sleeping when he was awakened by being shot in the chest and then in the neck with .22 caliber balls. Another account says he was awakened by a knock, went to the door, was shot and fell unconcious, the murderer or murderers thought he was dead and set fire to his house. He somehow got outside his house and escaped his burning home, where he was discovered unconscious by neighbors. The home was burned with all 8 of his children inside. Surely the children would have been awakened by the sound of gunshots, but they didn't appear to have been, suggesting the attack on George occurred outside the home. The fact that the children had not moved from their sleeping positions, even after sound of the gunshots, caused suspicion towards George, but the evidence didn't support his being charged with the crime.
News reports say his wife had died 3 weeks prior to the murders and that there was an infant among the dead children, so perhaps she died at or shortly after childbirth.
Lynch relocated to Hockley to stay with his nephew Mr. Everly immediately after the murders as his home was destroyed and he had friends there who could help care for him as he recovered from his wounds. Scarcely one month after the crime, he had recovered enough to shoot John Binford and was held on $1500 bond for attempted murder.
George swore he would find those responsible as long as he lived. It is not known why he decided to go to Colorado and mine for gold, but he was in Leadville on the 1800 census and he shortly after killed one or two men there (depending on what is believed from the newspaper accounts). Did he follow someone he suspected of killing his children, or did he follow the gold rush fever? Did he kill the men in retaliation for the murder of his children or, as a newspaper reported, was it disputes over mining? Leadville was a small mining community that had been founded only two years previous. It was located at 10,200 feet elevation, just below the tree line, much different than the heavily wooded sea level banks of the Brazos river.
No resolution to his family's murder has been found, no record of any charges ever being brought against anyone.
The Articles below contain some egregious errors in reporting, some of which may be due to the fact that many newspaper editors just copied articles from other papers in their own words. The contradictions in the reports should caution every researcher to be very careful when reconstructing history from oral or written accounts.
The reports of a masked man, the killing of the children with a hatchet, the motive behind the shooting of Binford by Geo. Lynch are all convoluted and the actual facts are in question. What testimony was Finkley going to give before he was murdered? One report says that Lynch was unpopular with his neighbors while others indicate he was an upstanding citizen and a Master Mason. The Galveston Daily News reported that he was secretary of a group working to regulate cattle-thieving and that may have been the reason for the attack and murders. 6
Some articles report that a hatchet was found in the burned-out rubble and that it was used to kill one or more of the children. John Pinckney was justice of the peace at the time and he flatly rejected that information, he having done the inquest and writing: "I never heard of a masked person being seen until I found it in your paper. Have seen no one who has. Who could have made such statements to your reporter at Hockley I know not. Lynch did not have the child in his arms. There was no hatchet found near Miss Carrie. There were no fractured skulls found. How that idea got out I can't imagine, for the skulls were ashes." Denison Daily News, Sept. 22, 1878.
- Why did Geo. Lynch shoot John Binford?
- 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".
- John Steele was on the jury of inquest and allegedly attempted to stifle the investigation. He was later killed by Kirby.
- Was the case "Lynch v. The State, 24 Texas Ct. App., 350" related to the Lynch murders? 8
- Why did he move to Leadville, Colorado?
- Why did he kill Beuford and Charles Lyles?– (Did he kill Beuford or was that an error in reporting?)
- He was sentenced to life in prison for killing Charles Lyles but pardoned in 1893. 9
- Did he relocate to New Mexico or south Texas after his release?
Read the News Articles.
View the Clues.
- 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.
- Spring Creek (Waller County) Handbook of Texas Online
- The Hockley Horror. Brenham Weekly Banner, (Brenham, TX), Friday, September 20, 1878, p. 1, col. 3. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
- Burial Of The Eight Children. The Waco Daily Examiner, (Waco, TX.), Friday, September 20, 1878, p. 2, col. 3. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
- The Lynch Attrocity. Denison Daily News, (Denison, TX.), Sunday, September 22, 1878, p. 1, col. 4. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
- Waller County - Feuds & Criminalities. The Galveston Daily News, Saturday, October 25, 1879, p 2, col. 3-4. University Of North Texas Libraries, The Portal To Texas History transcription
- A Texas Horror. The Michigan Argus, Friday, October 25, 1878, p. 1, col. 5, Ann Arbor District Library transcription
- 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
- George Lynch Pardon; Inmate Number - 605; Archive No: 1012.05/001-060145b. Colorado State Archives, Monday, April 24, 1893. Colorado State Archives transcription
Newspaper articles may be read at Timeline of News Reports.