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Sunday, August 21, 2011


Those of you who are enjoying this blog might be interested in my new blog: Sherri Knight's' Blog at:

See you there!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


John Wesley Hardin and the Bass gang are among the most famous outlaws of Texas. While much has been written about them, these desperadoes were not the only ones to ride the range in nineteenth century Texas. Some with equally interesting stories are still waiting to have their adventures revealed to a modern audience.

Tom P Varnell,
an accomplished musician, grew up wild and handsome in rugged rural central Texas, helping his mother, La Docia Varnell, manage the family’s horse ranch in Hill County after his father, Isaac, was brutally murdered on New Year’s Day, 1876.

Attending a dance
near Hubbard at age 21 in 1883, Tom P was caught outside with the farmer’s daughter. Infuriated, the girl’s father attacked Tom with an axe handle. Tom P was thrown a gun by a friend, which he used to deadly effect. Unjustly charged with first-degree murder and rape, Tom ran from the law across the plains of Texas to the high deserts of New Mexico.

What follows in this larger-than-life story about my great great uncle reads like a quintessential western complete with fated love, machismo, brawls, guns, lawmen, jail-breaks, posses, and trials. Unearthed from museum archives, prison records, newspaper articles, state archives, personal family accounts, and university collections such as The Texas Collection at Baylor University and the Texas Archives in Austin comes this true, frontier tale.

I spent two years in extensive research in order to bring this true and sensational story for its time back into the light of today. Is Texas justice today meted out the same way it was in the late 19th century? Does today’s newspapers still print sensationalized stories without checking the facts first or retracting false statements? Are prisons the same? Step back in time and see what it was like to be an accused outlaw on the run. See the inside of a courtroom when the jurors were not expected to ignore what the newspapers had to say. Would we, today, allow events to unfold as they did in the late 1880s and 1890s? Take a trip back in time.

The result of my research is the recently released Tom P’s Fiddle, A True Texas Tale. This narrative nonfiction was named nonfiction finalist at the 2008 North Texas Book Festival in Denton. The annual competition recognizes books with excellence in content and design. It has garnered respect and praise from many corners. Check it out to see why!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Extended Story Begins

I've waited until my narrative nonfiction - Tom P's Fiddle - to be released before adding documentation and more information through this blog. It has, and I've received very positive feedback from readers of all ages. Thank you to all.

I am now ready to start the extended journey through the book and will be bringing additional information about each chapter. I will place a warning at the beginning of each post to let folks know that they will be reading material related to specific chapters in the book.

I'll add edits to this posts to lead you to information on specific chapters. If you have a specific question on any chapter, add a comment to the posts on that chapter. I will answer your questions.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reader Reviews

I haven't posted a new blog in some time because I have been finishing up my new nonfiction—Vigilantes to Verdicts, Stories from a Texas District Court. I'm very excited about the reader reviews I've received over the past year for Tom P's Fiddle, A True Texas Tale and thought I'd share a sampling of some of them with you.


Elia Garcia: "Sherri Knight made me feel like I was living during the time of Tom P. The book read absolutely fantastic!! The entire family seemed so real that I just hated finishing the book. It seemed like I was leaving friends behind. The land and the times are particularly well portrayed..."

Bluebonnets Haven: "I discovered this book when it became a finalist for the North Texas Book Festival Book Award for Non-Fiction. As a 6th generation Texan, I'll admit the cover drew me to this True Texas Tale. However, I'm a noted critic that authors fail to do justice to our frontier way of life and our rich, unique vernacular. Hollywood always seems to have a cursory presentation. But Sherri Knight's prose effortlessly drew me into the world of our ancestors, where life was as tough and gritty as our language."

Flowers: "I was drawn in instantly, it was like I was there too, watching and hearing every thing that was happening right in front of me. Really shows how life was back then. Being a native Texan it was particulary interesting that this was a Texas story. Makes me feel like I knew Tom P. personally. A must read!!!"

From emails:

Karen Loeffler: "I was at Berkman Books the evening you were there. You signed two books for me. I've already finished reading my book and just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the story. Tom P. sure had an exciting life..."

Richard Dawson: "
I bought this book from you in the Erath County Library some weeks ago. I have just completed it and just want to write you a fan letter. It is most interesting, and I did enjoy it. This is the first "book" I have completed since many decades ago..."

Henry Griffin: "This is a fabulous book, very informative and well written, I am jealous. I enjoyed it very much and you are indeed a "wizard with words". I only wish all the information would have been available to me in my youth as it brought to mind a THOUSAND MORE questions I wish I had asked my father before he died."

From Facebook:

Janet K.:
Loved Tom P's Fiddle

Lucy E.: "
Finally found the "Tom P's Fiddle" which Terry carried around everywhere and read. What a great, easy, quick read. Ready for the next..?"

Leonor M.:
"Sherri, I enjoyed the book. I couldn't put it down. It didn't take me long to finish it.It's a great book!! :) My pleasure meeting you."

Writing Tom P's Fiddle was a great adventure, and I hope Tom if he were alive would feel I did justice to his story even though the newspapers did not. I also received many phone calls. I especially enjoyed the one from the police chief of a west Texas town who called to ask more questions about Tom's story because he enjoyed it so much.

For those who have not gotten a copy, Tom P's Fiddle can be purchased from Barnes & Noble or Amazon - online. I'd loved to hear from more who have read this story about a Texan from the nineteenth century!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Below is the second installment of one of the chapters that did not make it into Tom P's Fiddle, A True Texas Tale when it was published. If you have not read the first part, skip down a post, then come back. This is the continuation of the story of Lina, Tom's older sister who is married to Jasper McGee.


“What do you have in mind, daughter?” queried Docia.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” retorted Lina almost to herself as she continued to walk. At the window she looked out across the yard. Her eyes rested thoughtfully on the old slave quarters about a quarter of a mile from the m
ain house. It wasn’t the first time she had considered her predicament.

“It’s not the best solution, but I think I’ve got it!” she exclaimed.

“Got what? Make sense!” admonished Docia as she moved the coffee cup away from the edge of the counter.

“Don’t you see? I’ve got a problem and sitting not too far from here is the answer!” Lina paused, turned to her moth
er beaming, “The old slave quarters.”

“What? You can’t be serious?” replied Docia too shocked to say more.

“You bet I am.” Lina headed for the door. As she grabbed her bonnet and apron, Lina almost didn’t hear her mother’s attempt to dissuade her.

“It’s too small. I can’t believe you want to do this!” Docia exclaimed as she followed Lina.

“Mother, please understand. Every married woman wants her own home. I’m about to get mine! I can’t wait for Jasper. If I do, I’ll be an old woman with grandchildren first!” Lina exclaimed vehemently.

Not waiting for any more arguments from her mother, Lina headed out the kitchen door and down to the somewhat dilapidated old slave quarters. Standing in the doorway, Lina was keenly aware there wasn’t much to work with here, but she squared her shoulders and set out to make the best of it. Dust had settled everywhere and that broken window would have to be replaced. Hauling buckets of water from the well, Lina scrubbed the one room abode. The old stove was particularly challenging but Lina was never one to give in where there was work to be done. When she got back to the main house, she found a resigned Docia had already started gathering odd pieces of furniture no longer being used, along with bits of crockery. Smiling, Lina headed for her bedroom to break down and lug her marriage bed down the road. Her energy was fueled by determination.

Jasper arrived back home shortly after dark and was startled to see a light glowing from the window of what he thought was the unused slave quarters. . . .

Monday, February 2, 2009


Adeline (Lina), like her sisters and mother, doted on her younger brother Tom. She did what she could within her power to help her younger brother. Lina was the oldest living child of Isaac and Docia Varnell after her two older brothers, Augustus and Napoleon, died in their youths. She met and married Jasper McGee in Hill County. He arrived from Louisiana and had a gift of being able to work with even the most ill-tempered horse, long before the term 'horse whisperer' came into vogue. Their romance bloomed on the Varnell Ranch. They married Oct. 21, 1969. Her father gave them 70 acres of their own to farm. As the babies started coming, this bit of land was no longer enough for their needs.

A chapter that did not get included in Tom P's Fiddle is mostly about Lina and Jasper. It will be published here in more than one part. So here is the older but deleted 'Chapter Two' from the original manuscript of Tom P's Fiddle:

Chapter Two


At times Adeline Varnell McGee wondered just what was she thinking when she married Jasper. He could be the most exasperating man alive, especially right now. She watched him saddle up Windever. He was getting ready to attend a 4th of July picnic in Hillsboro. Jasper was anxious to hear from his friends about the latest accesses of the State Police. It was time to do something about Texas Governor Edmund Davis.

“Jasper, it is time we had our own home, and you know it!” Lina stated.

Jasper ran his fingers through his hair and looked sheepish as he tried to refocus on his determined wife. It wasn’t easy to reason with her when she had her mind set on something. She always managed to bring up sensitive matters especially when he didn’t have time to marshal his arguments. He turned back to Windever and continued adjusting the cinch straps.

“Now, Lina, you know I want a home, too, but we’ll have to wait for the crop to come in. After all we don’t have all that much furniture or dishes,” replied Jasper trying to placate his irate wife.

“Oh, by the living! You’ve been saying that for two years. We need our own space now that we have a child. Mother and Pap don’t need us underfoot any longer,” she shot back at him knowing full well he did not have his mind on the topic at hand.

“It’ll work itself out. You’ll see! Now let’s go to the picnic,” he said, wanting to divert her attention.

“You go ahead. I have some work to get done and some medicine to mix up.” She seemingly was giving up. He hoped so.

“I’ll see you later then,” he called out as he swung up into the saddle and headed out.

Jasper had always had a dreamy quality about him. Solving practical problems rarely interested him, and “tomorrow” was always a good day to get things done. Perhaps that is what she had fallen in love with even if it meant she had to take matters into her own hands at times. She still remembered the first day he came riding up to the Varnell Ranch with little else than the ability to calm down just about any horse around. On that first day, Jasper roped an unbroken horse in the middle of the herd and immediately started talking low and earnestly to the stallion while walking slowly towards the animal. Jasper leaped on the stallion’s back with no saddle, just the rope. Instead of bucking, the horse stood there, continuing to listen attentively.

Lina knew she lost her heart that day. He seemed to be so much like Pap whom she adored. Tom P, her little brother, was the only other person she knew of that horses followed around. After a short courtship, Lina and Jasper were married in October 1869.
As Jasper left for the picnic, Lina headed for the main house. She had made a decision. Jasper could go to that silly picnic. She had things to do.

“Mother, I may need you to watch little Gus for me,” Lina called out as she entered the kitchen.

“Of course! What’s up?” asked Docia suspiciously.
“I love you, but I have to have my own place. I’ve waited for Jasper long enough. Time to take action.”

Lina poured a cup of coffee but left it untouched on the counter. She paced back and forth unaware of her agitation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Tom P managed to hide out in Hill and McLennan counties for several months with the help of friends who set up a system of signals to let him know if any lawmen came into the area where he was located. This system worked well because Tom P did not dare go openly into any towns where lawmen knew he was a wanted man.

This inability of Sheriff Cox of Hill County to nab Tom P gave an opening to Deputy Sheriff Tom Bell to go forward with his campaign to become the sheriff of Hill County. The following is a quote from the Dallas Morning News who sent a reporter to meet and get to know Tom Bell. It developed into a friendship over a game of marbles. Later this reporter had this to say about Bell:

When he made the race for sheriff in Hill county in 1884 he told the people he would resign and never again ask an office at their hands if he did not during his term, if they would elect him, locate and capture the famous Tom P Varnell, then at large and wanted to answer indictments charging him with murder and criminal assault [rape]. The people took him at his word and elected him. True to his promise, in 1885, after the expenditure of much money, he located Varnell at Magdalena, New Mexico, and with the aid of a deputy arrested him.

Another line from the same article gives some insite into Tom Bell's personality:

If there is an intense brunette in Texas it is Tom Bell.

*"Sheriff Tom Bell." Dallas Morning News. Feb. 11, 1894.