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!