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Friday, July 25, 2008


In Chapter Six of Tom P's Fiddle, Tom finds himself in a situation that forces him to shoot the father of the girl he goes outside with at the Land party. The following is one of the early news reports of the events of that night. Much of it is inaccurate, but these initial articles is what stuck with the public. Tom is never quite able to overcome the furor created by these press reports. I will highlight some of the inaccurate statements and discuss them below the account.


Waco Daily Examiner
March 7, 1883

Murder Most Foul
A Daughter Outraged and Her
Father Murdered

Mr. J. H. Land, a respectable farmer living about three miles from Hubbard City, was shot and killed by Tom P. Varnell, of Hillsboro. The particulars of the killing, as we learn them, are as follows: Varnell accompanied by his companion and crony, George Walker, came to Hubbard last Sunday. After spending the day there they came to Waco on Monday and provided themselves with arms and ammunition. Several boxes of cartridges were purchased here. [1]Varnell is a saloon-keeper at Hillsboro and a native Texan, having been raised in Hill county, the scene of his outrage. The two, Varnell and Walker, returned to Hubbard Monday evening and went from there to Mr. Land's to a dance that was to be given there that evening. Later, about 12 or 1 o'clock, [2]Varnell approached one of Mr. Land's daughters and forced her at a muzzle of a six-shooter to leave the house with him. When outside, using his weapon to compel acquiescence, he accomplished her ruin. [3]Her sister who appeared upon the scene soon after and realized that something horrible had happened threatened to raise an alarm. She was quieted by the presentation of the ever ready pistol and forbidden to open her mouth or she would be shot. About this time [4]Mr. Land, the father of the girls appeared, and ordered them forth to the house with the remark that there was the best place for them. [5]Varnell presented his pistol at Mr. Land and fired, the ball passing through his heart. As Land fell Varnell fired again, the second shot taking effect in his left shoulder. The pistol used carried a ball of .44 callibre and the wounds inflicted were fearful. [6]So close was Varnell to Land when he shot him that the clothing of Land was powder burned and forced into the hole made by the bullet. Immediately after the shooting Varnell and Walker made their escape and have not since been heard from. The citizens are fearfully incensed at the outrage that has been committed, and [7]Judge Lynch will be up to hold a special term of court if Varnell is caught in the neighborhood. Mr. Land was a man of considerable wealth and had been in the neighborhood of Hubbard city about twelve months. He was highly respected, and he and his family enjoyed a fine reputation. We can hardly comment, in moderate terms, upon an outrage and murder, such as this, but will only say that if ever any plea of extenuation was necessary for Lynch law this is certainly one of the occasions upon which it can be consistently offered. Hanging is too mild a punishment for such a villain. The family of Mr. Land offer a reward for Varnell's capture and the governor will be applied to for an additional reward.

[1] Varnell was not and never had been a saloon keeper in Hillsboro. His brother-in-law, John Sweeney, had a brother who owned two saloons though.

[2] Later court records reveal that Ella Land went outside with Tom P willingly - not at the point of a pistol.

[3] Tom P could not have threatened Ella's sister Emma because at that point he had lost his pistol on the ground.

[4] Mr. Land did not order Ella to the house as she had already gone there before her father arrived on the scene.

[5] Tom P could not have presented his pistol as it was lost.

[6] Varnell did get his friend George Walker's gun after Mr. Land started beating him with a blunt object. Emma Land disputed this in court but a witness later testified seeing Tom P with bruises and blood on his face.

[7] With the newspaper immediately calling for Judge Lynch, Tom P's life was in danger if he had turned himself in to the law. Mob lynchings were not unusual. He chose not to do so. This would later hurt his cause in court.

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