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Thursday, August 7, 2008


Once the initial news of the shooting at the Land farm was reported, newspapers across Texas and beyond vied to have sensational headlines and unsubstantiated 'facts.' What really happened got lost, and the reputation of a young man was compromised with no hope of the papers printing retractions. The following is a potpouri of false information from various papers:

The Fort Worth Daily Gazette, March 7, 1883 headlines: "Horrible Crime - A Young Man Outrages a Beautiful Girl at the Point of a Pistol - And Then Brutally Murders Her Father by Shooting Him Through the Heart!"


Columbus Daily Enquirer-Sun (Georgia), March 8, 1883: "....J. H. Land, a wealthy stockman, formerly of Wisconsin, has been shot and killed by a man named Varnell. The latter made improper advances to Land's daughter at a party. When Land ordered him to leave the premises, he shot him."


Waco Daily Examiner, March 9, 1883: "...Miss Emma Land, the eldest, is about eighteen years old. The youngest, who was the object of Varnell's lustful attack, is almost a child in years, having just passed her fifteenth birthday.... the specific details being too revolting for publication..."


Stephenville Empire, March 10, 1883: "...As soon as he [Tom P] thought they [he and Ella] were a safe distance he drew a pistol and forced her to go farther and finally committed a brutal outrage upon her person..."


Waco Examiner, March 17, 1883: "No occurrence of criminal nature, that has taken place in Texas for years, appears to have caused as intense a led general indignation as the recent outrageous Varnell-Land tragedy, near Hubbard City...If he [Varnell] cannot be captured he should at least be expelled. Hill county should be made too hot to hold him other than as a prisoner or as a corpse in a dishonored grave."


This is only a sampling. Tom P had no way to get his side out to the press as he was laying low in the hinterland of Hill County. This early press followed Tom P all the way to his trials and beyond even though much of it would be proven as incorrect!

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