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The Affair in Helena 1884 and The Fracas at Daileyville 1886

~ Archie B. Ammons ~ 1995



John L. Butler~VA

The Shooting~Helena

December 26
Emmett, Killed the Sheriff

Run, Emmett!

Ed Campbell's Statement

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  The Republic of Texas joined the United States in 1845.  The state encouraged settlers, and thus large Anglo, German, Czech, and Polish groups arrived.  Texas range land sold for 25 cents an acre in the early 1850’s, but the price doubled to 50 cents in the later 1850’s.

   James M. Elder and wife Sarah Ann Davis came to DeWitt county from Choctaw county MS in probably 1849, and later moved to the new Karnes county.  They had eleven children.  Their son Fate Elder became Sheriff, and his brother Bud was a Deputy.

   Hamilton R. Ammons inherited money in December 1851 when the estate of his father was settled in Choctaw county MS.  His father Jonathan Ammons had moved there from Lincoln county GA.  In January 1852 Hamilton immediately followed the Davis family of Choctaw county to DeWitt county TX and married his teenage girlfriend Martha Louise Davis, sister of Sarah Ann. The newlyweds moved to the west bank of the San Antonio River.  Hamilton bought primitive rangeland in 1852.  They soon became friends with some later arrivals, the Butler family.  Their first child was a girl born in 1853, Sarah Jane Elizabeth Ammons, who later married Pleasant Burnell Butler on her 18th birthday.

   John L. Butler of Virginia settled in Kentucky just after the Revolutionary War.  A few years later, he and his family moved to Scott county MS.  His son William Butler was an early settler of Liberty county TX. 

   John’s son Burnell Butler sent his 19-year-old eldest son Woodward to Texas in 1849 to seek suitable land.   Woodward may have been influenced by John Wofford of Rankin county MS to look at the west bank of the San Antonio River.  Woodward made two trips to Texas, and then camped on Ecleto Creek to wait for his family.

   Burnell sold the Scott county holdings, and with his wife Sarah Ann Ricks and their large family started on the long journey.  They moved in ox-drawn wagons, and brought twelve children, seven slaves, and cattle, spending three months on the road. Sarah Ann drove a hack with a team of big horses, and the men rode saddle horses.  The Butlers arrived on December 24, 1852, and pitched a tent.

   The families of John Pullin and his sons Hiram, Thomas, and Calvin Pullin came with the Butlers, as well as John, Richard, Landon, and Stephen Ricks, half-brothers of Sarah Ann Ricks Butler.

   Burnell Butler cleared 14 acres, made brush fences, planted corn, and began raising cattle on leased land. There was plenty of free range for the cattle.

   Another son of John Pullin, Henry, came in 1866, and built a log cabin near the Escondido Creek.  This location later became Live Oak at Fifth Street in Kenedy, where Pleasant Burnell Butler and Sarah Jane Ammons Butler built their spacious home in 1916.

The Shooting ~ Helena ~ December 26, 1884

   Emmett Butler, the 20-year-old son of Col. William G. Butler, the county's richest landowner, was shot and mortally wounded near one of the saloons in Helena.2

   According to Ted Butler, retired State District Judge and great-grandson of WGB:  “W. G. Butler had instructed his sons to stay away from Helena.  Bad blood had developed between the Butlers and Sheriff Edgar Leary.”   Emmett Butler had had escapades that identified his character.15   There had been an outbreak of horse stealing,  and Emmett had been questioned about that.  Emmett was also called before the Grand Jury on a charge of murder in another incident. 

   “On one occasion when W. G. Butler was on a trail drive to Dodge City, Kansas, the Sheriff and one of his deputies went to the Butler home in search of someone who was subject to arrest.  When they arrived at the house, Mrs. W. G. Butler met them at the door.  No one was there except she and some of the girls.  The Sheriff insisted on searching the premises, and went through various parts of the house, and when he came to one room, he asked Mrs. Butler who was in there, and she said that one of the girls was in there sick in bed.  The Sheriff insisted on going in, and when he went in the girl was covered over with a sheet.  The Sheriff, perhaps thinking that it was one of the people they were searching for, jerked the sheet off the girl.  This constituted a very serious insult to the young girl and to the Butler family.  W. G. Butler was furious when he learned of this matter, as were his sons.  Before he left for Dodge City, Butler instructed his sons to stay away from Helena, as he didn’t want them to become involved in bloodshed.”5

   " On Friday December 26, the day after Christmas, the boy and a friend were drinking.  They went first to Helena, then to Panna Maria, and then back to Helena."2  

   "The son of a wealthy rancher from across the county was shot from his horse and killed in the street, with the shot coming from a saloon.  Eye witnesses tell how his horse turned and fell dead as it galloped toward a livery stable."1

   "This had occurred near one of the saloons, in the afternoon in broad daylight.  “It wasn’t an accidental shooting.”2

    "As is the custom in country towns during the holidays, many were indulging in whiskey too freely.  E. W. Butler and Hugh McDonald were under the influence of whiskey and were inclined to be quarrelsome. 2     Hugh McDonald was 22, and was a laborer in the Butler household.   When drinking, he wasn’t mean but did get fussy.  McDonald picked a row with a fellow there.  It became necessary to send for the Sheriff, who disarmed them of their Winchesters. 15

   With all this commotion, a crowd of people gathered.  One side called it a "mob."  The other side called it a “posse.”14

   The Sheriff followed them with a posse to arrest them, when Butler wheeled around and, with a six-shooter which was previously concealed under his coat, fired at the Sheriff, shooting him in the heart.  Upon being shot, Leary said to his posse:  `He has killed me.   Shoot him.’ and then he expired. 2

   Emmett stood waving his pistol back and forth at the crowd, to get them to release Hugh.   But Hugh would have none of this, and instead called out ‘Run, Emmett.   You’ve killed the sheriff!’ 15  The dying sheriff, his posse, and others fired at Butler, who had mounted the least wounded horse and was riding away.  Fully 40 shots were fired.  Three shots took effect, two in his right leg below the knee and one through Butler's brain.  Butler was shot at 3:40 PM Friday and died at 1:00 AM Saturday.”2, 16    

   Ed Campbell, an eyewitness, gave this statement to Judge Ted Butler in 1960:  (Note: The shooting was actually on Friday December 26, 1884.)

   ‘The killing occurred on the 24th day of December 1884.  It was very cold.  Two men came in from the north by way of Panna Maria.  One was Mr. Emmett Butler, and the other was Mr. Hugh McDonald.  They came in town and hitched their horses at a rack in front of the old Connolly Drug Store under an old oak tree.  They walked on, down this street eastward from the drug store.  They got, I would guess, about a hundred yards, more or less, when somebody hollered, and there was a pistol fired, and they supposed it to be these men Butler and McDonald.

   ‘The Sheriff wasn’t on the street at the time, but he heard the commotion and the shot, so he mounted his horse and came into town, and rode up and got down off his horse in front of the store, and these two men were advancing.  

   ‘When they got up close, they hollered and there was another shot fired.  The Sheriff just turned as he was then started into the store.  He just turned and called them in question, asking them what was the trouble. There was a threat made by one of the men, and the Sheriff told them they had to obey orders and keep the peace.

   ‘I was just going in the front door of the store, and a shot was fired and the Sheriff fell.  The weather being very bad, it was sleeting and raining and in those days everybody wore a slicker.  The Sheriff had on a slicker, but he succeeded in getting his pistol and firing a shot which I believe struck Mr. Butler in one of his lower limbs, and by that time there was a posse gathered “just on the opposite side from the road from the drug store in the stable.”  (Note: A crowd of people? A posse? An armed mob?) 

  ‘Mr. Butler got up and turned back to get to his horse, and threw the bridle reins over his horse’s head, and got on the horse.  He was riding a big black horse which he called Nigger.  He swerved to his left and turned in towards Panna Maria.  As he turned on the opposite side of the stable, a volley of shots came out.  The horse fell.  Mr. Butler got up fighting, going backwards toward a two-story hotel which was operated at the time by a man known as Shanghai Butler, no relation.  Before he got in front of the hotel, he fell and the crowd gathered around, and they picked him up and laid him on the lower portion of the lower front porch.  All of the top of his head was shot off.  He died right quick.  A bunch of us white and colored kids walked up to look.  My name is Ed M. Campbell and I am 92 years of age and I have lived in Karnes County all of my life.’  This is the end of the Ed Campbell's statement.

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