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Collin County’s Last Legal Hanging

Hanging of Old “Shack” at M’Kinney.


[Retold in the February 8, 1934 anniversary issue of the Weekly Democrat-Gazette issue from the original article of the Daily Courier-Gazette of February 3, 1909.]]

ECHOES OF AN OLD TRAGEDY.


Back in the early 70s and on up through the 80s, crime in Collin county was more assertive than now. At that time there was a great floating population, made up from people from the older states. Many of these people came here leaving unsavory records behind them and building for themselves reputations of raising more aheol [sic] in a given length of time than was ever known before.

In those days, the sheriff and his deputies had some desperate characters to deal with and there was always “something doing” for them for them at the time. Among the former sheriffs who yet survive we note Scott PHILLIPS, J. L. MOULDEN, Gabe BECK, W. S. COFFEY, Josiah NICHOLS, [?] BEVERLY, Tom M?? James H. LOVEJOY and Williams WARDEN. [some text unreadable] ...Josiah NICHOLS ws elected in 1864. He is now very aged and has a home at Melissa. His career has been a distinguished one. He was a soldier in the war with Mexico. As a Texas ranger, he saw stirring times on the border and served through the war of the 60s.

In 1882, while Williams WARDEN was sheriff, he arrested a negro, Shack CULWELL for murder. CULWELL was tried, convicted and received the death sentence, Mr. WARDEN becoming his executioner. This was the second and last legal execution of the death sentence in Collin county up to the present time (1909).

A few days ago, in conversation with a reporter for this paper, Mr. WARDEN recited briefly the story of the crime, which at that time, created much excitement and feeling throughout the county. The crime for which the negro paid the death penalty was a coldblooded one and was the result of a most trivial transaction between the negro (Shack CULWELL) and a man named Norvell, living about half way between this city and Melissa. NORVELL and his wife had separated, he remaining at home with the children, and it was in their presence that he met his death. Shack CULWELL had been working for Mr. NORVELL and claimed that NORVELL owed him $3.10 balance on work. He went to Norvell’s home and asked him for the money. A dispute arose as to the amount, and the negro, without warning, shot and killed NORVELL at his own doorstep. Shack escaped and Sheriff WARDEN and his deputies at once began a man hunt which continued two weeks in Texas, ending at Clinton, Mo., where he caught CULWELL and returned with him to McKinney. News of the sheriff’s coming had reached here and a large crowd met him at the depot.

Mr. WARDEN hustled his prisoner into a bus and here Mr. WARDEN says, NORVELL’s wife figured for the first time in the affair. She entered the bus, clothed in deep mourning and heavily veiled. She rode with them to the jail, but soon dropped out of the case and he has never seen her from that day to this. The late Col. Russell DeARMOND, McKinney lawyer, occupied the bench during CULWELL’s trial, being appointed by Col Richard MALTBIE, who was the Judge for this district. A speedy trial was had, and the death sentence passed by Judge DeARMOND.

Preparations were at once begun for the execution. The gallows occupied a conspicuous spot in the flate north of town and excitement among the populace reached fever heat as the day of execution drew nearer. At that time hangings were public affairs, and people came from a great distance, coming in wagons and camping on the grounds the night before CULWELL was to explate his crime on the following day, and Mr. WARDEN says that fully 10,000 people witnessed the hanging.

As before stated, this was the second and last legal hanging which Collin county has ever had.