Do you remember those old cowboy films where the sheriff puts together a posse to hunt down a fugitive? Henry Tickle was one such outlaw – a notorious horse-thief who lived in Texas in the second part of the 19th century. I find it incredible to think that, while my grandfather was a boy, the ‘Wild West’ was fact, not a Hollywood production. I’m going to let a selection of newspaper reports from the time tell his story.
The first mention is a news snippet in the San Saba News of 15 December 1883. This records Henry breaking out of Wise county jail and stealing a horse from a boy he met on the road. However, once he had made his escape, he left the horse in Ellis county and sent word to the owner as to where it could be found. Henry doesn’t appear to have arranged for many other horses to return to heir owners …
The Austin Weekly Statesman, December 18, 1884
DECATUR, December 12 — The prisoners confined in our county jail succeeded in turning themselves loose about 12 o’clock last night. The following took the chances of blood hounds and Winchester and left: Jim McIntyre, who is wanted in New Mexico to answer a charge of murder; Henry Tickle, a noted crook, who was in for horse stealing; Milt Holloway, Tom Ratliff, Jim Evams. theft; C.L.McMullen, assault. They had evidently been doing the work for several days, as they had broken off the end of the long, heavy iron bar, known as the brake, that locks the cells from the outside, and with this bar they forced the bars off the cage in one corner for about a foot square, and then replaced them so that from the outside it would not be noticed, and waited the golden opportunity of catching the jailor off his guard. This was accomplished by Tickle playing sick and begging for water. The jailor, A.J. Lackey, to allow Tickle to get water, turned the brake which unlocked every cell, and while Tickle was getting water the other prisoners slipped out of their cells into the cage, and then out through the hole they had prepared. They overpowered the jailor before he mistrusted anything was wrong.
Fort Worth daily gazette, Feb. 11 1886
Waco, Tex. Feb.10 –Sheriff W.T.Harris and two deputies had an encounter last night with Henry Tickle, a well-known horse-thief and desperado who has worked nearly all the Central Texas counties during the last eight or ten years. It was known that Tickle, who had been slightly wounded in a brush with the sheriff of Navarro county last week, had sought refuge with friends of his ilk in this county, a desperate gang, composed of escaped convicts and horse-thieves, who lurk in the thickly wooded and sparsely settled eastern portion of the county, where friends secrete and harbour them. The sheriff and posse met Tickle just about sundown last evening in a lonely trail, in a thick wood, eleven miles east of Waco. The outlaw was mounted on a fine gray horse and was alone. He carried a Winchester rifle and pistols and made a reach for his pistols when told to “hold up your hands.” One of the sheriff’s posse fired and then Tickle fled, his fine horse carrying him away splendidly. He was heard of during the night at a farm house, where he asked for shelter, stating he had just been shot all to pieces, but the people were afraid of him and would not let him in. It is believed he is badly wounded, and the officers expect to hear of his being found dead or insensible from his wounds.
As a result, some newpapers printed reports that Henry had been shot and killed, but this was premature.
The Emporia Weekly News, February 16, 1886
WACO, Texas, Feb 11 — Henry Tickle has been for many years playing a star engagement of chief horse thief in this part of Texas. His operations have extended over Dallas, Limestone, Freestone, Navarro and McLennan counties.
His lawless enterprises have been uniformly successful, and his name Tickled the farmers and stock-raisers on the wrong side of the neck. Yesterday the sheriff of this county was apprised to the effect that Tickle was heading this way. He got together some of his choicest deputies and went out to one of the haunts of the desperados. He was found, but was a very walking arsenal and Deputy Whaley blazed away at him with a double barrel shot-gun. Tickle turned tail and Whaley let drive again. The horse-thief then went off at a rattling pace. After he had gone, Whaley remembered that his gun had only been loaded with duck shot and so his duck got away. One of the leading physicians was today called out of town to take care of a wounded man. The hope is that it is Tickle. There will be developments later in the night. Tickle’s gang operates between this section and Arkansas and Missouri.
Fort Worth daily gazette, February 13, 1886
DECATUR, TEX., Feb 12 –The man, Henry Tickle, whom your Waco correspondent reprts as being shot at Waco on the 10th, is also wanted badly in Wise country for too much familiarity with other men’s horses. He was in jail here once and broke jail when McIntyre did, some twelve months since.
Fort Worth daily gazette, February 18, 1886
CORSICANA, TEX., Feb. 17 — Henry Tickles, living in this county, and for whose capture rewards are offered in several counties in this state, as he is wanted to answer to the charges of horse-stealing and other crimes, was captured by Sheriff Childs of Freestone county at Fairfield yesterday. He is wounded in the foot with a Winchester ball and has two loads of shot in his face and back. Officers from different counties and a posse from this county under Deputy Sheriff Red White have been on his track for the past seventeen days, having chased him over seven counties before making the capture. His band, which had stolen seven horses in Kaufman county, has been dispersed and two of them were captured last night near Purdon, at Tickles’ home, and were jailed here today. Tickles will be held at Fairfield jail until the officers find out which county offers the greatest reward for him.
(the image at the top of this post is of the old Fairfield Jail where Henry was held.)
The Memphis Appeal, Feb. 19, 1886
GALVESON, TEX., February 18, — Henry Tickle, a notorious outlaw, who is wanted for murder and horse-stealing in Navarro and other counties in this State, and who has had numerous conflicts with officers in various parts of the State, was captured in Trinity bottom at daylight yesterday morning by Sheriff Child and a posse of Freestone county officers. Tickle was surprised, and had no chance to use the Winchester rifle or revolvers with which he was armed when captured..
Fort Worth daily gazette, February 19, 1886
WACO, TEX., Feb 18 — A telephone message was received today from Sheriff Childs, stating that he had captured Henry Tickle, the notorious desperado. When arrested, Tickle was armed with a Winchester rifle and six-shooter. Tickle is wounded in the foot, face, and body by small shot. He claims he was waylaid and shot without warning, and if he has the chance he will whip the man who did the shooting.
Dallas Morning News February 18, 1886 Page: 1 Tickle, the Terror, Taken Captured in Freestone County Sheriff Childs Surprises the Desperado, and Find His Body Car[r]ying Much Cold Lead. Supposed Comrades in Custody. Special to the News MEXIA, Feb. 17 - Information was received here to-day by telephone from Sheriff Childs, of Freestone County, that he had arrested Henry Tickle, of Navarro County, and had him in jail at Fairfield. He says he arrested Tickle yesterday morning about daylight, about twelve miles from Fairfield, in the Trinity bottom, at the house of William Greer, a relative of Tickle. Having learned the evening before that a man supposed to be Tickle was seen near Greer's house, he summoned a posse and went at night to the house, which he surrounded and about daylight as Tickle came out to the lot to feed his horse he was arrested without trouble. Tickle was armed with a sixshooter and a Winchester rifle, and rode a splendid iron gray horse, which Sheriff Childs took in charge. He states that Tickle is wounded in the foot and badly shot in the face and body with small shot. None of the wounds are serious. Tickle says he was shot with the small shot by the deputy Sheriff of McLennan County, who, he says, waylaid and shot him without any warning, and that if he ever gets free he intends to whip him for what he terms a cowardly act. It is said a reward of $100 is offered for Tickle, who is under indictment in Navarro County for murder and horse stealing. Sheriff Childs says he expects to take Tickle to Corsicana to-morrow and turn him over to the authorities. CONFIRMED FROM CORSICANA Corsicana, Feb. 17 - Henry Tickle, who has had so many fights lately with officers of Navarro and McLennan Counties, was surprised and captured yesterday by Sheriff Childs and posse, of Freestone County, in a field of Will Green's, about twelve miles east of Fairfield. He had left his arms in the house, and when surrounded made no resistance. Sheriff Childs, it is expected, will bring Tickle to Corsicana to-night, where a $200 reward is offered for him. SUPPOSED CONFEDERATES IN CUSTODY Corsicana, Feb. 17 - Two men were last night arrested at Purdon, twelve miles west of here, on suspicion of being horse thieves. They left the train yesterday morning, and one of them went at once to the residence of Henry Tickle. This fact, together with their general appearance and actions, caused their arrest. They will be held a few days to await identification. At the request of the Sheriff a brief description of the parties is given. One, giving the name of B. T. Hightower, and who stated that he had a brother living near Brownwood, is 28 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches high, weighs 150pounds, light complexion and blue eyes, with hair a little dark. He had a burnt looking scar on the back of his right hand. The other party gave his name as John Gillion and is 33 years of age; weighs 140 pounds, is five feet nine inches high and has blue eyes and light hair.
Fort Worth daily gazette, March 23, 1886
WAXAHACHIE, TEX., March 22 — It will be remembered … that on Friday morning, October 20 last, Mr John C Spradlin of Avalon, Ellis county, was found dead in his wagon … The testimony elicited at the time of the inquest failed to give any clew [sic] to the perpetrators or the motives which actuated the same. Some believed the motive robbery, others revenge. Suspicion rested only on one, a man who left the community about the time … The grand jury, while in session last week, by some means got wind that one, Joe Walker, who was in custody at Waco, could throw some light on the subject. Sheriff W.D.Ryburn brought Walker to Waxabachle and the grand jury interviewed him with a true-bill for murder against Henry Tickle of Navarro county. As the result, Tickle was brought to Waxahachie today and will be tried at the present term of the court for the murder of Mr Spradlin.
Six weeks later, March 30 1886, the same newspaper carried this paragraph:
The Henry Tickle murder case which was set for to-day, was postponed until 13, the state not being ready.
Fort Worth Daily Gazette, April 15 1886
WAXAHACHIE, TEX,. April 14. — The jury for the Henry Tickle murder case in the district court was made complete this forenoon and the case opened.
Great excitement and a grand rush to the court-house was caused by the first three witnesses for the state rendering evidence entirely different from what they did in the grand jury room. Joe Walker, Nick McCoy, Emmet McCoy, Billy McCoy, Dennis McCoy, Mrs Spradling, the widow of Tickle’s victim, and Mrs Scabolt were examined. The three first named perjured themselves to such an extent that the court ordered the grand jury to be called together at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning for the purpose of investigating the testimony elicited. There are fifty-two witnesses for the state and the case is one of the most interesting ever tried in Ellis county.
At 6pm on April 15 the case was submitted to the jury. Col W.M. McKnight, for the defence, and District Attorney M.B. Templeton for the state, both made strong arguments. The paper reported that the court-house was filled with ladies and gentlemen and ‘greater interest was manifested by all than ever before witnessed’. The jury had not reached a verdict by 10pm but eventually found Henry Tickle guilty of 1st degree murder. That wasn’t quite the end of the story …
Fort Worth Daily Gazette, June 16 1886
DALLAS, TEX., June 15 — Henry Tickle, convicted of murder and sentenced to the penitentiary for ninety-nine years from Navarro county, and who was placed in the Dallas County jail for safe-keeping because he came near making his escape from the the jail at Corsicana, came near making his escape from the Dallas jail late yesterday evening. He was cutting a bar with a piece of knife blade when discovered and was at once chained with a trace chain by Sheriff Smith. Later in the evening he was seen capering around the corridors and on examination it was found that he had broken the chains. He was again chained and this second time so closely to the bars that he has no leverage by which to break the chain. Sheriff Smith says he shall remain here until he is carried to the penitentiary to serve out the sentence of 99 yers, which sentence has just been affirmed.
In my next post, I’ll tell what I found out about Henry from the prison records, and which Tickle family I believe he belonged to.