October 29, 2013

Benjamin "Ben" Thompson

Ben Thompson, gunfighter and lawman, was born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, England on November 2, 1843, the child of William and Mary Ann (Baker) Thompson. His family emigrated to Austin, Texas, in the spring of 1851. He initially worked as a printer for various Austin newspapers. At age fifteen he wounded another boy during an argument about his shooting abilities. In 1859 Thompson traveled to New Orleans to work for a bookbinder and intervened on behalf of a woman being abused by a Frenchman. He reputedly killed the offender in a subsequent knife fight.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted on June 16, 1861, in Col. John (Rip) Ford's Second Texas Cavalry regiment. He participated in two actions, the battle of Galveston Bay, where he was wounded, and the Confederate defeat at La Fourche Crossing, Louisiana. On November 26, 1863, he married Catherine L. Moore, the daughter of a prominent Austin merchant, Martin Moore. After his marriage he returned to the army and served till the end of the war. In May 1865 Thompson fatally shot a teamster in Austin after the man pulled out a shotgun during an argument over an army mule. Later arrested by federal soldiers, Thompson broke jail and left the state to join Emperor Maximilian's forces in Mexico. Fighting until the fall of the empire in June 1867, Thompson received several promotions for gallantry in action. He then returned to Texas and slightly wounded his brother-in-law, Jim Moore, who was abusing his pregnant sister, Thompson's wife. Thompson was sentenced on October 20, 1868, to four years' hard labor and sent to the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, where he was held for two years until his conviction by a military tribunal was deemed illegal and he was pardoned by President U.S. Grant. After his release, he left Texas for Abilene, Kansas, undoubtedly hoping to change his fortunes.

In 1871 he opened the Bull's Head Saloon with his Civil War friend, Philip H. Coe. The pair ran the drinking and gambling establishment while Abilene prospered as a railhead for the cattle drives originating in Texas. Thompson was involved in a buggy accident in Kansas City which also injured his son and his wife, who had her arm amputated. While Thompson was recovering, his partner Coe was killed in a shootout with Abilene marshal "Wild Bill" Hickok. In the summer of 1873 Thompson was working as a house gambler in an Ellsworth, Kansas, saloon with his younger brother Billy. On August 15, during a drunken altercation with other gamblers, Billy shot and killed Ellsworth sheriff Chauncey B. Whitney, a friend of the Thompson brothers. Billy Thompson fled Kansas and avoided authorities until 1876, when he was returned to Ellsworth, stood trial, and was acquitted. The jury ruled that the shooting was an accident.

Aside from a visit to Kansas in the spring of 1874, Ben Thompson made his living as a gambler in various Texas cities between 1874 and 1879. On December 25, 1876, Thompson was at Austin's Capital Theatre with several friends when a fight erupted. When Thompson tried to intervene on behalf of one of the troublemakers, theater owner Mark Wilson emerged with a shotgun. In the ensuing fracas, Wilson fired at Thompson and was killed by three fast return shots. Thompson was found to have fired in self-defense. The Leadville, Colorado, silver strike lured Thomson to visit Colorado several times during the spring and summer of 1879. There he joined a group of Kansas gunmen led by Bartholomew (Bat) Masterson who were hired by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in a right-of-way dispute with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Well paid by the Santa Fe for his services as a hired gun, Thompson returned to Austin and opened a gambling hall above the Iron Front Saloon on Congress Avenue. According to Lafayette Rogers, a local patron of the Iron Front, "Ben...never run a crooked game in his house."

Thompson's acknowledged honesty, loyalty, generosity, and prowess with a revolver impressed the citizens of Austin enough that they twice elected him city marshal. First winning office in December 1880, he proved to be an excellent officer, some claiming that he was the finest marshal that Austin had known up to that time, and was re-elected in November of the following year. In July 1882, while still serving as marshal, Thompson quarreled over a card game in a saloon in San Antonio, where he killed the prominent sportsman and owner of the Vaudeville Theatre, Jack Harris. He was indicted for the murder and resigned as marshal. After a sensational trial and acquittal, he returned to Austin to a hero's welcome and resumed his life as a professional gambler. On the evening of March 11, 1884, Thompson brashly returned to the Vaudeville Theatre with his notorious friend John King Fisher, deputy sheriff of Uvalde County. Word of their arrival in San Antonio preceded them. Within minutes of stepping into the Vaudeville the two were shot and killed from behind. Many believed that Harris's friends and partners, Joe Foster and William Simms, arranged the assassination. Thompson was survived by his wife, Catherine, and two children, Ben and Katy. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Austin newspaper editors engaged those of San Antonio in a free-wheeling, nasty debate after a coroner's jury in San Antonio ruled the killing self-defense and no one was ever charged with the murders. It was Bat Masterson who later described Thompson's ability with a pistol: "It is doubtful if in his time there was another man living who equaled him in a life-and-death struggle."

GPS Coordinates
30° 16.552, -097° 43.631

Section 1
Oakwood Cemetery
Austin

October 22, 2013

Theron "Ted" Daffan

Early steel guitarist and songwriter Theron Eugene (Ted) Daffan was born in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, on September 21, 1912, the son of Carl and Della Daffan. Ted Daffan pioneered in the electrification of instruments and was an active figure in the Houston-area country-dance-band scene of the 1930s. His most lasting contribution to country music was in songwriting.

The Daffans moved from Louisiana to Houston, where Ted graduated from high school in 1930. Having developed a fascination with electronics at an early age, he opened a repair shop for radios and electric musical instruments. The shop served as a center of experimentation with pickups and amplifiers. Daffan also developed an early interest in Hawaiian guitar and played in a Hawaiian music group called the Blue Islanders that performed on Houston radio station KTRH in 1933.

Drawn to country music mainly through the influence of Milton Brown, in 1934 Daffan joined the Blue Ridge Playboys, an influential group whose membership included two other legendary early honky-tonk figures, Floyd Tillman and Moon Mullican. He also performed with several other Houston-area bands, including the Bar-X Cowboys and Shelly Lee Alley's Alley Cats, before starting his own band, the Texans, in 1940. The Texans leaned more toward honky-tonk than swing.

Daffan is generally credited with writing the first truck-driving song, Truck Driver's Blues, in 1939; the song became a hit for Cliff Bruner's Texas Wanderers, and its success led to Daffan's Texans being signed by Columbia Records in 1940. Three of the songs he wrote and recorded in the early 1940s became honky-tonk classics: Worried Mind, Born to Lose, and Headin' Down the Wrong Highway. Daffan was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association Hall of Fame as a charter member in 1970. Among the artists who recorded his songs were Ray Charles, who performed versions of Born to Lose and No Letter Today, and Les Paul and Mary Ford, who recorded I'm a Fool to Care.


Daffan moved to California in 1944 and led a band at the Venice Pier Ballroom for a short time before returning to Texas in 1946. After leading a band in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he returned to Houston by the early 1950s. Although his recording career slowed after World War II, he continued a successful career as a songwriter and stayed involved in the music business. From 1955 to 1971 he ran his own record label, Daffan Records, which featured releases by Floyd Tillman, Jerry Irby, and Dickie McBride, among others. Daffan moved to Nashville in 1958 to form a music publishing company with Hank Snow but returned in 1961 to Houston, where he formed his own music-publishing business and continued to live until his death on October 6, 1996. He was buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston. Daffan was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1995. His song Born to Lose received a BMI "one million air play" award in 1992.

GPS Coordinates
29° 43.108, -095° 18.238

Section 20
Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery
Houston

October 15, 2013

John Hancock

John Hancock, congressman and judge, son of John Allen Hancock, was born near Bellefonte, Alabama, on October 24, 1824. After attending the University of East Tennessee at Knoxville, he worked on his father's Alabama farm before he began to study law at Winchester, Tennessee. He was admitted to the Alabama bar in 1846, then moved to Austin, Texas, in January 1847 and began a lucrative law practice. In 1851 he was elected district judge of the Second Judicial District for a term of six years; he resigned at the end of four years to resume his law practice and engage in planting and stock raising. He earned a high reputation for soundness of legal opinion and promptness in dispatch of business.

Hancock was elected to the Texas legislature as a Unionist in 1860. During the Civil War he was an avowed Union man but took no part in active hostilities. In March 1861 as a member of the legislature he declined to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States and was expelled from the legislature. He practiced in the state courts but refused to conduct any legal business in the Confederate courts or in any way to recognize their validity or constitutionality. In 1864 he left Texas for Mexico, where he remained for several months. He was in New Orleans at the time of Robert E. Lee's surrender, whereupon he returned to Texas.

Hancock was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1866 and was conspicuous in that body for his efforts in favor of reconciliation and the restoration of the Southern states to the Union. He declined nomination to Congress in 1870 but subsequently ran on the Democratic ticket and was elected to the Forty-second Congress; he served from 1871 to 1877. He returned in the Forty-eighth Congress, 1883-85. He supported the Indian peace policy of the Grant administration, which called for placing Indians on reservations under government supervision. Hancock married Susan E. Richardson in November 1855. He was a member of the Episcopal Church. He died on July 19, 1893, in Austin, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
30° 16.605, -097° 43.580

Section 3
Oakwood Cemetery
Austin

October 8, 2013

Thomas "Russ" Haas

Russ Haas, professional wrestler, was best known for his work alongside his brother Charlie in Memphis Championship Wrestling and Jersey All Pro Wrestling. He was a collegiate wrestler at Seton Hall University, and was then trained for a career in professional wrestling by Mike Sharpe. He quickly began working on the independent circuit alongside his brother Charlie, with the two forming a tag team known as The Haas Brothers.

They won the JAPW Tag Team Championship for the first time in mid-1998, and won it for the second time in mid-1999. They went on to win the Pennsylvania Championship Wrestling Tag Team Championship and the ECWA Tag Team Championship in 2000, and the CZW World Tag Team Championship in early 2000. In late 2000, The Haas Brothers signed a contract with the World Wrestling Federation, and were assigned to the developmental territories, the Heartland Wrestling Association and Memphis Championship Wrestling. In MCW, they won the MCW Tag Team Championship on three occasions during early 2001.

In September 2001, Haas suffered a heart attack, and three months later suffered a second, fatal heart attack in his sleep. Following his death, JAPW held the Russ Haas Memorial Show in February 2002, and in August 2002 Phoenix Championship Wrestling held The Russ Haas Memorial Tag Team Tournament. In 2004, he was inducted into the ECWA Hall of Fame and in 2007 he was inducted into the JAPW Hall of Fame.

Note
Grandson of Hugh John Devore.

GPS Coordinates
29° 47.036, -095° 36.920

Executive Estates
Memorial Oaks Cemetery
Houston

October 1, 2013

Charles Bellinger Tate Stewart

Charles Stewart, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 6, 1806, to Charles and Adrianna (Bull) Stewart. He studied medicine in the early 1820s, and after 1825 he worked as a druggist in Columbus, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina; he subsequently resided in Cuba for a few months and conducted a trading partnership. He returned to South Carolina and received his license in pharmacy in June 1829. Stewart then moved to New Orleans and worked as a coffee merchant.

He moved to Texas in the spring of 1830 and operated an apothecary shop in Brazoria. In June 1832, during the Anahuac Disturbances, Stewart joined Francis W. Johnson's command and fought at the battle of Velasco. He was later appointed to the Subcommittee of Safety and Vigilance of the Brazoria District by the Convention of 1832. In November 1834 Stewart was appointed secretary of the judicial district of Brazos.

In the spring of 1835 he moved to San Felipe de Austin and opened a drugstore. On May 4, 1835, he obtained a license to practice medicine in Texas. On July 17, as secretary for the Austin delegation, Stewart attended a meeting with representatives of Columbia and Mina to discuss the capture Antonio Tenorio's troops by William B. Travis's troops at Anahuac. On October 11 Stewart was elected secretary of the Permanent Council. On November 11 he was appointed by the General Council as enrollment clerk and secretary to the executive, thus becoming in effect the first Texas secretary of state. Stewart and Thomas Barnett were elected to represent Austin at the Convention of 1836.

Independence Hall, location of the Declaration signing
On March 2, 1836, Stewart signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. He moved to Montgomery in 1837, established a medical practice, and opened a drugstore. In 1839 he served on the committee appointed by the Third Congress of the republic to design a new state flag. Stewart is credited with drawing the original draft of the Lone Star flag. On March 5, 1840, he was appointed district attorney pro tem of Montgomery County, and President Mirabeau B. Lamar appointed him notary public on May 11, 1841. Stewart represented Montgomery County at the Constitutional Convention of 1845. He also represented Montgomery County in the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth legislatures. Stewart married Julia Sheppard in March 1835, and the couple had five children. After the death of his first wife he married Elizabeth Antoinette Nichols Boyd. They had two children, and he also adopted her two children from a previous marriage. Stewart died on July 2, 1885, and was buried in the Montgomery Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
30° 23.221, -095° 42.215


New Cemetery
Montgomery