Tidbits of Shelby County History
Murder in Shelbyville (Regulator-Moderator War)

This week’s article will focus on an incident that happened in Shelbyville during the Regulator-Moderator War that lasted from 1839-1844. It was recounted in the museum’s newsletter, dated November 12, 1992. The account which follows is copied from the San Augustine Redlander, May 18, 1844, the original of which is on file in the State Archives at Austin, Texas:

William Wells Williams May 8, 1844: “When he was caught and brought back to Shelbyville the group of men were in the act of hanging him and Rev. William Carrol Crawford, the Postmaster and Methodist preacher pled with the mob to give the accused man a legal trial. No one would represent the defendant, so Rev. William Carroll Crawford acted as lawyer for him. After a very short process the hanging took place.

Reporter’s letter to the editor: Shelby County Shelbyville, Texas, May 9th, 1844 - - Dear Sir: Yesterday, this community was thrown into an unpleasant and difficult situation, being forcibly called upon to act promptly in a desperate case; the scale preponderated in favor of desperate remedy which seemed to be chosen as the least of two evils, which stared them in the face. A notorious hired assassinator (one who confesses himself as such at least) must be executed without legal process or submit to the tedious and uncertain death, yet every individual said he would rather see it inflicted by the arm of the law. Hence council was sought after eagerly-men with their fellows with reasons magic power, tried to divine what was best; and with all due respect for the law of the land, in view of the welfare of the community, the people in their majesty determined on what they thought to be best, in view of all the circumstances of the case, and proceeded to execute by hanging a man who called himself William Wells Williams, until just before he was executed, and then said that that was not his true name, which he would not disclose “because”, said he, “I will not bring disgrace on my father’s family.”

He was cool and collected to the last, and only regretted ever having associated himself with bad men and charged his misfortunes to the miserable habit of gambling! I am extremely gratified to see that there is so much prudence and forbearance on the part of Mr. Runnels’s friends, and the friends of good order, in this community. There are no threats, nor any disposition to make the afflicting occurrence a party question. The individuals implicated in the confession of this unfortunate assassin are in a very unpleasant situation, whether his confession be true or false; but I am of the opinion there will be no arbitrary measures resorted to with them and that they will have due course at law, and the opportunity of establishing their innocence. It is, Mr. Cranfield, (Note: publisher of the San Augustine Redlander and spoke out in the newspaper many times about the conflicts in Shelby County) almost impossible for persons to judge the true policy of the measures taken with this man Williams, unless they were here, and well acquainted with the very peculiar situation of this whole matter, Yours truly, A.F. (reporter’s name not readable).

Confession of William Wells Williams: Shelby County, May 8th, 1844
I, William Wells Williams, do, by these presents, make known and confess to the witnesses whose names are hereunto affixed, and in their presence, do solemnly state, without compulsion or fear, that in the month of March of the present year, I was employed by John Haley, Senior, (Note: John Haley was a Moderator) formerly of this county, near the town of Alabama, on the Trinity River, to kill one Wat Mourman (Watt MoormanNote: Watt Moorman was the leader of the Regulator) known as the captain or leader of a regulating company of this county provided, the said Moorman made an attack on him during the ensuing term of court at Shelbyville, in Shelby County, Texas, for which service he promised to pay me “One Thousand Dollars”. I proceeded from hence to the town of Douglas, in the county of Nacogdoches, at which place I met John M. Bradley, of Shelby County. The said Bradley pledged himself to me that he would see the reward paid that Haley offered, and if I would come to his house, he would protect me. I left Douglas in company with John M. Bradley, senior, Nat Smyth, Josephus Moore, Thomas Garner, Ben Hines, and Bill York and proceeded from thence to the residence of John M. Bradley in Shelby County.  I staid (stayed) there one night and next day went to Shelbyville, where I met with Amos and Joseph Hall.(Note: the argument between Runnells and Hall began over some hogs that Runnells had accused Hall of stealing. Each man threatened the other’s life, and wen about Shelbyville heavily armed. However, neither tried very sincerely to contact the other. The difficulty might have been amicably settled if a young man named – Stanfield had not intervened into the personal quarrel. He met Hall in Shelbyville one day and accused him of being a thief. When Hall denied the charge, Stanfield shot him down without further warning. Stanfield escaped to Sabine but was found by a posse and taken back to Shelbyville. While awaiting trial, Stanfield filed off his irons, forced the door lock open broke jail and fled to Mississippi. The Halls tracked Stanfield from Mississippi to Arkansas where they caught him. Shortly before daybreak, Hall found a desolate spot and threw a rope over a limb, and Standfield’s horse was driven from under him. The widower and father of six children was left there to rot, with his saddle tied around hi body (Ashcroft Manuscript, Chapter X. Revenge still drove the citizens of Shelby County. Thus, some Regulators united with some Moderators in a conspiracy that would add fuel to the burning fire of discontent in the region. They decided to hire desperadoes from out of Shelby County to murder several of the most prominent Regulators, including Runnells. John M. Bradley, a Moderator considered a threatening enemy to the Moorman leadership, was the leading member of the united conspiracy. Encouraged by the Hall family, and in company with Moderator John Haley, Bradley set out for Austin. While there, he hired four men to come to Shelby County with the purpose to murder 17 of the top members of the Regulating Party. (History of the Regulators and Moderators.) These two persons made themselves known to me, and told me that they knew my business, and that it was impossible to get Moorman, as he had left the country; but told me that a certain Henry Runnels of this county had shot their brother, and hired one Stanfield to kill another brother of theirs, and furnished the said Stanfield with a horse to make his escape; and that he, the said Runnels, had been the cause of death of many good and honest men, whose names they did not mention; and that no good or honest man could live about him; and if I would kill the said Runnels, they would pay me five thousand dollars which I agreed to do if I could do it without risk or danger. After this I went to the house of William Tood, at which place aforementioned Amos Hall came and paid me the sum of forty dollars as part of the reward. A few days after this time I went, in company with on Ben Hines, to the house of Henry Runnels, and remained there all night, and found him to be a very different man from what was represented to be by Halls. Hines had promised to assist me in the murder, but after seeing Runnels we both swore we would have nothing to do with the matter. Hines left me after our visit to Runnels’ house and I never saw him anymore. I then went to John M. Bradley’s at which place I got acquainted with James Secres, alias James Smyth. The same Smyth and myself were advised by Bradley to go on with our intended murder. He also advised me and Smyth to go to Mr. Todd’s and there have another interview with the Halls and assured me that Runnels was fully as bad a man as the had represented him to be, and was capable of deceiving any person, and would ruin us if he had us in his power.