Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

January 23, 2013

My Procrastination Project

Filed under: Family,Genealogy,Writing — Janice @ 11:02 pm

I have been working on a project for too many years now and I’m sick of procrastinating. Maybe if I lay out some of it here it will get me going until I am done. I want to be done. It is a great story. A great project.

Almost THREE years ago … and it really does embarrass me that I’ve delayed on this thing this long … a man called me from the Abilene sheriff’s department. He wanted to know what information I had about an uncle that was sheriff of Taylor County. I was no help at all to him. Other than knowing that he WAS the sheriff at one time, I couldn’t even supply him with dates. But then he told me that he did have the “information about the gunfight in Kansas.” Well, I didn’t know anything about a gunfight in Kansas, so he sent me an article from the New York Times about my uncle killing a man in a gunfight in 1897 in Wichita, Kansas. Yes. It was in the New York Times. He also sent me two pictures of this uncle. Here’s the one that is hanging in the sheriff’s office in Taylor County to this day;


Don’t get into a gunfight with this man. He’ll shoot you down.

Since I talked to that guy, I have dug out the story and believe me, the story has everything: it has trains, a wedding, arson, fleeing criminals, a CIRCUS, dying testimony, wrongful arrest, a lynch mob, and … GET THIS… a GHOST! All of that in one story. But I don’t want to tell a story with exaggeration (except maybe the ghost part). I want to tell the factual story and I keep digging deeper and deeper and deeper. Every time I start to write I think, but WHEN did that circus start? What were circuses like in 1897? What clothes did people wear? Where were the train stations? and on and on and on and on. I can’t stop researching.

This is one of the best stories I know in our family. Okay, maybe not THE best, but it is the most documented story I know about the family. I have not only found it in the New York Times, I have found it in the San Francisco newspaper and newspapers all across the country. The Fort Worth paper had huge articles about it. It really captured people’s attention because a Federal Marshall (my uncle – he wasn’t a sheriff at the time) killed a circus owner and that would be like someone killing the head of Google today . No something more shady than Google. But something that popular. The circus was THE entertainment of that period.

So anyway, that’s on my mind and I keep getting caught up in the internet instead of crafting the story and footnoting it. I even tried to go back to the old tricks of high school essays this week with a thesis statement. “This article will factually lay out the story of John Valentine Cunningham in a clear and understandable, yet interesting, story, with clear details and facts and sources.” Next step will be the outline.

Another interesting fact to leave you with about ol’ J.V. Cunningham before I go to bed and dream of circuses and ghosts and gunfights… He was 5 feet 4 inches tall. All that stuff about the long lanky Texas sheriffs is just in the movies. The REAL Texas sheriffs … at least this one … made you look up to them metaphorically.

1 Comment »

  1. I’m waiting with bated breath for the next chapter in your project.

    Comment by pat — January 24, 2013 @ 5:55 am

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