Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

February 17, 2013


Filed under: Neal Murphy — Freddie Keel @ 6:53 am


The city of  San Augustine was organized in 1834, and a study of the city from that date through the 1920s show that it was replete with rough justice, feuding clans, shootings in the streets and saloons.  In fact the city gained such a bad reputation that it took Texas rangers to help clear the red dirt of such activities.  A ranger was stationed in the county until the 1970s, and even today one is stationed in a nearby city that can be here within an hour.

In the early history of this East Texas city there appeared to have been, on occasion, public hangings on the court-house square.  The last of these happened on March 23, 1920.

Records indicate that a colored man, John Dodd Price, shot and killed a white man, John Kennedy, on Thursday evening March 18th.  Kennedy and Price apparently had some type of argument the day before, the details of which are not known.  Mr. Kennedy, age 41, lived alone in his home about three miles northeast of the city.  Records show that Price slipped up to the window near where Kennedy was sitting in a chair reading a newspaper.  Price shot Kennedy with a shotgun twice in his head, killing him instantly.  His body was discovered early the next morning by his cook who worked for him.

On Monday, March 22, Price was spotted in the city of Alto and was arrested by a deputy sheriff.  Officers from San Augustine motored to Alto and picked up the prisoner, arriving back in San Augustine around 4:30 in the afternoon, placing him safely into the county jail.  By now the word about the murder had spread throughout the city, and a large crowd gathered around the courthouse.  Kennedy’s brother, Bob, was willing to allow the law to take its normal course in the matter.

The District Judge, J. T. Adams of Orange, happened to be in Hemphill holding court there when he was summoned to travel to San Augustine and handle the legal matters of this case.  A grand jury was immediately convened and a true bill of murder was returned against Price.   A formal trial was held immediately after the grand jury indictment.   The hasty trial resulted in a unanimously guilty verdict, and Judge Adams entered the verdict of ‘guilty as charged’ and that “he be hanged by the neck until dead”.

Thus, John Dodd Price was hanged at 11:00 am from a hastily erected scaffold in the park on the courthouse square in the presence of a large, but not unruly crowd.  The judge read a statement which said, “Justice has been done without violence, and relatives and friends of Mr. Kennedy are satisfied with the outcome of things”.

Mr. Kennedy was buried in the Dickerson cemetery Saturday under the ceremony of the Woodmen of the World, of which he was a member.  He had a $1,000 life insurance policy, the proceeds of which were left to his nephew, Johnnie Thomson.

In an April issue of the Houston Post, we find the following commentary on the incident:  The speedy trial and execution of a colored man in San Augustine who had killed a white farmer ought to set a precedent that will do much to abate the lynching evil in the South. All the conditions that usually lead up to a lynching were present in this case. The officers apprehended the criminal and brought him to jail.  However, there was no attempt by the citizens to wreak havoc upon the culprit. Instead, the machinery of the law was immediately set in motion.  The trial, the condemnation and execution were affected within a space of twenty-four hours.  The state has been spared a humiliation, and has set forward a step in its leadership of the states that are getting away from the lynching evil.  It would have been better if the culprit in San Augustine had been executed without the publicity that was given the hanging.  A public hanging was not necessary, and of doubtful wisdom, but the state is grateful that the law was allowed to take its course quietly and without hindrance.”


Fortunately, this was the last such execution in San Augustine County.  The law has been allowed to run its course since then and civility has prevailed, for the most part, in our small town.





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