I would like to submit a Fly family story.It has been a mystery in my sub-section of the Fly's as to how my great granduncle James Milton Fly died.Not all the questions are answered, but much of the "cover" is off.
A young deputy sheriff enters the grocery goods store in downtown Gonzales.With a set jaw he cuts through the late afternoon light streaming in the windows. Moving to the back of the store, he finds the owner and confronts him over a personal issue.Voices are raised, tempers flair and as guns are drawn, a scuffle ensues.Shots ring out into the fall air.And, in the company of the proprietor and his two sons, the deputy twists and falls dying to the floor.Sawdust settles in the fading light as the deputy grimaces and gasps a final time.Such were most likely the last moments in the life of twenty-seven year old James Milton Fly, Deputy Marshal of Gonzales, Texas, October 21, 1887.
What led to this?Who was at fault?What impact rippled out from that fateful day?Many of these questions may never be fully answered, but we can review documents, facts and judge what has been said and what has been left unsaid.
First an over view of JM Fly's presence as a peace officer is in order.Apparently J.M. Fly was not killed "in the line of duty", though it is documented that he was a peace officer.No mention of his death by article or obituary appears in the local newspaper.A local law enforcement officer being shot and killed would have been ripe for front-page news at any time in history.The index of the Gonzales Inquirer (GI) is devoid of any such event. There was not even an obituary.It should be noted that J.M. Fly was the subject of an article published in the GI Saturday, October 22, 1887 [Attachment 1], the day after his death.The article covered a jailbreak attempt that was thwarted by Marshal Fly on Monday of that same week.J.M. Fly was killed the Friday after this event occurred.His presence in the community as an officer of the law is also established by his documented pledge as a deputy under Sheriff W.E. Jones, dated 18 May 1887 [A-2].The article in the GI refers to him as Marshal JM Fly.In a letter by his own hand written five days before his death J.M. Fly asks for his brother-in-law's, Joe L. Hill, assistance in securing a US Marshal post for Sheriff W.E. Jones [A-3].Jones, he writes, has promised to appoint J.M. sheriff when Jones vacates the office.Obviously J.M. Fly has career aspirations in law enforcement.
Now, who was James Milton Fly in the community of Gonzales, Texas?Born in the Big Hill community, Gonzales Co. on February 12, 1860 to George Washington Lafayette Fly and Mary Callie Bell, James was an infant during the most tumultuous period of our nations history.In fact, he was in the midst of the conflict more than most children his age.After the fall of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, James' father was held in a parole camp in Demopolis, Alabama. Callie, upon learning of his condition and thankful that the earlier report of his death was false, gathered her three children, William Madden age 5, James 3, and Mary Georgie 1, and took off east to recover her husband.After a rather harrowing adventure the family returned, intact, to Gonzales. When war had ended GWL Fly returned to Gonzales, started a boarding school, served as president of Gonzales College and took up the practice of law [A-4].William and Ben, JM's brothers, as well as his brother-in-law Joe L. Hill (married to Mary Georgie) were also attorneys.J.M.'s only other sibling Frank Merriman served as deputy, sheriff, county clerk, justice of the peace and banker during his lifetime in Gonzales.
James Milton married Mollie Branch in 1885.In a letter [A-5] written shortly after J.M.'s death, his brother Ben refers to a neighbors report that the neighbor "never knew a happier couple".Ben also states James Milton "deserved her [Mollie's] love for he was a kind, indulgent husband".Molly Branch's grandfather had been a mayor of Gonzales before and after the Civil War.
The storeowner that was accused of shooting James Milton Fly was George Jefferson Boothe, owner of a goods store located on the southwest corner of St. Joseph and St. Louis Streets in Gonzales.Two other members of the Boothe family were present in the store at the time of J.M.'s death.Shown in the bonds posted under the charge of murder were a George Boothe, assumed to be George Jefferson, Jr., age 27 and son of G.J. Boothe and a one W. M. Boothe.The identity this second person is more difficult as G.J. Boothe had a son William Harvey, age 21, but the William H. does not match with the bond that reads W. M. Boothe.All three posted bonds on the charge of murder on January 12th 1888 [A-6, 7, 8].These later two Boothes were seemingly acquitted of any charges related to the incident.G.J. Boothe was apparently found guilty on the charge of murder. Though no direct court records seem to exist pertaining to the outcome of this trial (a fire at the court house destroyed "some" documents), District Court Minutes dated Sat. January 26 1889, case # 2717 (this number matches the original Indictment number on the January 12th, 1888 bond), State of Texas vs. G.J. Boothe show that defendants motion for a new trial is granted [A-9].This means that the previous trials outcome did not suit Mr. Boothe.A motion for a change of venue is granted on January 28, 1889 moving the trial to Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas [A-10].A $5,000 bond is pledged by G.N. Dilworth, J.P. Raudle and J.D. Houston for that court appearance [A-11].This second trial ends in a mistrial in April 1890 as reported by the Luling Signal on April 10, 1890.
Who were the Boothes in the community of Gonzales, Texas?George Jefferson Boothe, son of Joseph and Nancy K. Whitfield Boothe was born October 10, 1824.He married Mary Ann Jones in Arkansas March 8, 1857.He died on February 6, 1892 and was buried in the City Cemetery.G.J. Boothe was born in North Carolina.The Boothe's had ten children. Two of these children married Houstons, a prominent ranching family in Gonzales.The Boothes were active socially as judged by the frequent references in the Gonzales Inquirer.It should be noted here that the use of deadly force by the Boothe family to settle arguments was not unique to this one situation.On August 21, 1899, Thomas H. Boothe, son of G.J. Boothe, was killed in a shoot out with his wife's uncle, J. D. Houston and J. D.'s son George Houston.This brief, but decisive battle occurred just before 6:00 PM on the streets of Gonzales in front of the Berlinger Building.The GI article of Tuesday, August 22, 1899 states, "The INQUIRER understands the difficulty was the outcome of a difference in the settlement of the R. A. Houston estate of which Mr. J. D. Houston was executor".Apparently the settlement was not to Mr. Boothe's satisfaction.J. D. and his son were seriously wounded, but lived.Note that J. D. Houston was one of the men that made a personal pledge on G.J. Boothe's trial bond just nine years before.
It must be understood that this time frame following the Civil War was violent.Though Texians stopped fighting with the Union Forces, they continued to fight with each other.And unfortunately they were now (as a result of the War) better trained and possibly more inclined.The Taylor-Sutton Feud rampaged in and around Gonzales for over 30 years during the late 1800's.This famous ongoing "circumstance" made the Hatfield-McCoy Feud look like a family spate.It is estimated that as many as 200 to 2,000 men were armed and after each other at any one time during the course of these difficulties.Many men were taken from their homes, at times by "officers-of-the-law", and shot and/or hung within minutes.This was often done with much celebration and joy at having successfully "bagged" one of the enemy.No official death toll has even been estimated from this conflict.There is at least one documented "battle", involving as many as 100 men that ended with a formal, signed peace treaty.But, as the author of "I'll Die Before I'll Run", C. L. Sonnichsen states, "One of the laws of feuding seems to be the principle that a truce holds only long enough for the signers to take cover".So, the fact that people would pull guns out to settle arguments cannot be considered very shocking, even in polite society (at least in Texas) (even today?)
Much of the evidence that does exist in this case does not shine favorably on James Milton Fly. The finding of "Guilty" was removed from G.J. Boothe on the charge of murder.He ultimately "walked away" or as the term then was "came clear" from this incident a free man.A wrongful death suit filed by James Milton's widow against G.J. Boothe, et al for $75,000 was dismissed on July 11, 1890 [A-12, 13, 14].The defendants pleading filed in response to Mollie Fly's suit is less than complementary towards J.M. Fly.The pleading states that J.M. "was quarrelsome and desperate when drinking and carried his life in his hand and was liable at any and all times to become engaged in a deadly fight from slight provocation either real or imaginary." And that J.M. Fly had perpetrated an unprovoked attack on G.J. Boothe while in drunken rage [A-15].Understand that J.M. Fly never got to tell his side of this story.It is never made clear as to who did, if fact, kill James Milton Fly.A bit of negative history in J.M.'s background is that he was himself charged with murder and "came clear" in Ft. Davis, Texas in 1884.This is documented in the GI article Volume 31, #9, 1 September 1883 and correspondence from Mary Georgie Fly Hill to her husband [A-16].A disturbing aspect of this case is that aside from a couple of letters discussing the family loss of J.M., no one in the family ever discussed or even would discuss how J.M. Fly died or what happened.In a 1952 letter [A-17] from JM's sister-in-law, Stella Fly (wife of Frank Merriman Fly) to J.M.'s nephew and namesake, Milton Fly Hill, Sr., Stella writes that Frank would never discuss how his brother died, only that "he was my Buddie". This is a double-entendre that refers to JM's nickname of "Buddie Milton" and that he was Franks "compadre".Frank was only ten years old when he lost his older brother.This "veil of silence" relating to his death implies (to the author) that something was not "straight" about J.M.'s side of the story.Surely, if James Milton had died under a "noble" circumstance this too would have been added to the family legacy, much of which is recorded.
The effects that rippled out from this tragic moment?One family loses a much loved son, brother, husband and friend.A man is dogged for years by lawsuits and criminal charges that are only cleared at short time before his death.A tragic note to any family history.Maybe, a lesson that settling differences at the point of a gun has long lasting consequences or that fair treatment is the best way to avoid conflicts in the first place.Again, much about this situation will never be known or understood, except for the pain it left behind.J.M.'s brother, Ben sums up the outcome of this best when he laments the bitterness of his loss in a letter to his sister, Mary Georgie."Many a time in the last two weeks have I almost wished that I had no father, mother, and sister to bewail my misdeeds.No one to restrain me with loving hands.If such had been the case, I would today be a corpse with my brother or his death would have been avenged trice fold.But, they have not yet reached the City of Refuge and perhaps justice will still over take them."A sad note on which to close a sad story.