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 Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson

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Cliff Caldwell
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PostSubject: Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson   Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:16 pm

Thought you might be interested in one of the short bios I recently did for the book I am working on "In the Line of Duty - An Anthology of Texas Lawmen of the 1800's"


JOHN D. NELSON
DEPUTY SHERIFF – KERR COUNTY TEXAS
Abt 1842 – 12 November 1882
___________________________________________

“Peace has its victories, but it takes a brave man to win them”
__________________________________________


Traveling northwest from San Antonio the relatively flat country of the Rio Grande Valley gives way to rolling hills as one climbs quickly in elevation. Kerr County lies roughly fifty miles northwest of San Antonio, on the Edwards Plateau, which traverses south central Texas. The county is named for James Kerr, an “Old Three Hundred” colonist and an important figure in the Texas Revolution. The area around Kerrville, county seat of Kerr County, had been the site of human habitation for thousands of years. Archeological artifacts found along the Guadalupe River and its forks indicate that human inhabitants arrived around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Various tribes including the Lipan Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas inhabited and hunted the region. The first attempt at Anglo settlement in the area of the present Kerr County was in 1846 when Joshua D. Brown led a group of ten men to the Guadalupe River and established a shingle-making camp at the site of present Kerrville. They were soon driven off by Indians, but undaunted they return to this site that they had originally named Brownsburough in 1848. By 1860 Kerr County had a population of 634. Kerr County's population grew rapidly, reaching practically 4,000 by 1882.

Early on a Sunday morning in November of 1882 as local citizens were busy making ready for church services and hustling about performing their morning chores Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson stood near a street corner in downtown Kerrville visiting with passersby. To Deputy Sheriff Nelson it probably seemed like any other normal, brisk November morning as he watched the sunrise to the east down Water Street, not knowing that this would be his last. Deputy Nelson would be dead before noon that day, shot down on that very street corner at about 6:00AM by Tom Baker.

John Nelson was born in Texas, but diligent research has yet to yield exactly where in Texas. The 1850 census shows him, his widowed mother Elizabeth (and siblings Jane, Lorenzo and Rowland) living with the Jonas Harrison family at Cibolo, in Bexar County. At the time of the 1850 census his younger brother Lorenzo was yet to reach his first birthday, giving rise to the belief that John’s mother Elizabeth had been widowed in about 1848 or 1849. By the 1860 census he had moved to Kerr County, Texas and was living with the family of Sayne Nichols. The remainder of John’s family, including his mother, sister and two brothers seem to have disappeared entirely from history between 1850 and 1860. Nelson served for the Confederacy during the Civil War, as a Private in Jones’s Texas Light Artillery. After discharge he returned to Texas. He enlisted in Company “F” of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers on 4 June 1874 serving under Captain Neil Coldwell. Nelson requested a transfer to Captain McNelly’s Company “A” of the Frontier Battalion, probably so that he could return to the Kerr County area where he had last lived prior to the Civil War. The service records of both Company “A” and Company “F” of the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers for the period during which John Nelson served are to lengthy to recount, and so filled with valor and individual bravery that they read like a novel rather than an account of history.

Outlaws throughout the 1870s plagued Kerr County. In July 1873 a gang of 17 bandits attempted to rob the Valentine and Schreiner Store in Kerrville. After receiving word of the impending attack the owners killed five of the outlaws in a shootout on Water Street. Twelve escaped. A posse of eight men caught up with these outlaws about 10 miles from Kerrville. Again in August 1873 another gang was captured near Buffalo Branch (about 7 miles southwest of present day Hunt, Texas) which leads into the south fork of the Guadalupe River. The area that had to be covered by Company “A” at the time was enormous by any standard, and the continued Indian menace caused a home guard unit called the Kerrville Mounted Rifles to be organized in 1875. Charles Schreiner was elected Captain, a title he carried the rest of his life.

It is likely, although yet to be confirmed, that John D. Nelson was related to H. Louis Nelson who established the first post office at Mountain Home, Texas (earlier known as Eura) in 1879. The town of Mountain Home was first settled in about 1856 by storekeeper Thomas A. Dowdy as a supply center for area ranches. The pioneer family of Susan (1830-1913) and James Dowdy (1818-1900) moved from Goliad to Kerr County in 1878 and settled on Johnson Creek. Shortly after the family arrived, four of the Dowdy children Alice, Martha, Susan and James, were killed by Indians while tending sheep near their home. The attack occurred on 5 October 1878,at a site about 3.5 miles northwest of present day city of Ingram. The victims were buried the following day at Sunset Cemetery, northwest of Ingram. This incident was one of the last Indian massacres to take place in Texas.

Nelson served as a Texas Ranger until March 1876, returning to the Kerr County area and soon becoming a Deputy Sheriff for the County. By the time of his death Nelson was forty years old, and an experienced, seasoned and tough veteran. Reportedly bad blood had existed for some time between John Nelson and a local man named Tom Baker. On the night of Saturday 11 November 1882 Nelson and Baker had “differences” that escalated to a point where they had to be separated by bystanders. About 6:00AM the following morning, Sunday 12 November 1882, Tom Baker armed himself with a Winchester and approached Deputy Nelson in front of the Schreiner’s Store at the corner of Water Street and Mountain Street (present day Earl Garrett street). He walked up within twenty paces of Deputy Sheriff Nelson before he saw him coming. Tom Baker fired a shot that passed diagonally through Nelson’s lungs. Nelson fell to the ground as Baker advanced and fired again, this time breaking Nelson’s left arm. He was about to fire a third time when Nelson is reported by witnesses to have exclaimed “you have killed me, don’t shoot any more”. Deputy John Nelson died of the wounds received in this cowardly ambush at about 10:15AM on 12 November 1882.

After the shooting Tom Baker immediately fled the scene. Sheriff Buck Hamilton of Bandera County was in town on business and although out of his jurisdiction immediately gave chase, soon running up on Baker at the edge of town. Sheriff Hamilton fired three shots at long range, missing Baker. Baker’s father, after hearing what had happened, gave chase immediately catching up with his son, dismounting, and giving his son his horse so that he could make good his escape.

Thomas Baker was born in about 1861, probably in Texas. His father William Alfred Baker (born 1824) and mother Sarah had come to Texas from Alabama. Baker was eventually arrested, imprisoned and stood trial for the murder of Deputy Nelson. The 12 June 1886 issue of the Galveston Daily News reported that “Tom Baker’s appeal to the Texas Supreme Court was reversed and he was remanded into custody”. Not long after, on 14 July 1886, he lost the appeal he had filed. The San Antonio Daily Express reported that “Tom Baker arrived in San Antonio with prison contractor McCulloch from Kerrville to serve his 25 year sentence for the murder of Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson”. After Baker’s incarceration he seems to have disappeared from history.

Deputy Nelson was not married. Although no record of his burial can be located, in all likelihood Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson was buried in an unmarked grave at one of several local cemeteries, perhaps at Sunset Cemetery which is located about seventeen miles west of Kerrville (H.L. Nelson and family, believed to be related to Deputy Nelson, are buried there).

It seems so unfair that any mans life can be snuffed out instantly by a cowards ambush. Orphaned during his early childhood, having served bravely in the Civil War, later valiantly as a Texas Ranger and ultimately a Deputy Sheriff, John D. Nelson’s untimely death seems another classic disservice of destiny.

~

1) Galveston Daily News – 16 November 1882
2) San Antonio Evening Light – 14 November 1882
3) San Antonio Daily Express – 14 November 1882
4) Galveston Daily News – 14 July 1886
5) Texas State Archives – Texas Ranger Records – Call No. 401-165
6) National Park Service Records of Civil War Soldiers – Jones’s Company Texas Light Artillery
7) Kerr County 1865-1900 – Kerr County Historical Commission
Cool Peace Officers Memorial Foundation of Texas
9) United State Census Records – 1850-1860-1870-1880
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Russell Burrows
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PostSubject: Re: Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson   Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:47 pm

Cliff, as I mentioned to you the other night, Frank Hamer has caught my attention. He must have been a real barn burner. In volved in fifty gunfights and lived to tell the tale. Quite a man.

Russ
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Dave
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PostSubject: Re: Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson   Wed Jan 28, 2009 7:53 pm

cliff, my wife and I visited the BUckhorn Museum in downtown San Antonio one day last summer and I believe there was a fairly prominent display for John Nelson...the Buckhorn is a must see (along with my beloved Alamo) on any visit to San Antonio
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PostSubject: Re: Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson   Wed Jan 28, 2009 9:04 pm

Well done, you're writing is informative, but best of all has pazsaz!

Thanks Cliff for sharing with us information from your next book. To be honest, I'm not familiar with this subject, but I'm always open to learn new events and names in Western History.
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Cliff Caldwell
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PostSubject: Re: Kerr County Deputy Sheriff John D. Nelson   Wed Jan 28, 2009 11:38 pm

I had no clue about the display at the Buckhorn. And, you are correct...it's a great place. We have a high-end gun show there each year, help upstairs in a semi private area.

I had lunch with some fellow members of the Kerr County Historical Commission yesterday at a restaurant just across the street from the old Schreiner store where the event took place. None of them, including the Sheriff, had ever heard of it!
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