Murder of Ragsdale and Buchanan, Fannin County, Texas


On the 11th day of May 1885, the most terrible crime that has been committed in Fannin County, since the days of Indian massacres, was perpetrated about ten miles south of Bonham. Thomas A. Ragsdale, Sheriff of the county, and one of the best and purest citizens within her borders, had in his possession, several warrants for Sam and Eli Dyer, were charged with theft of horses and cattle in several Indictments, and who had forfeited their bonds. Learning that the Dyer boys were back in the county and around home, the Sheriff summoned a posse, and repaired to the place where they were thought to be. Among his posse was Joe Buchanan, a middle aged man, with a large family, a good citizen and a brave man, on whom Mr. Ragsdale could rely for courage and promptness.

There were about thirty, men in the posse, but the Sheriff only took a few with him when he went up to the house to make the arrest. Sam and Eli Dyer, where secreted in an old out-house. The women at the house denied knowing anything of their whereabouts, and the Sheriff was forced to search every place thoroughly. He approached the old out-house, and tried the door. It was fastened. Tom Ragsdale knew no such word as fear, and never, even while he served as deputy sheriff, stopped to think for himself or his own safety for a moment. He threw his shoulder against the door, and it partially gave way. Through the aperture, Eli Dyer fired at him, the shot taking effect in his head above, and in front of the ear, and passing out behind the ear. At this juncture, both Eli and Sam rushed out of the door, over the wounded and fallen Sheriff, who gave the former the contents of one barrel of his pistol as he passed over him. Eli fired again, striking Ragsdale this time, in the bowels. From this time Ragsdale was powerless to do more. In the meanwhile, Buchanan had gotten around on that side of the shanty, and was pouring it into the Dyer boys, when Eli turned his attention to him. He shot Buchanan down, and followed close after Sam, who was making good his retreat. As they ran out over the fence, they came in contact with some of the posse, but Eli, deliberately got one of their horses and rode him off. He had not gone far, when the men collected their wits sufficiently to shoot at him. He fell from the horse, and yielded up his arms. Sam, on foot, ran across a pasture and into a skirt of timber, a short distance from where the shooting occured. All of this, took place in much less time than it requires to tell it.

The news of Ragsdale and Buchanan's death spread over the county rapidly indeed. In a very short while afterwards, crowds of armed men were to be seen rushing to the scene of the tragedy. But one thought occupied them; the capture and need it be said, Revenge for the dead Sheriff and his faithful friend. Ragsdale died in a very short while after he was shot, and Buchanan bled to death, before a surgeon could relieve him.

Sam Dyer was completely surrounded in the skirt of timber and guarded there all night. The next day the piece of woods was thoroughly scoured and hunted, but he was not to be found. The citizens came to the conclusion that he had made his escape during the night, but all were puzzled to know how he could have done so.

A report was circulated that he had been seen crossing the railroad just west of Bonham. This, however, proved to be a mistake, for when the search was given up, where Sam was thought to be, and the men dispersed, or went to hunt for him in other places, Sam came down out of a large tree with dense foliage, and made his escape, at least for awhile. He sat in that tree for forty hours, part of the time watching a sea of angry faces, and expecting every moment to be discovered. A few days after Ragsdale's funeral, and while Eli Dyer was lying in jail, a posse effected Sam's arrest. He was found under the puncheon floor of an old crib, and when discovered, surrendered without resistance. He too was safely landed in jail. Talk and threats of lynching filled the air for many days, but gradually it subsided, and it seemed for a while that they would be regularly tried. They employed counsel, and as soon as Eli's wounds would allow it, they were brought out for preliminary trial. One witness was examined after which further examination was deferred for a few days on account of Eli's weakness.

That night the two were taken from jail, one with only his shirt on, and the other in his under clothes, carried a short distance from the jail, and swung to a bois d' arc limb, side by side. It is said that Eli showed a bravado spirit to the last. When Sam begged for his life, Eli cursed him, and told Lim that "he had lived 'a coward, to the like a. man."

Public sentiment, upon the death of Ragsdale and Buchanan, was undivided; and upon the death of the Dyer boys, it was equally undivided. While a few condemned the manner in which Eli and Sam Dyer were executed, all were satisfied with the result.

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