|(Courtesy of Stephenville Museum)|
A little after dark on Saturday, May 7, 1898, Reverend Philips completed his work and returned home in his wagon. His son, hearing the father drive into the lot, took a gun and went outside to greet his father with gunfire. The fatal shot struck Josiah Philips in the lower part of his face on the right side, blasting away his jaw line. The killer was arrested and lodged in the county jail on Sunday morning. His trial was set for Monday, May 23.
As Willard Philips was found insane, officials returned him to the asylum on November 17. Two years later residents of Erath County were shocked by similar murder in their midst. In April of 1900 nineteen-year-old farmer’s daughter May Bruce took an axe and gave her mother several whacks. May, a blue-eyed, dark-haired beauty, who had been an affectionate and attentive daughter and a good student in school, could offer no motivation for the crime. “Do not know why I did it,” she said. “There was not a cross word between us. No quarrel; nothing at all.”
The story of mysterious May Bruce also unfolds in the pages of Sins of the Pioneers. In researching this bizarre case, I had the opportunity to meet and visit with three of May’s nieces who shared interesting family stories for the book.