Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Murder of Josiah Philips

     A story featured in Sins of the Pioneers: Crimes & Scandals in a Small Texas Town tells of schoolteacher Josiah Philips who had only been married a couple of months when the Lone Star State became embroiled in the War Between the States. Enlisting in the Confederate States Army, he was appointed chaplain of his regiment. Philips became a Presbyterian minister after the war, and he and his wife became parents to seven children, all of whom they raised on an Erath County farm.
(Courtesy of Stephenville Museum)
     One of Philips’s older sons, Willard, was judged insane and institutionalized, but in January of 1898 his parents brought their thirty-year-old son back home. He was not entirely discharged from the asylum, and the parents were cautioned that they may need to send him back.
     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.