Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen, Volume 2, 1910-1928


In 2010 Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, told the stories of thirteen Fort Worth law officers who died in the line of duty between 1861 and 1909. Now Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster are back with Volume 2 covering another baker’s dozen line-of-duty deaths that occurred between 1910 and 1928. The stories are grouped into two sections: “When Blood Ran in the Streets, 1910-1919” and “Life Was Cheap, 1920-1928.” Not counting the two officers who died of natural causes ...

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Written in Blood Vol. 2: The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen, 1910-1928

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In 2010 Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, told the stories of thirteen Fort Worth law officers who died in the line of duty between 1861 and 1909. Now Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster are back with Volume 2 covering another baker’s dozen line-of-duty deaths that occurred between 1910 and 1928. The stories are grouped into two sections: “When Blood Ran in the Streets, 1910-1919” and “Life Was Cheap, 1920-1928.” Not counting the two officers who died of natural causes (meningitis and drowning), these are more tales of murder, mayhem, and dirty work from all branches of local law enforcement: police, sheriff’s deputies, constables, and special officers, just like in Volume 1.

This era was, if anything, bloodier than the preceding era of the first volume. Fort Worth experienced a race riot, two lynchings, and martial law imposed by the U.S. Army while Camp Bowie was operating. Bushwhacking (such as happened to Peter Howard in 1915) and assassinations (such as happened to Jeff Couch in 1920) replaced blood feuds and old-fashioned shootouts as leading causes of death among lawmen. Violence was not confined to the streets either; a Police Commissioner was gunned down in his city hall office in 1917. Even the new category of “vehicular homicide” claimed a lawman’s life.

Selcer and Foster also relate the story of their murderers and of the times. Every chapter follows the arrest and trial of the perp(s) and their ultimate fate. How some of the accused were treated by the justice system and how they ended up will surprise you. Woven throughout is the story of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in the early 20th century, including the move from horseback to motorized transportation; how the FWPD wrestled with the city’s growing ethnic communities; bonding procedures back when policemen issued “bonds,” not tickets; and the insidious influence of the KKK in local law enforcement. Forensics science changed how crimes were solved, even if they were solved. Throughout it all, the man wearing the badge was always the front line of civilization. He laid his life on the line every time he stepped out onto the street. As a result some men bought life insurance (something else new); some men did not marry.

There are no saints here. These thirteen officers were all flesh-and-blood men. And their killers were not all mustache-twirling villains. Juries sometimes had trouble making the distinction, too. Written in Blood Volume 2 continues the story begun in the first volume, but it also stands alone as a fascinating slice of Fort Worth history and an examination of law enforcement in the old days.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Written in Blood Volume 2, like its predecessor, will be a significant addition to the literature, both of Fort Worth history and the broader field of law enforcement history.”—Robert K. DeArment, author of Bat Masterson and Alias Frank Canton

“This volume will continue the much-needed chronicle of the ultimate sacrifices made by Fort Worth’s law enforcement officers in the line of duty while protecting the citizens from unlawful elements. Selcer and Foster are to be commended that they have undertaken the extensive research task to make sure that these dedicated men are not forgotten.”—J’Nell Pate, author of Livestock Legacy: The Fort Worth Stockyards, 1887-1987

"Although there is certainly plenty of violence and bloodletting, there is much more. The life story of each slain lawman is provided, and in most cases we begin to develop a kind of fondness for the lawman. . . . In addition to the actual killings, the Selcer-Foster team discusses the legal matters that sometimes took years to resolve. Infrequently lynch mobs formed to administer a quicker form of extra-legal punishment."--Wild West History Association Journal

"The authors do not limit themselves to violent expirations or profiles of victimization. As a result, the meningitis-induced death of James R. Dodd receives equal attention alongside the bloody shotgun shell dispatch of John A. Ogletree. Selcer and Foster also demonstrate that the reaper preyed upon all classes of lawmen, although rookie officials assigned to nighttime patrols in the notorious Hell's Half Acre faced particularly dangerous odds."--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"What separates Written in Blood from other nineteenth- and twentieth-century law enforcement histories is the context in which the individual chapters are written. The authors not only understand but clearly place their history within the Progressive Era. . . . [T]he authors have set an extraordinarily high standard for books on law enforcement history and have raised the bar considerably, which is to their great credit."--New Mexico Historical Review

"A vivid recounting of a pivotal Fort Worth era. . . . Written in Blood seamlessly blends history and excellent prose. . . . In all, the authors make history into pretty great reading."--Fort Worth Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574413236
  • Publisher: University of North Texas Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2011
  • Pages: 440
  • Sales rank: 1,450,509
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

RICHARD F. SELCER is the author of Fort Worth Characters (UNT Press) and Hell’s Half-Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red-Light District, and coauthor of Legendary Watering Holes: The Saloons that Made Texas Famous. He is a long-time adjunct professor at Tarrant County College and the International University in Vienna, and resides in Fort Worth.

KEVIN S. FOSTER was a Fort Worth police officer for 29 years and a sergeant for more than 22 years. After retiring from the Fort Worth Police Department, he has become a police officer for Texas Christian University. He coauthored with Richard Selcer Written in Blood Volume 1. A founding member of the Fort Worth Police Historical Association, he is also the research director and chairman of the Fort Worth Police and Firefighters Memorial committee. He lives in Weatherford, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

Written In Blood

The History of Fort Worth's Fallen Lawmen Volume II, 1910â"1928

By Richard F. Selcer, Kevin S. Foster

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2011 Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57441-323-6


Police Officer James R. Dodd

(January 27, 1912)

"Fidelity, Bravery, and Unfailing Courtesy"

Officer James Dodd is the odd man out among Fort Worth's fallen officers because he was the only one to die peacefully in his own bed. He was a victim not of bullets or natural disaster but of the killer microorganism that causes meningitis.

Meningitis is an infection of the brain usually caused by a virus or bacteria. The germs are commonly spread by sneezing, coughing, shaking hands, or any close contact with an already-infected person. The virus or bacteria attacks the brain through the membranes (meninges) surrounding it, eventually causing the brain to shut down. Death is quick but hardly painless. Meningitis is one of the great infectious killers of history—like polio, tuberculosis, and rheumatic fever—which come mysteriously, do their dirty work, then depart just as mysteriously. Bacterial meningitis is the most lethal form of the disease. Nowadays, it can be treated with antibiotics, but those were not available until the 1930s. In 1912, the only known treatment was Flexner serum, developed six years earlier by Dr. Simon Flexner at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City. In the event of an outbreak, the local health department ordered a supply of the serum from New York and doled it out to the community's physicians and druggists. The success rate of serotherapy treatment was only about 50 percent. The only other public response was to quarantine the victim until he either died or recovered.

A meningitis epidemic struck North Texas in the winter of 1911–1912. It is impossible to say exactly where or when it started, but by the first week in January nine cases were reported in Fort Worth alone. City fathers tried to reassure the public, announcing that there was "no cause for the slightest alarm" and that schools would remain open, but also advising people to avoid theaters and large social gatherings. Physicians recommended that people use nose sprays and mouthwashes to protect themselves. In his public pronouncements, Mayor W. D. Davis called it "a situation," not an epidemic, but behind closed doors, the authorities worried. Survival rate for meningitis was typically about 50 percent. Older persons and the very young were most at risk. The first death in Fort Worth was reported on January 4—a seventeen-year-old boy who lasted less than forty-eight hours after showing the first symptoms. He had probably contracted the disease four days earlier since this is the normal incubation period.

During the rest of January, eighty-three more cases were diagnosed with thirty-three resulting in death. The following month brought seventy-five cases with thirty-two victims dying. Most people preferred to fight it at home, and a number of houses were quarantined on the orders of the authorities, but some victims were brought to the hospital. Treatment was centralized at City Hospital, and Jim Crow laws were eased for the duration of the crisis so that all hospitalized victims could be gathered at the same place.

The disease quickly appeared in cities all over the state, carried no doubt by travelers. Ninety-six Texas towns quarantined themselves, denying entry to anyone coming from an infected community. Forty-five of them published lists specifically naming Fort Worth. To enforce the quarantine, uninfected towns halted the sale of train tickets with their towns as the destination, the first time such a thing had ever happened in Texas history. The disease had another historic dimension: after sufficient supplies of Flexner's serum arrived in Dallas, healthy citizens could be vaccinated hoping to immunize themselves against catching it. That had never been tried before with meningitis. The epidemic was alarming enough that Dr. Flexner's chief assistant came down to Dallas to take charge of the medical response.

Week after week, the silent killer stalked the streets of Fort Worth, disrupting the regular rhythms of life for some 75,000 people. Schools officially remained open, but there were many empty desks. Saloons, theaters, and shops emptied. People stayed home unless they were the breadwinners of the family. The police posted men at houses where the infection was identified and watched to be sure their occupants did not come out. Death did not take a holiday but the funeral business did. There was no interest in public funerals; they were just another occasion to get infected. On January 26, Dr. W. W. Trimble, the City Health Officer, issued the following directive through the newspapers:

The attendance of the public upon funerals of persons dying from meningitis may be a source of danger to those attending such funerals and one of the causes of the spread of this disease in Fort Worth. As City Health Officer I, therefore, direct that those attending the funerals of persons succumbing to this disease should remain on the outside of the house, although there can be little danger from following the hearse to the cemetery.

The epidemic hit public employees especially hard because they could not readily stay home; city and county business still had to be done even in the midst of a crisis. No city office was hit harder than the police because in this era before there was a public health department, the Fort Worth Police Department filled this role along with its law enforcement duties. Ordinarily, the Department employed three "sanitary officers," but in this emergency almost the entire force of thirty-seven officers had to be pressed into public health service. Fort Worth policemen routinely worked twelve-hour shifts seven days a week; now they were tasked with enforcing quarantines on infected families, getting medical help to those on their beats who lived alone, and disposing of the unclaimed corpses when there was no one else to do it. Working under these punishing conditions for weeks on end pushed officers to their physical limits. City records compiled at the end of 1912 would show that the Department incurred heavy expenses for extra personnel and overtime pay for the year.

Through January and February, the newspapers carried lists of victims, which included their addresses and race, updating them daily. These lists indicate that the majority of the victims were concentrated in a handful of poorer neighborhoods: the Daggett Addition, the Jennings Addition, Riverside, Irish Town, and Batter cake Flats.

Officer Dodd patrolled the Irish Town (aka Little Africa) district that stretched roughly from Tenth to Thirteenth north to south and from Jones to Main east to west. It was one of the poorest sections of the city, a collection of what the fire maps called "Negro tenements" mixed with mom-and-pop stores. Standards of hygiene and sanitation were low. Slums are always disease-breeding grounds, and this area was no exception. Thus, Dodd's beat brought him into close and regular contact with large numbers of the most physically vulnerable citizens. Whether he dwelled on that fact or not is unknown. Even if he had, it would have done him no good because that was his assigned beat, and he could not shirk his duty letting some other overworked brother officer pick up the slack.

James R. Dodd was the best kind of veteran officer, a conscientious man who showed up for work every day and did his job. At fifty-two, he was also the oldest officer on the force. He had been born in Kentucky on December 13, 1859. He married Kentucky-born Elizabeth on January 14, 1883, and they had six children during the next twenty years. Sometime after 1890 they moved to Texas and finally settled in Fort Worth. Before joining the FWPD in 1900, Dodd worked as a grocer but apparently found it unrewarding. As soon as he became a police officer, he knew he had found his niche in life, although he took off a little over a year to work for the Santa Fe Railroad. During the next decade he worked practically every beat the Department had, including the "Texas & Pacific beat" (No. 6) and the "Santa Fe beat" (No. 8). Starting in 1908, his regular beat (No. 4) was Hell's Half Acre; it was the toughest district in the city, and he was forty-eight years old, but complaining was not his way. Besides, because of his seniority, he was able to get the day shift.

In 1912 James and Elizabeth and three of the kids were living at 1604 New York Avenue, a modest house in a modest neighborhood. He was able to walk and ride the streetcar to work every day. Other officers occasionally asked "the old man" when he was going to retire, but he just laughed them off and went on about his business.

On Thursday evening, January 25, at about nine o'clock, Dodd was taking supper at the Westbrook Hotel when he fell ill. Given the incubation period, he had probably contracted the disease on the twenty-first. The telltale symptoms started with a headache, a stiff neck, and fever. Concerned but not alarmed, he signed out at police headquarters and went home where he took to bed. He refused to call the doctor, believing he was just suffering from la grippe (the flu) and he would be right as rain in a day or two. He felt worse the next morning, but his sense of duty was stronger than the disease that had hold of him. He was present for roll call at the station house promptly at nine o'clock. He got through most of the day, but that afternoon he finally had to telephone the desk sergeant, using one of the new Gamewell police call boxes on the street, and ask to be relieved. That officer, knowing Dodd's work ethic, told him to go and even told him to take the next day off, which meant that Dodd would not be penalized for skipping work but would not be paid either under the Department's existing policies.

By the time he walked in his front door, even Dodd had to admit he was a very sick man, throwing up and barely able to put one foot in front of another. His body was covered with purple bruises that made him look like he had been beaten with a club. As soon as he hit the bed, he fell into a deep sleep. Awaking hours later he felt worse if that were possible, exhibiting all the classic symptoms of meningitis, including inability to cope with bright lights. Elizabeth darkened the bedroom and tried to get him to eat something, but he could not keep food down.

In his misery he did not care that he had become a statistic: one of four new cases in the city that day although his case was not officially reported until Saturday, the third day of his illness. A fifth victim, W. H. Warden, who had been sick a couple of days at this point, died at nine-thirty Friday night. Time was running out for James Dodd. It was only his strong sense of duty and equally strong constitution that made him to report for work Friday morning.

The rapid spread of the epidemic persuaded city fathers to take drastic action. On Thursday, they established a special "meningitis hospital" by taking over the twenty-bed Fort Worth Medical College and rededicating it to treating only victims of the epidemic. They ordered all other patients transferred to other hospitals in the city and brought in extra beds to handle the crush of patients. But even in the midst of a public crisis, existing social mores had to be observed: the hospital was divided it into four separate wards—one each for black males, black females, white males, and white females. Not only was it segregated by race and gender, but it soon became apparent that only indigent victims were being brought in. The middle class much preferred to be treated at home by family members, assisted by a nurse if they could afford one. The Fort Worth Medical College for the duration had been turned into a charity hospital.

At the Dodd residence, Elizabeth Dodd watched and waited, hoping that he would rally. Finally, at eleven o clock Friday night, she put in a call to the family doctor who promised to come over shortly. All the city's doctors and hospitals were working around the clock to deal with the epidemic. The doctor came and examined Dodd, pronouncing the diagnosis that everybody dreaded hearing: "spinal meningitis." He began the standard treatment, administering a dose of the antibody serum and ordering a disinfectant spraying of the whole house although, truth be told, there was nothing he could do at this point. He did not even order the patient transferred to a hospital, opting instead to let him die in peace at his own home. There was nothing left for Elizabeth Dodd to do but make her husband as comfortable as possible until the end. The question was not if but when that would come.

Dodd spent a restless night, mumbling incoherently and flailing about. Then he began suffering seizures before slipping into a coma about four o'clock in the morning. His was one of three new cases reported to the city physician first thing Saturday morning. He lingered until ten o'clock that morning when death finally took him. It was January 27, 1912, just sixteen hours after he left work Friday afternoon. This was the first serious illness he had ever had, which is one reason why he found it so hard to believe that he had actually contracted meningitis. He had always had an iron constitution, maintaining a perfect attendance record at work during ten years with the FWPD. On his last full day on earth he had even signed in at work. The next day he was dead. It was actually a mercy that he succumbed because had he lived he would almost certainly have suffered deafness and brain damage, perhaps even retardation.

James R. Dodd's funeral did not produce the traditional mass turnout, not because he was not respected, even loved, but because most people were too afraid to venture out in public for fear of becoming victims themselves. To their credit, both fellow officers and city officials took their chances to come pay their respects. Fort Worth commissioners had been in session Saturday morning when they received the news of his death. They immediately tabled all business and on motion of Commissioner James H. Maddox, himself a former policeman and chief of police who had known Dodd for years, adopted the following resolution:

Whereas, We have just learned of the death of Officer J. R. Dodd, who was on yesterday at his post of duty until 4:00 o'clock p.m. and later stricken with the dreaded disease meningitis, from which he died this morning at 10:00 o'clock; and

Whereas, Officer Dodd has for many years been connected with the police force of this city, during which time he has proven on many occasions his fidelity to the public service, his bravery in moments of peril, and his unfailing courtesy to the public as well as his brother officials; and

Whereas, Those who have been associated with him know of his sterling character, his high sense of honor and devotion to a high sense of duty in a trying and perilous occupation. Therefore, be it

Resolved, That we hereby tender to the family of the deceased officer our sincere sympathy, with the message that we too have suffered a loss in the death of a friend and a faithful public official.

Resolved Further, that these resolutions be spread upon the minutes of the board of commissioners of the City of Fort Worth, and a copy thereof furnished the family of the deceased.

These were fine words, as were the official condolences that the commissioners sent to Elizabeth Dodd. Since the job of policeman still did not come with death benefits, the fine words would have to do. After passing the resolution and sending their condolences, commissioners resumed their regular business. They were not unsympathetic, but there was a city to run and an epidemic to fight. Besides three new cases, another death was recorded that same day.

George Gause's funeral home made the arrangements. The service was held on Sunday, January 29, starting at three o'clock at the Dodd residence. Reverend A. J. Harris of the Kentucky Avenue Baptist Church preached the sermon. The funeral was surprisingly well attended, all things considered, but the turnout was nothing like previous policemen's funerals. Every officer who was not absolutely needed elsewhere attended to show his solidarity. Dodd had also been a Woodman of the World, but his fraternal brothers only participated as individuals, not as an organization because of the request of the City Health Officer that everybody who was not family or a personal friend stay away. Even that did not prevent two city commissioners, a police captain, and three officers from turning out as pallbearers. After a brief service at the Dodd residence, the family and mourners proceeded to Oakwood Cemetery where he was interred among the trees overlooking the Trinity River. Thirty-four years later, Elizabeth Dodd was interred beside him, and the family placed a large, double marker over their graves.


Excerpted from Written In Blood by Richard F. Selcer, Kevin S. Foster. Copyright © 2011 Richard F. Selcer and Kevin S. Foster. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Introduction to Volume II,
Part I When Blood Ran in the Streets (1910–1919),
1 Police Officer James R. Dodd (January 27, 1912),
2 Police Officer John A. Ogletree (May 15, 1913),
3 Police Captain George Frank Coffey (June 26, 1915),
4 Police Officer Peter Howard (August 16, 1915),
5 Constable Robert Emmett Morison (November 8, 1916),
6 Police Commissioner C. E. "Ed" Parsley (September 29, 1917),
Part II When Life Was Cheap (1920–1928),
7 Police Officer George Gresham (April 8, 1920),
8 Special Officer Joseph Burch Loper (October 20, 1920),
9 Police Officer Jeff Couch (December 20, 1920),
10 Special Officer Webster C. "Jack" Gentry (April 25, 1922),
11 Deputy Constable Bob Poe (December 23, 1925),
12 Deputy Constable Mordecai Hurdleston (October 9, 1927),
13 Police Officer George Turner (May 20, 1928),
Conclusion: Better Days to Come?,

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