Friday, April 8, 2016

William Short and His Gang - Dan's Great-Great Grandfather

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog about one of our ancestors. You may recall my piece about Dan’s heroic ancestors, the Short brothers, John and Michael, John being Dan’s third great-grandfather. At that time I mentioned that the Shorts had both heroes and scoundrels. Now I’ll tell you about one of the scoundrels, Dan’s second great-grandfather, William M Short.

It’s hard to understand how a fellow like William could come from such good parents as John and Dicy Short, but so it was.

William started out young, with petty thievery, such as when he broke into a store and stole items, including a pair of ladies’ stockings to give to his intended bride, Christiana Harrel. It was about this time that he also enlisted the aid of his younger brother, Thomas, in hiding stolen goods.

Before long, William had gathered together a large gang of men, forming a chain that extended from Missouri to Mexico. One of the gang members was his brother-in-law, William Sansom. Their specialties were horse thievery; counterfeiting money and land certificates; and repeatedly stealing and reselling slaves at intervals along the way north and thereafter assisting with their escapes, thus profiting from their altruism.

Such escapades soon led to murder, the first of several being the murder of James Crook, after Crook and William Short argued about the division of some land and Crook threatened to go to the authorities. 

Much of what is known about this gang of men was made public when William Short’s younger brother, Thomas, who had been captured and convicted, confessed everything he knew in order to seek leniency from the court. Here is what he had to say about his brother, William (from the State Gazette, Austin, Texas, August 25, 1849):

“Wm. Short, my poor unfortunate brother, has engaged in every species of crime, led a miserable life, died a disgraceful death, and thus far I learn his body has been exposed a prey to the wild wolves and vultures. He it was that first led me into stealing and after I had commenced could not withdraw for fear of my own life, as death was the penalty for disclosure.”

From what I have found in my research, William’s death was, in deed, disgraceful. He was apparently publicly hanged by a mob, leaving a wife, Christiana Harrel, and 5-year-old son, John Henry Short (Dan's great-grandfather).

John Henry Short, son of William - Dan's great-grandfather.

At the end of Thomas’ confession, he pled for mercy for himself:

“ . . . and now, reader, I am in irons in Brenham jail, guilty and depending on the sympathies of the community from whom I deserve none. Let my fate warn young men from keeping evil company. Parents, control your sons, or they may fail as I have done. I have no father and mother in sympathise (sic) with me; no brother to aid; poor and pennyless, without a decent supply of raiment; an orphan boy, 18 years, who, from keeping bad company, and that of an older brother, is now destined for the State prison, and perhaps for life. Ye that have sons I ask your sympathy; those who have young brothers I caution; Jurors, (citizens of the county I have injured,) in inflicting the laws of your country, the laws I have trampled under my feet, I beseech you spare me — I ask, I beg, I pray, you act with all that lenity (sic) consistent with your oath, your honor and your country’s cause, and let come what may, from this time forward, I will lead the life of an honest man.”

Thomas and the brother-in-law, William Sansom, were both incarcerated at the Texas State Prison in Huntsville, in 1849 - when it first opened its doors. In fact, they are in the record book as Prisoner #1 (Sansom) and Prisoner #3 (Short) at this facility. Sansom served just under one year of his three-year sentence, then was pardoned by Governor Bell, on September 14, 1850. Thomas Short served one year of his two-year sentence, and was discharged in November of 1850. 

History indicates that Thomas lived up to his promise of leading “the life of an honest man” after his imprisonment. From 1864 to 1865 he served in the Union Army, Co., C, First TX Cavalry, during the Civil War. This was a risky undertaking since most of Texas was Confederate. He participated in the last battle of the Civil War on May 13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch, Texas. He lived to the age of 78, and died, while visiting relatives, in New Mexico.

Thomas (younger brother of William) and Margaret Short. 

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