Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Another Look at The Mitchell-Truitt Feud, Part Two

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Another Look at The Mitchell-Truitt Feud, Part Two

Maurice Walton is a retired attorney, a longtime Granbury resident, and president of the Bridge Street History Center.

By Maurice Walton

In my last column we started our look at two men who played small, ancillary roles in the Mitchell-Truitt Feud. Last edition, we took a brief look at the role Wilson Hopkins Barker played. Today, I want to tell you about the role of Hood County Sheriff J. G. Swofford. Mr. Barker’s role came at the very beginning of the feud, on March 28, 1874, when he was 55 years old.

Sheriff Swofford was born on December 27, 1870, which would have made him three years old when the feud commenced. Yet, they both had roles in the feud. The span of time between their ages, if nothing else, tells you that the feud was played out over a long period of years. So, how did Sheriff Swofford become involved with the feud and what was his role in it?

To answer these questions, we will have to step back and see what happened in the feud to set up his role. You will recall that Cooney Mitchell’s son, Bill Mitchell, and his friend, Mit Graves, fled Hood County immediately after the shoot out on Mambrino road. Mit Graves was never seen again in Hood County. Bill Mitchell would be back, but it would be a while. After Mitchell fled Hood County, he hid out in various areas in Texas, before winding up in New Mexico, a fugitive from the law.

Fast forward to 1886. Mitchell is living with his wife, Mary, and their children, in New Mexico. James Truitt is living in the East Texas town of Timpson with his wife, Julia, and their daughter. Truitt was a Methodist minister and publisher of the Timpson Times. You can safely assume Truitt remembered Cooney calling out to Bill from the gallows to revenge his death. However, he probably felt pretty safe, after all it had been 11 years since Cooney was hanged. He didn’t realize that Mitchell had never forgotten the role he played in his father’s hanging.

Upon learning that Truitt was living in Timpson, Texas, Mitchell made the long trip by horse back from his home in New Mexico to Truitt’s home in Timpson. After being shown where Truitt lived by a small boy in town, Mitchell walked into the living room of the Truitt’s home, shot him once in the head in front of his wife, walked out, got on his horse, and rode back to New Mexico. Fast forward again, this time to 1907. In March of that year, Mitchell is living with his wife in Otero County, New Mexico under the alias of Henry “Baldy” Russell.

After a desperate struggle, Mitchell is arrested by the Otero County sheriff. The Otero County Advertiser gave this brief account of the arrest “Sheriff H. M. Denny of Otero County, N. M., Monday arrested at Estey City William Mitchell, alias Henry Russell, a stockman, charged with murder committed in Hood County, Texas, thirty-three years ago.” Enter J. G. Swofford, Sheriff of Hood County, Texas. He had been elected sheriff in 1906 after serving as a deputy since 1895. He had received word that Mitchell was in New Mexico, and he had requested that Sheriff Denny arrest him.

Sheriff Swofford picked Mitchell up in El Paso for the train ride back to Granbury to face murder charges for the killing of Isaac and Samuel Truitt. There is no further account of Sheriff Swofford’s involvement following Mitchell’s return to Hood County. While he may have been done with Sheriff Swofford, Mitchell’s legal struggles weren’t over. He still had before him seven years of tangled legal proceedings, including a not guilty verdict for the murders of Isaac and Samuel Truitt and a murder conviction for killing James Truitt. That doesn’t include the appeals of his cases, a prison sentence, and a prison escape.

Sheriff Swofford lived just two years following the arrest of Bill Mitchell, and during those two years, he had his own entanglements, not legal, but deadly. From the available accounts, and a review of the timetable of events, it appears that at the time of Mitchell’s arrest, Sheriff Swofford was carrying on an illicit affair with Genevieve Snead, a young woman who was then living in Fort Worth. The exact date the affair commenced is impossible to say at this point. I say it was “illicit” because at the time, he was married and had a 16-year-old daughter. Some of his friends who knew of the affair encouraged him to end it, and he had agreed to do so.

On Sunday, March 17, 1909, Swofford boarded the train for Ft. Worth. The next day, he went to the boarding house where Miss Snead was living, shot her twice in the head and then turned the pistol on himself, ending the affair. The community’s response is best expressed in the following quote from the funeral sermon preached at his funeral service held at the First United Methodist Church of Granbury: “A gloom of sorrow was cast over the entire town Tuesday afternoon a few minutes after 1 o’clock when a telephone message reached here stating that Sheriff John G. Swofford had killed a woman and then taken his own life.”

It appears that Sheriff Swofford was popular and well-respected in the community; accordingly, it is sad to say, but it is true nonetheless, that today, J. G. Swofford’s lasting legacy in this community is not his service as sheriff of Hood County, as commendable as that may have been. Nor is his legacy tied to his role in the Mitchell-Feud, as interesting as that little footnote to the feud may be.

His notoriety is the tragic end of his own life, and the shattering effect it had on his family and the community. There is more that could be said about the tragic life of Sheriff Swofford, but there is no space. Now you have heard about two men from Hood County who were not Mitchell’s or Truitt’s but who had roles to play in the stories surrounding the Mitchell-Truitt Feud.