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Sins of the Pioneers: Crimes & Scandals in a Small Texas Town

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When the Civil War ended, many disenchanted Southerners poured into Central Texas, toting guns and grudges. Shots of whiskey loosened tempers and soon bullets were flying. Within a few years, the Lone Star State had become the nation’s murder capitol.

The small town of Stephenville, where 139 people were hauled to prison between crimes 1864 to 1891, dealt with Comanche warriors, restless outlaws, crime rings, and the ruthless vigilante group known as “The Mob.”

Sins of the Pioneers: Crimes & Scandals of a Small Texas Town explores Stephenville’s emergence from wild frontier to bustling village. Studded with shocking tales—sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant—it tells of crooks, bigamists, prostitutes, saloon brawlers, and mysterious murderers.

James Pylant chronicles John Gilbreath, the intimidating, determined sheriff who bent rules to jail criminals—including his own kinfolks; Julia Williamson, Stephenville's hell-raising madam; armless Jack Hollis and his jail escape; accused horse-thief Jennie Sadler; schemer Gordon Bradshaw’s “accidental” shooting of his wealthy bride; lovely teenaged axe murderess May Bruce; and Annie Cooper, who risked exposing her shady past to rescue a troubled girl.

238 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

James Pylant

9 books6 followers
An award-winning writer, James Pylant is the author of a family-authorized celebrity biography, In Morticia's Shadow: The Life & Career of Carolyn Jones. He has also interviewed several famous personalities, including Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal), Audrey Landers (Dallas), Ruth Buzzi (Laugh-In), Peter Mark Richman (Dynasty), Linda Purl (Matlock), Stanley Livingston (My Three Sons), Mother Dolores Hart (King Creole), Dr. Henry Louis Gates (Finding Your Roots), among many others.

Using his skill as a researcher, James extensively documented a case of identity theft and bigamy for the book Destiny in Texas. He is also the author of Blood Legacy: The True Story of the Snow Axe Murders, Sins of the Pioneers, and co-wrote The Oldest Profession in Texas. His book, Texas Gothic: Fame, Crime & Crazy Water, won first place in the 2016 North Texas Book Festival Book Awards for Adult Non-Fiction.

A former contest judge for the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors, James wrote for The Bottom Line, Family Chronicle, and Ancestry. He currently serves as editor of GenealogyMagazine.com, a source utilized by wikipedia.org, the Texas Historical Commission, and Learning and Teaching Scotland’s SCET.NET for History: A Virtual Department.

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Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 reviews
Profile Image for Jeff.
641 reviews11 followers
June 22, 2020
James Pylant has given us a wild ride through the wild, wild West. It's a history book with a very narrow scope, that being events and scandals surrounding the small West Texas town of Stephenville, the county seat of Erath County.

Largely set in the mid to late nineteenth century, Sins of the Pioneers gives a look at the beginnings of this small Texas town, straight down US Highway 281 from my home town of Mineral Wells.

The subtitle, Crimes & Scandals in a Small Texas Town, fits the book perfectly. The cover sports a quote from The Midwest Review, stating, "Every bit as salacious as its title suggests." With chapter names like "The Wildest Little Town in Texas," "Cussin', Fussin', and Fightin'," "Stephenville After Dark," "Drinking and Gambling," "The Four Husbands of Ewella Powers," and "Double Murder at the Prayer Meeting," you can imagine what kind of stories you will encounter.

This is one of the most well-referenced book I believe I've ever read, giving it the authority of a school-type textbook. In fact, if Stephenville schools had a history course on their town, I would not be surprised to see it as one of the textbooks.

There is murder, prostitution, divorce, revenge, seduction, even some organized crime. There are horse thieves and robberies, along with hangings, both legal and not.

It is quite enjoyable as a view of the kind of lives that people lived in small-town Texas in the nineteenth century.

If you think things are crazy now, you should give this book a read.

And if you visit Stephenville, make sure and find the Chicken House, a local flea market that is owned by my high school band director, Norman Deisher.
Author 1 book
February 28, 2020
This book has great research to back up the stories - and there are some great stories - gives you some insight to pioneer days in Texas! You may be able to find little-known stories about your distant relatives in Texas!
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