The Curious Case of the Semi-Shod Sherriff
By Jerry Pennington
Orange has had many odd cases of murder over the years-Preachers shooting Police Chiefs, counterfeiters shooting Sheriff Deputies, and of course citizens doing in other citizens. One that is of interest occurred February 14, 1881. The actual trial testimony still remains in a dusty box in a corner of the back room of the Clerk's office. Lessons that can be taken from this story other than general interest of a normal day in downtown Orange, 1881 could be: 1. If you drink-don't. 2. If you have snakes in your boots leave your gun at home. 3. Don't steal logs.
The deceased was John Dobbs, a sitting Orange County Commissioner who was on his way to an afternoon's meeting of Commissioner's Court when he stopped by a saloon near the courthouse to visit his constituents. John Gordon, who had been in the saloon drinking steadily all day, was related to the soon-to-be-departed Commissioner by marriage. He was so drunk one of the witnesses described him as looking like, "a man who has snakes in his boots".
The Defense Attorney was John T. Stark, the father of W. H. Stark, Orange's seminal millionaire whose fortunes now drive many of Orange's tourist attractions such as the aptly named W. H. Stark House, Shangri-la Botanical Gardens and the Stark Museum of Art.
One reason Mr. Gordon was looking at the bottom of a beer glass all day may be contained in a civil lawsuit which he had recently filed. The hapless Gordon alleged that he had contracted with the firm of J. A. Bell and Stewart & Co to run a group of 6,137 pine logs on the Sabine River from Pruitt's Lake to the Phoenix mill at Orange. For this he was to receive $600. But, he claimed, the firm in Galveston "willfully and wickedly" intending to defraud him, preferred false criminal charges against him and had him arrested for the embezzlement of 300 logs and for defacing the end brands on 98 logs.
What ever the reason, all agreed Gordon was drunk. He approached Dobbs at the bar without provocation and when offered a drink, said, "I'll not drink with the likes of your clan", raised his "Smith & Wesson 38 Self Cocker 5 Shooter" and fired point blank into Dobbs. When Dobbs fell, Gordon looked at the pistol and told the bartender, "She done her job well, Jamie" and ran out of the saloon.
About this time J. S. Blevins was walking up to Jamie Moran's saloon on Front Street with Colonel Orchiltree. Before getting to the important matters, Blevins made sure to emphasize that they were going only for a cigar because the Colonel (who was one of the towns leading businessmen) did not drink. That out of the way he said he saw Gordon running away from the saloon headed for the woods with the Sheriff, G. W. Michael chasing in hot pursuit. Blevins followed and when he got to Alexander Gilmer's house Gordon was on the ground and the Sheriff was standing over him ten feet away. Now for the odd part. The Sherriff asked Blevins to take Gordon's pistol from him. Gordon had his hand in his pocket. When Blevins asked for the pistol, Gordon pulled a shoe from his pocket and then his pistol. He handed the pistol to Blevins who handed it to Sheriff Michael. Then, the Sheriff asked for his slipper. Blevins handed the shoe which had been in Gordon's pocket back to Michaels. No one bothered to explain how the Sheriff's shoe got from his foot into Gordon's pocket!
Apparently Commissioner Dobbs was respected because there were threats of breaking into the hoosegow and lynching Gordon so the Orange Rifles (State Guard Unit) were called out to guard the prisoner. No motive was ever developed for the murder. Everyone in town thought the two men got along. After trial John Gordon was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.