Stephen F. Austin State University

Early trial attracted future governors (May 2017)

Early trial attracted future governors

By Van Craddock

Dr. J. N. Allison was a pioneer Gregg County physician who owned a Longview drug store in the early 1880s. He was popular with everybody except Jim Tillery, who shot the doctor on a downtown street in 1884.

Tillery's resulting trial - no, make that trials - created a sensation and directly involved two future governors of Texas.

Jonathan Nicholas Allison was born in Virginia in 1828. He arrived in East Texas by the late 1850s and was one of the first physicians to serve what later would become Gregg County.

Allison built one of the grandest houses in the area in 1858-1859. The impressive structure still stands on Longview's Dundee Road.

James H. "Jim" Tillery Sr. had been feuding with Dr. Allison, who accused Tillery of burning down a storehouse the doctor owned. Tillery denied the accusation.

On the morning of Nov. 11, 1884, the feud reached its boiling point.

"A horrible crime had been committed here in the unprovoked murder of Dr. J.N. Allison by Jim Tillery," a Fort Worth newspaper reported on Nov. 12. "Dr. Allison started to ride from his drug store; Tillery had just rode up, and as the doctor rode off the latter coolly pulled his revolver, firing three shots, killing him instantly."

Tillery spurred his horse and fled to parts unknown. Witnesses to the shooting later reported Allison and Tillery had a brief conversation before the shooting. The doctor also was armed with a pistol.

Gregg County Sheriff A.A. Killingsworth and "a large number of men went in pursuit of Tillery … The lynching of Jim Tillery is certain if he is caught alive," said the paper. "No man in any community could stand higher than Dr. Allison did in this, and his assassination causes the more indignation because of this superior worth."

Authorities thought they had their man on Nov. 15 with the arrest of "a young man suspected of being Tillery" at Pittsburg, Camp County. It turned out he wasn't Tillery, but the fellow soon admitted taking a mule from former Longview Mayor T.D. Campbell and was charged with theft.

By Nov. 20, the real Tillery was reported to be hiding in Cherokee County. The trail went cold, however, and eventually Sheriff Killingsworth gave up the hunt. Most folks figured Tillery would never again show his face in East Texas.

So imagine the surprise three months later, in February 1885, when Tillery "went to the house of A.A. Killingsworth … and gave himself up," reported a Dallas paper. "It is generally supposed Tillery has not been over 15 miles from this place (Gregg County) since the murder."

Tillery immediately hired Longview attorney Thomas M. Campbell to defend him from a manslaughter charge. (Campbell was a son of the aforementioned T.D. Campbell, who'd had his mule stolen by a "Tillery" lookalike.)

Tillery was found guilty of manslaughter in an 1885 trial in Longview. However, in November 1887, the Texas Supreme Court reversed Tillery's conviction and he was set free. The state re-filed charges in early 1889 and another trial was held, this time in Marshall, Harrison County, on a change of venue.

Assisting in the state's case was Texas Attorney General James Stephen Hogg, who had founded Longview's first newspaper in 1871.

Tillery again was found guilty and served four years in prison. Upon his release he returned to Longview, where he died in 1894. Tillery and Dr. Allison are both buried in the city's historic Greenwood Cemetery.

James Stephen Hogg and Tom Campbell, who had been childhood friends in Cherokee County, went on to impressive political careers. Hogg served as Texas governor in 1891-1895, followed by Campbell in 1907-1911.

Dr. Allison's 1859 Dundee Road home has an Official Texas Historical Marker that was dedicated in 1964. The marker notes the house "is one of the oldest homes in Gregg County. Some of the building materials were brought from Virginia. However, the bricks were made by slave labor from clay on the building site."

The doctor also operated a cotton gin and was a farmer, eventually amassing 3,200 acres of Gregg County land.