I Found Out One of My Ancestors Was a Murderer

Sometimes what we learn about our relatives is hard to share.

The San Jacinto Monument on a nice summer daytravelview/Shutterstock

Most families have skeletons lurking in the closet. The real question is, what do we do with them? Do we hide them from others, or do we fess up, accept prior transgressions and move on?

I decided to open the files of the past, dust off the pages, reveal the skeleton and, for better or worse, live with it.

My great-great-grandfather Col. Alexander Horton was a well-known patriot of early Texas. He moved to East Texas in 1823 when he was around 15. He joined the military and by 1836 was Gen. Sam Houston’s aide-de-camp at the battle of San Jacinto and other skirmishes over the years. He served as San Augustine’s sheriff and mayor, as well as holding other public offices.

Knowing so much about my great-great-grandfather made me curious about who his father was. All my family knew until recently was that Alexander had moved from North Carolina to Texas with his mother and siblings.

Then we found an obscure article in an early Raleigh, North Carolina, newspaper, The Star, referring to Julius Horton. In the Friday, Jan. 6, 1815, issue, an article was published that revealed a dark family secret.

Battle of San JacintoUniversal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Shutterstock

The article reads as follows:

$100 Dollars Reward, will be given by the subscriber to any person who will apprehend and secure in some jail, JULIUS HORTON, formerly a resident of Halifax County, North Carolina. He is about 40 years of age, upwards of six feet in height, stout and robust, forward and assuming in his deportment, light hair and much freckled. The said Horton absconded from said county, sometime in July last, after having committed a wanton and unprovoked murder on the body of Thomas Hawkins. The friends of justice and humanity will render an essential service to society by arresting and bringing to condign punishment, the above character whose whole life has been a series of insult and aggression upon the rights of others. It is conjectured from every appearance, that he is removing his family to the state of Tennessee, or some of the western or southern states or territories. The man who will conduct his family is by the name of Wright Williford. This Horton family consists of the following persons, viz—his wife, Susan, and seven [sic] children, Nancy, Sally, Elizabeth, Patsey, Samuel, Alexander, Wade, and William—two Negro men, Tom and Alston. Printers in the western and southern states and territories, will aid the cause of justice, by giving the above a few insertions in their papers.

Signed: Joseph J. Hawkins
Halifax County, N.C.

December 15, 1814

So, there you have it­—the skeleton in my family closet. It seems my ancestor Julius Horton was one step ahead of the law, accused of shooting a lawyer, Thomas Hawkins.

We have reason to believe that Julius made it as far as Louisiana before sending several of his children, including Alexander, to the Texas territory to locate land to settle on. They made their way to San Augustine County.

In later years, Alexander was granted acres of land and awarded even more by the Republic of Texas as payment for his services in the war.

My family still has many questions about the cause of the shooting and other details that will probably never come to light. For now, I will turn out the light in the family closet and shut the door.

(Next, read about the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time.)

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Originally Published in Reminisce Extra