Tale of Texas Bluebonnets

In a time long, long ago, before the white man came and only the Indians roamed the land that would one day become Texas, a great drought fell upon the country. The Springs had been nothing but dust, the Summers parching heat. Only small brown leaves hung on the trees and the grass was little but dust in the Falls. The Winters were nothing but bitter cold and starvation for man and beast. Now it was time for Spring again, but no rains came and the drought persisted. Even the hardy buffalo were suffering with many nothing more now than bones on the prairie. The jack rabbits had all but disappeared and the coyotes were famished.

It was clear to The People that the Chief of All Spirits had turned his face away. Without stop, Medicine Men chanted incantations, danced to tom-toms, and covered themselves in dust. Warriors with knives cut their own flesh and spilled their blood upon the ground. The women and children hid and didn't speak. A great fear was upon all The People for they knew they must have done some great misdeed for the spirits to have turned against them so. They knew such a wrong must be atoned for and forgiven before the rains would come back and bring life to the world once again. The many tribes came together in a great council to listen to the medicine men to seek guidance.

After many days of dancing sacred dances and chanting sacred words, the oldest and strongest medicine man of them all went alone into his tepee to light a sacred fire, to breath the sacred smoke and to engage in a powerful vision quest. At last the Chief of All Spirits heard The People. Speaking through the medicine man, he instructed The People to make a burnt offering of their most prized possession and the ashes of the offering must be scattered to the four cardinal points of Mother Earth; the north, the south, the east and the west. Drought and famine would remain upon the land until such a sacrifice was made.

On the very outer edge of the assembled people that night was a little girl listening carefully to the words of the revered medicine man. As he finished speaking and The People dispersed, she said not a word, but she knew in her heart that she held tightly clasped in her hands the most valued possession among The People. 

It was a beautiful doll her mother had made and lovingly placed next to her on the cradle board the very day she had been born. Made of bleached buckskin, it was crafted in the image of an Indian princess. The eyes, nose, mouth, and ears were carefully painted on with the juice of the blackberry. The leggings were beaded with small pieces of polished bone and colored seeds. It had a belt made of wildcat teeth strung on twisted hair from a buffalo tail and upon its head was a bonnet made of the bright blue feathers of the crested Blue Jay. No mother could love their own child more than this little girl loved her blue-bonneted doll; no price could have tempted her to part with it. Her heart was heavy as she realized her most precious doll must also be the most valued possession of her people.

Later that night, the council fires burned out and the families retired to their tepees. The stars were twinkling, but there was no moon and in the dark, after the last lonesome wail of the coyote had fallen silent, the little girl lay on a blanket near the open flap. She hugged close the little doll and talked to it in almost silent whispers, speaking of her deep abiding love and how she would hold the doll in her heart for all time. Finally, when all was quiet except for the snores of the slumbering warriors and even the ever vigilant owls had closed their eyes in sleep, the little girl child silently rose from her bed and made her way on ever so quiet feet to the place of the council fire. There she spotted a stick of wood which still burned under the ashes and carefully holding it by the unburned end, made her way from the camp to the edge of a dried lake nearby.

Stopping beside some dead bushes, she prayed to the Chief of All Spirits that her offering would be acceptable. As tears streaked her little face, she gathered twigs from the bushes and lay them on the burning stick. With the small fire burning, she told the doll once more of her love, dried her eyes and with great resolve, thrust the doll headfirst into the flame. The smell of burning buckskin and feathers was strong, but there was no wind and the scent did not wake anybody. The little doll burned until eventually there was not a scrap left. The little girl gently scooped up the ashes and in the manner told by the medicine man, scattered the ashes to the north, to the south, to the east, and to the west. She wanted to be near all that was left of her beloved doll so she lay down on the blanket she had brought with her, positioning her bed in the middle of the scattered ashes. It took what seemed to be a long time, but the little girl finally fell asleep.

Just before daylight, the girl awoke as she felt drops of water on her face. It was still too dark to see well so she turned over and felt on the ground around her. Against her fingers  she felt something as soft as the feathers of the bonnet on her doll. Then she smelled something she had never smelled before, a new sweet fragrance that somehow raised her spirits and made her feel good. 

She jumped up and ran to her family's tepee, "Oh Mother, come, please come!" Without a word, her mother arose and took her daughter's hand. As they stepped out, the mother was surprised to feel a light rain falling upon them, yet on the horizon, shining through a break in the clouds was the sun's rays signalling a new day's beginning. The child led her mother to the dried up lake where puddles of water were already beginning to form. There, all around the bushes where she had scattered the doll ashes, was a blue as intense as indigo and under that layer was another layer of blue as soft and shining as any spring-fresh feather of the bird which cries, "jay, jay, jay!" The little blue flowers were so thick they almost hid the small green leaves of the plant.

The little girl told her mother of her sacrifice and her mother told her daddy and her daddy told the men of the council. Soon, all of The People came in the rain to see the miracle. The medicine man proclaimed it to be a sure sign.

For the next three days and nights the gentle rains fell and for the rest of the Spring and Summer, warm rains fell as before. Trees and bushes sprouted leaves. The grass grew green and thick. Birds sang and built nests. Game animals came back and grew fat. While the men hunted, the women planted corn and pumpkins and everything that was planted grew. All of The People were happy and grew plump in preparation for the lean months of the coming winter. The men sat around campfires at night and the women sat behind them as they told wonderful stories of the little girl and her sacrifice.

Soon after the Chief of all Spirits had accepted her offering, the medicine man called together all of The People. He announced the little child who until then had not been given a name, would thereafter be called, "One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People." Every day, she would go to the field of beautiful blue flowers which had come in exchange for her doll with the blue-feathered bonnet. She saw the flowers develop little pods of seeds and then the little green leaves and the stalks turned brown. She still came every day and eventually saw the dried seed pods twist and with a little crack, open and shoot out their seeds. 

Today, in the spring of the new year when the mockingbird begins singing in the moonlight, bluebonnets line the roads and grow in profusion in the pastures making the landscape of Texas unique and truly beautiful. And those who know how this came to be remember in their hearts a special little girl who made a great sacrifice, One-Who-Dearly-Loves-Her-People.

The Hanged Man Who Refused To Die

In 1890, after the Ku Klux Klan was somewhat disrupted and driven under ground, another organization called the Whitecaps was formed in Mississippi to "put down criminality and petty thievery among the blacks."  The members swore in blood never to reveal its secrets. Unlike the KKK, the Whitecaps rarely used violence, but the scare tactics they used were enough to keep the African-Americans terrorized.

In 1893, for some infraction that has been lost to history, the Whitecaps in Marion County took physical action against an African-American employed as a servant by a member of the group. The man was severely flogged while his employer, Will Buckley, was out of town and had no knowledge of the group's action. When Buckley returned and discovered his servant had been flogged, he became enraged at the uncalled for violence and the secrecy with which it was carried out. He decided to reveal the whole affair to the authorities and expose the secrets of the Whitecaps at the next meeting of a Grand Jury. Buckley's intentions became known to the leaders of the Whitecaps so when the jury met, the Whitecappers were there to watch the moves of everyone who might testify against the organization. As a result of Buckley's evidence and testimony, an indictment was brought against the 3 Whitecap men who had carried out the flogging.

On his way home from the courthouse, accompanied by his brother Jim and the flogged man, all on horseback, Buckley was traveling down a secluded forest road. With Will Buckley in the lead, they were crossing a small stream when a man jumped out from the underbrush and fired a pistol at them. With a moan, Will swayed in his saddle and then fell to the ground dead. The other 2 men spurred their horses and even though the assassin emptied his gun firing at them, managed to escape unhurt.

A short distance down the trail on which Will was killed was the Purvis home. Although only 19, Will Purvis was rumored to be a member of the Whitecaps. Two days after the slaying, bloodhounds were taken to the place of the murder and with some coaxing, picked up a cold scent which led the handlers into a field near the frame house the Purvis family called home. A neighbor who owned land on both sides of the Purvis holdings had for years tried to buy them out, but the elder Purvis refused to sell. This neighbor confirmed to authorities that young Will was a member of the Whitecaps and he was almost positive it had been him who had shot Buckley. Desperate to make an arrest and solve the crime, Will was arrested and charged with murder.

The arrest threw citizens of the county into two camps. Buckley had been well liked, being known to be fair in his dealings with others and for helping folks in need, but Will Purvis was also well liked, having grown up there and known to be kind and hard-working. Many said it couldn't have been Will who carried out such a terrible deed; he was too kind and just didn't have it in him.  

At the trial, Jim Buckley, the state's key witness, testified that he and the servant had witnessed the killing of his brother. When asked if he could name the man who did the killing, he pointed his finger at Will Purvis and said, "That's him. That's the man who killed my brother." Even though several men of good character substantiated Purvis' alibi of being several miles away with them planning a group picnic at the time of the killing, Jim's testimony along with Will Purvis admitting he had joined the Whitecaps 3 weeks before the murder was enough for the jury to find him guilty. 

At the reading of the verdict, Purvis once again declared his innocence. At the request of his attorney, each member of the jury was asked how he voted and Will looked on in dismay as each one replied, "Guilty." As the last juror answered the same as the rest, Will said, "I am innocent of this crime. I swear, I will outlive everyone on the jury who has wrongly found me guilty." 

Following the law, Will was sentenced to die by hanging. His attorney appealed, but 6 months later, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Several days following the Supreme Court's decision, Will was escorted under heavy guard to the gallows in Columbia. Five thousand people came to Columbia on horseback, in wagons, carts and buggies. When the appointed hour came, many in the crowd were crying as Will was led up to the scaffold. After the minister finished praying for his soul, the sheriff asked Will if he had any last words. The crowd was silent, expecting a final confession, but Will stated, "You are taking the life of an innocent man, but there are people here who know who did commit this crime. If they will come forward and confess, I will go free and an innocent man will be spared." Nobody came forward as the rope was placed around the boy's neck. The minister loudly proclaimed, "God save this innocent boy!" just as the trapdoor was sprung beneath Will's feet. Purvis dropped and then with a sharp jerk, the hangman's knot slipped and Will fell to the ground with no more injury than a slight rope burn around his neck.

Horror gripped the crowd as Will, his hands and feet still bound, stood up and looked around. Incredibly, he hopped up onto the first step of the scaffold, turned to the sheriff and said, "Let's have it over with." Many women in the crowd began screaming and crying even louder as some of the men began shouting it was divine intervention that had saved the young man. The sheriff said, "This man was sentenced to hang and hang he will" as he ordered the officials to prepare to hang him again. The doctor on hand refused to have anything more to do with the procedure. He had been known for expressing his feelings against the Whitecaps, but all along he had not believed Purvis was guilty. As the doctor prepared to walk away he said, "I will not have any part of this damn thing. This boy's been hung once too many times already."

When the doctor made his statement, many of the crowd cried, "Don't let him hang!" Others in the crowd were just as loud though as they shouted, "Hang him!" Suddenly, the Reverend held up his hands and as the shouts faded, all eyes turned to him. He shouted, "All who want to see this boy hanged a second time, hold up your hands." There was complete silence and only a few hands were raised. The Reverend then said in a quiet voice, "All who are opposed to hanging Will Purvis a second time, hold up your hands." Almost every hand went up. The crowd who had come to see life taken from a man now were virtually united in calling for his release.

The officials were unsure what to do. It was their duty to carry out the punishment, but how could they go ahead against the will of five thousand people staring at them? Once again the sheriff ordered the officials to prepare to hang Will again. At this, the doctor called out to the sheriff, "I do not agree with you. If I were to call for the help of 300 men to prevent the hanging, what would you do?" As shouts of agreement with the doctor rose from the men in the crowd, the sheriff realized that in such an event he would be helpless. The doctor then took several steps up the gallows and quietly said to the sheriff, "And I am ready to it it now." At this, the sheriff ordered the hanging to be stopped and the prisoner to be escorted back to jail.

The question of whether or not Will Purvis could be hanged again was taken to the State Supreme Court. The court decided that just because the noose had slipped was no reason the law should not be followed to completion. The court stated that Purvis had been found guilty, there was a witness against him and to free him or commute his sentence to life in prison would establish a dangerous precedent. His date of execution was set for July 31, 1895.

Indignation over the ruling of the court ran high with most people now believing Will was indeed innocent. During the night of July 30, 1895, the night before Will was to be hung a second time, there was strangely only one deputy standing guard  when a group of unidentified men stormed the jail, overpowered and tied up the deputy without harming him and whisked Will Purvis away. Several other prisoners were left in their cells and the deputy swore he could not identify any of Will's rescuers. Nobody was ever brought to trial for the jailbreak.

Will disappeared and the official search for him never amounted to much, but the case remained in the public eye so much that it was an issue in the next gubernatorial election. The candidate in favor of modifying the sentence won the election. The day after he was sworn in, Purvis voluntarily surrendered himself and, true to his word, the new governor commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. On March 12, 1896, Will began his sentence of hard labor, breaking rocks and clearing fields by hand.

Two years later, the state's key witness, Jim Buckley, the brother who had identified Purvis as the murderer, recanted his testimony and said in his grief and desire for revenge, he had identified Will because everyone thought that's who did it. Since Jim was the main reason Will had been convicted, a new trial was ordered and without an eye witness, a new verdict of Not Guilty was rendered. Will was released from prison and on December 19, 1898, after thousands of letters came into the governor's office requesting a pardon for Will, the governor issued the requested full pardon. 

In time, Will married his childhood sweetheart and they had 7 children. He became a prosperous farmer and life with his family was good, but there was still a cloud over his happiness as he had never completely been vindicated of the murder of Will Buckley.

In 1917, Joe Beard, a long-time resident of the community attended a rousing revival meeting of the Holy Rollers. The charismatic preacher emphasized the importance of the public confession of sins. Joe came forward to join the church and declared he had long been suffering from the weight of a terrible sin. He would say no more at that time, but a few months later he became seriously ill. When the doctor told him he should prepare to meet his maker, Beard called his minister and several friends to his bedside to hear his confession. He stated that in 1893, he was one of 4 Whitecaps who met in secret to discuss Will Buckley's intention of revealing to the Grand Jury the secrets of the Whitecaps organization. Three of them decided that Buckley should be killed to protect the guilty members. The fourth person was a young man of only 19 years who had just recently joined the Whitecaps and he flatly refused to have anything to do with such a dastardly thing. He promptly renounced his membership, quitting the group and returning home. That man was Will Purvis.

The three remaining men drew lots to see who would carry out the murder. Joe and a man named Louis Thornhill drew the short straws. The two men built a brush blind on the side of the creek by the trail they knew Buckley would take coming home from town. They laid in wait until the three intended victims came into sight. Beard said Thornhill jumped out and fired the shot that killed Buckley, but Beard, who was also supposed to jump out and begin firing, had lost his nerve and never moved from his hiding place in the brush. This had allowed Jim Buckley and the servant to escape. The reverend got a pencil and paper and began writing down his story, but before he could finish it and get Beard to sign it, Beard took his last breath and died.

Beard's confession completely cleared Purvis of the murder. In an ironic twist of fate, Thornhill, who was advanced in age but still alive, could not be brought to trial as the deathbed confession could not be used in court since it was not signed. Thornhill, who had years before moved to an isolated cabin in the woods, remained in his cabin, but was never seen in town again. A year later, his body was discovered on the floor of his cabin by a hunter. No cause was given for his death.

In 1920, the state of Mississippi appropriated $5,000 to Purvis as compensation "for suffering endured and for services done and performed in the State penitentiary under the provision of an erroneous judgement. The state of Mississippi confesses to a great wrong done to Will Purvis and now removes all stain and dishonor from his name."

On October 13, 1938, twenty-one years after his exoneration, Will Purvis died of natural causes - 3 days after the death of the last juror who had found him guilty.