When I first began researching my family history, my mother’s Aunt Mary told me that my great-great-grandmother’s first husband was shot in his front yard by a man named Hunter. Apparently my relative’s dog had killed some of Hunter’s sheep. My great-great-grandmother then walked to Dubina, Texas, to borrow a wagon so she could take her husband’s body there to be buried.
This story sounded too interesting to be true, but many hours of research proved that indeed it was.
According to Judge Haidusek’s well-known speech on the history of Dubina printed in the old Nase Dejiny, my great-great-grandmother and her first husband, Frantisek Sugarek, came to Texas in 1856 with the group of Czech Moravian immigrants who founded the communities of Dubina and Hostyn, Texas.
The United States Census of 1860 put the Sugarek family in Colorado County, Texas, south of the present-day town of Weimar. They had a daughter named Veronica, and he had two children by an earlier marriage – Mary and Charles.
The family only recently had settled in what later came to be known as the Content Community. The land records in the Colorado County courthouse showed that Sugarek had bought 35 acres in the area in 1859, and that he bought another 98 and 7/8 acres in 1862.
The Colorado County land records also established the presence of a man named Hunter in the vicinity. In 1862 one Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter* bought a tract of land in the neighborhood for $4,320.00 (Sugarek’s two purchases had totaled only $583.35). Just who was this man with the intriguing name of Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter?
T. W. Hunter’s tombstone in the Masonic Cemetery in Weimar claims that he was the “first American in Texas, born at Morgan Point near Galveston September 29, 1822.” According to histories of Fort Bend County, Texas, where his family later settled, Hunter’s father was a wealthy slave-holding plantation owner who was related to some of America’s early heros. Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter was no poor dirt farmer himself. The 1860 United States Census tells us that he owned some $18,000 worth of real and personal property in Fort bend County. This included seven slaves.
In my research I was unable to find any local newspapers from the 1860s. Records preserved in the Colorado County courthouse, however, clearly told the story of the two men, the dog and the murder.
The most valuable document I found was the judge’s charge of the court in Hunter’s trial – The State of Texas vs T. W. Hunter. According to Judge Shropshire, the shooting took place around June of 1863. In his charge to the court the judge alluded to ill feelings that Hunter may have had for Sugarek, and even to threats Hunter had made against him. The judge also referred to the destruction of Hunter’s sheep by Sugarek’s dog. Shropshire instructed the jurors that:
The defendant had no right to go, armed, to the house or premises of the deceased, for the purpose of killing his dog, and the deceased, when thus approached, had the perfect right to arm himself for the protection of his person, his premises and his dog, or other property….
Texas justice for this early Czech family was neither swift nor sure. Hunter was indicted for Sugarek’s murder on November 3, 1863, some five months after the actual shooting. The trial did not take place until November 2, 1866, thanks to a series of delays and postponements. Hunter pled not guilty, was tried and discharged.
The family legend proved to be a true story, but what became of the main characters? No tombstone can be found for Frantisek Sugarek. The 1952 diamond jubilee book of the Dubina Catholic Church tells us, however, that along the roadside near Dubina there is a burial site containing the graves of at least seven early Czechs. It identifies one of these Czechs as Sugarek. Sugarek’s widow married my great-great-grandfather Frantisek Janak in 1865. Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter moved to Weimar, Texas, in 1881 and became one of the young town’s prominent citizens. A creek near the site of Sugarek’s murder came to be known as Hunter’s Branch.
This experience in tracking down a family legend illustrates one of the most important steps in collecting one’s family history. Interview old relatives. They have wonderful stories to tell. Do not put it off, because once they are gone, much of our history is lost forever.
*Editor’s Note: Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter according to several sources was the first white male child born in Texas. The title of first white child born in Texas has to be shared with his twin sister, Messenia. Their birth was recorded shortly after their parents’ boat ran aground on Galveston Island in 1822. Until help arrived, the family survived by eating roasted alligator tails.
- Robert Janak
“A Family Legend Proven True,” Naše Dějiny (Magazine of Czech Genealogy and Culture published in Hallettsville, Texas, by Doug Kubicek from 1982 to 1989), May-June 1986, pages 2-3.