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May 9th, 1930--Mob Burns the Grayson County Courthouse

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History Lost

Many people in the Sherman/Dennison area may be somewhat familiar with the story of the mob who burned the Grayson County Courthouse in 1930. I first discovered the event while researching the Dallas Hodges murder ten years ago. Even though this story receives sporadic attention, I take the assumption that many Texoma natives are not aware of how profoundly this tragedy affected our people.*

The courthouse burned down 87 years ago. So what? A multitude of relevant events that happened between 1846, when Grayson County built a log courthouse, and 1930, covered almost a century of important history. The legal stories of those events burned up with the courthouse. The courthouse burning in 1930 brought on emotional effects and life-changing characteristics for many families that shaped their lives, how they conducted business, and what values they taught their children in the Red River region.

By the year 1873, Grayson County had built five courthouses. When the Houston & Texas Central Railroad rolled into Sherman, it brought economic growth and eventually the funds to build a sixth courthouse with high-quality construction materials in 1876. (1)

The Alleged Attack

A black man and hired farmhand named George Hughes allegedly attacked his employer’s wife. Mr. Hughes went to Drew Farlow’s farm on Saturday, May 3rd, 1930, and asked for his wages. Mr. Farlow was not home, and his wife told Mr. Hughes to come back later. (2) Mr. Hughes allegedly returned with a shotgun, demanded his wages, and assaulted the man’s wife.

The Seed of Insanity Sprouts

A deputy sheriff chased Hughes down. Hughes fired two shots at the lawman’s car, surrendered, and later confessed to the assault. A grand jury indicted Hughes on Monday, May 5th, and the court set his trial for Friday, May 9th. The Grayson County Sheriff, Arthur Vaughan, suspected possible mob violence brewing by Sunday, May 4th. The first seed of vigilante trouble appeared at the jail in the form of a few teenage boys and men on Tuesday, May 6th, who demanded to see Hughes.

The county attorney tried to convince the group that they had moved Hughes out of the jail. The group sprayed the attorney with a water hose, threw stones at windows, and threatened to enter the jail by bashing through the entrance with a telephone pole. Sheriff Vaughan authorized a deputy to lead five of the men in the group through the jail which settled them down. Sherriff Vaughan repeated the tour the next day with another party for the same reason.

At that point, the sheriff asked Governor Dan Moody to send four Texas Rangers to guard against a possible mob attack during the trial scheduled for Friday, and the Rangers, led by Captain Frank Hamer, arrived early Thursday morning. A judge arraigned Hughes on Thursday morning without problems. During the week before the trial, instigators stirred a cauldron overflowing with angry energy by visiting and encouraging outlying county residents to attend the trial.

The Trial

Hundreds of people attended this trial, crowded into the courthouse, and waited outside on Friday, May 9th. The authorities escorted Hughes to the courthouse without incident. At 9:30 a.m., Judge R. M. Carter opened the proceedings and by 11:45, officers of the court had impaneled a 12-man jury chosen from 36 men. Grayson County saw no more peace that day.

An ambulance brought Mrs. Farlow, the victim, to the courthouse and attendants carried her into the courtroom on a stretcher. She screamed when she saw Hughes according to one account, and the crowd rushed the courtroom. The Rangers drew their guns and drove the mob back outside. The restored order only lasted until Hughes pled guilty and the first witness began to testify. The maddened crowd broke through the guard detail.

No Peace

Judge Carter stopped the proceedings, and guards released tear gas bombs. The fire department then rescued jurors, witnesses, and clerks from the second story windows of the courthouse. Authorities relocated Hughes to the district clerk’s office located in a large two-story vault.

Around 1:00 p.m., the Rangers thwarted another mob attack. Judge Carter changed the venue for the trial and requested state troops from Governor Moody who ordered troops in Dallas to go to Sherman. Shortly, the mob turned the courthouse into a roaring inferno. While the firemen attempted to battle the blazing fire, the mob cut their hoses as soon as they unwound them. The fire destroyed much of the courthouse in 15 minutes, but the vault remained intact.

The Rangers left the building after first responders evacuated everyone except Hughes. He remained in the vault either because it automatically locked or he chose to stay in it, and he died there. Communications began to fly between Governor Moody, Texas Ranger Company B, Dallas Guardsman, U.S. District Attorney Randolf Bryant in Sherman, and Texas Ranger Sergeant Manual “Lone Wolf” Gonzuailis in Dallas. The crowd headed for the jail.

When Sergeant Gonzualis arrived, he held the jail safe with two pistols, a Thompson sub-machine gun, and a sawed-off shotgun. The mob threw all kinds of projectiles at him, tossed dynamite towards him, and yelled at him. The Lone Wolf reinforced his stance with buckshot, and the crowd kept their distance. National Guardsman filtered into Sherman throughout the afternoon, and the mob continually attacked them with pop bottles, bricks, stones, and boards.

Around 6:20 p.m., Guardsman Colonel Lawrence McGee arrived and led his troops to the jail through flying objects with the mob attacking their every move and secured the jail. The mob returned to the courthouse with dynamite and blew the vault open. They found Hughes’s body and threw it down a ladder.

Lynching A Dead Man

Some men hooked Hughes’s body to a car with a chain and dragged it through the crowd to the black neighborhood where they lynched the dead man over a bonfire. The anarchy did not end there. The violent, out-of-control crowd looted and burned Sherman’s black business district and continued the insane carnage through their residential neighborhoods. Firemen tried to fight the flames without hoses.

Insanity Rages On

Enough troops had arrived by 2 a.m. to stop the annihilation. Come dawn on Saturday morning, Rangers and guardsman began to root out the black people who found refuge by hiding in sewers and brush thickets during the riot. White employers and business owners protected many of the black people during the riot. One white man claimed to own a whole block of houses and saved them from the mob’s revenge.

In 1930, Texas practiced segregation along with the deep South. The rioters destroyed the black people’s hotel, movie theater, drug store, barber shop, and undertaking parlors. Insurance policies carried exemptions to cover damage by riots. Black business ceased to exist in Sherman that day.

Finally, a guardsman cut down Hughes’s burnt, hanging body when he found people taking pictures with it.** Authorities persuaded a white undertaker to take care of Hughes, and they buried him in an unmarked grave on a county farm.

Martial Law

Governor Moody declared martial law in Sherman until May 24th. Guardsman mounted machine guns on the courthouse square and around the jail and patrolled the black district. Still, black people received threats and orders to leave Sherman or face the burning of their homes. White employers also received warnings to fire their black employees.

No Justice

Authorities eventually indicted fourteen suspected mob leaders. Many courtroom maneuvers followed the indictments and included a change of venue to Dallas, a ruling that no jury to convict could be found nearer than Austin, a change of venue back to Cooke County, and numerous postponements. By October of 1931, the courts had charged only three men. Only one man went to trial, and his jury found him guilty of arson and sentenced him to two years in prison. (3)

Memories that Shaped a Life

The Herald Democrat published the following excerpt in February 2014, when the Sherman Museum hosted Southern Methodist University Professor Njoki McElroy’s book signing of her memoirs.

“Then named Hilda Hampton, McElroy was five years old in 1930 when Sherman experienced perhaps the darkest hour in its history, as a rioting mob burned down the Grayson County courthouse and lynched a black farmhand accused of [attacking] a white woman. Though McElroy was at her parents’ house in Dallas at the time of the events, she can recall her mother’s concern when news of the riot broke across the radio. She said she believes Sherman would have grown into a large metropolitan area à la Dallas if not for the events of May 9 that year.

“The riot was something that changed Sherman . . .there were plans for Sherman to be a big, metro area . . . But when that riot went as far as it went, it destroyed that progressive spirit that was on track at the time . . . She said her grandparents — who owned a cache of guns and sheltered several local black families during the riot — rarely spoke of the lynching in the aftermath. But the repercussions echoed across her life . . . A lot of times we hear about these historical events from a factual date, time, place, but when you’re from the inside and you hear the fear and the people being threatened, you get that part of history that’s difficult to document. And it lasts.”

Professor McElroy named her book of memoirs 1012 Natchez: A Memoir of Grace, Hardship and Love, a tribute to the address of her grandparent’s home in Sherman in 1930.

*Personally, I continue to run into great stories that dead-end into this 1930 human tragedy, courthouse burning, and senseless mob mentally. I do not know this for sure, but because of my experience in chasing down historical facts, I believe that the Herald Democrat left out much of Professor McElroy’s verbal account in February 2014, because this horrific riot embarrasses the City of Sherman to this day. Professor McElroy was almost 90 in 2014, so I suppose it is time to read her memoir and listen to her and her grandparent’s story.

**You may email me for a link to a picture of Hughes hanging in the tree. The picture is too graphic to post here.


(2) Drew Farlow-

(3) Phillips, Edward H. (1987) "The Sherman Courthouse Riot of 1930," East Texas Historical Journal: Vol. 25: Iss. 2, Article 6. Available at:

(4) Strauch, Nate. "Former Sherman native says events of 1930 shaped city’s history." Http://, February 22, 2014. Accessed October 25, 2017.





4 Njoki McElroy.

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