The May 23, 1912 issue of The Eagle out of Bryan, Texas carried a sensational one sentence article stating that well known rancher Burk Burnett had shot and killed another man named Farley Sayers that day.
Burk Burnett lived in Fort Worth by then, but had wide ranching holdings in north and west Texas. The shooting victim was Farley Sayers, another rancher in King County. At the time of his death, Sayers was 32 years old and Burnett was 63. The local newspapers began to carry stories about the incident and what they were able to discover about the background of the situation. There was mention of “bad blood” between the two over some earlier disagreement. Both had been staying in Paducah at the Goodwin Hotel. Around 11:00 in the morning, the two were in the wash room along with several other individuals. Burnett was said to have fired a pistol, striking Sayers near the heart. Sayers fell to the floor, fatally wounded. After the shooting, Burnett went to the sheriff’s office, turned himself in and was arrested.
Burnett was brought to trial the next year in Seymour, Texas after a change of venue. It was revealed that the earlier disagreement was over some cattle. Sayers owned about 1,280 acres of land out in King County and it adjoined property of Burnett’s 6666 Ranch. At some point, King was allegedly in possession of cattle bearing the 6666 Ranch’s brand which he could have legally bought or obtained otherwise. The specific incident, if there was one single episode that sparked the disagreement, does not seem to be identified in the newspaper accounts, and we have not found a reference to any pending charges against Sayers brought by Burnett concerning allegations of cattle rustling.
The trial commenced in the summer of 1913 in the district court of Judge A. P. Dickson in Seymour. The articles mention that at the outset of the hearings, Burnett was suffering from a buggy accident in which he sustained a broken rib. A jury pool of 100 men had been called. (Female jurors were not allowed in Texas until 1954.) The jury was selected after about a day and a half.
According to newspaper accounts, witnesses gave conflicting testimony. One witness for the prosecution stated that Burnett began drawing his pistol as he entered the wash room. One witness was in the wash room and testified that Sayers had just finished splashing water on his face when the shot rang out. A deputy sheriff of Cottle County said that a search of the body produced a watch, $5 in cash, a check book and a pair of gloves but no gun, but he may not have been the first to search the body. Another lawman later testified that he had removed a loaded 25 Colt automatic from the body of the deceased.
A number of witnesses for the defense testified that at various times, they had heard Sayers voice threats against Burnett, some occurring three or four years earlier. Some had advised Burnett of the threats while others had not. A plain clothes policeman from Fort Worth testified supporting the earlier testimony regarding the threats by Sayers against Burnett. A former mayor of Fort Worth testified that during the Cattleman’s Convention in 1912, Burnett and another man had come to him and asked for Sayers to be disarmed due to the threats, but that Sayers had already left the city and could not be found.
Burnett testified on his own behalf and that he and an associate named Tom Pickett had decided to go wash up before eating lunch leading to the confrontation in the wash room. The trial concluded with closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense. The jury deliberated a short time, less than thirty minutes, before finding for the defense and Burnett was acquitted of the charges against him.
Neither man was a stranger to violence. In 1879, a man by the name of Jack King was alleged to have stolen some twenty head of Burnett’s cattle in Clay County a bit east of Wichita Falls but near to Burnett’s Wichita County ranch. Burnett is said to have gone to King’s place, recovered the disputed cattle and brought them back to his own property. The following day, King and two other individuals confronted Burnett as they announced their intention to recover the disputed steers. Gunfire erupted and King fell dead from a gunshot wound to his head. Burnett was tried and acquitted of murder in a Clay County district court.
Sayers and clashed with some of Burnett’s cow hands in 1907 over some calves after the Burnett people had noticed some mother cows swollen with milk pacing along the fence line and found what they believed to be Burnett calves on Sayer’s place. They calves were not yet weaned and had not been branded. Before any legal action took place, Sayers was said to have had a run in with one of the Burnett cow hands named Sam Graves that escalated towards a fight. Sayers noted that Graves was armed though Sayers was not, so he tried to mount his horse and get away. Graves shot in Sayers’ direction, hitting him in the shoulder from behind. Graves was initially convicted of assault with intent to murder, but his conviction was reversed on appeal.
The case of the alleged stolen calves came to trial in Benjamin, Texas in 1908, and after it played out and the jury deliberated, Sayers was acquitted.
Farley Sayers was interred in Dumont Cemetery, King County, Texas, in 1912. Burk Burnett died of natural causes in the summer of 1922 and is buried in East Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas.
Sources: Various newspaper articles and “From Guns to Gavels, How Justice Grew Up In the Outlaw West” by Bill Neal
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