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Blood for Blood without Remorse: The Lee-Peacock Feud, part 2
By Edward Southerland
Jul 13, 2016
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By most lights, the cycle of murder and revenge that plagued North Texas and particularly the area around Pilot Grove known as The Four Corners, immediately after the Civil War, was much like the border wars of Kansas and Missouri that had played out earlier in the decade. Under the color of war, the Red Legs and Jayhawkers, supporters of the North, and the Bushwhackers and Border Ruffians, supporters of the South, had carried on an internecine dirty war for power, plunder, revenge, and retribution against their neighbors. 

Texas had been generally free of this kind of strife during the war. Greatly outnumbered in Confederate Texas, the Unionists generally had held a low profile, and the war proper had not been contested on Texas soil except along the fringes of the state. All of that ended with collapse of the Confederacy, and then the relative influence of the two sides was reversed.

North Texas had never been at one with the secessionists. Collin, Grayson, and Fannin County voters turned down the call for disunion in 1861, and the vote for secession was close in Hunt.  At war’s end, the local Unionists, some sincere and honorable in their leanings, some simply opportunistic, found themselves in the fore. The latter group, often aided and abetted by the carpetbaggers who oozed into the state and the scalawags who sought advantage in the local situation, and often backed by blue-coated soldiers and a pliant reconstruction administration in Austin, took their revenge. At least, that has always been the majority Southern point of view. 

The other faction will insist that the returning Confederates and their local supporters were simply never-to-be-reconstructed rebels who turned to outlawry and vigilantism against loyal Union men and the former slaves to hold on to what was forfeited by a failed rebellion. The truth is some of this and some of that. It is not so black and white, or perhaps in this case so blue and gray. 

Certainly this is the case when trying to reconstruct the collective incidents and motivations that brought on the Lee-Peacock Feud. Add to this, the fact that the accounts have been filtered by time and prejudice and the historian can offer little more than an outline to be filled in by supposition and conjecture. 

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Within a month of the murder of Dr. William Pierce in February 1867, The McKinney Enquirer reported that two men had ridden to the Lee place and “…tried to kill Capt. Bob Lee, however, was not hurt. His brother arrived a little time after, when the two traced the would-be assassins to Farmersville, and attacked them, killing one and wounding the other. We did not learn the names of the parties, or any of the particulars.”  We still do not know the particulars 150 years later. 

In the spring of 1868, Elijah Clark, a Peacock Union man, but a longtime friend of the Dixon clan, came to the Dixon farm to call on eldest Dixon girl, Hester Anne. She wanted nothing to do with him and told him so in no uncertain terms. 

Storming out of the house, Clark ran into Hester’s sixteen-year-old brother, Billy. In a rage born of rejection, Clark snatched a pistol from the saddle holster of Billy’s horse and fired at the boy. Clark had left his own piece on a table by the front door when he went a-calling, and Billy grabbed that weapon and shot Clark out of his saddle. 

Within a month a posse of Federal soldiers and Peacock men ran down Billy and his brother Charlie, who were on their way to Jefferson with a load of cotton. The Dixons were repairing a broken wagon wheel when they were surrounded. 

The government report says Billy was killed resisting arrest. Charlie’s version was different. He said the posse had taken the two without a fight and then shot Billy in the back in an act of simple murder. Whatever the facts, the Lee men would not let the incident go unanswered. 

There are reports of a dust up in Pilot Grove a few weeks later, when soldiers, aided by Peacock and others, tried to arrest a Lee supporter. A wild gunfight ensued, and while no one was hurt, the fugitive escaped, and the Lee men, arrested and hauled to Sherman by the army, were released due to a lack of witnesses. 

On May 15, 1868, Lewis Peacock was shot when set upon by two of the Dixon clan. He was only wounded, and once again he made a plea to both state officials in Austin and the army for more troops to be sent to the Corners. A month later, the homemade war cranked up a notch. 

At the Nance farm, a regular gathering place for the Peacock crowd, a fight took place between the opposing sides that left Dow Nance and John Baldock dead and Dan Sanders grievously wounded. The Lee band escaped the fight without serious injury. 

The McKinney Enquirer responded to this incident with an editorial. “We do hope and trust that this last tragedy may close this long continued and bloody strife.” It did not. 

Once again Peacock petitioned Austin for help, and this time he got it. On August 27, 1868, the army posted a price on Bob Lee’s head, offering $1,000 to anyone who would deliver him “...to the Post Commander at Austin or Marshall, Texas.”  The army also responded with more force, sending Lieutenant Charles Vernon to North Texas to lead the hunt. 

But Bob Lee was not waiting around to be arrested. He had built a hideout deep in Wild Cat Thicket, and by following trails only he and his men knew, he could slip in and out of the area at will. In October, Lt. Vernon reported that although the army had thirty-five troopers under Lieutenant Sands and fifteen of Peacock’s men in the field, “Lee seems to the most popular man in this section of the country, and I am sure that the citizens of that neighborhood would not only give him all the aid in their power, but will even help him with force of arms if necessary.” 

Lt. Sands had squads constantly on the lookout for Lee, and as Vernon’s report concluded, “...he has put Lee on the defensive.” Indeed he was, but following the principles of another Southern-born Robert Lee, Capt. Bob sometimes defended with an aggressive offense. 

In December, a soldier in a Peacock-led posse died in a skirmish near Farmersville, and come spring a bigger story played out. In April or May 1869, several Kansas Red Leg bounty hunters showed up in Pilot Grove looking for Lee. They lay in wait through a long night with ropes strung across the road to the Lee place. The next morning they rode up to the farm and nosed around. 

A short time after they left, Lee’s wife Melinda heard shots down the road, and fearful that the strangers had gunned down her husband, she and Dorinda Pierce, the sister of the murdered Dr. Pierce, set out to see what had happened. The Red Legs had found Bob Lee, or more correctly, the Lee men had found the Red Legs. Three of bounty hunters were dead and at least one more wounded. 

The reaction of Peacock and the army was to raise the ante. From Greenville came the word that a $1,000 reward now laid on the head of  “each and every member of Lee’s gang.” Bob Lee had had enough. Hunted and harried, his friends now under federal paper, he decided to quit the country and head for Mexico. 

Some say he was actually on his way that Monday, June 25, 1869, as he rode away from his farm. He had gone only a short distance down the road when soldiers from the US 6th Infantry under Captain Charles Campbell fell on him from ambush, and Bob Lee pitched from his horse with eight bullets in his body as the animal galloped back to the homestead. Scouting for the soldiers was a Peacock man, Henry Boren, and it is told by the Lees that he fired the first shot.

Perhaps that should have brought an end to the business, but it did not. With Bob Lee gone, his followers scattered, but the hunt for them continued. Charlie, Simp, and Bob Dixon fought it out with soldiers in Limestone County in February 1870. Simp died, but the others got away. Peacock and his men ran down Charlie Dixon, his father Jack, and his half brother, Dick Johnson, near Cumby, which was called Black Jack Grove in those days. They killed Charlie and wounded Johnson, who escaped and headed to West Texas. Sometime, somewhere, Bob Dixon was shot down; the facts of the event are lost. After burying the last of his three sons, Jack Dixon died, leaving the three Dixon daughters alone to face the Peacocks. 

Legend has it that Peacock threatened to burn out the Dixon women if Dick Johnson did not come back. Whether true or not, Johnson came back, and with Joe Parker, laid plans to rid North Texas of Lewis Peacock before he could get them. 

On June 14, 1871, Johnson, Parker and an unknown third man lay outside the Peacock house as the sun broke the morning sky. They had been waiting there all night, and when Peacock came out to gather wood for the breakfast fire, they dropped him where he stood, in his own front yard. And that was that, or almost. 

Dick Johnson moved on to Missouri, but a posse caught Joe Parker near Mount Pleasant in October. He confessed to the Peacock killing. Badly wounded, somehow he survived. What came of his capture and arrest is not clear, but three years later he went down to a flurry of lead from a Collin County posse as he emerged from a house, guns ablaze. 

The identity of the third man was never known, but there was a persistent rumor in and around The Corners that he was a young man from Bonham who had hooked up with Johnson and Parker in West Texas. His name was John Wesley Hardin. 

How much of the story of the Lee-Peacock Feud is fact, and how much is legend? That is something that 150 years later is lost to history. But a paragraph near the end of Lee’s letter to The Bonham News had set the course from which neither side would stray far: 

“Now I will not cease to punish these men so long as I can find them,” Lee wrote, “Peacock still hires men to kill me, and they must take the consequences.”