Constable John Birdwell

Constable John Birdwell

Nacogdoches County Constable's Office, Texas

End of Watch Tuesday, December 19, 1871

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John Birdwell

On December 14, 1871, two Texas state policemen, Columbus Hazlett and William Grayson, attended a justice of the peace court session in the Linn Flat community. Apparently in disagreement with some action by the court, they caused a disturbance and threatened to shoot one of the lawyers. Justice Dawson charged them with contempt. An arrest warrant was issued, and Dawson gave it to Constable John Birdwell to execute. Constable Birdwell summoned a man named David W. Harvell to assist him in the arrest of the two state policemen. The constable then located Hazlett nearby and arrested him. Hazlett offered no resistance, and on Birdwell’s command called to Grayson in a nearby store.

When Grayson drew near, Hazlett told him, “I am a prisoner.” Grayson said, “Die before you surrender.” Deputized Citizen Harvell then demanded Hazlett hand over his gun. Instead, Hazlett drew his weapon and shot Harvell in the chest. But Harvell did not go down. He staggered though a nearby store door, picked up a shotgun, and fired the first barrel into Hazlett’s face. Hazlett was hit by only a few pellets, but the second barrel discharged in the direction of Grayson, wounding him. Hazlett and Grayson returned fire, twice hitting Harvell, who dropped dead on the store floor. Constable Birdwell never had a chance to draw his weapon, and was looking down the barrels of the state policemen’s guns when they mounted their horses and rode off.

On December 19, 1871, Constable John Birdwell answered a knock on his door in Linn Flat and was shot dead. Arrest warrants were issued for Grayson and Hazlett.

About a week later Lt. Thomas Williams, a respected member of the state police, rode into Linn Flat with Grayson and Hazlett. Lt. Williams negotiated with Sheriff Orton for several days over the arrest and confinement of the two state policemen. No settlement was reached, and Williams rode away one night with his two prisoners. Soon after, the head of the state police returned to surrender Hazlett and Grayson to the sheriff.

Grayson was convicted and sent to prison for life. Hazlett escaped from jail before his trial, fled to Arkansas, and was killed by bounty hunters.

Constable John Birdwell, 59, was survived by his wife and 10 children. David W. Harvell, 29, was survived by his wife and 3 children. The place of burial for both men has not been located.


  • Age 59
  • Tour Not available
  • Badge Not available

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Weapon Unknown weapon
  • Offender one sentenced to life and one escaped

Most Recent Reflection

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My great grandmother, was Sarah Jane Vaught Bell. (husband and soldier, Oscar F. Bell died in the war). Her Mother, Lucinda Birdwell Vaught was the sister of Constable John Birdwell. Sarah, widowed, is shown on the census living with the David Harvell family at the time her Uncle John Birdwell was shot and killed, along with David Harvell. Sarah Jane's mother was Lucinda Birdwell Vaught, sister of Constable John Birdwell, and Col. Allen Birdwell. I thank historians who have helped me do years of research on my family, honoring those who came and served Nacogdoches and our country. Lovey Rhodes Smitham

no rank, living relative
GGG grandmother, Lucinda Birdwell Vaught was his sis was his sister.

April 21, 2016

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