Captain J.C. Terrell on John B. Denton

The following is an excerpt from a book about Ft. Worth that contains an interesting account about the life of John B. Denton before he came to Texas. REMINISCENCES OF THE EARLY DAYS OF FORT WORTH by Capt. J. C. Terrell 1906

Story of Rev. John Denton After Whom Denton County, Texas Was Named

Dr. Ash N. Denton died at his residence in Austin on the 6th instant.
This announcement awakened memories long dormant. In 1858, while an orphan boy, Denton lived in Weatherford. A saloonkeeper there, named Big Jim Curtis, abused him, a fight with revolvers ensued, resulting in Curtis' death. Denton obtained a change of venue and was tried and acquitted in Buchanan, then the county seat of Johnson County. Denton came to Fort Worth, where he was elected Justice of the Peace; commenced reading law with A. Y. Fowler, but afterwards studied medicine with Dr. Calvin M. Peak, the son of Captain Peak, the Mexican war veteran of Dallas County, and graduated in Galveston medical school in 1861. He was married here to a most beautiful and accomplished lady, Miss Maggie Murchison, who survives him. He located at or near San Marcos; from there he moved to Austin and took charge of the insane asylum as superintendent during Governor Ireland's two administrations. In 1898, I with my two brothers, called on ex-Governor F. M. Lubbock, who was sick. Doctor Denton was his physician, and I saw him for the last time.

The following I state from memory, told me by John C. McCoy, deceased, of Dallas. McCoy was surveyor of the Peters Colony company in the days of the Republic of Texas and was afterward District Attorney of the Sixteenth Judicial District.

Denton County was named in honor of Captain John R. Denton, the father of Dr. Ash Denton. He was a most remarkable man, an attorney, a Methodist preacher and a distinguished Indian fighter; was killed by the Comanche Indians on Rush Creek, this county, near where the Texas and Pacific Railroad crosses that stream. McCoy say that he never heard his equal as an orator. For a frivolous cause he separated from his wife in Arkansas. She went to Fayetteville and there established a little millinery store. One night a merchant, a man of wealth and local influence, on attempting to enter her room, was shot and killed by Mrs. Denton. She was indicted for murder and imprisoned. It was generally thought that on account of the influence of the prosecution and of the desperado friends of the deceased Mrs. Denton would be convicted. On the day of the trial the courtroom was densely crowded with spectators. The presiding judge asked the defendant if she had an attorney to defend her. She answered: "No; I have no attorney and no friends." A stranger to all, sitting inside the bar arose, gazing intently into her face, said: "No, not without friends. If it please your honor, I will appear for the defendant, if acceptable to her and to the court."

She recognized her husband in the stranger, who, being unknown, exhibited his license to the court, and the trial proceeded. The facts were plain. Her counsel seemed abstracted and asked the prosecuting witnesses but few pertinent questions. The State's attorney, an able advocate, made a strong effort, and many trembeled for the fate of the beautiful defendant. When he had finished his opening address, Denton arose to reply. He discussed the law of murder in its various degrees, and the law of self-defense as applicable to the evidence in the case. In manner he was as calm, cool and emotionless as if he were an animated marble statue. But every point he made was as clear as the noonday sun, and he spoke as he shot - to the center every time. And his very impassiveness seemed to carry conviction. The first emotion he displayed was in his peroration, when, resting his eyes upon the defendant, he said in part: "Gentlemen of the Jury, look upon the defendant. Scan that pure face and behold something dearer to me than life, and more precious to me than all things else under the blue canopy of heaven. Need I tell you that she is my wife. I could as easily believe an angel guilty of crime as my wife. She never had an impure thought in her life. It is true that whilst no woman was ever gentler or more kind-hearted or more faithful and affectionate wife, she, with a courage born of virtue and innocence, slew the ruffian who would have desecrated my fireside. And for this worthy deed of a noble woman I honor and love her more than ever. Thank God for having blessed me with such a wife."

Concluding he advanced toward the defendant, and, exclaimed: "No, not with a friend, litle woman," and, extending his arms, "behold in me you have more than a friend - a husband." She sprang to his breast amid the tears and acclaims of the people and the cries of the sheiff for "order in the court!" The jury, looking to the right and left and talking to each other, without leaving their box, returned instanter a verdict of "Not guilty." The friends of the prosecution were immediately conspicuous by their absence.

Captain Denton and wife then moved to Clarksville, Texas. A full account of this trial was published over forty years ago by Charley De Morse in his Clarksville Standard.