A sobering piece of Mason’s violent early history will make its public debut on Saturday, July 12: the Indian spearhead that killed the county’s first sheriff, Tom Milligan.
The unveiling will take place at the Mason Square Museum immediately after the Roundup parade. A second presentation will follow at 2 p.m. Visitors to the museum will have a chance to meet family members and ask questions.
Jane Sibley of Austin, a Milligan descendant and the owner of the spearhead, will give an informal talk at both presentations on Saturday. She and other family members will also be featured in the parade. Sheriff Milligan will be portrayed by his great-great-grandson, Clay Lindsay of Mason.
Milligan, a native of Ireland, arrived in Texas in 1840 and made his way to Mason County fifteen years later. Settling a mile north of town, he raised cattle and sold beef to Fort Mason. He also kept a stage stop on the Camp Colorado and San Antonio Road. In 1858 he was elected Mason County’s first sheriff.
On the evening of February 19, 1860, Milligan was returning home with some mules just before dark when he was surprised by five or six Indian raiders. He fired several shots from his revolver but was mortally wounded within 200 yards of his cabin. His dog, Sergeant, stayed at his side throughout the night.
The Indians surrounded the Milligan homestead and set fire to the kitchen. The family barred the doors and stayed up all night. The sheriff’s wife, Mahala, kept their children calm by reading aloud from a book of Shakespeare. The next morning, the family found Tom Milligan’s body with the ears cut off and a spear lodged through his heart. They removed the spearhead, which has remained in the family.
The murder of a frontier lawman caused alarm throughout Texas. Mason residents petitioned governor Sam Houston for more protection. Less than two weeks after Milligan’s death, the county raised a company of minutemen. Mason County’s organizer, George W. Todd, wrote to the State Gazette: “The deceased leaves a wife and large family, who were solely dependent upon him for support. These are pretty hard times, what think you?”
Indeed, Mahala Milligan had to support seven children by herself. Her great-granddaughter, Ruth Murray Dannheim, wrote in the Mason County Historical Book, “Some neighbors volunteered help, but most of the tilling of the soil and work about the farm was performed by Mahala and her children. Mahala looked after the land and rode a saddle horse like a man.”
In tragic irony, the Milligans’ grandson, Mason sheriff Allen Murray, was murdered by bootleggers in 1929 not far from the place where his grandfather had been killed. The leader of the Texas Rangers who searched for Murray’s killers was Frank Hamer, best known for tracking down Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in 1934. One of the bootleggers was executed for the sheriff’s murder in 1931. A handkerchief found at the crime scene will be displayed at the presentations on Saturday.
A historical marker commemorating both murdered sheriffs is located on Highway 87 north of the town square.
Tom and Mahala Milligan are buried in the Crosby Cemetery in Mason. His headstone reads, “First Sheriff of Mason County.” Her understated epigraph simply says, “A Pioneer Woman.”
Mahala Milligan’s oxen yoke has been on display at the Mason Square Museum since it opened last year, donated by Pat Ellebracht. The spearhead will be an important addition to the museum’s expanding collection.