The following are the memories of Tom Conaway, long-time Hazel Dell resident, as related to Billy Bob Lightfoot in 1949 (who went on to become Dr. Lightfoot), and I have to tell you that I hate this story. As a researcher, I’ve spent the past thirty years digging up these types of things, and although I truly believe that our history, good, bad, and ugly, needs to be saved, sometimes the stories are heartbreakers, aren’t they?
There’s no doubt that there was certainly a lot of ugly in Texas during the years when men took the law into their own hands as they pleased. And yes, I suppose you could make the case that they only did what the lawmen didn’t seem to get around to doing, and maybe you’re right. However, that doesn’t seem to be the way it was with the hanging of the Fraley boys in Hazel Dell, Texas, and for some reason their story has haunted me for years.
Remember, you are reading the words of Tom Conaway unless the words are in brackets. Those are my own thoughts.
“The two Fraley boys stole [They were accused of stealing but never convicted.] some cotton [cotton seed.] from a man by the name of Welch, who lived near Lamkin.
“They were guarding the prisoners in an old store building. My mother [Mary Conaway] prepared supper for the men.
“About 9 o’clock a mob of 13 men riding black horses and wearing slickers and mask rode up and asked the guards for the prisoners. [My account says 12 riding horses and 1 riding a mule.]
“The younger boy, about sixteen* years of age, started crying. His older brother begged the mob to let him go. However, they didn’t. (My brother, Ben, and I were hid and watched the mob take them away.) In my imagination I still can hear the younger boy crying.
“The next morning the citizens of Hazeldell met at the store. They were told about the mob coming after the Frailey boys, then they started hunting and found them hanging to a tree about 1/4 mile up Mill Branch. They were buried at the Hazeldell Cemetery.”
In another account, someone claimed that the mob members were very drunk. The boys were chained together and when the elder begged for the life of his brother, the drunks claimed that it was too much trouble to unchain them. So, two young men died…did they steal the cotton seed? Maybe, probably, I don’t know. Was it a crime that should have claimed the life of a teenager…doesn’t seem like it to me, but if you will remember, we are talking about a time in history that none of us really understands no matter how hard we study.
All I know is that, of course, the citizens of long ago Hazel Dell would have us believe that none of them were involved in the hanging and that the broken necks of the Frailey brothers are not lying on their consciences. Of course, that was the norm for this mob mentality that surfaced over and over: blame it on someone else, which they usually did. And, as I said at the beginning, the cries of that long ago teenager (guilty or not) have haunted me for a very long time.
*You will notice that the tombstone shows 19.
The following was sent to me by Rose Taylor after she read my account of what happened to the Fraley Brothers.
“According to the descendants of the Fraleys, who still live in the area, the Fraleys had moved to the Sand Hill area. George and Jim were going back to get the rest of their possessions when this incident happened. They were moving to get away from the brutality and lawlessness of the area.
“It was some time before they learned of the death of George and Jim. George’s wife is buried in Sand Hill Cemetery. I was surprised when you inserted “probably” as far as guilty. There is no evidence as to the guilt of these men, just the actions of group of drunk vigilantes. I enjoy your historical stories because they are based mainly on facts.”