Kirven, Texas 1922
On May 4th, 1922, after the last full day of school in Kirven, Texas, 17-year-old Eula Ausley was taken from her horse, carried into the thick brush, sexually mutilated and then beaten to death. Her disappearance was noticed immediately and family members organized a search party to investigate. Her nearly decapitated, naked body was found soon after and the search became a manhunt. The members of the hunt, which one estimate put at 1,000 men, combed through the woods, armed with whatever weapons they could find, looking for something which might lead to the killer or killers. Early into the search, the disgruntled wife of a black search party member alerted neighbors that her husband, McKinley "Snap" Curry, had come home on the afternoon of the murder bloodied from what he claimed was a rabbit hunt.
Curry now became the hunted. Despite the fact that Sheriff Horace Mayo already had two white suspects who were enemies of Eula's family in custody, Mayo changed the focus of the investigation. He arrested Curry and apparently forced a statement which implicated two other men, 19-year-old Johnny Cornish and 46-year-old Mose Jones, that had been arrested on the suspicion that they were friends with Curry. A mob consisting of most of the search party assembled outside the jail to sate its hunger for vengeance.
After midnight on May 6th, the mob forced its way into the prison and dragged the three black suspects out of their cells. They were driven to a lot between the old Baptist Church and the Methodist Church in Kirven. The gruesome ritual began. Approximately fifty men started gathering wood and a heavy plow was dragged into the lot to act as an anchor for the burning Negroes. But, as these preparations were being made, the crowd became anxious for a quicker punishment. Curry, Jones and Cornish were taken from the cars and thrown to the ground in front of the crowd.
A knife appeared as the three men on the ground probably had the dreadful realization that some of these farmworkers had gained experience in the gelding of calves. Accounts vary as to what happened next. All agree that Curry was castrated. In an interview with filmmaker Gode Davis during June of 2000, 104-year-old Hobart Carter, Cornish's best friend in 1922, revealed that Cornish might also have been castrated. When enough wood was available, the bloodied Curry was bound to the plow's seat and doused in gasoline. The wood was stacked up all around him and a match was applied. The flames consumed him and within ten minutes he was dead and his flesh was nearly all burnt to a crisp.
Next, Jones was brought forward. As the metal of the plow was too hot to touch, a water soaked rope was used to tie up Jones hands and drag him back and forth through the fire. Witnesses say that when he would come out on one side of the fire, members of the lynch mob would beat him back in. Supposedly, Jones made one attempt to break free from the ropes and ran directly into Eula's uncle, Otis King. King then hit him with a radius rod from a Model T Ford, dislodging an eye from its socket. Jones was then pulled back into the fire and died. Cornish, having seen the slow, painful deaths of his friends, cursed the sadistic lynchers. After being pulled through the flames only a few times, Cornish grabbed the plow and stuck his head deep into the fire, inhaled, and died.
The three dead bodies were then piled up, doused again with kerosene and oil and lit afire. Whatever ashes the wind did not sweep up that morning were taken home as souvenirs. The hardened livers of the men were also recovered from the fire and then sliced up so they could be divided among the spectators.
With the three alleged murderers lynched before a crowd of between 500 and 1,000, the bloodlust should have ended. It did not. Terror reigned for days afterwards as aftershocks of the three burnings claimed more lives. On the morning of May 8th, Shadrick Green, a friend of Cornish and Jones who was said to have been fishing with the two on the fourth, was found hanging from a tree. He was naked with his neck broken and his body was riddled with bullets. It seems as if after this lynching, open season was declared on all Negroes and yet, ironically, whites were just as terrified as blacks.
White paranoia suspected that legions of armed blacks were approaching Kirven to retaliate for the lynchings. Whites began to leave all their lights on in their houses so no imagined black murderer could sneak in during the night. Blacks, on the other hand, left all their lights off attempting to avoid the notice of the actual roaming bands of armed whites. The mobs roamed the streets killing any blacks they could find. Survivors claimed that hanged blacks were found daily and that other bullet-ridden bodies were discovered in outhouses, fields and shallow graves. By June 9th, 1922, the rash of murder and lynching had ended but the effects on Kirven were grim and lasting. Many of the town's workers disappeared as nearly the whole black population left the area. The oil economy dried up. Now, Kirven is a vestigial place almost a ghost town.
A recent investigation and book, Flames After Midnight: Murder, Vengeance and the Desolation of a Texas Community, by Monte Akers, concluded that Mose Jones and Johnny Cornish were innocent. McKinley "Snap" Curry is now believed to have accepted $15 to assist two men in murdering Eula Ausley. The two men, Claude and Audey Prowell, were the same two men in custody when Curry was arrested. Their bloody tracks led from the murder site to their house but they were released after four black men, Curry, Jones, Cornish and Green, had already paid the price.