Justice Cabinet Card of Texas Criminals, 1896

Cabinet card Justice with vignette portraits of a witness, convicted criminals, and description of the crime. Holland: Brenham, Texas, 1896. Imprint on recto. A portrait in a circle captioned, “Ellis Prosper, State’s Witness” is superimposed over jail bars and three gallows and above the title “Justice” with a sword. Below are three vignetted portraits of the accused, captioned “Joe Goodson,” “John Rutherford,” and “Brady Rutherford.” A description is printed in-negative, “The villains who on the 29th day of Jan. 1896 murdered & robbed Mr. Thomas Dwyer Sr. The conviction was brought about by the straight forward evidence of Ellis Prosper. Convicted of murder of the first degree and sentenced to be hanged Mch. 31st. Executed: May 20th, 1896 at Brenham, Washington Co., Texas.” 

This cabinet card recounts the robbery and murder of Thomas Dwyer, Sr., a wealthy white merchant, and the subsequent trial and execution of three African American men with the assistance of the “straight forward evidence of Ellis Prosper.” What it neglects to mention is that Prosper, also African American, was an accessory to the crime. He turned state’s witness and his testimony was described in the Houston Post on April 1, 1896 as having “carried conviction stronger than the eloquence of learned counsel could possibly have done.“ It was unusual that he was allowed to testify, as people of color were generally barred from doing so during this period. Prosper avoided the hangman’s noose, but pleaded guilty in September 1896 and was sentenced to life in prison.


Minor stains to upper edge, chip to lower right corner of card.

Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500
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