The Gilley War

by Bob Bowman

It’s an alleged feud so deadly it was rumored to be worse than the infamous Hatfield-McCoy dispute, and it claimed the life of an Angelina County sheriff

One of the most sensational crimes in the county took place during the Civil War – long before Lufkin and The Daily News were founded – when Angelina County was politically divided over sentiments for the North and South.

The Gilley War dates to the Civil War era, according to genealogical findings, and it centered around Homer, the county seat at the time. As the story goes, the Gilleys, a pro-Union family, and the Windhams, a pro-Confederate family, were in heated disagreement over the hot topic of the century: slavery and which side of the Civil War each would defend. In 1866, one lawman attempted to put a stop to the violence and lost his life in the crosshairs. William “Bill” Read McMullen, great-great-grandfather of lifelong Lufkin resident Mary Jo Gorden, was just doing his job. “He was at home eating dinner with his family, and someone came and said they’re having a shootout on the town square. He went and tried to stop it and was killed in the crossfire,” Gorden said. McMullen’s 10-year-old son, Foster was with him when he was shot to death.

In January of 1864, a band of night riders, favoring the Confederate cause, rode west to the home of Sam Burris. Burris, along with friends and relatives like the Ganns, Massingills, Squyres, Wheelers and Gilleys, were among the county’s earliest settlers and friends of Sam Houston, who had opposed secession from the Union. The riders stopped at the Burris home and asked for 24-year-old Jim Burris, who was home from service with the Confederate Army. Told he was not at the home, the riders rode down the Homer Road. When Jim Burris failed to return home that night, his parents found his body hanging from a large oak tree, a rope around his neck. On the evening of the same day, the band of riders rode west to the home of John D. Gann. Although he was ill and knew his life was in danger, Gann rode away with the riders to protect his wife and five children. Two days later, his body was found hanging from a dogwood tree, a bullet in his head. In October of 1864, two more hangings occurred. William Anglin and a friend he brought home from the Civil War were hanged at Proctor Hill beside what is now South First Street in Lufkin. While the identities of the riders were known, no effort was made to arrest them until October 1865, seven months after the end of the Civil War. Indictments were returned against Dr. John D. Windham for the Burris and Gann deaths. Windham was wounded in a shootout with Isaac Gilley, but recovered and left Angelina County

Shortly after sundown, Sheriff William R. McMullen along with his son, Foster, responded from his residence to reports of gunshots in the area of the town square in Homer. Shortly after the sheriff entered the town square he was shot and killed by an unknown person. As soon as the sheriff was shot, all the shooting stopped and those involved fled the scene.

Various reports in the newspapers and history books have reported the shootings alone resulted in the death of as many as five people, and eighteen wounded. The shooting of Sheriff McMullen occurred shortly after the Civil War ended when factions who supported both the north and south were feuding in Angelina County. Locally the fighting became known as the Gilley War. Gilley family members were feuding with Windham family members. The person or persons responsible for the death of Sheriff William Read McMullen were never identified.

Sheriff McMullen was survived by his wife and six children. He is buried in the Homer Cemetery in Angelina County, Texas.

The instability of the county’s government was worsened by the Homer shootout. In an election on July 25, 1866, voters elected new county officials, and the mood was to kick out the unionists.

Sheriff McMullen, meanwhile, had been buried at Homer Cemetery.

In 1885, after Gilley had fled to Louisiana, he was hunted down and returned to Homer for the murder of Eli Windham. However, he was found not guilty.

On March 12, Gilley cleaned his pistol, loaded it with new shells, placed the barrel under his chin, and pulled the trigger. He died instantly. 

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