Few people living today have ever heard that the community of Nogalus Prairie, sometimes called “Logallis Prairie” in the late 1800’s, located in the northern part of Trinity county and about one mile south of the Houston county line, at one time had two schools. Nogalus School where Joe Hardin, the older brother of the infamous outlaw John Wesley Hardin taught school, and with whom John Wesley himself lived for about two years until he shot and killed three Army soldiers that was sent to arrest him, then buried them in or near a deep gully or creek, according to his own words in the book, “The life of John Wesley Hardin as written by himself”. But that is another story. The other school was “Honest Ridge” that was located in the northeastern part of the community. The two schools were later consolidated and a new school was built at a point about half way between the two, which was named Centerpoint. This location was just north of Prairie View United Methodist Church. Centerpoint was later consolidated with Apple Springs school and all that is now left of the school is the old cement well curbing which still can be seen on Neal Helton road. Centerpoint School is best remembered by an event that took place in 1926, and is told by the late Dwight T. Smith, Sr. in the following story, which is being printed with the permission of his son Phil Smith.
By Dwight T. Smith, Sr.
Centerpoint School, located just North of Prairie View has long been consolidated with Apple Springs School District. The first year of consolidation taking place about 1938, and the last year about 1942.
Centerpoint school has not been forgotten at least by the old timers. It is not remembered by its scholastic achievement nor by it’s good softball team but rather by a school play held March 12, 1926. The actors themselves have forgotten the name of the play but not the events that took place during the play that night.
The school was a two room building with a hallway dividing the two rooms. During any special event the partitions that formed the hallway could be removed or shoved up overhead, making one large auditorium with the stage being at one end. The entrance being from the center and side of the building into the hallway.
On March 12, 1926, a play was in progress, the building was full of people from far and near in the county. Some had come in cars, wagons, horseback and some had walked. Thus, the building was full of women, men, children and babies.
Fred Thomas was on the stage along with others in the act. Norris Kee nervously waited behind curtains to appear at the proper time to give his part in the play.
Just as Fred Thomas finished saying, “He fell in the well!”, two men burst in the west door thus blocking the only door exit in the building. One was waving a six-shooter and the other a pocket knife. The man carrying the knife had his throat cut from ear to ear and was bleeding like a stuck pig. A quick silence followed and one of the two said, “Clear the women and children out of here! and we will clear the men out!” Those people sitting near the door had just heard several gun shots outside that they had mistaken for pranksters shooting fireworks. They now knew that the blasts they had heard were pistol shots, and the man with the cut throat and streaming blood, along with a mad man waving a pistol, meant real trouble.
At this point it is not clear just what did happen. But one thing is certain, the people screamed and scrambled for the windows, which was the only exit out now that the double doors leading into the building was blocked by the mad pair. The building was sitting on high blocks and windows were high but this didn’t seem to bother the fleeing crowd. Grover McClain made the jump with two babies. Some women jumped with only one baby. The actors waiting backstage heard the screaming and came on the stage to find it deserted and seeing people going out the windows they thought the building was on fire. They followed the crowd out the windows.
Many tales have erupted from their window jumping. No one seems to have got their leg or arm broke and anyone escaping with a sprained ankle would have not complained, only being thankful he got out alive.
The funniest tale told about the window jumping was told by Buford Davis. Buford said he just hit the ground, and hit so hard he went forward on his hands and knees, and just as he was about to shove himself up to a running position, a big woman with high heels shoes jumped right astraddle of him and went to spurring him with them high heeled shoes. Buford says he must have bucked a hundred feet out from the building before he got loose from that big woman.
Back inside the gunman was still waving his pistol and daring anyone to contest him. Only a very few had remained to try and talk some sense in the pair, among this few was Mr. Wheat from the Alabama Creek Community. Now, Mr. Wheat was an excellent diplomat beyond any doubt. He started out by saying, “Say, Mister, your throat is cut, let me help you.” This calmed the men down enough that Mr. Wheat could talk reason into the pair. What else he said I have never known. But one thing for sure, Mr. Wheat handled a situation that few men would have dared tackle.
Mr. Wheat didn’t know that the two men had just shot and knifed Homer Gibson outside the school building just previous to their entrance. Who knows, it might have been best that he didn’t know for he may have not handled the matter without further trouble that night.
Now the Johnson brothers seemed to have heard some reason from Mr. Wheat for they left the building without flushing the school teachers who were hiding in the clothes closets along with other people.
Frank was still bleeding bad and Harvey seemed to simmer down some as they left out of the building. However, some say as they went outside and saw a few giving first aid to Homer Gibson whom they had cut and shot minutes before became riled again and made the crowd step back and pumped a few more bullets into Gibson.
They then left for Frank’s house, which was on the Ben James place about a mile and one half north and west of the troubled spot. In spite of the cuts and shots, Homer lived a few hours after the incident. Being able to talk and give some account of the incident and stating that if Oren could make it in time that Oren could save him. He was speaking of Dr. Oren Gandy who was raised in Centrailia and was now practicing in Lufkin, TX.
Lufkin was only 30 miles away but the roads were unpaved, crooked and rough. Whether, Oren made it there in time, I don’t know. But Homer passed away some time the next day. Probably shortly after midnight. Homer’s tomb is dated that he died March 13, 1926.
Now, Harvey Johnson was left at home to recover his slit throat and Cole James, was deputized to guard Frank while he recovered.
Homer was buried on Sunday, the 14th of March at Bennett Cemetery. On the same evening, two masked men entered the Frank Johnson home while the guard had stepped outside for a few minutes.
At least one of the men carried a shotgun and the other probably a pistol. As they entered, two women rushed toward them and the shotgun thundered through the wall leaving a hole about the size of a half dollar. The women backed up in fear and pleaded with the men to let them get the baby out of the bed in which Frank Johnson lay with his head about cut off.
Their request may have been denied for Frank was caught by the heels and jerked out of the bed and shot on the floor beside the bed. Bloodstains were still on the pine plank floor in 1936.
The masked men left just as quietly as they had entered going toward a pine sapling thicket in front of the house.
My uncle, Travis Smith, lived in that house in the mid thirties and I spent the night there. Needless to say I didn’t sleep very sound.
No one was ever arrested for the shooting of Frank Johnson but many of the ol’ timers feel that they know who did it, but some of them disagree on who.
Harvey Johnson was secretly moved from the Groveton jail to another jail to prevent mob action. Harvey was defended by Bennett and got a suspended sentence.
Some say Wiley Poston put on a dramatic scene at the trial that was never seen before or after in a Trinity County court.
Wiley made such statements as this. “We will just call Homer back and you all can shake hands and be friends and we will just not have any trial.” At this Wiley went to the courtroom door and called out with a pitiful cry, “HO-MER, HO-MER, HO-M-E-R.” He would return crying and say, “he doesn’t answer”.
Harvey Johnson was gunned down a few years later by another party.