Search billions of records on

Old Family Tales

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society

Old family stories are not only fun, they enrich us and tell us about our ancestors and their lives back in the old days. If you have an old family story or biography that you would like to share (almost everyone has a either a character or a very interesting individual in their family tree!), please write it in your own words and email it to Sibyl and it will be placed on this page. (the photo on this page of William Bomar Moore was submitted by Milda Mason)

The Gunfight at the Circus

by "Milda" Mason

This story was submitted to us by "Milda" Romilda Mason. She was assisted in her research of this story by Ruby Wallace and Elvis Allen.

When I was a young girl, my grandmother, Romilda Martha Moore, born in Canton, Van Zandt County Texas in 1879, told me many stories about life in the Canton area. She told me that the Civil War and its aftermath, reconstruction, and the slavery issue and the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan had created great divisions in the political beliefs of the people of Van Zandt County. Feelings ran strong, and much violence resulted.

My favorite story was about the gunfight at the circus between the Moore family of Canton and the Bottoms family of Jordan's Saline.

Many years later, when I began my family research, I picked up a Van Zandt history book written by Wentworth Manning. There, in black and white, was a reference to the gunfight at the circus. I decided then that I just had to find out what really happened.

The Participants:

The Bottoms
The Moores
Alexander Bottoms, age 24 "Bome" William Bomar Moore, age 40
William Bottoms, age 25 Elias James Moore, age 22
Robert C. "Jack" Florence, age 22 (a relative of Mary Florence, Alexander's wife.) John Moore, age 19 (both sons of Levi Moore, Bomar's brother)

The Gunfight

On February 18, 1870, a circus was booked for a show at Canton. They pitched the tent between where the Palace Drug and the First National Bank stood in later years.

Folks came from all around to see the circus and the tent was full.

An argument began between the Bottoms family and the Moore family over politics and the slavery issue. The argument got louder, and tempers rose.

They stepped outside the tent, with a large crowd following. The argument continued, and someone slapped someones face and the gunfight erupted.

It was over "in less time than it takes to tell it."

When the smoke cleared, Alexander Bottoms was dead and William Bottoms and John Moore were wounded.

Bome Moore walked over to Alex Bottoms, whom he had killed outright, put his right foot on Alex's chest, flapped his elbows up and down, and crowed like a rooster.

William Bottoms and John Moore later died.

Charged and Indicted for Murder

Murder indictments were handed down by the Grand Jury in October 1870 with John Pate Carter as jury foreman.

"Bome" William B. Moore was indicted for the murder of Alexander Bottoms.

Elias James Moore was indicted for the murder of William Bottoms.

Robert C. "Jack" Florence was indicted for the murder of John Moore.

The Courts

The court minutes state that Jack Florence was sent to Anderson County, Texas where their jail was "more secure".

It is probable that none of the Moores were ever jailed since no invoice for their upkeep in jail was sent by the sheriff to the court for payment.

Four hundred fifty (450) potential jurors were called in Van Zandt for the trials of Bomar and Elias Moore. They failed to seat a jury.

Evidently they could not find 12 jurors who did not know the defendants or who did not see the gunfight. The cases were all sent to Kaufman County on a change of venue.

The next thing we hear is that the case against Elias James Moore is dropped in the June, 1871 docket, because the defendant was dead.

Kaufman County refused to hear the case against William Bomar Moore on the grounds that the Van Zandt prosecutor sent the case to their court illegally and without proper authority. Kaufman County returned the case to Van Zandt County on October 8, 1873.

On October 29, 1874 the trial of the State vs. William Bomar Moore was held, charging him with the murders of BOTH Alexander and William Bottoms in error.

The trial of William Bomar "Bome" Moore:

On November 3, 1874, the jury returned it's verdict in Cause #973, The State vs William Bomar Moore, for the murder of Alexander Bottoms, D. Russell, foreman.

"We the jury find the defendant not guilty".

The charge for the murder of William Bottoms, Cause #972, was dropped on February 26, 1875, for "good cause."

The next mention of William Bomar Moore in the court minutes is in 1878, when $22 was paid to hold an inquest over the suspicious death of W. B. Moore.

All records on this event are missing from the court record books.

Together Again After 130 Years

The Researchers

The Bottoms Family
The Moore Family
George and Betty Atwood Ruby Wallace
Barbara Kirkland Milda Mason
Debbie and David Hill

Update from Milda Mason

I have just returned from Kaufman County to research the case of Robert C. "Jack" Florence for the murder of John Moore at the circus.

I was saddened to find out that the gunfight was not such a fair one after all. I had really hoped for a romantic three-against-three gunfight.

It seems that the Bill of Indictment by the grand jury states that John Moore was shot in the back by Jack Florence.

Florence's attorney obtained a change of venue from Van Zandt to Kaufman County, one continuance and he then appears to have escaped.

Warrants and subpoenas were issued for some five years or so ...all expiring with the notation "Not Found".

Jack Florence escaped to Oklahoma IT where he lived out his life near Paoli, Oklahoma, in what is now Garvin County.

FAMILY LEGEND indicates that Jack Florence tried to run away immediately after the gunfight, and William Bomar Moore turned and shot him in the back of his heel. The bullet shattered his heel and Jack Florence fell to the ground, where he was arrested.

Researchers of Jack Flore(a)nce state he walked with a definite limp the rest of his life.

Bill of Indictment:

Case #529 #530 bin # 123 Kaufman County Texas

The State of Texas

Murder vs Robert C. Florance

Filed May 17, 1871 in Kaufman County, Texas
Submitted by Solomon Young Carter foreman of the grand Jury.

filed March 2, 1871
(John Pate Carter was the original Foreman of the grand jury, the foreman having been changed the following year to S. Y. Carter.)

Witnesses for the State:
J. N. Malone,
J. M. Burns
Frank McCarty
Thomas W. Reed
E. J. Moore
W. B. Moore
M. D. Luce
Jesse D. Reily
W. C. Daniels
Winfield Daniels
Louisa Moore
William Bratcher
Anderson Smith
Wm. Wages
Wm. Tankersley
Larkin Tankersley
J. W. Warren

Bill of Indictment:

The State of Texas } In District Court Fall term AD 1870
County of Van Zandt }

In the name and by the authority of the State of Texas:
The grand Jurors for the County of Van Zandt in the State of Texas duly elected, qualified sworn and empanelled to inquire into and true presentment make of all offenses committed against the criminal Laws of the State of Texas within the body of the county of Kaufman to and in the District Court of said County.

Upon their oaths present that Robert C. Florance late of the County of Van Zandt in the State of Texas did on the 18th day of February in the Year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy in the County of Van Zandt in the State of Texas willfully, maliciously feloniously and of his express malice aforthought and assault, did make in and upon John Moore being in the peace of God and in the State of Texas with a certain pistol of the value of ten dollars loaded with gun powder and leaden bullets which he the said Robert C. Florance did then and there hold in his hand and did then and their (sic) shoot and discharge in and upon the body of said John Moore and which same leaden bullets swept forth by the force of gunpowder discharged from same pistol held in the hands of the said Robert C. Florence said leaden bullets penetrated the body of said John Moore upon the back and right side of said John Moore making mortal wounds of the breadth of ten inches and of the width of one inch of which said wounds the said John Moore did then and their (sic) instantly die.

And we the Grand Jurors as aforesaid upon our oaths as aforesaid do say that the reason of the gunpowder and leaden bullets discharged from said pistol as aforesaid held in the hand of the aforesaid Robert C. Florence as aforesaid and upon the body of the said John Moore as aforesaid the said Robert C. Florence did then and their (sic) willfully maliciously feloniously and in his express malice aforethought kill and murder him the said John Moore against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas.

John P. Carter,
foreman of the Grand Jury
*I have asked around the prosecutor's office in Kaufman County and it seems John Moore was shot twice.. once in the back and once in the right side, the bullet holes being ten inches apart, and made holes one inch wide.


From "Some History of Van Zandt County" page 203

During the summer of 1868 a large number of lawless characters banded themselves together round about the Saline, with sympathizers in other portions of the county and organized a Ku-Klux-Klan, so called; the cause if any there was for this organization, was best known to its participants. Dr. Page, a modest, unassuming gentleman, of which I never heard anything approaching bad, or immoral act, was taken out, maliciously murdered and his head severed from his body and hung to a limb in a conspicuous place, with a warning card attached thereto stating that others would be summarily dealt with. A little later a mob of these culprits visited Canton, took posession of the courthouse, and for several days drank and caroused around there.

At the time the state was under military rule, with J. J. Reynolds, whose headquarters was at Austin, in command. Governor Elish M. Pease was civil governor of the state. Capt. Charles Steelhammer, United States Army, was at that time stationed at Cotton Gin, on the line of Limestone and Freestone Counties, and he was ordered to Canton to aid the civil authorities in maintaining law and order; several arrests were made but the prisoners all escaped and none were ever brought to trial.

*Family legend states that Dr. Page, a white doctor, was singled out by the KKK because he treated some negroes in his practice, and also indicates the head of Dr. Page was hung from a limb in Levi "Lee" (brother of Bomar Moore)Moore's front yard in Moore Community.

Another white man's head was supposedly stuck on a pole in the nearby town of Jordan's Saline.

The KKK supposedly had a large encampment of men.. ..hundreds" ..near a river or creek near Jordan's Saline. Folks were afraid to go near the camp, and the smell was horrible. They stayed in that area for a long time and later they built several "long houses", a type of outhouse that had a roof, sides only halfway up, and each enabled eight to men to "use" them at one time. They sat on boards. There were no wooden seats constructed. It has also been said that there was a lot of disease in the county during this time. Dead bodies had been thrown into the salt pits around Jordan's Saline (now called Grand Saline, Texas) and in private water wells... thusly contaminating the drinking water. When this was found out, everyone inspected their well frequently.

It has been said there was a Jordan's Saline doctor who lived near the encampment and his practice came to an almost complete stop. Too many people were afraid to go near the area. The men in the encampment held military type training maneuvers in an open area lead by a man named Bickerstaff.

Canton life changed after the KKK was formed. Most people (Van Zandt County was known to have a large group of people who had Unionist/anti separatist leanings prior to the Civil War) no longer held the covered dish dinners and dances outside anymore, for fear of ambush. It is also stated that Levi "Lee" Moore was caught once by the KKK, tied to a tree, and severely whipped and left for dead. When he was found he was barely alive. He was found by a local indian man, who took Levi to his home and treated him. Levi finally recovered, although he was left badly scarred.

Levi and his son Elias James Moore (a participant in the gunfight and a deputy sheriff at the time of the gunfight) both appear to die near the first week of June, 1871.

The reason for these coincidental deaths is unknown for sure, but family legend indicates two Moore men were lynched and two women were shot while hanging out clothes.

This explains how Jack Flore(a)nce ended up in Garvin County Oklahoma.

Letter written by Edward J. Davis, Gov. of Texas, to:
D. Riley, Esq., Sheriff of Van Zandt Co., Canton. Tex.
dated March 25, 1871:

"Sir, Reliable information has been received by me of the existence of combinations of lawless men in Van Zandt County, who have for many months past been engaged in organized, defiance of law and the civil authorities: a band of armed men curiously estimated at from thirty to fifty in number on or about March 7, 1871, violently broke open the jail in Canton and liberated two criminals James Ashton (*arrested for the murder of Dr Page) and Jack Florence (*arrested for the murder of John Moore) charged with murder.

On receipt of this letter you will call the citizens of the county together or as many of them as you can, notify, without delay, and call upon them publicly to assist in the arrest of these violators of law, who have so far evaded punishment, either by the sympathy of the citizens or because they are intimidated. I think that the good citizens of Van Zandt County will at once turn out in good faith to aid the authorities in this matter and I intend to give them a fair opportunity to do so; but, if I find myself mistaken in this respect, I desire the people of the county to understand that my duty will compel me to send the military into the county and to place it under martial law, the expense of which will be assessed upon the people of the county at large or such of them as may appear most to blame for these disturbances.

The police report the citizens in the vicinity of Canton as having made themselves most conspicuous in this lawlessness, and I desire you to especially notify the people of that neighborhood of the penalty they incur.
I am sir,
Respectfully Your Obedient Servant
Edward J. Davis
Governor of Texas

Milda Mason

Special Thanks

To Elvis Allen for loaning his Court research notes.

To Ruby Wallace for further Courthouse work.

To Romilda Moore Nolen, for telling the story.


Romilda Moore Nolen; Pearle Moore Stevens Buckner (her sister); Some History of Van Zandt County by Wentworth Manning; Van Zandt County District Court Minutes, 1870-1878; Our Heritage: August 1991, page 108; Our Heritage: November 1992, page 143, Van Zandt County History Book 1984, page 285.

Back to Old Family Tales Index Page

Back to the Genealogical Society Home Page

You're the [an error occurred while processing this directive]person to visit this page.
This page last updated 21 September 2007

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society Website maintained by
Sibyl Creasey