James Henry Franks was born in Arkansas in 1876 and moved with his family to Texas in 1888 in a covered wagon. The family settled in Caldwell County, at that time, less than a day’s horseback ride south of Austin. Upon his reaching adulthood, Henry, the name he went by while growing up, became a farmer and a blacksmith. Shortly after the turn of the century, he married Daisy Abbott.
In 1908, Franks was elected Sheriff of Caldwell County, and soon thereafter moved with his wife and young daughter into the bottom floor of the newly built jail in Lockhart, the county seat. Less than 7 years later, he was dead, murdered by a shotgun blast from an unknown gunman.
It was in May of 1915, that he was assassinated in a crime which has never been solved. Before the days of sophisticated forensic science, DNA evidence, and 24 hour news channels, his death quickly became a footnote of history.
Speculation regarding the crime, however, continues until this day. Accounts from a family history of the sheriff suggest both political intrigue and revenge. According to the scant historical record, there was a struggle between the county’s political establishment and popular sentiment over who should be elected sheriff. Popular sentiment in the county won out, and Franks was elected Sheriff of Caldwell County. Unfortunately, as the story goes, the man he beat in the election, one John L. Smith, became bitter, and harassed Franks whenever he could.
On February 19, 1915, Smith walked into the Caldwell County Courthouse in Lockhart where the sheriff’s office was located, and threatened the life of Franks. As Smith left the sheriff’s office, and began walking the various hallways of the courthouse, Franks grabbed his double-barrel shotgun and followed him out. At some point, the two men met, and Smith began firing his pistol at Franks to no avail. It was at this point, apparently, that Franks shot Smith dead. Unfortunately, the violence inside the courthouse that day did not end the matter.
It was in the middle of May of 1915, not even 3 months after Sheriff Franks killed his rival, John Smith, that someone abruptly ended his life. It appears that the sheriff might have been called out to the railroad loading platform in Lockhart on a ruse, and then assassinated once he arrived there. Some claim the killing of Franks was committed by a member of Smith’s family, but, of course, no one really knows. To this day, his violent passing remains a mystery.
What is not a mystery, however, is the fact that both Franks, and his political adversary, John Smith, both lie in the Lockhart Cemetery. Their violent deaths, more likely than not, were caused by a dispute over who should be the Caldwell County Sheriff. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and so much for earthly things like a sheriff’s badge and the power that goes with it.