Noted Gambler got his Shotgun and Murdered Two of Houston’s Finest on Tragic Day in 1901

Nelson Zoch, Contributor

EOW: DECEMBER 12, 1901 

On Wednesday, December 11, 1901, at about 4 p.m., a tragedy occurred at the intersection of Congress Avenue and San Jacinto Streets in the heart of downtown Houston. After the gunshots quieted, a large crowd shadowed the scene. There they saw two of the Houston Police Department’s finest lying dead, one in the street and the other in the gutter.

They were fifty-eight-year-old Officer Herman Youngst, a twenty-eight-year veteran, and thirty-five-year-old Officer John C. James, who had been with the department going on three years. This was the same corner location where earlier in the same year – on July 30 – Officer William A. Weiss was murdered. Also dead at the Youngst-James death scene was Sid Preacher, a young white man. While less than thirty years old, Preacher had lived a rather wild life and was well known to Houston police.

Two eyewitness citizens reported to the Houston Chronicle their account of the tragic event:

“We were standing in front of Yadon’s saloon when our attention was attracted by Sid Preacher and another man. They were verbally abusing several HPD detectives for making it so difficult for Preacher and his cohorts, gamblers by trade, to conduct their business during the carnival season. They were ‘roasting’ the detectives.

“Then, Detective James came up and while I did not hear what was said, the next thing I saw was that Sid Preacher stepped up to a buggy that had just been driven up. Sid Preacher took out a double-barreled shotgun and in just an instance, the shooting began. Detective James fell.”

It is unclear whether Officer Youngst was with Detective James, but he was definitely nearby when James was shot. Witnesses continued describing the scene to a reporter, who said in an article:

“They saw the uniformed Officer Youngst grappling with Sid Preacher for the shotgun. Preacher was able to grab the shotgun away from the much older Youngst. Officer Youngst, at this time, apparently felt his only safety outlet was to flee and when doing so, he was shot in the back by Sid Preacher. Preacher then ran in on top of the seriously wounded Officer Youngst and struck him three times in the head with the shotgun.

“However, Officer James, lying on the sidewalk mortally wounded, was able to raise his head less than six inches from the street and shot at Preacher three or four times with a pistol. Preacher was struck a number of times and while not totally incapacitated, he advanced on Officer James until the shotgun was taken from him by an intervening citizen.”

At least six gunshots had been discharged. The result was two dead police officers and one dead gambling, cop-killing scoundrel – a terrible day at any time but this was less than two weeks before Christmas and during the festive Houston carnival season. The families of two murdered officers were left to bury their dead and mourn them during the joyous of all seasons.

While the actual eyewitness account of this tragedy was certainly no mystery, the circumstances leading up to this event were of great interest to the Police Department and the many honest citizens of early 20th century Houston.

Officer Herman Youngst was one of the best known and most respected members of the police force. Having served twenty-eight years in the department, he was the senior member of the force. He was born in Prussia in November 1845 and had been a Confederate soldier during the Civil War, a member of Company K, 26th Texas Calvary, CSA (Confederate States of America). Private Youngst had been captured as a Union prisoner of war and following the end of hostilities he was released from Union custody in June 1865.

Officer Youngst was not married at the time of his death. He was believed to be a widower. His only survivors were his two daughters, Mrs. J. C. Buddendorf and Mrs. S. G. Hobbs. Coincidentally, they were both at the Racket store, not fifty feet away from their father at the time of his death. Officer Youngst resided at 2218 Preston Avenue.

The bodies of both officers and their assailant were transported to the Westheimer Undertaking establishment. The doors were securely barred in order to keep back the morbid crowd which followed the death wagons from the scene to the “very portals of the house of death.” Officer Youngst was found to have been shot in the back with buckshot. Several of the balls passed through his cardiac region and lodged under the skin directly above the heart. Death was instantaneous.

Funeral services for Officer Herman Youngst were held at 4 p.m. Thursday, December 12, 1901, at the residence of his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. S. G. Hobbs, at 1909 Congress Avenue. Burial followed at the Washington Cemetery, originally the German Society Cemetery, on Washington Avenue. When this gravesite was located in 2004, there existed a marker with the following information:

IN MEMORY OF

OUR DEAR FATHER

HERMAN YOUNGST

DIED

DEC 11, 1901

AGED

58 YEARS

Detective John C. James had been on the police force for almost three years, but prior to that he had made a good reputation as a deputy constable. Being highly esteemed by Police Chief John G. Blackburn (1898-1902), as was Officer Youngst, James had recently been selected for special detective work. James had been shot in the bowels with buckshot, which tore away a portion of the stomach walls, allowing his entrails to protrude. After being wounded, he was able to shoot and kill Sid Preacher prior to dying at the scene.

James was about thirty-five years old and was the head of a family. His wife, the former Miss Willie Brooks of San Antonio, and three small children were the primary mourners at the detective’s funeral. This service was held at 10 a.m. Friday, December 13, 1901 at his residence at 2812 Commerce Street. Burial also took place at the Washington Cemetery.

When this gravesite was located through the use of cemetery records, it was learned that no marker had ever been placed in memory of Detective John C. James. Apparently, Mrs. James was in dire financial straits at the time, although she was able to purchase the space in 1902.

Doctors W. R. Eckhardt and O. L. Norsworthy examined James’ wounds under the supervision of Justice of the Peace W. B. Hill, who used the wound information to conduct the inquest into all three deaths.

Sid Preacher was ruled to have died from a pistol bullet which entered the left side low down and came out under the right armpit, passing entirely through the body. This wound was inflicted by Detective James while he lay in the gutter with his vitals laid bare by a charge of buckshot. C. Sidney Preacher, who lived at the southwest corner of Kentucky Avenue and Des Chaumes Street, was a native of Liberty. His remains were returned to that locale for burial. He was the son of Mrs. Ed Heard, his father having passed away six years earlier. He lived in Houston for most of his life and had spent much of this time in the local courts for the past six years. The beginning of his troubles was reported to be his stabbing of his step-father eight years earlier. He was married at the time of this offense.

Several months prior to his death, Preacher had been involved in a serious situation in Peter’s Alley, a notorious locality in the Fifth Ward. Preacher and another man had shotguns (claiming to be on their way to go hunting). Preacher and his group, all white men, wound up killing three African-Americans, a woman and two men. The investigation reportedly resulted in claims of self-defense. There was no record of any charges ever having been filed in this matter.

The background into this tragedy gradually unfolded in the newspaper accounts in the days following the shootout. Sid Preacher, by all accounts, was a gambler by trade, having been arrested the previous day by Officer B. W. Whittington, who stated:

“I had Sid Preacher under arrest on the charge of running a gaming device in Albert Lewis’ saloon. In walking him down to the station, he asked me to allow him to go upstairs to see his attorney, J. B. Brockman. I took Sid up to see Brockman. As I stepped in the door after Preacher, I heard Sid say that he had a good notion not to go anywhere (with Whittington). Brockman replied that he should go ahead this time, although they got no right to arrest you without a warrant. Then, Brockman added some words that would prove very troublesome to him and his cohorts shortly thereafter.

“Those words were in his advice to Sid Preacher – “Don’t you do it any more, if you have got to arm yourself with a six-shooter and defend yourself.’ Brockman then added, ‘It’s getting to be a damn pretty come-off that men are getting arrested every day and thrown in jail down there without a warrant.’ Brockman then went a large step further with the following words of advice to his regular client:  ‘You arm yourself with six-shooter and the next f—ing policeman who attempts to arrest you without a warrant for any offense, except for carrying a six-shooter, shoot his f—ing belly off.’ ”

When this information was learned on the same night of the deaths of these two fine officers, investigators and the district attorney turned their attention to Sid Preacher’s attorney, J. B. Brockman. Deputy Police Chief Thompson requested Justice Hill, who held the inquest into the three deaths, to issue a murder warrant for Brockman. Thompson anticipated trouble and took several officers with him to make this arrest. Brockman did not resist and was taken to the police station and after paperwork was prepared, he was turned over to the sheriff. A writ of habeas corpus was filed, and it was expected that a hearing would be granted shortly.

In a very strange turn of events for which newspaper accounts provide no reasoning whatsoever, J. L. Bowers, C. C. Watkins, W. C. Woodward, and Bill Brazell – all cohorts of J. B. Brockman – were all indicted for the murders of Officers Youngst and James. However, on December 23, 1901, all charges were dismissed on Brockman and his friends.

When the dust settled and emotions died down, there were families of two murdered Houston police officers left to fend for themselves. Of course, one crook also was dead, but it was widely considered good riddance to this individual.

Coincidentally, Officers Youngst and James also were involved with the same Yadon’s Saloon at Congress and San Jacinto four short months previously in the tragic death of Officer Willie Weiss in late July 1901. That area must have been like Hill Street and Lyons Avenue of later years or similar to the 6800-7100 blocks of Harrisburg in the years 1976-1980 when three Houston officers – George Rojas, Tim Hearn and Victor Wells – were killed in separate incidents.

Records showed that Youngst was born in Prussia in November of 1845 or 1846. It is unknown when he came to the United States but clear that he wound up in the Army of the Confederate States during the Civil War. The Union Army took him prisoner and on the 26th day of June, 1865, documents indicate the Union released him with a Parole of Honor. In a rather interesting document, Youngst agreed to the following terms and conditions of his release:

“I will not hereafter serve in the Armies of the Confederate States, or in any military capacity whatever against the United States of America, or render aid to the enemies of the latter, until duly exchanged, or otherwise released from the obligations of this parole by the authority of the government of the United States.”

He married a sixteen-year-old woman named Harriet in 1868. The couple had two daughters, Henrietta Youngst (Hobbs) and Mary Alice Youngst (Buddendorf). It is believed that Youngst’s wife Harriet passed away prior to the officer’s murder. So here was this individual Herman Youngst, born in mid-19th century Prussia, who immigrated to the United States in time to serve in the Confederate Army and be taken as a prisoner of war and be released, only to become a Houston police officer who died in the line of duty.

Not as much information was available about Detective James. He was about thirty-five years old and, according to newspaper accounts, was a husband and father of three young children, ages seven years old to six weeks old. He also was the main provider for his widowed sister, herself the mother of five children.

A newspaper tribute to the slain detective James from Warrant Officer Daniel Curtin of the Galveston Police Department read as follows:

“Officer James was a fearless man. He was one of the first to reach Galveston after the storm a year ago (the great Galveston hurricane of September 1900). During the trying times immediately following the storm, he rendered valuable service here. In his death, the force at Houston loses a man of great worth. I think the whole trouble can be easily traced to the peculiar conditions that have prevailed in Houston for some time. The people of this city (Galveston) have a great deal to be thankful for that Galveston has so few undesirable characters. Only eternal vigilance on the part of the force here has kept this city free from them.”

The Houston Chronicle reported in its December 14, 1901 edition that the paper had initiated a relief fund for Officer James’ widow and four children, not three, who were between the ages of seven years to six weeks. The latest tally of this relief fund was the sum of $71.50.

Other tributes to Officer James were as follows:

“All his life he worked faithfully for the support of this family, but the demands were too great to permit savings. Already his fellow officers have provided for immediate wants, but they, like he, have dear ones to remember. No one is more deserving of recognition than the family of as brave an officer as ever donned a uniform. During three years, Doc James, as he was affectionately called by his friends, proved himself to be a good officer. No man was ever braver in times of danger and no officer was ever more conscientious in obeying orders. With him to be told to do a thing was to do it. Now that he is dead, the large family that he left without means of support should be remembered.  Their grief is beyond description.”