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ERICHSON, ALBERT

Albert Erichson—Notice of Death.
Notice of Albert Erichson's death in the April 27, 1898, edition of the El Paso Herald.

ERICHSON, ALBERT (1855–1898). Albert Erichson, lawman, was born on March 17, 1855, in Houston, Texas. He was the son of Gustave Erichson and his wife Barbara (Benitz) Erichson. Gustave owned a gunsmith and locksmith shop on Milam Street. Albert was one of seven children: (in order of birth) Matilda (Erichson) Wichmann, Otto, Alexander, Gustave, Theodore W., Albert, and Anna (Erichson) Wichmann. Albert, Alexander (see ERICHSON, ALEXANDER), and Otto all had careers as lawmen either in Harris County or for the city of Houston.

Albert’s early career was spent as a clerk at P. J. Willis’s Grocery Store. Then, like his older brothers, he trained as a gunsmith and a blacksmith with his father. He joined the Texas State Health Department in 1887 but returned to his career in law by 1888. Nearly the entirety of Albert’s career as a lawman was spent within the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, except for a short stint as the deputy marshal of Houston in 1893 before becoming Harris County sheriff in 1894. He held the office for four years until his death by suicide on April 24, 1898. He married Nellie Heisler in Houston on May 21, 1896. 

Albert Erichson’s place in Houston’s history is enigmatic. A published history of the Houston Police Department mashes together his and his brother Alexander’s careers. In a published history of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Albert’s term as sheriff is only listed as lasting through 1896, when he is incorrectly listed as having committed suicide, rather than when he actually committed suicide, in his office in the Harris County courthouse on April 24, 1898. 

Early in his career, in 1887, Erichson was one of a small group of Harris County lawmen that made national news. In late August of that year, four men rode into Thompson’s Switch, a small settlement that served as a station on the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe rail line and was located in Fort Bend County. They ordered dinner, became inebriated, shot off their pistols, and terrified the citizens before riding out of town in a northwesterly direction. A few days later, John Williford, a farmer and ranchman near a settlement then known as Cypress Top, reported two of his horses missing. Harris County Sheriff Ellis rode out to Navasota, formed a posse, and chased the thieves. He left Deputy Erichson behind in his stead. 

Erichson formed another posse after men arrived at 2:30 in the morning two days later and reported that the thieves had been sighted at a point called Eureka, which was then about five miles from the city. The posse included Deputy Erichson’s older brother Harris County Clerk Alexander Erichson, Harris County Deputy Walles, constables Bill Glass and Tom Lubbock, and jailer Carl Wichman, who was married to Matilda Erichson, Albert and Alexander’s eldest sister. Capt. Dave Lubbock of the Rutherford Rangers led the group from Houston.

The desperados were thought to be a gang who had robbed the Southern Pacific train a month earlier. Newspapers across the country avidly followed the chase with accounts appearing in New Orleans, Louisiana; North Carolina; Kansas; and Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the outlaws escaped.

Albert Erichson was a very popular figure in the region. In April 1896 he was given a custom-made .38-caliber Colt pistol by his men as a token of their regard and esteem. The gun was a single-action, short-barreled pistol on a .45-caliber frame. It was made of steel and triple silver-plated. The handle was pearl with one side featuring an engraving of the head of a hunting dog and the other an engraving of Themis, the goddess of justice, and her scales. Erichson’s name was engraved on the steel handle plate between the pearl handles. The gun was reportedly worth $50. In 1897 Capt. John Sessums of Houston organized a military company of thirty-five black men and named it the “Erichson Cavalry” in the sheriff’s honor. 

Erichson had a number of newsworthy adventures during his career. The first of the many times he was mentioned in the regional press occurred on December 28, 1886, in the Galveston Daily News, when he rode out to a farm to collect a witness during a search for a highwayman. In 1895, as Harris County sheriff, Erichson partnered with Bastrop County Sheriff G. W. Davis in the capture of two safe blowers on a train bound for Waco from Katy. The two men—nineteen-year-old James Morton (alias “Jimmie the Kid,” “Big Jim,” or “Jimmie Morgan”) and Al Reed—had blown safes in dozens of towns, including Richmond, McDade, Waller, Hempstead, Sealy, Alvin, Taylor, and Bastrop. 

In late 1894 Erichson incarcerated a prisoner named Walter Davis, who was arrested for forgery, in the same cell as a prisoner named Watkins. The sheriff, “thinking to make them doubly secure fastened them together by fastening iron hands connected by a chain about their necks.” One of the men wagered a gallon of whiskey that they’d be free of the chain by morning, without breaking it, and the sheriff took the bet. The next morning, Erichson arrived at the jail to find the men sleeping on separate cots—the chain and irons removed and in the middle of the floor. Erichson made good on the bet, but nearly a month later, Davis attacked Erichson with a piece of iron while trying to escape the jail and violently gashed the sheriff’s face. 

Sheriff Erichson also arrested counterfeiter James Watkins in January 1895. He was awarded $2,000 in bounty; the United States government had offered a reward of $300 for each of Watkins’s molds that were captured.

Erichson’s suicide on April 24, 1898, was a complete surprise. In retrospect, however, friends had noticed his changed demeanor as “sullen, absent minded and melancholy.” He had spent the day conferring with Houston City Marshal Archie Anderson and Houston street car manager MacGregor to create a plan to stop attempted bombings of the Houston street cars. (An attempt had been made on one of the lines the previous night.) After the meeting, around 6:00 in the evening, Erichson walked to the Harris County courthouse with sheriff deputies Perkins and Baugh and, according to their accounts, asked them to come to his office with him. He locked the door behind them. Erichson complained about his heart beating wildly. Both men reported trying to calm him. Instead, Erichson asked that they make sure that all of his effects in his office went to his wife if anything happened to him. They both promised. At that point and in front of his deputies, Erichson drew the custom pistol with the carved pearl handle given him by his men two years previously, said, “Good-Bye, Boys,” pointed the gun at the left side of his chest, and pulled the trigger. The steel bullet passed through his body and lodged in the wainscoting under the window behind him. 

Erichson’s body laid in state in the Harris County criminal courthouse the following day, April 25, 1898, until his funeral and internment at Glenwood Cemetery on Washington Avenue. The procession to the cemetery was described as being one of the largest funeral processions seen by the city.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin Weekly Statesman, January 17, 24, 1895. Brenham Weekly Banner, October 28, 1897. Galveston Daily News, April 16, 1888; November 16, 1894; December 25, 1894; April 18, 1896. Houston Daily Post, April 25, 26, 1898. Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Harris County Sheriff’s Department: 1837–2005 (Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing Company, 2005). New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 30, 1887. Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy, Houston Blue: The Story of the Houston Police Department (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2012).

Cecelia Ottenweller

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Handbook of Texas Online, Cecelia Ottenweller, "Erichson, Albert ," accessed November 24, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fer16.

Uploaded on October 17, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.