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ERICHSON, ALEXANDER

ERICHSON, ALEXANDER (1846–1900). Alexander Erichson, lawman, was born in Houston in 1846 to noted gunsmith and locksmith Gustave Erichson and his wife Barbara (Benitz) Erichson. Gustave owned a gunsmith and locksmith shop on Milam Street. Alexander was one of seven children: (in order of birth) Matilda (Erichson) Wichmann, Otto, Alexander, Gustave, Theodore W., Albert, and Anna (Erichson) Wichmann.

All of the Erichson sons were trained in the trade of gunsmithing by their father. At the age of seventeen, Alexander Erichson (who claimed to be nineteen) enlisted in the Confederate Army in January 1863. He served in Capt. Andrew I. Henby’s Company B, Second Texas Infantry. On June 25, 1864, he and his older brother Otto were assigned to the J. H. Dance and Company (see DANCE BROTHERS), a firearms manufacturer, likely because of their experience as gunsmiths. 

Alexander Erichson served as a public servant in multiple capacities. According to his obituary, Erichson began his career as a lawman under Houston city marshal Capt. A. K. Taylor, then was elected to the position of city marshal in January 1877. In 1878 Erichson was elected constable. In 1882 he was elected Harris County clerk and won the office again in 1884 and in 1886. He was again Houston city marshal from 1892 to 1894.

Erichson was one of three brothers who had careers as lawmen. His older brother Otto was a police officer, and his younger brother Albert was a Harris County sheriff. His brothers-in-law were also lawmen; his sister Matilda was married to Charles “Carl” Wichman, who also served as Houston city marshal, and Anne was married to Officer Henry Wichman. 

The most notable event in Erichson’s career as city marshal occurred on May 15, 1877, when he was involved in a Wild West-style gunfight on Main Street in downtown Houston with infamous outlaw Matt Woodlief. According to Dr. S. O. Young’s account in his book, True Stories of Old Houston and Houstonians: Historical and Personal Sketches, Woodlief was the son of a prominent doctor and his family was “one of the best and most prominent in Texas.” Young described Woodlief as being “a very handsome fellow. Tall, with hair and mustache inclined to be blonde and…steel grey eyes.” 

Woodlief was a professional gambler who arrived in Houston in 1873. He started a fight in a saloon on the day of the shooting. Erichson arrived and arrested Woodlief, who handed over his gun and was willingly escorted to the jail by the marshal. While in jail, however, Woodlief became a less willing prisoner. According to Young’s account, after he was bailed out, Woodlief began to verbally abuse Erichson and made personal attacks. Erichson lost his temper and challenged Woodlief to make good on the promised attack.

Woodlief left the police office, purchased a Colt revolver at a nearby gunsmith, and went looking for the marshal at the police headquarters. Erichson saw Woodlief approach with a drawn gun and drew his own. They advanced on each other in the street and fired. The men emptied their guns, and both were critically injured. According to a brief account in the Austin Weekly Statesman, Erichson was shot “once through the lower part of the hip” and Woodlief was “shot three times through the body.” In early August 1877 a grand jury indicted Woodlief for assault and intent to murder Erichson, and he was arrested and placed under a $1,000 bond. The jury found Woodlief guilty of only aggravated assault and assessed him a fine of $250.

Erichson was involved in another notorious battle in 1887 when he was a member of a Houston posse organized by his brother, then Harris County Deputy Sheriff Albert Erichson. The posse pursued a notorious band of horse thieves that had been terrorizing the area up and down the Houston and Texas Central Railway line. Alexander Erichson was Harris County clerk at the time. Newspapers across the country followed the chase. Ultimately, the thieves escaped.

Alexander Erichson married Mrs. Nannie A. Gum in 1874. They had four children: Charles E., Fred, Alexander Jr., and Annie E. He also adopted Nannie’s four children from a previous marriage. Erichson died on November 3, 1900, shortly after becoming an invalid due to the bullet lodged in his thighbone from the shootout thirteen years earlier. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin Weekly Statesman, May 24, 1877. Betty Dunn, “Dance Brothers’ Pistols,” Texas Center for Regional Studies (http://www.texascenterforregionalstudies.com/dance-brothers-pistols.html), accessed November 23, 2106. Houston Daily Post, November 4, 1900. Dr. S. O. Young, True Stories of Old Houston and Houstonians; Historical and Personal Sketches (Galveston: Oscar Springer, Publisher, 1913). 

Cecelia Ottenweller

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Handbook of Texas Online, Cecelia Ottenweller, "Erichson, Alexander," accessed June 26, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/feric.

Uploaded on December 8, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.