Some days are diamonds
Finders, keepers. At least most of the time.
That simple premise brought about one of the more bizarre legal cases in Texas history and certainly the strangest court proceeding ever in lightly populated Sterling County.
In 1896, C.P. “Charlie” Kendall was in an Ennis jewelry store when he saw a diamond that caught his fancy. You’d think he had in mind buying the rock for some special gal he intended proposing to, but the person he bought it for was himself. Lacking only one-eighth of being a full carat, the stone had a yellowish hue with 58 shiny facets. One of those surfaces bore a flaw, but that could only be detected under a jeweler’s magnifying glass.
Of course, Kendall only knew the stone’s weight and price, not all the more exacting details. That would come later, under circumstances he never would have guessed.
Kendall had the diamond mounted on a ring. While it might have been a bit eccentric for a gentleman to buy a diamond for his own adornment, that’s the way it went down.
Four years later, Kendall moved to Sterling County in West Texas and began cowboying on the R.W. Foster Ranch. Chasing a cow one day, he rode into a mesquite limb with such impact that it knocked him off his horse and the diamond off his ring.
Whether Kendall kept after the cow was not reported, but as soon as he realized his diamond was missing, he enlisted the help of other ranch hands to find the lost stone. Despite a major effort, no one located the diamond.
Kendall eventually moved on to another job, but he never forgot about the mishap that cost him a precious stone.
Several years later, E.F. and Beulah Holcomb took up residence on the Foster place. And then one day, Beulah chased down a chicken, wrung its neck and as soon as the flopping stopped began making it ready for the frying pan. When she cut into the gizzard, then considered part of the meal when it came to fried chicken, several small pieces of gravel fell out -- along with a diamond.
Beulah’s surprise and delight can easily be imagined. Of course, she knew nothing of Kendall’s missing diamond. Beulah and her husband didn’t even know Kendall, though they soon would.
Finding a diamond in a chicken gizzard does not happen every day, so the discovery quickly became common knowledge in Sterling County. And before long, word reached Kendall. Relieved that his diamond had finally turned up, Kendall went to the Holcomb place to reclaim his property.
But Beulah liked the stone and she and her husband invoked the “finders keepers, losers weepers” doctrine. Leaving the ranch empty handed, Kendall resolved to place the matter in the hands of the court.
On Nov. 15, 1905, he filed suit in the Precinct 4 justice court, the honorable J.L. Glass presiding. Kendall’s petition, prepared by attorney Jeff D. Ayres, set forth the location and circumstances of the ring’s loss and prayed for its recovery. Kendall valued the stone at $95. That doesn’t sound like much, but given an average annual inflation rate of 2.98 percent, that would make the diamond worth nearly $2,600 in today’s dollars.
While most folks of modest means likely would have ponied up the ring in the face of a lawsuit, the Holcombs instead hired their own attorney, L.W. Sandusky. He filed a standard denial, and Judge Glass set a date for a jury trial.
A panel of “six men good and true” (women couldn’t serve on juries in those days) heard testimony from seven men, including the owners of the ranch where the diamond was lost and found. After a short deliberation, the panel found that the diamond indeed belonged to Kendall and that the defendants should surrender it to the plaintiff. In addition, the Holcombs were assessed $45.35 in court costs.
Exercising their right of appeal, the Holcombs had their attorney petition the county court in the matter.
The case came up on the docket on Aug. 6, 1906, but County Judge A.V. Patterson continued it until the next regular term of the court that fall. Testimony finally began on November 5 that year. Nine potential jurors had been summoned, but both parties to the lawsuit agreed to try the case before the judge.
Again, Kendall’s attorney presented the same witnesses who had testified in the first hearing. In addition, the Ennis jeweler who had sold Kendall the diamond identified the stone found in the chicken organ as the one he had sold. Two other witnesses testified that the stone fit the description of the one Kendall had lost. After listening to the closing arguments of both lawyers, Judge Patterson again found for the plaintiff. He ordered that the diamond, which had been in the custody of the court, be returned to Kendall.
This time, the Holcombs decided not to appeal and the stone went back to Kendall. Considering what they paid in attorney fees and court costs, the couple surely held the record as having eaten the most expensive batch of fried chicken in history.