The worst crime ever committed in Justin, Texas was one directly connected to one of the most well-known historical facts about the town. In 1848, there was a group of French settlers who were moving into Justin to start their own intentional community, planning on governing themselves based on the idealistic beliefs all in the group shared. These settlers were part of the Icarian movement and were led by Etienne Cabet.
During the journey to Justin, many of the travelers died due to the usual consequences of arduous travel during the time period: cholera, typhoid, and fever, among other afflictions. However, one of the least known stories about the French Icarians was that one of the families participating in the journey was murdered by a small group of Native American warriors. The Native American warriors most likely mistakenly identified the group of travelers as that of a group who had recently passed through and kidnapped some of the tribe’s members to be sold into slavery. As it stands, the brutal torture and murder of the five member family on their journey to start their brand new life is the darkest tale that colors the past of the small Texas town.
The Cartwright family, while not French, had heard of the Icarian movement and desperately wanted to take part in the exciting vision of interdependence and equality that the philosophy promised. The family was made up of the husband and father, Johnathan, his wife and the mother to his children, Martha, and their three young children, Philip, James, and Bertha. Philip was the oldest at nine years old, and Bertha was the youngest, aged four years old. The Cartwright family had been traveling with the Icarians across three states, and were anxious to finally settle in Justin. Sadly, however, the Cartwrights never got to see their vision of utopia come to fruition.
On the third night of camping on the land that the Icarians had purchased prior to arrival, in the middle of the night, a group of approximately eight Native American warriors descended upon the family. It was never determined why the Cartwright family was singled out for the attack, but other families traveling with them surely felt blessed that they were not slaughtered in a similarly brutal fashion.
The father, Johnathan, was likely killed first. His head was cleanly scalped, as well as being fully removed from its body. His wife Martha was found with multiple lacerations, and it has been theorized that the cuts were made with an arrow being used as a precision melee weapon. However, the true horror of the attack was inflicted on the couple’s children. The two sons were scalped as their father was, and tragically both boys were beheaded as well. The discovery of little Bertha’s corpse was shocking. It seemed that she had been tortured by being burned with lit sticks, as well as having her limbs severed. The group of Native American warriors were never brought to justice for their crimes.