Century-old shooting tells tale of Wild West lifestyle in Old Town Spring

Next April will mark the 100th anniversary of one of the darkest days in Old Town Spring's history: the shooting of Precinct 7 Constable W. Clinton Harless.

During the evening hours of April 14, 1915, Harless was strolling the streets of Old Town Spring serving an arrest warrant for Louis Utley, a suspect on the run who was accused of a burglary in Montgomery County.

Hoping to evade law enforcement, Utley sought asylum in a relative's home in Spring.

After Harless served Utley's warrant, the alleged burglar requested time to grab some effects inside the home for the trek back to the Montgomery County Jail, according to the History of Constables page on the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable's website.

However, Utley took advantage of the situation, found a rifle and fired a shot at Harless, who was struck on the left side of his neck. The bullet severely damaged one of his vertebra and was left lodged on the opposite side of his neck.

"Harless' story is one more example of violence and disregard for life that was occurring in Old [Town] Spring," said Margaret Mallot Smith, author of "Spring Through the Seasons: Stories of a Texas Town." "Gentility was largely an unknown practice. These were latter-day frontier men and women who sustained and maintained themselves no matter what. They had migrated from Germany or rode the rails or worked in the sawmills."

Harless was reportedly the largest peace officer in the state, weighing 350 pounds and towering at 6 feet 6 inches tall, according to "Spring Through the Seasons." He was not only a constable but also a Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy.

Following the shooting, the towering lawman was loaded on a train to Houston for treatment of his wounds, according to the book. An ambulance took him from the train station to the Baptist Sanitarium—now Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center—where he died at 2:45 p.m. on April 15.

Harless was laid to rest April 18 at Budde Cemetery in Spring where he remains to this day.

"The Harless tragedy shows the advancements in medical treatment and procedures that have occurred in 100 years," Smith said. "Today, surgery and life-sustaining practices would have put aside such a dire prediction of death."

Utley successfully evaded arrest following the shooting. However, minutes before Harless' train was due to arrive, Utley's physical description was delivered to Special Officer O. B. Bobo in Houston.

Bobo said he saw a man fitting Utley's description jump off the very train on which Harless was delivered. Bobo fired shots at the jumper but failed to catch the suspect.

Smith said Utley claimed he was never on the train. Instead, he said he traveled north toward Conroe and on to Shepard. Utley was eventually caught in Livingston after a $100 reward was offered for his capture.

Utley was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder on Feb. 1, 1916.