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Columbus, Texas

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Consider the Lily:
The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas

by Bill Stein

(Copyright, Nesbitt Memorial Library and Bill Stein)

Part 5 : 1852-1860

In the early 1850s, the population of Colorado County and land prices therein rose sharply, and Columbus, it seems, finally took on the appearance of permanence. In February 1852, one nearby newspaper commented that the number of buildings in town had nearly doubled in the preceding year alone. By then, Columbus contained an estimated 750 inhabitants, eleven stores, six hotels and boarding houses, one church, and only two saloons. There also were various lawyers, doctors, carpenters, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, tailors, shoemakers; a saddler, a wheelwright, and a minister; a tan-yard, a brickyard, a sawmill, a livery stable, and a post office. Two years later, Columbus finally got its first known stagecoach service, when Lyman W. Alexander and a partner named J. B. Hogan started a line that ran from Houston through Richmond and Wharton, then up the Colorado River through Egypt and Columbus to La Grange. A month later, and nearly twenty years after Columbus was first mentioned, the state legislature finally passed an act to incorporate it. The act, which was passed on February 8, 1854, specified that the town was to be governed by a mayor and six aldermen who were to be elected annually each April.1

Meanwhile, the county government was taking steps to improve its own contribution to the city's growth. On February 13, 1852, the state legislature, recognizing that many counties had not yet built courthouses and jails and did not have the means to do so, voted to return 90% of the state taxes collected in 1852 and 1853 to the counties in which they were collected. Colorado County took advantage of the sudden influx of money to plan an addition to the courthouse, which would include a county jail. The commissioners hired R. P. Boyce to draft two plans, then, on November 15, 1852, appointed John Mackey, Oliver H. Herseperger, and Cleveland Windrow a committee to hire a contractor to build the addition according to one or the other plans. On February 21, 1853, the committee reported that it could find no contractor who would build the addition, and recommended that a new building, to include both a courthouse and a jail, be built. Despite the higher cost, the court agreed. Six weeks later, the district court settled an unusually high number of criminal cases and levied some unusually high fines, prompting rumors that, rather than the desire for an orderly society, the cost of the new courthouse was the driving force behind the new zeal to punish criminals. On May 16, the county used some of the money to pay Lyman W. Alexander for moving the old courthouse off the center of the square. The same day, they hired Archibald Frazer to build the new one for $9000. Frazer, an aging stonemason, quarried stones a few miles upriver from Columbus and floated them to the town. However, shortly after he began construction, he died, and the project halted. In November 1853, the commissioners court, still meeting in the now-relocated old courthouse, paid Frazer's estate $1800 for the work already done, and set out to find someone to finish the building.2

On February 10, 1855, some eighteen months after construction had ceased, the county finally hired Granville T. Jamison to finish the new courthouse. Jamison, with George Washington Smith and Windrow, had been an original member of the committee appointed by the county to hire the new contractor. On April 11, 1854, about six weeks after his appointment, he had resigned from the committee. That August, the commissioners, recognizing that the new courthouse would not soon be completed, had authorized the installation of two inexpensive stairways and a few minor repairs to the old courthouse. Jamison's work was slow, but the new building was apparently in good enough shape to be occupied by October 8, 1855, when the commissioners authorized the sale of the old courthouse. Just when Jamison finished the building is open to question. Some believed that he never did. On March 2, 1857, more than four years after the project began, and more than two years after Jamison was hired to finish it, Jamison presented his final bill. Smith and Windrow recommended that the county decline to pay him on the grounds that the work was not "done in strict accordence with the contract." The commissioners, perhaps weary of the project, paid him anyway.3

The new courthouse was certainly in use in 1856, for in September of that year, its jail was packed with dozens of slaves, all of whom were suspected of conspiring to rebel against their masters. The supposed slave rebellion had come to light, as the white community saw it, just in the nick of time. Late in August or early in September 1856, a slave belonging to a Mr. Tooke told him of the plot by, apparently, more than two to four hundred slaves, to "murder . . . our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies who were to be taken captives and made the wives of the diabolical murderers" and to "plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a 'free state' (Mexico)." The slave's confession culminated a brief investigation by the white community into the supposed plot. Some undisclosed clue had triggered their suspicions, and, on August 25, citizens from around the county met and appointed a committee to conduct the investigation.4

The committee went about its work diligently. Some members, apparently, were happy to experiment with less-than-civilized methods of gathering information. According to one former slave, one man placed his slaves in a cotton press, "flat on their backs and ran the press up against them," and left them there for twenty-four hours. The same man, or perhaps another, placed his slaves "on red ant beds for a short time." Neither method, however, produced the desired confession. Another former slave claimed to know why. According to him, the slaves refused to confess because they had nothing to confess to. No rebellion was planned. When Tooke's slave finally did "reveal" the plot, he fabricated the story to please his master.5

Whether or not any such plot existed, the slaveholders, consistently paranoid about such possibilities, moved quickly to squelch it. Dozens of slaves were taken into custody. All were accused of a crime punishable by death. The investigating committee produced "a number of pistols, bowie knives, guns and ammunition" and reported that the largely ignorant slaves had created secret passwords and adopted the motto "Leave not a shadow behind." No official trial was held. The slaveholders, aware of the enormous financial loss they would incur if all of the alleged rebels were executed, acted, as they put it, mercifully. At two o'clock on the afternoon of September 5, the day before the supposed insurrection was to have been carried out, three of the men identified as ringleaders were hanged. Some or all of the rest of the slaves who had been arrested were flogged, then (except for the two who were flogged so severely that they shortly afterward died) were returned to servitude. Mexican abolitionists were blamed for fomenting the rebellion, and the citizens of the county, on what authority it is uncertain, issued a resolution "forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county." As many Mexicans as could be found were arrested and expelled from the county. Others certainly left on their own accord.6

Since 1850, the number of slaves in the county had nearly tripled, and the ranks of suspicious slaveholders had swelled accordingly. John Matthews had greatly increased the number of slaves he owned, surpassing James S. Montgomery as the largest slaveholder in the county. In 1856, Matthews had 81 and Montgomery 78. Caleb Claiborne Herbert, with 29 slaves, Richard H. Foote, with 24, George Washington Thatcher, with 19, and Thomas Ware, with 17, had continued to operate their nearby plantations. The other two of the old plantations in the Eagle Lake bottom had undergone ownership changes. Angus McNeill's plantation, which had 25 slaves in 1856, had been sold to his daughter, Mary W. Harper. Benjamin Franklin Stockton's plantation had been inherited by his daughter, Ann Elizabeth, who had, on February 10, 1853, married John Gilbert Montgomery. Thereafter, her plantation, which housed 32 slaves in 1856, was listed under his name. Near Herbert's plantation, two other plantations had been established: one by his brother, William J. Herbert, who had 800 acres and 23 slaves, and the other by Calvin Gordon, who with his partner, Alexander Quay Dunovant, had 1000 acres and 30 slaves. Across the river, Lawrence Augustin Washington and Charles William Tait had continued to operate their plantations with stable slave populations. Tait had, on February 6, 1855, bought 640 acres adjacent to his plantation for his brother, James G. Tait, who, in 1856, farmed the land with the labor of 20 slaves. Downriver from Washington, Thomas Taylor Williamson had purchased the plantation of James S. Turner, which came complete with a house, cattle, and 22 slaves, on April 1, 1855. Turner had operated the plantation with about the same number of slaves since 1851. Williamson, who also bought two other tracts of land from Turner, owned 50 slaves in 1856.7

Two slaveholders whose holdings rivaled Matthews and Montgomery in size had only just arrived in the county. John Hancock Crisp, who, in 1856, owned 80 slaves, had purchased 1476 acres on the north side of the Colorado just upriver from Columbus on February 8, 1855. William Harbert, who owned 75 slaves, had purchased more than 2000 acres across the river from and just downriver from Columbus in three separate deals, two of them on November 23, 1855, and the third a month later, on December 28, 1855. Harbert's new plantation was adjacent to one that had been built up by James Lee Taylor in 1851 and 1852. In 1856, Taylor had 21 slaves. On the river to the north of Columbus, Harriet B. Burford had operated a small plantation of only 166 acres, with 22 to 24 slaves since 1851. In 1856, she added 685 acres to her holdings. Thomas Haslip Garner, who owned 31 slaves, had purchased 1765 acres across the river from Crisp, on December 8, 1855. South of Columbus, Andrew Monroe Campbell, who was Harriet Burford's younger brother, owned more than 1000 acres and 26 slaves. Farther downriver, though John F. Miller had died, his estate continued to operate his plantation with 19 slaves. His neighbors, John Pinchback and William Alley, had increased their slave holdings to 36 and 19 respectively. Between their plantations and Tait's, James Wright, William J. Wright, and Ethelbert Bruce Fowlkes had moved in, with their slave forces of 40, 26, and 35.8

At Walnut Bend, William Fitzgerald was still producing cotton with, in 1856, the help of 13 slaves. To Fitzgerald's north, Abel Grace had acquired more than 1000 acres as early as 1851. In 1856, he operated his plantation with 29 slaves. On the north side of the river near the Fayette County line, John Edward Pearsall, who owned 40 slaves, had purchased 600 acres on July 4, 1855, and Thomas J. Jarmon, who had 12 slaves, had purchased 434 acres on September 1, 1854. Across the river, William Lucius Adkins, who owned 31 slaves, had operated his plantation since 1851. Nearby, Fannie Amelia Dickson Baker Darden owned a 320-acre plantation with 20 slaves, most of which she had inherited from her grandfather, and Thomas H. Insall owned one of more than 500 acres with 31 slaves. South of Insall's, near Henry Terrell's still-operating plantation, John S. Henry, who owned 20 slaves, had purchased 800 acres on March 3, 1855. On the Navidad, John Duff Brown and Oliver B. Crenshaw had maintained their small plantations, and four new owners, John Tooke, Nathan Coller Womble, Augustus B. Woolridge, and Alfred Smith had moved in. Tooke had 1100 acres and 14 slaves, Womble 1200 acres and 18 slaves, and Woolridge, who had purchased the bulk of Caleb Joiner's plantation on November 28, 1852 and that of Thomas J. Henderson on May 12, 1853, had 357 acres and 21 slaves. Smith had moved to the county in 1855, buying some 1200 acres in January that year. When he died, in June 1856, he owned 19 slaves.9

Following the supposed rebellion, with the slave population having been restored to these, their wary owners, efforts went on to save their souls. As early as April 14, 1850, eighteen slaves, ranging in age from 21 years to two months, had been baptized in the Catholic church at Frelsburg. On August 9, 1857, about a year after the supposed rebellion was so compassionately quashed, people attending a camp meeting at Clear Creek, in the far western part of the county, collected money to finance ministers who wished to bring religion to slaves. On January 25, 1858, William T. Harris announced that he had been appointed as a missionary to the slaves of Colorado County, and asked local slaveholders to allow their slaves to attend his lessons for one or two hours once or twice each month.10

The camp meeting at which the slaves' welfare had been so thoughtfully considered was apparently one of many such held at Clear Creek during the decade, all of which were evidently sponsored by the growing number of Methodists in the area. Already, on July 21, 1856, the local Methodists had secured an agreement from Edward Musgrove Glenn to give them about seven or eight acres if they built a church on the site. No doubt the church coffers swelled, and 52 new members joined the church, at a July 1858 camp meeting. By March 13, 1860, they had completed their church, and Glenn signed over the property.11

Near the Clear Creek church, another town had begun to grow. The town had its genesis on November 28, 1853, when Andrew C. Hereford bought Henry Terrell's 500-acre plantation on the Navidad River. By 1856, Hereford had laid out a small town and named it Prairie Point. That August, he sold the first lots in the town. William T. Townsend, who bought the lot on which his home already had been constructed, was among the purchasers. The following year, David C. Neer and Thomas H. James bought a lot adjacent to the town square and shortly afterward built a store on the site.12

The rising religious fever in Colorado County even affected such secular and sober endeavors as journalism, which arrived to stay in the form of the Colorado Citizen, a weekly newspaper which was established in the summer of 1857 by the outspoken James Davis Baker. In addition to being a source of local, national, and international news, Baker's paper was, in its earliest years, a bellwether of local opinion and an outlet for local poets and other writers. However, belying the notion that journalism is a religion of its own, on September 16, 1858, Baker adjourned with his staff to a camp meeting some three miles south of Columbus, shutting down the business for a week.13

Religion, it seems, was encroaching on everything. In 1852, either William B. Dewees or Emaretta Cara Kimball (probably the latter) wrote that "the gambler with his bowie-knife and pistols, roaming about seeking whom he might devour" had, in the last decade, been replaced by "the sober, pious farmer, the steady merchant, the minister of the gospel, and the professor of religion." Probably, the writer was exaggerating. Certainly, however, the transformation had begun.14

Soon enough, Lutherans, Catholics, and Methodists were popping up everywhere. Gideon Scherer, who was by profession a Lutheran minister, arrived in Columbus in January 1853. At first, he apparently found few residents of the city who were interested in religion at all or Lutheranism in particular, and so turned his attention to the instruction of children. He established the Union Sunday School, which initially convened at the courthouse. As his school grew in popularity, Scherer continued to try to organize an adult congregation. He made little progress, however, until early 1854, when a ready-made one was delivered into his hands. That year, a number of Lutherans from the western part of Virginia moved to Columbus, and, on April 9, they named Scherer their pastor. By the fall of 1854, the congregation had moved to erect a building to house Scherer's Sunday school and their religious services. On December 27, 1854, Scherer acquired property on the corner of Spring and Live Oak Streets, three blocks from the courthouse, for the facility. The building was in use by the spring of 1855.15

The Lutheran invasion from Virginia was quickly followed by one from Frelsburg. By December 1856, Gideon Scherer's father, Jacob, who also was a minister, had arrived in Columbus and was attempting to start a second Lutheran congregation, this one for Germans. He quickly succeeded to some degree. On December 1, 1857, the trustees of the German Lutheran Church of Columbus acquired a lot on the far west side of town for their church. The persons who sold them the land, Marquis Lafayette Crawford and his wife, Emaretta Cara Kimball Crawford, reserved the right to use whatever building appeared on the property to teach a school for "the usual school hours" Monday through Friday. The congregation, however, must have been small, and, at least by 1860, the church had not yet been built.16

However, in the late 1850s, Germans did build two other churches, both of them in rural areas. Fibiger, who had taken over Louis Cachand Ervendberg's small non-denominational Protestant ministry in northern Colorado County, remained in the area through at least 1854. He was succeeded by a genuine Lutheran, Johannes Conrad Roehm. Roehm had first come to the area in late 1851 or early 1852, fleeing La Grange where he could find neither a willing congregation nor personal sustenance. Hearing of three potential sponsors to the northeast, he found the first one unable and the second unwilling to sustain him. After a miserably cold, wet night in a shed, as hungry as he had ever been, he went on to the third family, who took him in, apparently saving his life. After he recovered from his ordeal, he visited the local Lutheran families, attempting to organize a congregation. He succeeded to a degree; however, disputes regarding whether they ought to build a church in Frelsburg or elsewhere, and over who was to do the work, fractured the fledgling congregation, and Roehm hired on as a farm hand to support himself. Late in 1852, he went to Galveston to resume his career as a minister. By 1855, the Frelsburg-area Lutherans had organized themselves into a congregation and raised money to support a minister. On June 14, 1855, the congregation met, adopted a constitution, and elected deacons and trustees. The same month, Roehm returned, and baptized his first local babies. Presumably, services were held in the small church that had been built on the land provided by John and Malinda Thomas, until, in two year's time, the Lutherans were ready to build their own church. The old dispute about its location had been forgotten or settled. On May 26, 1857, William Frels donated the 3.9 acres in Frelsburg that he had set aside for the purpose as early as 1850 to the trustees of the Protestant Evangelical Lutheran Church of Frelsburg "for the erection of and maintaining thereon a school house or houses, [and] a Protestant church and parsonage." The church was probably built shortly thereafter. The German Catholics, meanwhile, had become so numerous that they were moving to build a second church in the county. This one, St. Roch's, was built a few miles southeast of Frelsburg on 4.75 acres that was donated to the church by Franz and Anna Burttschell on July 22, 1857. Apparently, the first German settlers moved into the area, from nearby Frelsburg, around 1850. Since 1853, they had been served by a post office, the name of which, San Bernard, was applied to the entire community. Their new church was so prosperous, or so ambitious, that, on March 2, 1858, about eight months after acquiring its first land, it accepted the donation of another six acres by Joseph and Julia Ann Hoover. However, the earliest recorded ecclesiastical activity at the parish was a baptism on February 26, 1860.17

Other denominations also found the ground in Colorado County suddenly fruitful. Apparently in 1849, an Episcopal minister named Henry Niles Pierce, then stationed at Independence, visited Columbus and reported that a congregation could probably be raised there. No one attempted to do so, however, until December 1855, when Hannibal Pratt came to Columbus. Aided in his mission by Scherer, who allowed him to conduct services in the Lutheran church, he succeeded in four months' time. The admittedly small congregation at Columbus, which called itself St. John's, was recognized by the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Texas at its annual convention on April 14, 1856. Immediately after the meeting, the diocesan bishop, George Washington Freeman, started for Columbus to confirm some of the anxiously-waiting members of Pratt's congregation; however illness and other business prevented his arrival for more than a year. Freeman finally arrived on May 12, 1857, and the next day confirmed six people. Nearly as many others, Pratt reported, might have been confirmed, except that they lived some distance from town and required more notice of the bishop's arrival than they had had. Within the month, St. John's had elected four delegates to the annual convention.18

For the next few months, Pratt held services twice a month in Columbus, and once a month in La Grange and Richmond. At all three places, apparently, he also ministered to separate congregations of slaves. He reported that the slaves and their owners entertained a markedly different concept of religion than he did; that all they knew of the Episcopal church was that "it was started by an English king, who had a mighty heap of wives," and that they believed that religion consisted of "getting happy" and indulging in a "strange and grotesque" ritual with the members of the congregation "in motion, shaking each other's hands, and keeping time in all their movements, to a wild, plaintive, touching melody" and singing songs which "must have been original, for none like them are laid down in the books." Evidently before he could disabuse them of such notions, his health broke. Though he was relieved of his congregation in Richmond and thus from the rigor of travel to and from that place, from early June through December he got progressively worse. He finally died, on December 13, 1857, at the age of thirty. The suddenly leaderless congregation, however, retained its identity, and began casting about for someone to replace Pratt. Though they offered an annual salary of $500 per year, it would be three years before anyone accepted the position.19

As the number of churches and churchgoers rose, and the Sons of Temperance continued their crusade, the behavior of the county's citizens changed noticeably. The Colorado Citizen remarked, in an August 1857 editorial against gambling, that there had not been a game of cards for money in Columbus for two months, apparently a record up until that time. On January 29, 1858, the Columbus Debating Society considered whether or not alcoholic beverages ought to be prohibited. Around the same time, the citizens of Prairie Point forced the only liquor outlet in their town to close. The Citizen, reporting on two "protracted" meetings that occurred in the Methodist and Lutheran churches in Columbus in May 1858, stated that "we have seldom heard the subject of religion discussed so much upon the streets." But, the writer went on, though "several ministers of reputation are here from a distance . . . the Columbusites are a hard hearted set, and we are of the opinion that the 'kingdom of heaven will have to suffer violence' before many of the sinners in this place find their way into it."20

Though it is impossible to know when the "hard-hearted" citizens of Colorado County first involved themselves in the arts, many began to do so in the 1850s. Certainly, the publication of Letters from an Early Settler of Texas, and Emaretta Cara Kimball's role in it, must have spurred interest to some degree. However, so far as is known, no local person attempted to make a living in the arts until some five years later. That person, Howal A. Tatum, began advertising a portrait painting business in October 1857. To be sure, Tatum did not immediately need the money. On December 6, 1853, in a transaction which probably signals his arrival in the county, he had purchased a little more than 500 acres on the river just south of Columbus from one of the heirs of Benjamin Beeson for $5075. With the help of ten or eleven slaves, Tatum evidently cultivated his plantation for three years. In the summer and fall of 1856, he became heavily involved in the white response to the supposed slave rebellion, serving on the committee that drafted the report of the incident that was sent to a Galveston newspaper. On November 8, 1856, about two months after the supposed rebellion was quashed, he sold his ranch for more than twice what he had paid for it, $11,050, taking $4000 up front and setting himself up with two fine Christmas presents, a $5050 payment due December 25, 1857 and a $2000 payment due December 25, 1858. He also divested himself of all but one of his slaves. Though it is first mentioned nearly a year later, he probably began his portrait painting business shortly after he sold his ranch. It is impossible to say how many customers he had, but interest must not have been too high. No portrait or painting of any kind by Tatum is known to be extant.21

Photographic portraits, however, were another matter. When, in January and February 1858, Nicholas B. Gorsuch set up his camera and made ambrotypes in Columbus, he apparently did quite well, for he returned to immortalize more of the locals that October. In the interim, W. B. Clark had set up a seemingly short-lived photography studio on the second floor of a downtown Columbus building. Earlier, Clark had attempted to introduce the citizens of Columbus to the pleasures of the dance. His dancing school began operating in early 1858.22

But it was literature, most particularly poetry, to which the artistically-inclined in the county devoted their creative efforts. Much of their work found its way into the pages of the Colorado Citizen, the establishment of which, no doubt, inspired many aspiring authors. Kimball, by then married to Marquis Crawford, but using her pen name, Cara Cardelle, published an essay entitled "Wild Flowers from a Texan Prairie" in the June 26, 1858 issue of the Citizen. The article, if it can be taken as autobiographical, indicates that the author had suffered through an illness, and that she had produced other writings.23

As early as October 3, 1857, and quite regularly thereafter, local poets, or perhaps poetasters, entertained the readers of the Citizen. Many of the poems were signed with fanciful pen names, such as "Hope," "Argus," and "Horse-Fly." Others were signed with initials, some of which make the writer further identifiable. For instance, a poem entitled "Impromptu," published in the March 20, 1858 issue of the Citizen and signed "R. V. C.," must have been written by Columbus attorney Richard V. Cook; and those entitled "Life," "My Brother," and "R. V. R.," published in March, April, and May 1858 and signed "W. M. B.," were apparently written by a local physician, William Minor Byars. Dozens of other verses, all written by authors who elude precise identification, were also published.24

Perhaps the most prolific writer of both prose and poetry in Columbus in the last few years before the Civil War was Egbert H. Osborne. Osborne moved to Columbus from Tennessee in August 1857, intending to practice law. He quickly became active in society. In September 1857, he impressed a large audience at the Union Sunday School with a talk, described by the Citizen as "brilliant and eloquent," on education. The following January, he was one of the two scheduled speakers at the Columbus Debating Society's prohibition debate. In the middle of the summer of 1858, however, reflecting the degree to which religion had permeated the county, Osborne dissolved his partnership with another Columbus lawyer, John H. Robson, and decided to become a preacher. He rose high enough fast enough that, by the following summer, he was asked to deliver the commencement address at Baylor University. He began his Colorado County writing career with an unbearably dense and overwrought prose piece about the year just passed, which he wrote on December 31, 1857. He followed that with a verse entitled "By-gone Hours," written on January 6, 1858. Both were published in the January 9, 1858 Citizen. Osborne's next piece, an essay entitled "Ultraism," was a discussion of extremism in politics and society. In April 1858, in an essay he called "Northern Literature," he fervently and clearly denounced such heavily abolitionist books as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mary Langdon's Ida May: A Story of Things Actual and Possible. Osborne calls them "miserable, lying stuff" that are "luminous with falsehood." They have the purpose, he says, of "applying the torch to our homes, desolating our towns, and butchering our wives and our children." His next two published pieces, both religious poems, were written after he adopted the ministry. "Earnest Words," published on March 12, 1859, and "The Christian Warrior," on April 30, 1859, were calls, couched in military terms, for Christians to stand up for and spread their beliefs. He followed that with another essay, a tribute to the dishonored Aaron Burr, then brought dishonor upon himself. His last published work in the Citizen, a poem, began with two verses appropriated from another author. Though Osborne had indicated that the verses were not original by enclosing them in quotation marks, the indication was not strong enough for one reader, who pointed out what he called plagiarism in a letter to the editor. In any case, Osborne soon afterward changed careers again, going off to La Grange to publish a newspaper, the True Issue.25

Neither literature nor art, of course, can flourish without patronage. Perhaps the most important patron of the arts in Colorado County in the 1850s was a curious character from Scotland who had, apparently, enormous reserves of cash and an inclination to think of himself as something akin to royalty. That fellow, Robert Robson by name, having abandoned his family in Great Britain, had been in Texas since the early 1840s. He had first passed through Columbus, in company with William Bollaert, the first week in November 1843. At the time, he lived near Montgomery. A year later, he bought his first property in Colorado County, four lots in downtown Columbus. On February 17, 1848, he bought a recently-laid-off block in an undeveloped area adjacent to the river that, though it was officially on the far northern extremity of Columbus, was isolated from the developed parts of town by perhaps half a mile. He would build his home, an oversized structure which would become known as Robson's Castle, on the tract. By 1860, Robson, who maintained a personal library from which he had readily loaned books to people in the community, was providing homes in his castle for three local artists, Tatum, Gustav August Behné, and Fannie Darden, and their families.26

Behné, a very fine painter indeed, who was said to have exhibited in Philadelphia, where he lived for two or three years before moving to Columbus, apparently produced mostly landscapes and religious pictures until he secured two important commissions in 1860 and 1861. By April 1861, he had completed a full-sized portrait of David Gouverneur Burnet, a former president of the Republic of Texas. Since Burnet then lived in Galveston, Behné painted and exhibited the picture in a studio there. Shortly afterward, in a meeting at Robson's Castle involving several state legislators, the state commissioned Behné to paint a portrait of another former president of the republic, the then-governor of the state, Sam Houston. Behné went to Austin and began work on the portrait, making a number of pencil sketches. Houston's opposition to secession, however, caused a rather serious downturn in his popularity, and though Behné subsequently finished the portrait, the state did not purchase it. Behné spent part of the Civil War serving in the Confederate Army, and, after his discharge, part of it in Havana, Cuba. He returned to Texas in 1866. The same year, the state constitutional convention resolved to commission a portrait of the now-dead Houston, a resolution which Behné read about in a newspaper. He made overtures to get the state to buy his fine portrait of Houston, which, apparently, they did.27

Darden, who has earlier been mentioned as a substantial plantation owner and slaveholder, was the daughter of Moseley Baker, who had been an officer in Sam Houston's army during the revolution. Inclined to literature, she began a novel when she was in her teens. However, she destroyed the manuscript soon after her marriage; to William John Darden on January 26, 1847. Her husband, who had only recently arrived in Texas, practiced law in Houston and Galveston, and for a brief time in 1851, edited a newspaper in Houston. In September 1852, he and John H. Robson formed a partnership and opened a law office in Columbus. His wife quickly moved to the center of her new town's cultural life, a position she would continue to occupy for more than thirty years. Though her artistic talents made a powerful impression, she was best known to her contemporaries, and, though much more vaguely, to subsequent generations, for the numerous verses which she wrote and which were printed in the Colorado Citizen.28

In addition to serving as a forum for locally-produced poetry and essays, the county's new newspaper allowed people to more fully express their political opinions. On August 26, 1857, someone composed a letter to the Citizen which sharply criticized the courthouse, and took particular exception to the fact that the same building also functioned as the jail. The writer referred to the courthouse an "eye-sore to the community" and an "unsightly building" with a "wretched want of architectural skill." The writer went on in colorful prose, "It will be remembered by many of your readers that last summer, when a large number of negroes were confined in the jail, that it was extremely offensive, and rendered not only the Court room (which is above the jail,) but the offices of the County and District Clerks, utterly untenable; and the jail aroma, which was not exactly like the sweet South wind over a bank of violets, pervaded the public square. And though so large a number of persons have never been confined in the jail at one time since the period mentioned, yet when it is occupied at all, the clerks' offices are rendered very disagreeable, and it is said to be a matter of common observation that an interview with either of the gentlemanly incumbents at such a time is followed by a derangement in the gastric regions of the visitor, which can only be relieved by a speedy adjournment to some place where ice and other condiments can be had." He concluded his letter by pointing out that the county treasury contained a surplus of some $2000, and called for the removal of the cells from the courthouse, architectural improvements to the building, and the construction of a new jail.29

The commissioners court agreed. On November 16, 1857, they appropriated "$6000 or so much as may be necessary" to remove the cells from the courthouse and build a new jail. On January 18, 1858, the committee appointed to design and find a site for the new jail reported that the jail would cost $4000 and finishing the courthouse another $2500. The renovation of the almost-new courthouse began with the removal of the cells in June 1858. It was not until February 1859, however, that workmen converted the rooms that had held the cells into offices. The same month, the commissioners court appropriated money to plaster and finish the building. The Citizen, in general, praised the renovations, but called for trees to be planted on the square and a fence to be built around it.30

The jail was completed much faster. On the same day that the committee had reported the expected costs of the jail and courthouse, the court authorized the purchase of a lot on the corner of Washington and Milam Streets in Columbus, about one block from the courthouse, for the site of the new jail. The site was purchased on January 25, 1858 from Charles Kessler for $300. In February, to allow potential builders to review them, the specifications for the new jail were posted at the courthouse. The jail was to be two stories high with four rooms, two upstairs for the prisoners and two downstairs for the jailor. Stephen Harbert, who had served on the committee, and his son Andrew, were hired to build the jail. Work began in April. In June, the cells were moved out of the courthouse and into the new jail. The building was still not finished when it suffered its first jail-break. On September 28, 1858, two men, Daniel W. Shaver, who had been arrested for murder, and Patrick McNamara, pried the lock off the cell and escaped. They were recaptured within days. Another man, William Cole, would escape on January 6, 1859 by breaking a bar in the cell and cutting a hole through the wall, and two more men, including an accused murderer named John W. Thompson, would escape from the apparently porous jail on August 23, 1860.31

The new jail was built of a mixture of sand, gravel, and burnt lime by Stephen Harbert and his son, Andrew. The Harberts used the same material, which was popularly referred to as concrete, to build several houses, public buildings, and fences in Columbus in the late 1850s. Among the other buildings were the Baptist Church, the Harbert Building, which would later be used as a bank, and four residences: one, known as the Foard House, probably built in 1857 or 1858, the Darden House, built between 1854 and 1861, the Townsend House, and the Dilue Rose Harris House, probably built in 1857 or 1858. The Harbert Building was part of a building boom in downtown Columbus in 1857. In addition to it, Exum Phillip Whitfield, George W. Smith, and Henry Merseberger all constructed buildings for commercial purposes near the courthouse square that year. Smith's would serve as his law office and Merseberger's as his grocery store. Merseberger thus became perhaps the first German-born man to establish a business in Columbus. By 1860, several other Germans would join him, among them Simon Thulemeier and William Beethe, who would also open grocery stores, William B. Roever, who would open a dry goods store, and Charles Kessler, who would purchase John H. Toliver's drug store.32

The last building known to have been constructed of the concrete-like material was the first church built by the Baptist congregation in Columbus. The Baptists had organized a congregation less than a year before the church was built. In late August 1858, a Baptist minister from Lavaca County, John Van Epps Covey, had performed a service at the courthouse, then stayed in town for two or more weeks, adding nearly twenty people to the congregation and raising some $3000 toward the construction of the church. On September 12, 1858, in front of a large crowd, he had baptized four ladies in the Colorado River. By March 1859, the congregation was on firm enough ground that it had David Tooke purchase a small lot on Washington Street for the church. The congregation apparently grew rapidly that summer. By September, the Columbus Baptists were holding services once each month at the Methodist Church. The Methodists, for their part, held services at the church twice a month. That November, two different Baptist ministers preached in Columbus. However, the church, which would come to be known as the "concrete church" and which reportedly had a bell with a singularly disagreeable tone, was apparently not completed until 1860. The first event known to have been held there was a concert to raise funds for the upkeep of the local cemetery in June 1860. Certainly there would have been some kind of dedication service earlier. In July 1860, the local Methodists, like the Baptists, out to convert the lingering frontiersmen and their offspring, held a week-long meeting in the building and added several people to their congregation. The Baptists, for their part, though they had the finest church in the county, apparently had not yet begun holding a regular weekly service.33

Though schools, unlike churches, had been around since the earliest Anglo settlement on the river, the growth of the population and the development of communities had a profound influence on their character. The earliest schools in the county had been established by individuals. Among them were Thomas J. Neavitt, Matthew Stanley Quay, and Everett Lewis. Neavitt, then the deputy district clerk, used the courthouse to conduct a school in 1848. He was a trained chemist who, in the 1850s, developed and marketed a "fever pill" in Columbus and, in the 1890s, developed and patented a type of varnish. Neavitt abandoned teaching in 1849, when, at the age of 35, he went off to California to dig for gold. Quay, then still a teenager, opened a school in the winter of 1852. He was unable to attract enough students to support himself, however; and he soon returned to his family's home in Pittsburgh. There, he would impart on a very successful political career, which led ultimately, to the United States Senate. Lewis, who had been an attorney in Mississippi, came to Texas in September 1852 and taught school at what would become Oakland for about the next five months. A few years later, he returned to the practice of law, and, in 1875, was elected district judge. Such schools as those Neavitt, Quay, and Lewis conducted relied on the ability of the teacher to attract students for their financial success. Commonly, students were charged a monthly rate, and were free to attend as haphazardly as time and their finances allowed.34

On January 31, 1854, the legislature passed a law which profoundly changed the character of schools in the state. The law ordered each county to divide itself into school districts, with each district being eligible to receive funding from the state to help pay teacher salaries and the tuitions of indigent students once it contained "a good and substantial school house," and provided it made a report of student populations and finances to the state. On April 25, 1854, just under three months after the passage of the act, the county commissioners took two steps to improve the local school system. First, in accordance with the law, they divided the county into fifteen school districts. Then, as they had been authorized to do by a law passed more than four years earlier, they took the first step toward securing a land grant of four leagues, the proceeds of which were to be used to help fund local schools, by hiring a man to locate and secure title to them. The county finally took title to 10,674 acres in Throckmorton County and 7038 acres in Baylor County on October 15, 1856. By then, the legislature had considerably modified its 1854 school law. Many counties, among them Colorado County, had failed to provide the reports of student populations the earlier law required. To help ensure that the reports would be made, the new law included a provision to pay the assessor and collector to compile and submit the reports. The county sent its reports for 1854 and 1855 indigent tuitions to the state on August 19, 1856, ten days before the modifying act was approved.35

Even before the formation of school districts, however, schools which were governed by boards of trustees had been started. The Republic of Texas had authorized such school boards and given them a slightly limited tax-exempt status as early as 1845. One of the earliest such schools was apparently established in Columbus in the early 1850s. An early teacher at the school, Gideon Scherer's half-brother John Jacob Scherer, reports that until he was employed, no teacher had remained at the school for more than five months. He found the students, who brought knives and pistols to school, and at least one of whom had killed someone, quite different from those in the schools he was accustomed to. Other schools with boards of trustees, both of which were apparently able to take advantage of the funding program initiated by the state in 1854, were established a few miles south of Frelsburg in 1855 and just south of Harvey's Creek in the western part of the county in 1856. The first apparently was established on a tract of land provided by Friedrich Adolph Zimmerscheidt to three trustees, Louis Brune, Johann Leyendecker, and Jürgen Stallmann, on January 18, 1855. In time, the community around it would come to be called Zimmerscheidt. The second had already been built when, on November 22, 1856, William Lucius Adkins deeded a ten-acre tract on which it stood to the school's trustees, including Francis Marion "Dick" Burford, Samuel B. DeHart, William Good, Cataline C. Jones, Samuel Davies McLeary, and Michael Nave. In return for the land, the trustees agreed to "engage & keep a teacher competent to teach the English branches of Education, at least nine months of the year." In keeping with the religious mania of the time, the trustees of the Harvey's Creek school were also compelled to allow Christian denominations to use their building freely as a church. In 1857, the school was conducted by McLeary's wife, Sarah Ann, and one of the seemingly ubiquitous Scherers, this one, Riley Luther Scherer, Gideon's son.36

Around the same time, in Columbus, the local Masonic lodge established a school for girls, the Columbus Female Seminary. Its teacher, Philip Riley, provided the young girls of Columbus primarily with lessons in English, but also taught a limited curriculum in science, other languages, and music. However, until 1858, Riley's school limited its enrollment to thirty pupils. The Columbus Female Seminary was a complement to the longstanding Union Sunday School and to a longstanding secular school for boys that was operated by Emaretta Cara Kimball Crawford. By 1858, Crawford offered classes in English, Latin, French, and music and, for an additional fee, boarded out-of-town students. She also specified that at her school, "no snuff-dipping" was allowed. A fourth Columbus school arose out of the efforts of a man named Sam Cooper. Cooper had come to the county around 1855 and taken over a school on the Navidad River. Under his management, the school grew markedly, prompting him, early in 1858, to move to Columbus and attempt to open a school for both boys and girls. Calling his school the Columbus Male and Female Seminary, he had apparently reached an agreement with Crawford to incorporate her school into his. He augmented her curriculum with classes in mathematics and philosophy. But Cooper's school was unable to attract enough female students, and when it convened its first classes, inside the Methodist church building, it had only male students. Subsequently, it became known simply as the Columbus Seminary. Crawford remained independent, and, in March 1858, added a music teacher who owned a piano, W. G. Yates, to her faculty. The same month, Cooper also hired another teacher, C. P. Ray, and again announced his intention to admit female students. That summer, Riley, in the spirit of competition, also added a music teacher, a young woman named F. M. Wren.37

A few months earlier, a fifth Columbus school---and the most ambitious of the lot---had been established. Called Colorado College, it sought to become the first operational secondary educational facility in the county, and the first to construct for its own use a sizeable building with more than one classroom. By the summer of 1857, its backers, led by the Scherers, Jacob, Gideon, and John Jacob, all of whom were intimately connected with the Lutheran church in Columbus, had begun to build support for it. On September 2, 1857, someone drafted a long letter to the Citizen pointing out the economic benefits to the community of such an educational institution. Already, its first classes had been announced. The school, which was to convene in the Lutheran church until a suitable building could be constructed, was to begin its first session on September 7, 1857. Four months later, on December 26, 1857, the college was chartered by the state legislature. Though the charter specified that the tenets of no particular denomination could be taught, it did allow general religious exercises, declared that more than half the members of the governing board of trustees were to be members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and authorized the board of trustees of the as-yet-undeveloped Hermann University, which had always had a decidedly Lutheran bent, to incorporate their facility into the new college. The board of trustees met for the first time on February 27, 1858. By the following summer, the college had hired Ray away from the Columbus Seminary and made him their principal. The seminary replaced him with a teacher named D. H. Henderson, then replaced Cooper as principal with William G. DeGraffenreid. The following year, DeGraffenreid and Henderson began referring to their school as Columbus High School. However, that fall, DeGraffenreid retired from teaching to return to the practice of medicine, and the school, if it continued, devolved into a single-teacher operation. Henderson apparently took a job at a school in or near the new town of Alleyton. Cooper, meanwhile, opened yet another school in Columbus.38

Though it had successfully established itself as perhaps the preeminent school in the county, Colorado College's first session of 1859, which ran from January 1 to June 1, was a disaster. For the session, the school had hired Gustav Behné as principal and, after DeGraffenreid turned them down, John J. Scherer as his assistant. The school opened with about fifty students, and, for three months, things went well. By March 5, when they began advertising for contractors, the board of trustees was confident enough of the school's success and had secured enough subscriptions to consider constructing a building. On April 1, they hired Scherer's half-brother, Gideon, to erect the new school. A week or two later, John J. Scherer was forced by ill health to resign his position as assistant teacher at the school, and Behné was left to conduct classes by himself. Then, growing concerns about the perceived Lutheran control of the school erupted. One of the building's underwriters, John Toliver, refused to pay the amount he had subscribed, $500, both because, as he later stated, it had taken to school too long to raise the necessary money to build the school and that therefore his children would have to go to school elsewhere, and because "instead of the College remaining free untrammelled from the claims of any Religious sect or society" as he had been promised, that the school was "a Lutheran Institution governed by their Church." On May 21, the Citizen chimed in with a strong, pointed editorial, which postulated that it was "absolutely necessary that our citizens should all be united in order to build up a good school" and that as long as the school continued to tie itself to the Lutheran church, the local "Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Campbellites, and a large portion of the community who are not allied to any religious organization" would not support it. The editorial urged the board of trustees to "at once do away with the sectarian character of the school and place it upon a free and independent basis, so that every citizen will be placed upon an equality with regard to it and have an equal interest in it with all the rest." Meanwhile, the school's students had been dropping out in droves. When the school term was ended, a few days ahead of schedule, only three students remained.39

The school recovered its equilibrium a little, and offered a fall session, to run from the first Monday in September through the end of December. It was not until August, however, that the trustees notified Behné that he would not be returning as principal, and hired James J. Loomis, who was also a Lutheran clergyman, to take his place. Behné responded by offering private lessons in French, German, drawing and painting, and singing and playing the guitar, all for adults, and devoting more of his attention to his own painting. The college's fall session opened with Loomis as the only teacher, and with perhaps thirty students. By the end of October, however, the student body had grown to 54, of whom perhaps fifty continued to attend on nearly a daily basis until the end of the term on December 23. The success of the session fully revived the school. Four days after it ended, Gideon Scherer laid the cornerstone for the school's new multi-story, brick building, sealing books, papers, and coins inside it. By some unknown agreement or measure, Colorado College was allowed to construct its building on the until-then-vacant block which had been set aside for a school and designated Seminary Square by the founders of Columbus. Loomis, with Stephen Monroe Wells as his assistant, opened a new term on January 9, 1860 with 46 students. By the end of January, they had more than sixty students. When the term closed on June 25, 1860, the school had reestablished itself, alongside the Columbus Female Seminary, as one of the two most important in the county.40

However, its troubles were not over. On April 19, 1860, a few months after the cornerstone was laid, the school sued Toliver to collect the money he had subscribed but refused to pay. The following October 18, Behné sued the school for unpaid wages stemming from his time as the school's principal. Behné had expected to be paid $400 for his services. His assistant, John J. Scherer, was to be paid half as much. Scherer had been paid in full for the time he spent on the job, but Behné had not. The school's trustees claimed that Behné had agreed to work for less if tuitions were not sufficient to pay his full salary, and that after Scherer resigned, Behné's inadequacy had prompted the mass departure of the student body and the resulting loss of tuition money. Though they had paid him only about two-thirds of the salary he had agreed to, the trustees responded to Behné's suit by charging that tuitions had been so severely reduced that he had actually been overpaid by some $45. Neither case moved to its conclusion rapidly. The school's suit against Toliver was transferred to Lavaca County, where, on September 13, 1860, it was dismissed by mutual agreement. Behné's peregrinations prevented him from pursuing his case against the school. He finally returned to the county, and dismissed his lawsuit on October 30, 1866.41

Perhaps more important to the ultimate fate of Colorado College, the hugely successful Loomis was hired away by the apparently more stable Columbus Female Seminary immediately after the conclusion of the first term of 1860. The seminary had doubled in size since, in 1858, it removed its self-imposed enrollment limit of thirty students. Colorado College cast around, finally hiring another Lutheran clergyman, Thomas C. Bittle, to replace Loomis as principal. Bittle, who seems to have been more ambitious than able, plunged the school into further financial difficulties.42

Though the trustees of Hermann University probably were wise to remain independent of Colorado College, by 1860 they still had not constructed any building, hired any teacher, or conducted any classes. On February 11, 1860, the state legislature wrested further development of the school from the hands of the trustees, renaming the institution Hermann Seminary and transferring control of all the assets of Hermann University to a newly appointed board. The new board, composed of men from Colorado and Austin Counties, was charged with locating the school in either Colorado or Austin County east of Cummins Creek and west of Mill Creek; and was enjoined against considering religious orientation in selecting trustees, teachers, or students. The new board met for the first time on April 14, 1860 and elected Hermann Emil Mathias Jordt president. The second time they met, May 26, 1860, the Colorado County members of the board came armed with a deed to an eight-acre tract east of Frels' home and just west of his store, which he conveyed to the school on the contingency that they construct their school building on it, plus about $3000 in pledges by citizens of Frelsburg if the school was constructed on the site. Though their Austin County counterparts raised some objections, and weakly mentioned two other possible sites for the school, it would eventually be built at Frelsburg.43

Although Hermann Seminary did not immediately get off the ground, by 1861, there was a school in Frelsburg taught by Charles J. Mathis, and at least two more rural schools had opened in the county in 1859 or 1860. One was in the German community, on the west side of Cummins Creek, on a 1.5 acre site deeded by Ludwig and Anna Kaiser on January 24, 1859. The other, which was certainly in existence by 1860, was conducted in a church about five miles southwest of Columbus that was at or near the center of a short-lived community known as Cuba. Cuba had gotten a post office, with Basil Gaither Ijams as postmaster, on May 20, 1859.44

While the old citizens of Columbus dealt with the arrival of of religion and its effects on their community, those of Frelsburg found themselves enduring the more subtle changes brought on by the arrival of persons who had been born in what later became Czechoslovakia. These persons, universally called Bohemians by their new German neighbors, began filtering into the county in the mid 1850s. By 1855, Joseph Pechajek, who had emigrated little more than a year earlier, had established a small, forty-acre farm near Frelsburg. That January, four more Czechs, Johan Coufal, Jozef Koss, Franz Kubicek, and Johann Motl, all of whom would shortly come to Colorado County, arrived in the United States. Kubicek would be established on a thirty-acre farm near Pechajek before the end of the year. In July, perhaps the most prosperous of the newly arrived Czechs, Johann Schlapota, bought 250 acres near the San Bernard River. In 1856, Coufal, Motl, Johann Marek, Vincent Silar, and Johann Silar all secured adjacent or nearly adjacent farms of between thirty and seventy acres on the San Bernard to the north of Schlapota's, and Jozef Silar established a 100-acre farm nearer Columbus. By 1860, there were 162 persons of Czech descent in the county.45

The experiences of two Czechs, Franz Prechectil and Frantisek Branecky, while perhaps not typical, certainly illustrate some aspects of the immigrant experience. Branecky, 33 years old, unmarried, and a veteran of nine years service in the army, was working as a laborer on a farm when, in 1855, he decided to attempt to improve his lot in life by going to America. However, he could not afford to pay for his passage, and so made an agreement with another farmer who was also planning to go to America, Prechectil. Prechectil intended to take his family to Texas and buy a farm there. He agreed to pay Branecky's way to Texas, for which Branecky agreed to work on Prechectil's farm until the amount was repaid. The two arrived in Texas in January 1856. At Houston, they made contact with two farmers who, because they had just sold their cotton, had empty wagons, and hired them to take them to Cat Spring. They arrived before the end of the month, and were briefly housed by another recent Czech immigrant, Jan Reymershoffer. Prechectil quickly found a farm, buying 174 acres near Frelsburg on February 15. Two weeks later, on March 3, he collected $5 in cash from Branecky and signed him up to work on the farm for $9 per day until the rest of his debt was paid off, which took him, by Prechectil's reckoning, until July 27, 1857. On that day, Prechectil effectively fired Branecky, casting him out to find work elsewhere. Two months later, the probably destitute Branecky filed suit against Prechectil to collect all his back wages, which, he stated, amounted to $151.20, plus the $5 he had paid him. In defending the suit, Prechectil filed an itemized list of $180 in expenses he had incurred on Branecky's behalf, and charged Branecky $5 for breaking his silver watch and $10 for breaking his shotgun. The suit was quickly adjudicated in Prechectil's favor. Branecky was ordered to pay court costs and all attorney's fees, a result which clearly embittered him. He again found farm work, then went to Houston, where he eventually was hired to work on the railroad. Its construction brought him back to Colorado County, where, on February 9, 1861, he married Maria Votipka, a widow with a young child and considerable property, and settled down to raise a family.46

The railroad on which Branecky worked, the railroad which finally was to serve Colorado County's farmers and merchants, was the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Rail Road. It had been incorporated by the state on February 11, 1850. Its charter allowed it to build track from a point on Buffalo Bayou between Houston and Lynchburg to a point on the Brazos River between Richmond and Washington, and specified that construction had to begin within one year and that twenty miles of operable track had to be finished within two years, or the charter would be null and void. The B B B & C began laying track in 1851.47

The following year, the legislature created the Brazos and Colorado Railroad Company, giving it the right to build track from the Brazos River to a point on the Colorado no further upriver than La Grange, and from La Grange through Bastrop to Austin. Like the B B B & C, the Brazos and Colorado had a deadline to complete twenty miles of track, in their case, three years. The company held its organizational meeting in La Grange on June 14, 1852, and resolved to begin selling stock.48

Five months later, on November 2, 1852, citizens of Colorado County met at Columbus to discuss which of the two competing railroads to support. Technically, only one of the two was in existence, for the B B B & C had not constructed the requisite twenty miles of track before their deadline, and their charter had consequently expired. Nonetheless, those who attended the meeting in Columbus, which was chaired by Lawrence A. Washington, resolved to support the B B B & C, presumably because it had already begun building track and because it seemed more likely to come to Columbus. At the same time, the citizens of Austin were throwing their support to the Brazos and Colorado. And, a few months later, the legislature created a third contender for the Colorado River markets. The Colorado Valley Railroad Company was chartered on February 7, 1853, and granted the authority to construct a railroad from Matagorda or Trespalacios Bay up the Colorado as far as Austin. The same legislature put the B B B & C back in business, amending its charter to allow it until February 11, 1854 to finish its first twenty miles of track, and allowing it to build track to, and indeed across, the Colorado River. The railroad met this second deadline, completing the twenty miles of track, which took them from Harrisburg to Stafford's Point, before the end of September 1853.49

From there, the B B B & C proceeded west, reaching Richmond in 1855. Initially, its trains crossed the Brazos River on a peculiar bridge. So that boats could pass along the river, the center span of the bridge, about fifty feet long, was not built. Instead, upon the arrival of a train, a flatboat on which the missing span of track was mounted was floated into position, and the train expected to proceed across it. The steep banks of the river produced another complication. In order to climb to the opposite bank, the train had to attain its top speed before coming to the bridge, leaving, alas, very little room for error. Because trains often crashed into the river, passengers and cargo were often unloaded and ferried across the river, to be loaded back onto the train when and if it successfully traversed the river. This bizarre system, naturally, had its detractors. After, in early 1858, the Colorado Citizen expressed optimism about the westward expansion of the B B B & C, a supporter of the Colorado Valley Railroad pointed out that in order to ship cotton to Galveston from Columbus, the bales would have to be rolled down the bank at the Colorado and again at the Brazos and possibly stored in warehouses at both rivers, all of which would cost additional money. Nonetheless, the B B B & C pressed on, borrowing $40,000 in December 1857 and using it to reach Randon in 1858. In November 1858, the railroad issued another $320,000 in bonds. In 1859, it would push its track into Colorado County.50

Two years earlier, gambling on the railroad's success, DeWitt Clinton Harris had completed a deal by which he expected to profit greatly. On October 29, 1856, Gamaliel Good, who was then living in Wharton County, and his three sons, William S. Good, James B. Good, and Edward L. Good, had agreed to purchase some 2300 acres adjacent to and encompassing about half of Eagle Lake for $1800. The Goods were not to take final title until they had completed a schedule of payments, the last of which was due on January 1, 1859. Shortly after buying the land, Harris offered them $1000 for an undivided one-half interest in 600 of their newly acquired acres. They agreed, and on July 13, 1857, conveyed the land. Harris, who was, among other things, a dealer in lumber, bought the land so that he could, at his own expense and for his and the Goods' profit, establish a city on it, a city which would be on the B B B & C's rail line. Three weeks after closing the deal with Harris, the nearby Eagle Lake Post Office, which had been established little more than a year earlier, was transferred to the new community, and Gamaliel Good was made postmaster.51

Within a years time, Harris' new town had apparently been laid off, and had acquired at least a small population. On July 4, 1858, many of the citizens of Columbus went to their newly established neighbor for a barbecue. Seemingly, at the time, there were few, if any, buildings to mark the site. Nonetheless, a month later, Eagle Lake had its first murder, when, on August 3, Daniel W. Shaver killed Thomas Ferguson. It was not until 1859, however, that the town really began to develop. By that September, the railroad had constructed a depot. The track into the new town was opened on October 6. Over the last six months of 1859, "like magic," one writer reported, Eagle Lake City, as he called it to distinguish it from the lake itself, "sprang into existence." Though by December the town contained fewer than ten houses and perhaps only fifty inhabitants, it also boasted a large warehouse owned by James F. Jenkins, two dry goods stores, one of which was owned by Henry Demoss, two saloons, and a restaurant; and plans for a newspaper, to be called the Eagle Lake News Revealer, and for schools and churches, were being made.52

As Eagle Lake developed, the railroad itself planned another new town to its north. On November 5, 1859, they reached an agreement with William Alley that created the town of Alleyton. Alley conveyed to the railroad a right of way across his land on the east side of the Colorado River, plus an undivided half interest in 200 acres for a depot and town, with the proviso that the land was to be laid off into blocks, with Alley getting the block on which his home stood and the railroad that on which the depot would be built, then further divided, with first Alley then the railroad alternately choosing blocks, before any of the land was sold. Four months later, they altered the agreement, stipulating that all of the blocks except that on which Alley's home stood and that on which the depot would be built, were to be sold at public auction, with the proceeds divided equally between Alley and the railroad. The auction was slated for March 24, 1860, and was perhaps held on that day. However, the first lots were not officially conveyed until May 22 and May 24, when six men took possession of fourteen lots. Thereafter, business was apparently slow. Recorded sales indicate that only seven more lots were purchased before the end of the year, only five were purchased in 1861, only two in 1862, and only one in 1863. However, by the middle of the summer of 1860, the post office had been established and some fifteen buildings constructed on the town site. By August, the railroad had reached Jacob Clapp's plantation, just south of Alleyton, and by September, had reached the town itself. Before the end of the year, several businesses had opened in Alleyton, including Leander Calvin Cunningham's store, which included the post office, and another store, V. F. Cook and Brother, which abandoned its recently established location in Eagle Lake in favor of one in the newest Colorado County town. Alley himself built and opened the Globe Hotel, and his brother-in-law, Thomas H. Rolluson, opened a saloon, Rolluson's Exchange Bar. Germans too, got in on the ground floor. Shortly after the town was established, Charles Augustus Dittmann and Jonas Rosenfield opened grocery stores in Alleyton.53

As the B B B & C approached the Colorado River, several men, among them William Harbert, Andrew M. Campbell, and George W. Smith, contemplated extending the railroad from the Colorado to San Antonio and beyond. Accordingly, on February 16, 1858, the legislature chartered the Columbus, San Antonio and Rio Grande Railroad Company, empowering it to build track from Columbus through Gonzales and San Antonio all the way to the Rio Grande River. However, as so many other would-be railroad builders had discovered before them, a company needed more than ambitious plans to succeed. The legislature again imposed strict deadlines on the company; the company was again unable to meet them; and the legislature subsequently extended the deadlines. The original charter gave the railroad two years to begin building track and four years to finish 25 miles; on February 8, 1860, the legislature amended it to allow an additional year to begin building track.54

Meanwhile, in Columbus consternation about the B B B & C's route to Austin had been rising. It now seemed possible to many that the railroad might bypass Columbus rather than build two bridges across the Colorado, one on the east side and the other on the north side of town. In late May 1859, the president of the B B B & C, Jonathan F. Barrett, came to Columbus to spur fund raising efforts. He assured the citizens that the railroad would soon announce the route it intended to take to Austin. He and his directors, among them Charles William Tait, met in Harrisburg on June 1 and took several decisions. They named Harrisburg and Austin as the two end points of their railroad, designated the Colorado valley as their route to Austin, and applauded and pledged to support the construction of a railroad from the Colorado River to San Antonio. They refused, however, to decide whether or not they should build the two bridges at Columbus or bypass the town and build a single bridge across Cummins Creek.55

Their continued indecision caused rampant speculations in Columbus. The rumor spread that crossing Cummins Creek would actually be more expensive for the railroad, because of unspecified additional trestle work that would then be necessary. Next, speculation grew that the railroad's diffidence was a ploy to get the citizens of Columbus to finance one of the bridges. If so, the local newspaper at least, stood ready to help, commenting that the railroad "should inform us of the amount necessary, and then we would have a basis upon which to act. It would be a melancholy circumstance indeed if another town were built up on the other side of the river, making both Columbus and itself places of insignificance."56

By the end of the year, many citizens had abandoned any hope that the B B B & C would bridge the Colorado at Columbus, and a move to create a new railroad, one that would tap into the B B B & C line, build a bridge at Columbus, and link up with the as yet imaginary line of the Columbus, San Antonio and Rio Grande Railroad, had sprung into existence. On February 2, 1860, the required company, named the Columbus Tap Railway Company, was chartered by the legislature. Six men, Campbell, Smith, Tait, John G. Logue, Isam Tooke, and Joseph Worthington Elliott Wallace, the first four of whom were also associated with other railroads, were named commissioners. The new railroad was given three years to build track to and a bridge across the river at Columbus. But their bridge, unlike that of the B B B & C at the Brazos, was not required to make any concession to boats that might attempt to navigate the river.57

That the Columbus Tap was not required to adapt its bridge to potential river traffic is a clear signal that the proponents of navigation were on the run. However, a Columbus man named J. B. Runyon still saw the possibility of profit in operating a boat. He built a 75-foot long keelboat, which he christened the Sam Houston when he launched it in Columbus in January 1860, to carry freight, mostly lumber from the mills in Fayette and Bastrop Counties, to Columbus. The lumber was needed for the building boom that was going on in Columbus and other parts of Colorado County, which, ironically, was spurred by the population growth that the arrival of the railroad was causing. The launching of the Sam Houston was virtually the last gasp in the long and ultimately unsuccessful struggle to make the Colorado River commercially navigable.58

Revived by the renewal of their charter and by the creation of the Columbus Tap, the commissioners of the Columbus, San Antonio and Rio Grande Railroad met in Gonzales on March 5, 1860 and began raising subscriptions. By the following day, they reported, they had raised the necessary $300,000 and expected to begin surveying soon. The commissioners of the Columbus Tap, meanwhile, set a meeting at the courthouse in Columbus for June 9. Within two months, the railroad had raised most of the money it needed to begin operations. In September, the commissioners and stockholders met to organize the company, and elected Campbell president, Tait treasurer, Exum Phillip Whitfield secretary, and Smith and Wallace directors. Before the end of the month, the railroad had begun surveying and was taking applications for workers to do the grading. On October 8, it acquired the right-of-way it needed across William Harbert's plantation. Around the same time, it tried, without success, to acquire a right-of-way across James Lee Taylor's lands. Nonetheless, by the end of the year, the railroad had about forty employees busy with grading, constructing trestles, and making ties. Shortly, an embankment had been built across the length of Taylor's plantation, leaving him to sue for fair compensation. Whitfield, who had taken over as the railroad's president, promised completion of the track by April 22, 1861. But his promise would not be kept. As early as the previous November, cash had run low. In fact, Taylor had refused to sell the railroad the right-of-way it had requested because he feared that it would be unable to pay the sum it offered, $100 per lost acre. In July 1861, apparently, the railroad's cash problems became chronic. By then, other events had made it impossible for the work on the railroad to continue.59

By 1860, the movement to abolish slavery within the nation was gaining momentum, and the question of what to do about it took a firm grip on the citizens of Colorado County. The detection of the supposed slave insurrection of 1856 had done little to comfort Colorado County's slaveholders, who continued to believe that their slaves, against what they regarded as all reason, were both capable of and determined to initiate a revolt. The Colorado Citizen, on August 15, 1857, summed up the attitude that many plantation owners thought their slaves ought to have with "Can the African race ever be sufficiently thankful to the Caucassian for what he has done in elevating their race? redeeming them from the bondage of barbarism and mental imbecility, and making them an intelligent, moral and happy people?" Mysteriously, it seems to have been difficult indeed for slaveholders to discern why such newly "intelligent, moral and happy people" should be, as they saw it, so duplicitous and potentially hostile, even though their sons and daughters were routinely sold at the slave market which flourished in Columbus at least by 1858. Rumors about abolitionists and supposed plots among the slaves had become routine. The rising tension among the slaveholders probably contributed to an apparent increase in the numbers of persons who were indicted for cruelly treating slaves. Though there had been few such indictments earlier, in 1860, three men, Gideon Scherer, John J. Scherer, and John W. Stith, were indicted for whipping slaves with bullwhips, and a fourth, Alexander Dunlavy, was indicted for killing a slave by shooting him in the back with a shotgun.60

That summer, a mild controversy involving a Czech-language newspaper erupted. The paper, which was published at St. Louis, Missouri, listed four representatives in Texas; two of them, Jan Reymershoffer of Alleyton and Franz Pisscacek of Frelsburg, in Colorado County. When, through the agency of injudicious bilingual readers, the general populace became aware of the newspaper's abolitionist sentiments, Reymershoffer, Pisscacek, and the other agents were accused of sedition. Feeling in danger of losing his life, Reymershoffer defended himself in a letter to the Colorado Citizen, denying that he had any association with the St. Louis newspaper except as a former subscriber, and whatever controversy there had been seems to have been quickly defused.61

The ever-suspicious slaveholders, however, continued to regard their foreign-born neighbors warily. Though there were relatively few persons of Czech descent in the county, Germans had continued to constitute about one-third of county's non-slave population throughout the decade. The Germans remained concentrated to the north and northeast of Columbus, in and around Frelsburg and on the Bernardo Prairie. Their influence was certainly felt in August 1860, when the San Bernard Post Office was renamed New Mainz, after a city in Germany. Unlike their American born counterparts, who had well-established agricultural methods and goals, the Germans had demonstrated a willingness to experiment with their farms. Few seem to have been experienced farmers. However, they apparently believed that persistent curiosity and intellectual investigation could overcome their lack of experience. Already in the mid 1850s, Eduard Friedrich Becker, who was trained as a physician in his homeland, had planted a vineyard and had, either by careful work or extreme good fortune, begun cultivating a type of apple that could flourish in Texas. His apple would become known, in his honor, as the Becker apple. Becker himself, and many of his Colorado County neighbors, became early members of the Cat Spring Agricultural Society, an organization of area German farmers formed on June 7, 1856, who met frequently to discuss matters of agriculture for their mutual edification.62

Though it had not achieved even the modest dimensions of Cat Spring, Frelsburg had, by the end of the decade, developed into something of a town. By September 10, 1860, when Friedrich Jürgens sold his apparently small and perhaps failing store in Frelsburg to Eduard Kollmann, the village, which had every reason to expect the imminent construction of Hermann Seminary on its western edge, contained perhaps a dozen buildings. Carl Friedrich Sophus Jordt had continued to operate his store, seemingly with much greater success than Jürgens, and had been joined in town by his younger brother, Hermann Emil Mathias Jordt, who was the local justice of the peace. Others, including Jacob Kleiber, and the aging Melchior Kross, and the wheelwright Carl August Sabath, the blacksmith Johann David Moeckel, the shoemaker Dietrich Pophanken, the baker Helmuth Kulow, and the tailor Friedrich Otell, lived or worked in the immediate vicinity. Eight days after Kollmann bought the Jürgens store, Mathias Malsch purchased a tract on the southern perimeter of town, where he opened another store.63

Near Frelsburg, Mike Muckleroy had continued to operate his plantation with the help of slave labor, and had set up his son, James R. Muckleroy, with an adjoining plantation. In 1860, the Muckleroys had eleven and six slaves respectively. By 1860, even a few of the Frelsburg-area Germans had become slave owners. William Frels had finally acquired a few slaves to help him cultivate his large plantation. In 1860, he owned eight. In addition, Herman Frels, Gerhard Heinsohn, Franz Ordner, Ernst Weishuhn, and store-owner Carl Jordt each owned one slave. Other Germans outside the Frelsburg area also owned slaves. Henry Obenhaus and Charles Ehlinger each owned seven. Obenhaus' farm was a few miles west of Columbus and well south of the Colorado River; Ehlinger's was nearer to Frelsburg, but on the west side of Cummins Creek. Ehlinger's sister, Elizabeth Hahn, whose land was near his, and who had just secured a divorce from her husband, also owned one slave. Charles Kessler had begun building up a plantation on the river northeast of Columbus in 1850. Eventually, the place encompassed more than 5000 acres, and included not only the mouth of Cummins Creek, but a small lake that shortly became known as Kessler's Lake, and Kessler's Chalybeate Springs, which Kessler promoted as medicinal. In 1860, Kessler owned nine slaves. The only other German slaveholder in the county, Christian Kelch, who owned four slaves in 1860, had a plantation east and slightly south of Alleyton.64

Still, the great majority of Germans in the county owned no slaves, and seemed, to the non-German slaveholders, to be rabid abolitionists. Despite the anxiety of the slaveholders, it is difficult to see how the Germans could threaten them, for to be sure, the wealthiest and most politically powerful citizens in the county were either slaveholders or decidedly on the side of the slaveholders. By 1860, there were 286 slaveholders and 3559 slaves in the county. Slave owners were everywhere. Practicing attorneys Richard V. Cook, William Shelby Delany, Robert Levi Foard, John T. Harcourt, John H. Robson, Cleveland Windrow and James Madison Daniels, the last of whom was also mayor of Columbus, each owned a few slaves, as did practicing physicians John Henry Bowers, William Minor Byars, Samuel E. Goss, Thomas W. Harris, and William G. DeGraffenreid. Schoolteachers James J. Loomis and Jane Old each owned two slaves, and Philip Riley owned one. The district judge, George W. Smith owned eight slaves; the sheriff, Ira Albert Harris owned three; the district clerk, Robert H. Jones, owned two; and the county treasurer, Alexander J. Folts, owned five. Three of the four men who were elected county commissioners in 1860, Kidder Columbus Walker, Alexander Dunlavy, and A. Boyd Bonds, owned slaves, as did the man who had been chief justice for several years, Andrew M. Campbell. The blacksmith Andrew Jackson Nave, the mason William H. Bacon, and the carpenter Jesse B. Holman each owned slaves. Newspaper editor James Davis Baker owned slaves. The artist, Howal A. Tatum, owned slaves, as did his patron, Robert Robson. Even the Methodist minister in Columbus, Wesley Smith, who had the surprising total of fourteen, owned slaves.65

Some had more than 100 slaves. John H. Crisp, who had swelled his population by about twenty per year since 1856, owned 146 in 1860. John Matthews, with 140, and William Harbert, with 123, were not far behind. Most of the other old large plantations had also greatly added to their slave populations. In 1860, James S. Montgomery had 87 slaves, John Pinchback 85, William L. Adkins 81, Charles W. Tait 63, Ethelbert B. Fowlkes 61, James Wright 56, Claiborne Herbert 48, Alexander Dunovant and John W. Gordon 46, Richard Foote 44, Campbell 44, Angus McNeill and his daughter Mary's new husband, Thomas Scott Anderson 43, John Pearsall 42, Thomas Insall 37, John G. Montgomery 36, George W. Thatcher 35, James Lee Taylor 33, Thomas T. Williamson 31, William J. Wright 30, William J. Herbert 29, Thomas H. Garner 27, Lawrence Washington 26, John F. Miller's widow, Lucinda, and two minor children 24, Fannie Darden 22, Harriet Burford 21, Oliver Crenshaw 21, and Thomas J. Jarmon 16. Fowlkes had greatly increased his prosperity by marrying, on May 26, 1857, Caroline F. Woolridge, the widow of Augustus Woolridge, and thus absorbing the bulk of what had been his plantation.66

Others of the old plantations had also changed hands. Thomas Ware had died on January 19, 1859, leaving his estate to be divided among fifteen heirs. After some quick legal maneuvering, on March 9, 1859 his administrators, Nicholas T. Ware and Frances Elbert Harwell, organized Ware's 24 slaves into fifteen lots and had each heir draw a number from a hat to determine which slave or slaves he or she got. Soon, the plantation itself was conveyed to Phineas M. Garrett, who, in 1860, operated it with the help of 35 slaves. In October 1858, James W. Carson had purchased the plantation near Prairie Point that for a brief time had belonged to Alfred Smith. The following month, George L. Perry had purchased William Alley's plantation, complete with assorted livestock, other accouterments, and 23 slaves. The month after that, Henry David Rhodes had purchased the southernmost of Thomas T. Williamson's two plantations. In 1860, Rhodes was the fourth largest slaveholder in the county, with 102. The same year, Perry had 38 and Carson 23.67

In 1859, Theresa E. Ivey, the sister of Augustus Woolridge, had established herself on the west side of the county, purchasing, from Andrew C. Hereford, all of the unsold lots in his town, Prairie Point, plus the remainder of the 500-acre plantation he had purchased from Henry Terrell in 1853. Ivey's administration of her holdings differed markedly from Hereford's. Within months, she had conveyed land for a community school, something Hereford had neglected to do. By the following summer, the town had been renamed Oakland. And, to a greater degree than Hereford had, Ivey relied on the labor of slaves to cultivate her plantation. In 1860, she had 21 slaves. Nearby, Clarissa Ann Eason was operating her plantation with 22 slaves. Her husband, Needham W. Eason, had purchased the place on July 9, 1857. After he died on October 8, 1858, she had inherited it. John Tooke, who had 18 slaves in 1860, had also continued to operate in the area, and Zachariah Payne, who had 24 slaves, had moved his operations from near Columbus to near Prairie Point. Nathan Womble, however, had sold his interests in the area to two men from Mississippi, John McKinnon and Andrew J. Wooten, the latter of whom conveyed his interest to his partner little more than a year later.68

Elsewhere in the county, many new large slaveholders had established plantations. Some had close family ties to other slaveholders. On April 27, 1857, James S. Montgomery had provided his children with substantial estates. Two of his sons, Samuel Stephen Montgomery and William Washington Montgomery thereby entered the ranks of Colorado County slaveholders. In 1860, Sam Montgomery owned 25 slaves and William 11. The same year, John Samuel Shropshire, who had married Charles W. Tait's sister Caroline in 1859, operated a 750-acre plantation near his brother-in-law's with the help of 62 slaves. John H. Crisp's nephew, David Hardee Crisp, purchased land adjacent to his uncle's plantation on December 14, 1858. In 1860, he owned 54 slaves. Harriet Burford's son, Weston B. Yates, owned 13 slaves, and her step-son, Francis Marion "Dick" Burford, who had established his plantation near the Harvey's Creek school, owned 28. William Pinchback had purchased 1272 acres just south of Columbus from his younger brother, John, on November 20, 1859. Together, he and his wife Mary owned 64 slaves in 1860.69

Just south of Columbus, Isam Tooke, who owned 31 slaves, John Oscar Tanner, who owned 30, and Philip E. Waddell and James Carlton, each of whom owned 23, had established plantations on the river. A. H. Davidson, after selling his 867-acre plantation on the Medina River in Bexar County on April 23, 1860, also set up a plantation south of Columbus, though his was on Skull Creek. In 1860, he had 19 slaves. West of Columbus, Calvin Haynes had 20 slaves and David Tooke, on a 150-acre plantation, 21. Across the river and just upriver from Columbus, Milas Brandon Matthews ran his plantation with 23 slaves, and Elizabeth R. Nice, who had just moved to the county from Tennessee, ran hers with 29. Nathan B. Floyd, with 21 slaves, Joel D. Shrewsbury, with 17, William H. Strahan, with 10, and James G. Newsom, with nine, had all established themselves in the Eagle Lake Bottom. So had John W. Wicks and Isaac J. Frazer, who between them owned 48 slaves in 1860. On January 1, 1860, they had contracted with Lawrence Washington, who owned more land than he could handle, to clear, fence, and cultivate some 600 acres of Washington's land in the bottom, and to dig a well and build a gin and slave cabins, in return for the right to cultivate the land for five years. Across the river and to their south, George S. Turner operated his plantation of more than 1000 acres with 23 slaves. Green K. Hubbard, who had 15 slaves in 1860, had established his plantation near the Harvey's Creek school the previous year.70

The great Fitzgerald plantation in Walnut Bend also had changed hands. In January 1860, the four children of the recently deceased William Fitzgerald and his surviving widow, Rebecca, had split up his plantation. With the division completed, Julia L. Neavitt and her husband, Thomas J., bought out the interests of her siblings, Susan Amanda Daniels and her husband James Madison, Delinda Jane Shaw and her husband Josiah, and Alexander Fitzgerald. The last two had already established plantations of their own nearby, which, in 1860, they operated with 10 and 15 slaves respectively. The Neavitts leased their newly acquired plantation and 16 slaves to Edward Musgrove Glenn in return for specified shares of the crops. Nearby, Rebecca Clack Grace, the widow of Abel Grace, had inherited the bulk of his lands, which, in 1860, she cultivated with 23 slaves. Across the river, at the mouth of Harvey's Creek, Thomas J. Grace had purchased a plantation from James M. and Susan A. Daniels on November 20, 1853. By 1860 he had stocked the place with 10 slaves.71

The county's residents, of whom, by 1860, there were 7883, only 4324 of whom were free and white, continued to rely principally on agriculture for their livelihoods. The only industries of note were three sawmills, one operated by Ehlinger, one by Kessler, and one by Frank Dungen; and a blacksmith shop, operated by Alexander Folts and three employees, which, in addition to routine operations, also produced iron and steel products, including plows and wagon parts. Though the county's farmers had continued to produce substantial amounts of corn, they had turned increasingly to cotton as their cash crop, abandoning tobacco, and stock raisers had turned increasingly toward cattle, abandoning sheep and wool.72

Powerful and numerous as they were, the slaveholders of Colorado County were newly alarmed when, in the summer of 1860, the citizens of Fayette County, like those of Colorado County four years earlier, discerned a plot among the slaves to flee to Mexico. This time, mercifully, no one was to be murdered. But as the Colorado Citizen defiantly reported, to "protect the lives and property of the citizens from the inroads of the negro fanatics," vigilance organizations had been formed in many counties.73

Though traveling circuses had begun to appear in the county at least by 1859, the citizens seemed to have relied on lecturers and debaters for their most common form of entertainment. In Columbus, a debating club, called the Columbus Debating Society, had been staging debates over metaphysical and religious questions at regular Friday meetings for some time. But their usual esoteric subjects were forgotten by the last half of 1860, when a series of heated political debates drew spectators and participants from around the county. On one side were those who favored immediate secession from the United States, on the other, those who favored "cooperation," that is, the preservation of both the Union and of slavery. Only one man in the county, a 48-year-old cattleman named Richard Putney, is known to have publicly expressed any abolitionist sentiments, and he was whisked away to jail. His sentiments arose more from a weariness with the issue than a concern for the welfare of the slaves. He stated that the county would only find peace when the slaves were freed and expelled, and more simple farmers had moved onto the vacated lands.74

Most prominent among the early secessionists were Claiborne Herbert, Thomas T. Williamson, Richard V. Cook, John T. Harcourt, and T. Scott Anderson. The cooperationists were headed by John H. Robson, A. H. Davidson, and John Shropshire, all of whom were Columbus attorneys, and had a powerful ally in newspaper editor Jim Baker. All of the secessionists, and all of the cooperationists, owned slaves. On May 28 the various factions met at the courthouse at Columbus to debate the coming national election and to seek unity among the voters. Slavery supporters had split the Democratic National Convention, held at Charleston, South Carolina in April, keeping the majority candidate, Stephen Douglas, from receiving the two-thirds vote needed for nomination. The Democrats had decided to reconvene in June. In early May, a new party, the Constitutional Union Party, had been organized. The new party called for the preservation of the Union and the Constitution. The Republicans had met in Chicago and nominated Abraham Lincoln, a candidate who was entirely unacceptable to slavery factions. The country was polarized, and, after the May 28 meeting, so was Colorado County.75

After all sides compromised and selected Kidder Walker to chair the meeting and Fred Barnard to be its secretary, Walker appointed Robson, Davidson, Herbert, Williamson, and Dick Burford as a committee to draft a resolution for approval by the assembly. Unable to agree, the committee returned to ask for more time, then came back with two documents. One, sponsored by Robson, Davidson, and Burford and labeled the majority resolution, called for Sam Houston to run for president, denied that any state could secede from the union except by revolution, and declared that there was not sufficient cause for a revolution. The minority document, written by Herbert and Williamson, called for the affirmation of the platform adopted by the slavery men at Charleston. After Robson moved that the majority resolution be accepted, Harcourt jumped to his feet and moved that the minority resolution be adopted. He, Herbert, and Williamson each spoke in favor of it, and Robson gave a fiery speech in support of the majority resolution. Walker called for a vote, instructing all those who favored the minority resolution to gather on the right side of the room and all those opposed to it to gather on the left. Herbert stood up and proclaimed that if the vote went against him, he would feel compelled to walk out. It did, by about ten to one, and he and others, including Barnard, left.76

Houston was a strong candidate at the Constitutional Union Party Convention, but the nomination went to John Bell. Local cooperationists threw their support to Bell and his running mate, Edward Everett. Baker's paper, the Colorado Citizen, came out in favor of Bell and Everett, adopted the motto "The Union and the constitution," and ran a drawing of an American Eagle with the legend "The Union---it must be preserved" on the masthead. The split Democratic Party nominated two candidates. Colorado County's secessionists turned to the Southern Democratic Party's candidates, John C. Breckinridge and Joseph Lane, and threatened to create and support a second Columbus newspaper. In September, the newly formed Bell and Everett Club met twice, hearing speeches by the likes of William Shelby Delany, John Shropshire, and John H. Robson. The same month, some 25 Breckinridge supporters cancelled their subscriptions to the Colorado Citizen. A Bell supporter who signed his name Pluto responded by submitting a mocking poem entitled "To the Seceding Twenty-six" to the Citizen. Not even a rare snowfall four days after Christmas could cool things off.77

Both sides were violently opposed to the eventual victor, the so called "Black Republican" candidate, Lincoln. His election greatly fanned the fire of secession. Shortly afterward, on December 1, 1860, at Anderson's instigation, citizens around Eagle Lake met and adopted a resolution that contained some inflammatory language: "we desire the prompt secession of Texas from the Federal Union before Mr. Lincoln becomes the President thereof, and that in taking steps to ensure secession immediately, we are opposed to all hesitation halfway measures, compromises or delays, and we believe that efforts to obstruct or prevent immediate and prompt action in the premises, will come only from traitors in disguise." Though the cooperationists took the last phrase as a grievous insult, they were already moving toward agreement with the secessionists. When, two days later, state secessionist leaders announced that a special convention to discuss the issue would be held in Austin on January 28, 1861, there was little opposition to the idea.78

On December 20, 1860, two pro-slavery activists, George R. Sweet and Charles Bickley, gave speeches at the courthouse in Columbus. Sweet had a close association with the political party that was officially named the Native American Party but was commonly called the Know Nothings. Bickley was associated with a fraternal organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle. Both organizations were decidedly against the abolition of slavery; both also kept details of their plans and initiatives secret. Bickley's speech took hold with at least one Colorado County man, Howal A. Tatum. The following February, Tatum attended a convention of the Knights of the Golden Circle in San Antonio. When he returned, he began organizing chapters of the organization, which the KGC referred to as castles, in Columbus, Eagle Lake, and Alleyton. By the end of March 1861, Tatum claimed that the Columbus castle had about 65 members, that that in Alleyton had about 40, and that that in Eagle Lake had about 25.79

Even as the KGC chapters were being organized, three candidates, Shropshire, Davidson, and Anderson, were campaigning to be sent as delegates to the upcoming Austin convention. Shropshire was still opposed to secession, but Davidson had become a supporter. The three men traveled the county together, speaking to the voters. The Citizen endorsed Shropshire and Davidson, but, on January 8, Davidson and Anderson were elected. The election results show how widespread the secessionist sentiment had become since the May 28 meeting at the courthouse. Alleyton, Eagle Lake, and Prairie Point were overwhelmingly secessionist and Columbus largely so. It was only in the German communities of Frelsburg and New Mainz and in the community around the Harvey's Creek School that there was still strong support for preservation of the union.80

Immediately after the election, in its edition of January 12, 1861, the Citizen finally joined the chorus, proclaiming "It would be better for the slaveholding States to secede and form a new Government forever guaranteeing slavery its dominions now in possession, or to be hereafter acquired, unless the Constitution can be so amended that slavery shall be legal and admissible in all the States of the Union." Davidson and Anderson went off to the convention and spoke out in favor of immediate secession. The convention adopted an ordinance declaring secession and decided to propose it to the voters on February 23. Davidson and Anderson returned home with a copy of the document, stating that they had been in favor of adopting it immediately, that is, without any further voter consent. They need not have worried. On the 16th, the Citizen published its strongest pro-secession statement yet, declaring "may it be the proud boast of Texas, that she got out of the Union before Lincoln got into power!" On February 23, the voters decided to make that boast. Again with the notable exception of the German settlements on the north side of the county, they voted overwhelmingly for secession. Of course, state wide, the voters had the same sentiment as the residents of Colorado County, and Texas seceded from the union and became a part of the recently-formed Confederate States of America. Shortly thereafter, the county would begin raising troops for the Confederate army.81

Continue with Part 6