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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 7 : 1865-1870

The Civil War had perhaps a more profound impact on the population of Colorado County than any other event in history. Many of the county's men had been killed in the war; many others had deserted the army and, of course, did not return to the county. Those who did return found their lives forever changed by the sudden presence in their midst of thousands of new citizens, all emancipated from their previous condition of slavery. The labor of the so-called freedmen, then controlled by their owners, had constituted the backbone of the county's economy before the war. Though the war had left them free to sell their labor as they pleased, because most of them were both impecunious and uneducated, they had little else besides their labor to offer. Indeed, Gordon Granger's proclamation of June 19, 1865, by which Texas slaves were declared free, advised the freedmen "to remain at their present homes and work for wages." The plantation owners, therefore, had every reason to expect that the freedmen would continue to work on their plantations, albeit as paid field hands rather than as slaves. The freedmen, however, imagined that their lives as free men would be substantially different from their lives as slaves, and were understandably reluctant to return to their labors on the plantations. The resulting reduction of the supply of labor and its concomitant increase in cost was the subject of endless public and private debate.1

As word of the Confederate surrenders in the east reached Texas, large numbers of the remaining Confederate soldiers in the state began deserting, and their units began to dissolve. With the end of the Confederate States of America a certainty, many of her former soldiers took it upon themselves to confiscate (some might say steal) the nation's property. To be sure, such actions had widespread public support. Who, after all, had more right to the Confederacy's property: her underpaid former soldiers or her enemy, the United States, which would soon take it for herself? So it was that when a number of former Confederate cavalrymen raided La Grange on May 22, 1865 and seized all the government property they could find, their action met with little objection. Two days later, and again on May 27 and May 28, a number of Colorado County men, most of whom were German, went to a building near Frelsburg that was owned by Samuel Joseph Redgate, forced their way past his wife, Mary Theresa, and daughter, Jane Margaret Jordt, and made off with a good deal of hardware. The newly enriched men steadfastly maintained that they believed the hardware belonged to the Confederacy. Redgate, however, disagreed. Eventually, he, together with an escort of United States soldiers, retrieved most of the missing items and filed charges against the men who had taken them. The accused men waited through nearly three years of delays before finally, on March 7, 1868, the state dropped its case.2

The soldiers who had helped Redgate recover the stolen items were members of the 23rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment, who had been ordered to Columbus to "take post, preserve order, and protect public and private property" on June 22, 1865. Despite warnings from their former masters about the evils the Yankees would do, local blacks, in a celebratory mood in their first week as freedmen, cheered and applauded as the army marched into town on June 24, and gathered in their camp the following day. At first, the atmosphere was tense as the soldiers were verbally abused and taunted with drawn revolvers by what one of them characterized as "men that was in the rear or at home" during the war. But after a senior officer arrived and fined one citizen ten dollars "for useing about four words againste a Soldier," there were far fewer incidents of abuse. The Iowans would stay less than a month, being replaced in town by the 30th Missouri Infantry Regiment on July 11. Other federal troops, including a cavalry unit from Illinois, came through or took up posts inside the county, for several months. The depth of resentment toward these soldiers in the white community can hardly be exaggerated. Some seventy years later, Etta McCormick, who because she was not born until 1874 must have derived her understanding of the situation from her parents and their contemporaries, recalled that the soldiers were in town to place "all white men in jail who abused the Negroes in any way" and that because "it was the pleasure of the Negroes to report such abuses . . . many a good, law-abiding citizen was placed in jail until it was the will of the officer in charge to dismiss him."3

The white community was also profoundly angered by the loss of the slaves, which seemed to them a dastardly theft of property. However, the new system and the end of the war did have, if nothing else, tax advantages for the plantation owners. In 1864, the last year that Colorado County's tax roll listed them, slaves comprised 38.5% of all taxable property in the county. In 1865, with the slaves removed from the rolls and the tax assessor severely reducing the value of the land in the county, the county's tax base was reduced by about 65%. Incredibly, the commissioners court reduced the tax rate by 75%, meaning that citizens paid far less in taxes in 1865 than they had in 1864. People who had owned slaves, of course, had their tax bills reduced even more sharply than those who had not. On average, persons who paid taxes on 1000 acres of land would have paid $36.45 in 1864 and $6.25 in 1865, and persons who owned 50 slaves would have paid about $137.50 in 1864 and nothing in 1865. In 1860, the last year for which such figures are available, what might be thought of as productive field hands, males between the ages of 13 and 65, comprised 31% (1101 of 3559) of the slave population in the county. Assuming that the rate stayed the same through 1864, then about 16 of every 50 slaves in the county were productive field hands. Conservatively then, it seems likely that a plantation owner who had owned 50 slaves could replace the labor he lost when his slaves were freed by hiring 25 freedmen, and it seems likely that he could hire 25 freedmen for little more than it had cost him to house, clothe, feed, and otherwise attend to the needs of 50 slaves, plus the amount he had paid in property taxes.4

However, over and above the loss of the slaves, the end of the war had severe economic consequences for the county's richest men. Few people, it must be imagined, were prudent enough to invest their wealth in gold, silver, or foreign currencies. Those who relied on their own nation's money, that is, Confederate currency and bonds, found themselves without capital when the nation was dissolved. One such, Needham Eason, Jr., returned to Colorado County in 1865 to find that his widowed step-mother, Clarissa Ann Eason, had invested his inheritance in suddenly worthless Confederate bonds, bonds to which he had had no access when they had value.5

And too, the war left cotton growers with little means to recoup their wealth. The federal blockade of Confederate ports had severely limited exports of cotton and forced what had been the nation's overseas customers to find new suppliers. After the war and the end of the blockade, the old customers were reluctant to abandon their new suppliers and buy once again from the United States. Plantation owners struggled to adapt. Many simply abandoned their lives in Texas. Elizabeth R. Davidson moved back to Tennessee and, on December 6, 1865, sold her plantation back to the man from whom she had purchased it, William G. Hunt. Though she had paid $13,500 for its 675 acres in 1859, Hunt paid just $8000 to reacquire it.6

Lawrence Augustin Washington lost his plantation to debt. On April 10, 1861, he had borrowed nearly $2000 at twelve percent interest from William Harbert. After Harbert's death on June 21, 1865, his heirs pressed for repayment. On May 30, 1868, Washington agreed to repay the debt on or before January 1, 1869, securing his promise by pledging to surrender his plantation to the Harberts if he did not. His attempts to raise the money by, among other things, mortgaging land he had pledged to the Harbert heirs, failed.7

In the western part of the county, plantation owner William Lucius Adkins attempted to recoup some of his lost wealth by laying out a small town, which he named Osage, on the lands he owned to the south and east of the ten-acre Osage School tract. Adkin's incipient town included 34 other blocks. He apparently sold the first lot in Osage on November 1, 1865. A year later, on September 24, 1866, the community went dry, when the legislature passed a law which prohibited the sale of intoxicating beverages within three miles of the school. South of Osage, and just a few miles northeast of Oakland, another community, called Content, had also begun to develop. Content, which got its post office on December 26, 1865, seems to have been the brainchild of two brothers, Charles and Frederick Boettcher, the latter of whom was its first postmaster. Perhaps immediately, but certainly within a few years' time, Content contained a store, which was run by Charles Boettcher, and a law office.8

Perhaps no plantation had more difficulty making the adjustment from slave to hired labor than that of John H. Crisp. On June 25, Crisp visited Nathaniel Axion, who had been his slave and his foreman for eighteen years, informed him that he had been freed, and asked him to stay and work for wages on the plantation. He also asked Axion to inform his other former slaves that they were free and to make them the same offer of employment. On July 4, 1865, Crisp held a barbecue on his plantation. In addition to his former slaves, many local people and two officers of the 23rd Iowa, including the commander, Major Leonard B. Houston, attended. At the barbecue, Crisp evidently urged the slaves to stay on his plantation as laborers until Christmas in return for food, clothing, and medical care. Some in attendance thought that the freedmen agreed to do so. But Axion and several other former slaves believed that they were to be paid as much as ten dollars a month. At the end of the year, Crisp refused to pay the freedmen anything other than the food, clothing, shelter, and medical care he had already provided.9

Nonetheless, many if not most of the same freedmen agreed to work on the plantation again in 1866. This time, the terms of their employment were clear to everyone concerned: the freedmen would be compensated with 25% of the crop they produced. Crisp, however, had already begun looking for a way to continue the slave owning lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. At the end of the summer of 1865, he left for Brazil, where slavery was still legal, to evaluate the prospect of buying a plantation there and stocking it with slaves. He returned to Texas determined to relocate. Others considered following. On March 6, 1866, Crisp sold his plantation, complete with livestock and the 75% of the crop to which he was entitled to S. M. Baird, an attorney who had recently opened an office in Columbus, for $20,000. Baird was to pay Crisp on June 1, but evidently failed to do so. Crisp cast around for another buyer and finally found one, in Rufus King Gay and his wife, Bettie Munn Gay, who bought the plantation for $10,000 on April 15, 1867. On June 28, he sold his part of the growing crop, the livestock, and the farming implements to Thomas C. Hanford and Charles D. Willard for another $9165.10

At least three other Colorado County plantation men joined Crisp in Brazil, though perhaps not immediately. Preparing for his departure, Philip E. Waddell conveyed the block he owned in Columbus to his daughter on August 26, 1867 and sold his plantation south of town on January 13, 1868. He probably left that May, shortly after he gave his son-in-law his power of attorney. By then, Frank Turner and John F. Hicks, who was a son-in-law of William Harbert, had also gone to Brazil. The new Brazil plantations, however, were quite different from those to which the Texans had become accustomed. For one thing, they were considerably smaller. For another, the new Brazilians could afford few if any slaves. Crisp, who had been one of the richest men in Colorado County only a few years before, was reduced to what he called "living on a small scale" on "a small place in Brazil with a good mud house on it [and] with a few hands." However, he was at least partly reconciled to his reduced standard of living because in Brazil, there was "a free government where a white man is white and a negro black without any Bureau to make us equal or below the negro."11

Other Colorado County plantation men moved to Mexico, where, though they could not own slaves, at least they could shelter themselves from the machinations of their former American brethren, now to them conquerors, and remove themselves from the dangers caused by rampant discontent and the routine carrying of weapons. Among those who settled with numerous other Americans in the state of Veracruz on the eastern coast of Mexico near the town of Tuxpan was John Gilbert Montgomery, who was in Mexico as early as November 20, 1866, when his wife had a baby there, and who bought land near Tuxpan on July 11, 1867. Several other Colorado County men, including Asa and William T. Townsend, and three sons of Henry Terrell, Edmund Dugan, Henry, and Benjamin Stockton, also settled near Tuxpan.12

To be sure, the disarray in the black community was even more pronounced. Some families had been hopelessly separated by the exigencies of the slave market, leaving suddenly freed children with no parents and only the dubious mercy of society to support them. Adults were confused by rumors and uncertain how to proceed. Many believed they would soon be granted land and refused all offers of employment on the existing plantations. Few stayed on the plantations where they had theretofore lived, preferring to hire themselves out elsewhere even if it meant accepting lower wages, or simply to wander the countryside, searching for vacant houses in which to temporarily reside. Few had any education. Most were ripe to be cheated by their employers.13

To solve, or at least mitigate, these problems the federal government created the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands. Commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau, it opened an office in Colorado County and staffed it with an agent before the end of 1865. The first Freedman's Bureau agent in Colorado County, Eli W. Green, a captain in the United States army, arrived in Columbus on a Saturday, October 22, 1865. He spent the next few days setting up the office and talking to plantation owners and freedmen. Though he thought conditions for the freedmen were generally good, he was troubled by a report that one former slave owner had pulled a pistol on a freedman and struck him with it. Green, however, would have little time to deal with any problems. On October 30, he petitioned to be relieved of his duties so that he could go home with the rest of his regiment, which had been decommissioned. His request was granted, and within a month, he was back in his home state of Illinois.14

Suddenly left without an agent in Columbus, the bureau dispatched J. D. Whitall to visit the county. On November 18, 1865, Whitall expressed the bureau's principal early concern, that freedmen would be adequately paid for their labor, by issuing an order that no cotton be shipped from Alleyton until the producer had demonstrated that he had paid his laborers by securing receipts from them. Though the planters protested, they went about securing the receipts. When the second bureau agent assigned to Columbus, John T. Raper, arrived on November 20, 1865, he was deluged with the receipts, and with requests for permits to ship cotton. Raper however, refused to act. He had had only brief contact with Whitall, at the railroad station, presumably as he was arriving and Whitall leaving, and was therefore uncertain of the dimensions of the order or whether or not he had the authority to release the cotton. Certainly, after they had unwillingly completed the paperwork that had been decreed, the planters must have been embittered by the new bureau agent's failure to comply with what they must have seen as his share of the bargain.15

Raper, though, soon set about tackling some of the problems in the black community. On November 26, he addressed a large crowd of freedmen to disabuse them of their belief that they were to receive land grants of some kind, and to discuss their options in a realistic manner. Then, following the procedure which came to be known as "indenturing" or "binding out," he began assigning orphaned black children to white families, who agreed to house and feed them, and to use their labor, until they were adults. But Raper was destined to spend few productive days in Colorado County. On December 25, 1865, he arrested and fined a Fayette County man named Frederick Tate for assaulting a freedman in Columbus. Tate, incensed, complained to Columbus' mayor, Fred Barnard, that Raper had illegally detained and fined him, and filed charges of false arrest and swindling against him. Barnard sent the city marshal to arrest Raper. Though the larger military units had left town, the government still provided a small detachment of soldiers to assist the bureau agent. Raper, backed by the soldiers, successfully resisted arrest. Though the situation apparently resolved itself, Raper soon tired of bureau service. On January 15, 1866, he wrote letters to each his military and his bureau superior requesting that he be mustered out of service. On January 18, his military commander relieved him of duties with the bureau. The agent who succeeded him, George Van De Sande, who arrived in April, had an even briefer and less important stint in Colorado County.16

Van De Sande's replacement, J. Ernest Goodman, was also destined to remain in Columbus only a short time. But he did stay around long enough to become embroiled in a controversy which led to a criminal indictment being handed down against him. Goodman intervened when local authorities arrested a freedman named Tom Tate. On April 22, 1866, Tate and about fifty other freedmen were attending a Sunday worship service when authorities moved in to arrest another member of the congregation, Dimpt Burford. When Burford caused a disturbance, Tate chastised him and, probably unaware that he had been arrested, ordered him to go home. As Burford moved to obey, Ira Albert Harris warned Tate that he would be arrested if Burford departed. Finally aware of the situation, Tate ordered Burford to stop. Burford did so, and was shortly taken away to jail. About a week later, authorities decided to arrest Tate as well, charging him with attempting to interfere with an arrest. Tate, however, had already told Goodman of his confrontation with the authorities, and expressed concern that he might be arrested. When Sheriff James B. Good arrested Tate, he took him before Goodman, who, after a brief proceeding, set him free. A few days later, on May 4, a second indictment, this one for killing a hog that belonged to another man, was handed down against Tate. He was arrested again the same day. Goodman, perhaps unaware that a second indictment had been issued, or perhaps infuriated over what he may have regarded as harassment, ordered Good to release Tate immediately. When the sheriff refused, Goodman sent a squad of soldiers to the jail to forcibly remove the prisoner. The authorities responded on May 7 with another set of indictments against Tate and on May 8 with an indictment against Goodman for breaking Tate out of jail. Eventually, all the cases would be dismissed.17

The fifth Freedmen's Bureau agent in Columbus, Enon M. Harris, a man of notably flawed character, arrived in late 1866. He was destined to remain in town for more than a year, over the course of which any potential respect for the Freedmen's Bureau would be eroded. Harris was held in low regard in both the black and white communities. Though he was the local agent at the time, when Colorado County's freedmen celebrated the second anniversary of their emancipation with a parade through Columbus and a feast in the grove north of town on June 22, 1867, Harris was not one of the speakers. Instead, another Texas Freedmen's Bureau agent, William H. Rock, addressed the crowd.18

A year after his arrival, Harris would take up the problem of the Crisp plantation. On October 4, 1867, the freedmen who had worked for John H. Crisp in 1865 but not been paid, came to Harris for relief. They had made at least one earlier attempt to get the Freedmen's Bureau to induce Crisp to pay them, asking for Raper's help in 1865. He left town, however, before he could accomplish anything. Since then, the case had been further complicated by the recent sale of the plantation and of its crops to separate parties. The men who bought the growing crops, livestock, and farming implements, Thomas Hanford and Charles Willard, were dissatisfied with their purchase, claiming that its value had been misrepresented. Crisp's attorneys, David Hardee Crisp and Richard V. Cook, blamed the reduction in value on the depredations of the cotton worm, but agreed to substantially reduce the amount. In September, Hanford and Willard agreed to pay, and sent to Galveston for the money. But when they began hauling cotton to market before the money arrived, Cook stopped them and, in accordance with the provisions of the contract, advertised that the crops and other property would be sold at auction on October 5. On the grounds that Crisp might still owe his laborers their wages for 1865, as the crowd gathered to begin bidding, Harris stepped in with a detachment of soldiers and stopped the auction. He set hearings with the laborers for October 7, and invited David H. Crisp and Cook to attend. Infuriated by what they regarded as Harris' undue and illegal interference, neither man showed up. Harris determined that John H. Crisp owed his laborers some $4880, and though Hanford and Willard agreed to turn over to Harris the money they still owed Crisp, it was not enough to cover the debt. Eventually, it seems, Hanford and Willard sold the crop. At least part of the money seems to have gone to the freedmen; but none to Crisp.19

Alas, Harris' attempts to justly resolve the disputes over the Crisp plantation were not his only clumsy efforts. He came into conflict with Charles Schmidt, and the prevailing opinion of the community, when Schmidt bought a building in downtown Columbus for the use of the local chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The building had been seized by the U. S. Army in 1865, and occupied by troops ever since. Harris refused to allow Schmidt to evict them, though they had never paid any rent and did not expect to pay any in the future. On March 1, however, Harris suddenly reversed his stance, and agreed to turn the building over to Schmidt and the Odd Fellows.20

At the same time, Harris got into a conflict with a local freedmen's school teacher named Margaret Hartnett. On February 15, Harris complained of her conduct, remarking that, for him, it was "almost impossible to keep out of" a quarrel with her. Soon, the trustees of the freedmen's church in Columbus had joined the conflict. On March 16, 1867, the trustees petitioned that Hartnett be removed from the school, claiming that she was a poor teacher, and that she was far too territorial with regard to the church's building, where her school was conducted. Harris added his recommendation that she be removed. His superior, however, while allowing that Hartnett had a quick temper, regarded her as "an honest and moral person, experienced and faithful in her duties," and seemed to want her to continue to teach in Columbus. He recommended that she be transferred, but only because he realized that she would thereafter have a poor relationship with Harris. Shortly, Hartnett left and the school closed.21

Harris seems to have been in continual conflict with teachers. He, and his wife and mother, with whom he lived, seem to have questioned the chastity of two unmarried female teachers sent to Alleyton by the American Missionary Association. Later in 1867, Harris had another conflict with teachers at Columbus. The school had been reopened on July 22 with two teachers, James T. Jamison and his wife. About a month later, a yellow fever epidemic swept Texas, and, in keeping with the common practice of the time, the Jamisons left town and set up a camp in the country to avoid the disease. Despite their precautions, Jamison became ill (though perhaps not with yellow fever). As his illness intensified, his wife repeatedly entreated Harris to send a physician and medical supplies. None came, and, after nearly three weeks of suffering, Jamison died. By then, his wife had also become quite ill, but she arose from her sickbed and rode the four miles to Harris' Columbus office in the back of a freedman's cart. There, she accused him of killing her husband by his inattention to their requests. Harris had the sick woman taken to his house and laid on a pallet on the floor. She remained there overnight; then was taken in by a local black family and nursed back to health. As soon as she recovered, she began telling her story to any Freedman's Bureau official who would listen. In his defense, Harris stated that, because so many people were ill, no physician could be induced to attend Jamison. Nonetheless, the affair, and two subsequent, blistering reports by an inspector who also impugned Harris' honesty, led to his removal. Rumors that Harris had kept monies generated by cotton sales that were due to freedmen swept the county. It would develop later that Harris had robbed estates of which he had been made administrator. On February 26, 1868, Louis W. Stevenson arrived in Columbus and relieved Harris of duty. Harris' contingent of soldiers left town on March 1. He himself left on March 18. Stevenson remained to sort out the mess.22

By the time Stevenson arrived, only one freedmen's school was operating in the county. That school, in Columbus, had more than thirty students, and was taught by a black woman named Mary Mathews who was educated in Ohio. Soon, Louis A. Beaumont had opened a school at a small community south of Columbus that had come to be known as Jones Bend, and N. B. Roach had opened one in Alleyton. In the fall, three more freedmen's schools opened in the county. By then, Stevenson's efforts were threatened by a rapid and severe escalation in the number of racially-motivated violent crimes in the county.23

Of course, schools for whites continued to operate. The most important of them, Colorado College, seems to have closed during the war. It reopened in September 1865. Again, two ministers were in charge, one of whom was John Jacob Scherer. For the term which began in January 1866, James J. Loomis returned to the school. But the school's financial difficulties persisted. It had been mortgaged to the estate of the man who built it, Gideon Scherer, on August 31, 1861. Scherer's posthumous ownership of the facility attached it even more firmly to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, so firmly that the legislature, on November 5, 1866, stipulated that henceforth a majority of members of the board were required to be Lutherans, and that the school and its grounds were exempt from taxation. Finally, on March 18, 1871, the local Odd Fellows lodge bought the school from the Lutherans.24

Another important institution resumed its pre-war course shortly after the war. Columbus and Colorado County again got a newspaper in April or May 1865. The new paper, called simply and perhaps provocatively, The South, apparently was established by James Davis Baker. Very shortly, his younger brother, Benjamin Marshall Baker, who had surrendered with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, returned to town. Together, the two reestablished the Colorado Citizen. The new Citizen, however, did not last long. When Jim Baker decided to leave Texas for health reasons, apparently in early 1866, the two brothers sold their newspaper to Fred Barnard, a Columbus attorney. Neither Barnard nor any of the numerous subsequent owners and editors over the next few years, among them James Richard Fleming, James Monroe Daniels and Andrew J. Vaughan, were involved with the paper for very long. At some point, its name was changed to Columbus Times. Though Barnard had sold the newspaper soon after he bought it, he apparently remained convinced of his ability to prosper in the business, and in January or February of 1869, he recruited Ben Baker, purchased the press and equipment of the Richmond Sun, and used it to start another newspaper in Columbus. For it, he and Baker resurrected the name Colorado Citizen. Soon, the new Citizen had the Times ne้ Citizen on the ropes. Daniels, who seems to have been the most capable editor the Times had, also practiced law, and, by 1868, took up the practice of medicine. His specialty, he claimed, was curing cancer; which he vowed to do without surgery or else his patients, or presumably their estates, would get their money back. In July 1869, Daniels dropped the newspaper business, selling the Times to his assistant, Vaughan, and a partner, William H. Lessing. Vaughan functioned as editor until November 1869, when he sold his interest to Lessing. Lessing lasted only two months as editor. In late December 1869 or early January 1870, Barnard bought the Times' press and equipment at a sheriff's sale and sold it to a man in Calvert, Texas. The Citizen, however, also struggled to make money, and Barnard was soon ready again to divest himself of his newspaper. In 1871, he sold it to the Columbus law firm of Robert Levi Foard, Wells Thompson, and George Millan McCormick, only to buy it back again the next year. Finally, in October 1873, he sold the paper for the last time, to Baker, under whose guidance it would prosper for the next three decades.25

Other endeavors that had been interrupted by the war were also resurrected. By 1866, the citizens of Columbus were again ready to turn their attention to the railroad. Of the three railroads in the area, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado, the Columbus, San Antonio and Rio Grande, and the Columbus Tap, only the last had done any significant construction during the war. The C S A & R G, in fact, had never built an inch of track. The Columbus Tap, which had been stalled by its inability to secure the necessary iron, had finally, in 1863, gotten the iron from the Confederate government, opened a line from Alleyton to a point across the river from Columbus in 1864, and signed a contract for the construction of a bridge into town. The war had ended, however, before the railroad paid for the iron. The railroad was only too happy to neglect to report the debt to the United States government; but the government found out about it anyway, leading them to claim that the iron that was in use on the track had been among the property surrendered to the United States by the Confederacy, and to threaten to remove it. Though the railroad successfully kept the United States from confiscating the iron, the bridge contract fell through; and the railroad seemingly despaired of its ability to continue. So it was that in 1866, the apparently bankrupt Columbus Tap agreed to transfer its charter to the B B B & C. Though the state legislature would not formally authorize the transfer until September 21, 1866, with the deal assured, on August 15 the B B B & C hired Charles William Tait and Nathan Wheeler to build the bridge into Columbus. The new bridge and its approaches was to be 325 feet long, with two spans, one of 125 feet and one of 150 feet, between three piers. Invigorated by the prospect of linking up with the prosperous B B B & C at Columbus, the C S A & R G quickly moved to renew its charter. Backed by locals Tait, Leander Calvin Cunningham, John Richard Brooks, and Richard V. Cook, and by men from outside the county including heavyweights Samuel Augustus Maverick, Thomas William House, and Gustav Schleicher, the C S A & R G got its new lease on life from the legislature on October 6, 1866, again securing the right to construct track from Columbus to San Antonio.26

Shortly after absorbing the Columbus Tap, the B B B & C inaugurated its plan to build the bridge into Columbus. Boosted by investors from Galveston, by February 1867, Wheeler and a crew were driving piles in the river by means of a hammer suspended from a windlass on a boat. On April 24, however, work on the bridge halted when Wheeler fell from the scaffolding and was seriously injured. Then, money began to run short. On June 3, 1867, sixty local backers of the railroad presented a petition suggesting that the City of Columbus invest $10,000 in the railroad to be used to complete the bridge and the track into town, and asking that the county authorize an election to determine if the city should borrow the money. On June 20, the railroad amended its contract with Tait and Wheeler, noting that Tait had resigned from the enterprise and been replaced by Brooks, lengthening the approaches to the bridge by 120 feet, and authorizing Brooks and Wheeler to bring in dirt and other materials and build up the bank on the east end of the bridge. At a special meeting of the police court the next day, a second petition, this one raising the amount to be invested by Columbus to $12,000 and suggesting that the debt be paid with revenues generated by a special tax, was presented. The court set the election for the following November 16. Six days before the election, nearly every citizen of Columbus was exhilarated by the arrival of the first locomotive in town, which steamed across the just completed bridge to the accompaniment of celebratory yells and cannon fire. That, and the railroad's promise, on October 20, to use the money invested by Columbus and half the revenues of the Columbus Tap to pay Brooks and Wheeler, ensured that the measure would pass. It did, 97-0, and the special tax to pay for the bridge was imposed. The citizens of Columbus then fully expected the construction of a bridge across the Colorado River on the north side of town so that the railroad could press on toward La Grange and Austin.27

In anticipation of the growth the railroad was expected to bring, John S. Hancock and Samuel Henderson had laid out an addition to the City of Columbus, adding six blocks on the northwest side of the city on May 15, 1867. Shortly after the bridge was opened, William Jefferson Jones, who by then had moved to Galveston, and George Washington Smith added 22 square blocks and ten "ranges" of varying lengths on the northeast side of Columbus. The "ranges" were set at an angle to the rest of the city's blocks to accommodate the route of the track to the expected north bridge. Jones and Smith filed the plat of their addition on November 30, 1867. Three months earlier, on August 11, 1867, the two had reached an agreement with the railroad by which they expected to profit greatly. In return for a right of way across the eastern side of Jones and Smith Addition which included ample space for depots and other installations, the railroad agreed to let Jones and Smith construct track across the rest of their land on the north side of Columbus, and to use that track, if constructed, as part of their extension to the west, paying, presumably, suitable royalties to Smith and Jones each time that they crossed it. Within a short time, the railroad had constructed track at least as far as Live Oak Street, and built both a freight and a passenger depot along it.28

Other entrepreneurs too, planned to take advantage of the arrival of the railroad. The month after the bridge was opened, a Fayette County man named G. R. Macumrer launched another steamboat, which he christened Lorena, on the river. Macumrer floated the vessel downriver from La Grange to Columbus, where her engines and other machinery were fitted. The Lorena was intended only to operate above the bridge, which blocked her path further downriver. Her seemingly undistinguished future was presaged by the apparent difficulty she had returning to La Grange some two months after she was fitted out at Columbus. She embarked on her first commercial voyage, on which she took a boatload of cotton from La Grange to Columbus, on March 6, 1868. On the north side of Columbus, seemingly at the instigation of George W. Smith, a number of men from Chicago established a beef packing plant on the river which, when it began operations in late December 1867, could process perhaps 100 head per day. It remained in business, though without notable success, for at least a year. And, for the first time since the establishment of the town, a move was afoot to take advantage of the potential energy afforded by the presence of the river by constructing a canal across the north side of the city, thereby allowing the water to fall from its level on the north side of town to its considerably lower lever on the east side across a much shorter distance and therefore at a much rapider rate.29

Even as the citizens of Columbus were celebrating the arrival of the railroad and the prosperity it was expected to bring, their neighbors in the small town of Alleyton were suffering through their gravest crisis, a crisis which, ironically, was probably caused in large part by the presence of the railroad. On September 2, 1867, an Alleyton man identified only as E. Parker died. He was the first of 28 Alleyton residents who would die that September of yellow fever. The first few persons who were diagnosed with the justly-feared disease were railroad employees who had made routine trips between Galveston, where yellow fever was then raging, and Alleyton. At Alleyton, the local mosquitoes spread the serum throughout the population. In all, 103 Alleyton residents were diagnosed with the disease in September and October. Even a number of local blacks, who usually enjoyed a relative immunity to yellow fever, were stricken. Eighteen blacks contracted the disease, four of whom died of it. One family named Tallent suffered most grievously, with six cases and five deaths. Initially, the sufferers were attended by two local physicians, R. G. Howard and W. P. Philips. Strangely, though people died on each of September 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10, the epidemic did not at first alarm the populace. On September 14, three more died. On the same day, Howard, weary and ready to abandon Alleyton to its fate, wrote Freedman's Bureau agent Enon M. Harris asking for authority to convert William Alley's Globe Hotel into a hospital. Even though the hotel was completely vacant, Alley had refused to allow Howard to use it. Harris immediately backed Howard, giving him full authority to seize any uninhabited building in town to use as a hospital, and within a day or two, the physician began moving his patients into the hotel. However, his ministrations did not last long. He contracted the disease and died of it on September 21. The next day, Dr. Philips also died of the fever. Fearful of bringing the disease into town, Columbus had imposed a quarantine against its neighboring town, forbidding local physicians to go to its aid. One, William Minor Byars, objected strongly to the quarantine, believing, wrongly, that he would not be in danger of contracting the disease unless he slept at Alleyton. Despite his appeals, the quarantine remained in force, and there were no cases of the fever in Columbus. The Howard Association of Galveston, which was composed of persons who had previously had yellow fever and had thus developed an immunity to it, sent twelve nurses and one physician, a Dr. Skinner, to Alleyton. Another physician, Charles H. Bell, took over the hospital in the Globe Hotel. The disease was at its height in the sixteen day period between September 14 and September 29, when 23 people died. Only seven would die in October. Perhaps ten more died during November and December, when Alleyton residents, convinced that the plague had run its course, prematurely returned to their homes from the safer places to which they had earlier fled. The last two deaths occurred on December 17 and 18, after which, evidently, the mosquitoes which spread the fever were eliminated by cold weather. In all, about 45 people died in the epidemic.30

In January 1867, several plantation owners near Oakland, and the residents of the town itself, were named in a lawsuit which threatened to cost them their homes. James Bowie had been granted the league of land on which Oakland eventually developed on April 20, 1831. He had married the former Ursula Veramendi one month earlier. The land was still in the family's possession when she died in September 1833. Bowie sold the entire league on October 15, 1835. Less than five months later, he died at the Alamo. More than thirty years after his death, on January 24, 1867, Maria Antonia Veramendi Sierra, Teresa Veramendi Rodriguez, and Marco A. Veramendi filed a lawsuit wherein they declared that they were the heirs of Ursula Veramendi Bowie, that they were legally entitled to inherit an undivided one-half interest in the league of land when she died, and that James Bowie, if indeed he sold any of the land at all in October 1835, could only legally have sold his own undivided one-half interest. They asked for damages of $1000 for trees that had been removed; for compensation of $1000 per year for each of the years since 1859 from the people who had lived on the land; and for the immediate eviction of all the people then living on the land. Though it would routinely come up before the district court for each of the next several years, the lawsuit, complicated by the number of defendants and the broadness of its implications, would not finally be resolved for more than a decade.31

Despite the threat to their continued and past ownership of the land the Veramendi lawsuit posed, the residents of Oakland persisted in developing their town. On February 23, 1867, Oakland's Baptists acquired land on which to build a church from the town's proprietor, Theresa E. Ivey. A year later, another group of Baptists acquired land for another church, this one in Osage, from William Lucius Adkins. Methodist congregations too, were cropping up around the county. On September 17, 1868, a Methodist congregation got land just east of Alleyton for yet another church. Two years later, another Methodist congregation acquired a substantial tract in Osage on which they were charged to construct a two-story building, with the lower story to be used for church services and the upper for a meeting hall for the local Masonic lodge. The same year, the persistent Episcopal congregation in Columbus, which had used the courthouse for services during the recent war, purchased the lot on Milam Street on which they would build their first church. Meanwhile, in Frelsburg, the trustees of the well-established Trinity Lutheran Church engineered a deal which expanded both the size of their land holdings and the size of their bank account. On July 8, 1869, they bought seven acres adjacent to their existing 3.9 acre tract from William Frels for $300, then laid out four lots on their two easternmost acres along the road to Brenham and, on November 22, 1869, sold all four to different individuals for a total of $569.50.32

Though it can be stated with certainty that blacks were welcome in at least one of the churches built by whites before the war, religious congregations quickly became racially segregated. The Union Baptist Church in Osage had admitted black slaves to its congregation before and during the war, going so far as to consider a special section for its black members, behind the pulpit, when plans were drawn up for a church building in September 1859, and, in October 1864, declaring the back pews of the church as "reserved on Sundays, for the collord people, when they are not required for accommodation of the congration." However, in October 1865, the church appointed a committee to consider whether or not to hold separate services for the black and white members of the church, apparently deciding, in May 1866, that they should. In June 1867, the church declared that the blacks could continue to meet in the church on Sunday afternoons only if the building was not needed for "Sabbath School purposes." Finally, in December 1868, they took the final step, refusing to allow the local blacks to use the building any longer. The first known independently-organized, exclusively-black religious congregations in the county, Methodist Episcopal groups in Columbus and Alleyton, were already more than two years old. Both were apparently organized at a meeting in Columbus on April 3, 1866. On that day, five trustees for each congregation were elected. Six days later, the Columbus congregation purchased a lot for their church on the northwest side of town. Four years later, on March 2, 1870, another Columbus congregation of freedmen, this one of members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, acquired a small lot on the west side of town for a church.33

By the time the Methodist Episcopal church bought its lot, one of its trustees, Benjamin Franklin Williams, already owned a lot in the same block. Williams purchased his lot on November 8, 1865. Over the next three or four years, most of the rest of the block also would be sold to blacks, including one lot which was sold to the Freedmen's School Association of Columbus on May 27, 1867. In 1868, blacks began buying lots in an adjacent block. The same year, several other blacks acquired lots in an unincorporated area near the river northwest of and adjacent to Columbus. Apparently, a number of the new owners immediately constructed houses. The black community in Columbus would spread south from those areas, eventually filling the until-then mostly vacant blocks between the city and the cemetery.34

Two blocks west of the courthouse, a small black business community had also begun to develop. The first black-owned business on the block, and probably in the county, was a blacksmith shop, purchased from its former owner by two freedmen, Burrell Henderson and Edmund Eason, on November 2, 1865. The two remained partners for fourteen months: Eason sold his half of the business to Henderson on January 5, 1867. Horace Green, Lucy Logan, and a new partnership featuring Eason, Simon Hunter, and Bartley Harbert, bought lots in the area in 1866 and 1867. Henderson, however, died less than two years after taking sole control of the blacksmith shop, prompting his widow to sell it to a white blacksmith named Andrew Gallilee. It was the first step in what would be the slow dissolution of the black business district.35

Outside Columbus, a few other blacks were also acquiring land. A second freedman's school cropped up north of Content. Charles Boettcher sold one acre in the southwest corner of the Micah Andrews Survey for $20 to the trustees of the freedman's school, Abner Granger, Richard Granger, James Granger, Calvin Greece, and Clifford Gilham. The deed is not dated, but it was recorded on May 30, 1870. At Oakland, William Isaacs acquired a lot in town in 1866 and a one-acre tract adjacent to town the next year. At Alleyton, in March 1869, Sophie Bacon bought a block in an undeveloped though platted area on the outskirts of town. Bacon immediately moved onto the site and constructed a building. The first known comparatively large rural black landowner in the county was Tom Braker, who acquired twenty acres about three miles southwest of Columbus on May 16, 1868. He was followed by two sets of partners, Henry Smith & Grandison Vincent and Ben Mitchell & Sam Hayes, each of which acquired 107 acres near Cummins Creek between Columbus and Frelsburg in late 1869.36

Few Colorado County freedmen seem to have been accorded land by their grateful past owners for little or no money. In fact, only two instances of such largesse are known to have occurred; and only one of those involved a former slave owner from Colorado County. On February 8, 1866, Joseph Worthington Elliott Wallace gave a lot on the western edge of Columbus to a freedman named Stephen Wallace. Presumably, the one Wallace formerly owned the other. The second instance involved the transfer of more land to blacks than all the other pre-1870 transactions combined. Perhaps the most significant early black rural landowners were eighteen people who were set up in an isolated community by a benefactor named Swen (or Swante) Magnus Swenson. Swenson was an early Texas merchant, landowner, and slave owner whose anti-secessionist sentiments drove him to leave Texas during the war. He made it a habit to acquire land certificates during the heyday of his Austin store in the 1850s. In 1861, he had been granted some 1420 acres in southwestern Colorado County by virtue of a certificate he had acquired from Thomas J. Smith. On December 24, 1869, he laid out nineteen tracts, eighteen of forty acres each and one, in the center of the community, of twenty acres, then conveyed each of the forty-acre tracts to a former slave. He also authorized each of the eighteen new landowners to select a one-half-acre site within the twenty acre tract to build a home. The remainder of the twenty-acre tract was to be devoted to a church and a school for the community. Eleven of the eighteen beneficiaries of Swenson's charity adopted his surname as their own. A week later, one of the new landowners who did not adopt Swenson's surname, Mary Johnson, bought the remaining 680 acres in the survey from him for $300. Despite this promising start, Swenson's community did not produce any notably prosperous black citizens. In fact, it seems likely that the community never had either a church or a school, and few if any houses. It did, however, ultimately acquire an informal name: Judyville.37

Whatever their status in other endeavors, the freedmen immediately achieved equality in one regard: the number of crimes committed by and against them. In 1866, 1867, and 1868, about half of the criminal indictments handed down by Colorado County's grand juries were against freedmen; a number that was well in keeping with the percentage of the population that was black. In the two years after the war, at least five freedmen were shot and killed: a man known only as Braxton on August 2, 1865; Alex Gaedke on June 18, 1866; Ben Johnson on February 9, 1867; Hise Hancock on February 11, 1867; and Stephen King on February 26, 1867. In three of the cases, other freedmen were accused of the crime. In only one of the cases, that of Ben Johnson, was there any certainty about the identity of the shooter. He was shot by a white man named John Rogers at the Globe Hotel in Alleyton at the culmination of an argument over whether or not Johnson was intoxicated.38

At least three white men were shot and killed in the same time span. The last of the three occurred on August 21, 1867 in a Columbus saloon. After bystanders heard five shots ring out from inside the saloon, its owner, Phocian Tate, emerged and announced that he had killed his clerk, Thomas J. Roberts. Officers entered the saloon and found Roberts lying on the floor, dead, a derringer in his left hand. He had been shot three times in the left side and arm, and had died instantly. Tate was tried for the shooting, and eventually, on October 13, 1869, found not guilty of murder. The earliest of the three shootings occurred in June 1865 and involved a former slave owner. At the culmination of what must have been a bitter argument, Nathan Coller Womble, who had fortuitously sold his plantation before the war, shot and wounded Ira Albert Harris, and was in turn shot and killed by one of Harris' sons.39

The Harrises were also involved in the third murder, which was one of the most shocking in the county's history. On the evening of July 5, 1867, Caleb Claiborne Herbert, the wealthy and influential plantation owner and former Confederate congressman, booked a room in the Bonds Hotel on the south side of the courthouse square in Columbus. While he was seated in the lobby, two men came in, one after the other. Both apparently were so intoxicated that they offended Herbert. He asked each in turn his name. The first barked that his name was Fry, and when Herbert reproached him for his tone, the second man, whose name was actually Jefferson Spear, said that his name was also Fry. Herbert shortly arose and went down the street to Brunson's Saloon, while Fry and Spear celebrated their sudden kinship with a few more drinks. By 10 o'clock, Fry and Spear had worked themselves into a frenzy. They followed Herbert to Brunson's, and Spear, standing near the door, called for him to come out. When Herbert did so, Spear shot him dead. Even as Spear and Fry rode off into the night, Herbert's many friends in the community, including Ira Harris's son Joseph P., formed themselves into a posse. Spear would prove easy to catch. Drunk and riding too fast in the dark of night, he had been knocked from his horse by an overhanging tree limb and had taken shelter at Toliver's Mill, less than a mile from the scene of the killing. Just before daylight on July 6, the posse cornered him in the mill. Reportedly, he refused an opportunity to surrender. In any case, he was killed, by Harris, with a shotgun. Herbert was buried in a cemetery on his plantation, next to his wife, who had died only a month earlier.40

Other crimes, too, grabbed the attention of the locals. On March 7, 1866, in what was probably the largest robbery in the history of the county, unknown thieves stole a safe which contained some $12,000 from the railroad office at Alleyton, leaving few if any clues to their identity. On March 24, another safe was stolen and rifled, this one from the law office of James M. Daniels in Columbus. As there were no banks in town, many persons used the safe to store their money and valuables. In fact, the county treasurer, William Bluford Dewees, kept the county's funds in the safe. Until three months before the robbery, someone regularly slept in the office, providing security. When the guard found accommodations elsewhere, Daniels' law partner, Daniel D. Claiborne, removed his funds from the safe, and advised everyone else to do the same. Few, if any, followed his advice. Those who did not found themselves suddenly impoverished. Within three weeks, thieves struck again. On April 11, six to eight men, two of them black and the rest disguised as blacks, attacked and robbed a wagon in a rural area. The gang reportedly got away with $2000. Officers tracked them to Columbus, but apparently never made any arrests.41

The seeming increase in high-criminal activity was, unfortunately, concurrent with a decline in the ability of the county to deal with it. The principal problem was the lack of respect for the government and by extension, the law, among the white population, which often scoffed at black-supported officials and lawmen. In addition, the county jail itself had long been inadequate. In October 1866, three freedmen and a white man named John Pickett who was accused of being a horse thief, escaped from the county jail. On June 16, 1867, an accused murderer named Davis broke out. Davis was awaiting trial for killing a freedman in Fort Bend County. Apparently because his alleged crime was of such little consequence to them, when Sheriff Johann Baptist Leyendecker attempted to raise a posse to recapture Davis, no white men would participate. Perhaps prompted by a reward offered by Freedmen's Bureau agent Enon M. Harris, four freedmen captured Davis around midnight of the day of his escape. He was returned to the jail in Columbus, where Harris ordered that he be chained to the floor. The latest escape from their obviously porous jail finally pushed the commissioners court to action. On July 1, 1867, they authorized the county judge to advertise for bids for the construction of a new jail. If any were received, they must have been too high, for the county decided on a compromise solution. Instead of building a new jail, they adapted Harris' idea, installing what they referred to as a "bull ring" in the old one and shackling prisoners to it. The county did not finally stop this practice until January 1870.42

The bull ring did not stop a group of determined men from removing a prisoner from the jail about two o'clock on the morning of August 29, 1868. Some two months earlier, Columbus' deputy city marshal, Robert Goode, had been killed in the line of duty, and a man named John M. Bowen was implicated in the killing. On the evening of July 20, 1868, Bowen had gotten into an argument with Frank Turner. The next morning, Goode arrested Turner. As he was taking the prisoner to the mayor's office, Bowen approached with a shotgun. Bowen aimed at Turner and pulled the trigger. But Goode stepped between Turner and Bowen and was hit instead. As he lay dying, and before Bowen could fire another shot, Turner escaped into a store. Bowen went for his horse, but it bolted, and he was arrested. By the end of August, he was still in jail, chained to the bull ring when some twenty or twenty-five men came to get him. The men, wearing long robes and black shrouds over their faces, awakened the jailor, James B. Good, calling to him from outside the fence that they had a horse thief they had arrested in Eagle Lake whom they wanted to put in jail. Good opened the door to the jail and was immediately seized by other men who had already come inside the fence. One took Good's keys, another stuck a revolver in his face. Three more men ran into the jail to grab Good's brother, who had also been sleeping inside. Finally, another group, carrying a hammer, a cold chisel, and a sledge hammer, entered the building and went upstairs where Bowen and two other men were incarcerated. In a few moments, they had broken the chain which held Bowen to the floor. As Bowen left the building, he seemed to think that the men who had freed him were his friends. He soon found out otherwise. The men marched him down Milam Street, the remnants of the chains on his ankles rattling as he walked. Good and his brother were forced to follow, though some fifty yards behind. Several blocks from the jail, the Goods were halted, held at gunpoint for about forty-five minutes, then released. Good got Sheriff Leyendecker and Bowen's attorney, Wells Thompson, and went in search of the prisoner. The three men found Bowen, dead, hanging from a tree just south of the city. Though the citizenry was outraged by the lynching and a serious investigation was made, and though rumors as to who was involved raced throughout the county, none of the perpetrators were ever positively identified.43

Had Bowen, who was white, known the men were a lynch mob, he might have thought that they had come looking for a man named John Thomas who was a prisoner at the same time. Thomas, a simple-minded black man, stood accused of the May 10, 1868 rape of a local German woman named Ann Thanheiser. Because the rape occurred about an hour before sunrise inside a house with only one small window open, Thanheiser could only vaguely describe her assailant. Soon, a number of men had arrested a freedman named John Phillips for the crime, and tried to induce him to confess by putting a rope around his neck. Somehow, he convinced the mob of his innocence, and suspicions turned on Thomas. Thomas had been employed to keep cattle from getting into a field near Thanheiser's house, and his employer had noticed that he was absent from his post when the rape occurred. When Thanheiser agreed that he was indeed the culprit, Thomas was arrested. He went to trial in October, was convicted on October 12, and, on October 17, was sentenced to hang. Although some feared that the white community would use the execution as an excuse to riot, the sentence was carried out with little protest or ceremony on December 18, 1868.44

The fact that the mob hanged Bowen rather than Thomas is made all the more puzzling by the certain knowledge that a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, which abhorred black men who consorted with white women in any way, had been organized in Columbus in early 1868. The peculiar garments of the Bowen lynch mob were certainly similar to those traditionally worn by the Klan. Another incident, one day after the Bowen lynching, also may have been perpetrated by the Klan. On April 14, 1868, a freedman named John J. Ridge had had a violent altercation with a white man named Hunt Terrell. Terrell attacked Ridge with a knife, then, with a pistol in his hand, threatened to shoot him. Terrell was arrested by local authorities, who then released him when he agreed to leave town. The day after the Bowen lynching, a gang of disguised men attacked Ridge, robbing him, and shooting at him.45

The tension in Columbus was broken slightly by a re-creation of a medieval tournament, staged in mid September 1868, at which local cowboys pretended to be knights, competing for prizes by scooping up rings with lances and engaging in other similar contests. However, the growing climate of hostility between the races again manifested itself on September 19, 1868. About 11 o'clock that night, a freedman named Green Brooks went to Edward Price's store in Columbus. There, at the culmination of an argument, Price, a white man, attacked Brooks with a knife, wounding him in the shoulder. Though Brooks left to swear out a complaint, a number of blacks who were attending a dance nearby heard about the incident and rushed over to the store to support him. Price met them on the sidewalk, challenging them to fight him one at a time. The mob surged over him, dragging him into the street, beating him, and firing guns, apparently into the air. Freedmen's Bureau agent Louis Stevenson, who was in his office on the same block as Price's store, raced over to the scene and persuaded the blacks to disperse. Price worked his way free of the mob and went to his home to tend to his wounds. Shortly, a rumor that a mob of freedmen had murdered a white man swept town. Another angry mob, this one white, gathered, and Stevenson turned to confront it. He and local attorney Andrew J. Vaughan convinced the mob to take no action. Soon, Sheriff Leyendecker was on the scene. By one o'clock, he had located Price. The mob, seeing that they had been misinformed, dispersed quietly. Fearing further troubles, two days after the incident Stevenson requested that another contingent of soldiers be sent to Columbus to be on hand to help keep peace during the upcoming session of district court. On September 23, ten men and one officer from the 17th United States Infantry arrived in town. They left on October 13, four days before the court adjourned.46

About two weeks after the contingent of soldiers left, someone made an apparent attempt to set at least one downtown Columbus building on fire. The town had only recently been victimized by an arsonist, whose fire had destroyed several buildings in town early on the morning of June 27, 1868. That fire led to the formation of a company of volunteer fire fighters, and to the controversial arrest of a man named E. C. Powell, who, though he had come to Columbus just a few days earlier, was widely known as a Union sympathizer. The newest attempt at arson further infuriated the citizens of Columbus. Within days, a mysterious letter was delivered to Holman D. Donald. An accompanying note stated that it had been found near the ferry on the river north of town. The letter, dated October 28 and signed "Carpet Bager," was addressed to Stevenson, and implicated him in a plot to burn the town. Donald kept the letter a secret. It finally came to public attention on November 8, when the man who claimed to have found it wrote the Columbus postmaster, Horace H. Haskell, to inform him of its existence. Stevenson did not learn of the letter until November 17. He secured a copy, wrote a note denouncing it as a fraud, and delivered both documents to James M. Daniels, the editor of the Columbus Times. Daniels printed all the documents in his next edition. Stevenson had hoped that the newspaper coverage of the events would exonerate him in the minds of the locals. It did not. On December 5, he accepted another position within the bureau. His departure, however, was slow in coming. He remained in town, dodging the suspicious glances of his fellow residents, for nearly three more months. He finally left, for Jefferson, Texas, in February 1869. No agent was sent to Colorado County to take his place. Except for brief postings in Columbus of members of the 17th U. S. Infantry in April 1869 and of the 11th U. S. Infantry in February and March 1870, Stevenson's departure marked the end of the federal government's attempts to directly intervene on behalf of the freedmen in Colorado County. But, the situation had apparently stabilized enough that, when a black man named Amos Burrell was arrested for raping an underage white girl, the citizens calmly let the law take its course. Burrell was sentenced to fifty years at hard labor on October 16, 1869, and went off to serve his sentence without incident.47

Another crisis afflicted the county in 1869. That year, for the first time since the end of the war, the county's cotton farmers seemed on the verge of producing a very profitable crop. For each of the four previous years, a pest the farmers referred to as "cotton worms" had damaged the crop. The cotton crops had been so bad, that, in 1868, one desperate, recently-arrived farmer, Isaac Towell, planted rice, and, despite problems caused by his own inexperience, made a successful crop. Even so, neither he nor the other county farmers were ready to abandon the cultivation of cotton. As July 1869 opened, the cotton worms had not yet been seen in the county; and the farmers were hoping for another few weeks of dry weather, which they believed would keep the worms away. Then, the Colorado River began rising. Soon, fields all over the county were inundated. By July 10, Columbus was completely surrounded by water. That day, the river rose so rapidly that homes were flooded almost before people had time to evacuate them. By evening, the Colorado Citizen reported, the situation in Columbus was beyond description. The townspeople, plus their livestock and vehicles, were clustered in the center of town. Boats wandered through the city, rescuing persons who were stranded in their homes. The few families whose homes remained unaffected provided shelter for the refugees. At the city cemetery, many bodies washed out of graves. In Eagle Lake, four or five people were caught in the rising water and drowned. In Alleyton, a near-riot erupted, and one man, Rudolph Mewes, shot and killed a local blacksmith, Joseph Hale. When the water receded about a week later, the farmers assessed their damage. Livestock and rural buildings had disappeared; perhaps half the cotton crop had been ruined. To fully convey the effect of the flood, the Citizen employed biblical prose. The citizens, the newspaper said, were "in sack-cloth and ashes. They have been severely visited, and are bowed down in humbleness and contrition that the chastening hand of God has fallen so heavily upon them." The county asked for aid from the military government, and accepted it anxiously from private interests in Galveston and Houston.48

Later in 1869, the town of Eagle Lake suffered a more subtle setback, though one which was quickly rectified. After George S. Ziegler, who had been appointed the town's postmaster on February 11, 1867, resigned, he was replaced by Suffield Clapp. Clapp had served only a short time before he received a letter from the postmaster general in Washington, D. C., criticizing his paperwork. Infuriated, and cognizant of the fact that the Eagle Lake post office generated very little revenue, he closed the post office, packing up the postal supplies and mailing them to Washington. The Eagle Lake post office was formally discontinued on October 18, 1869. However, it reopened four months later with a new postmaster in place, William Beard.49


Though plantation owners who had relied on slave labor suddenly found the going tough, others found conditions ripe to prosper. Robert Earl Stafford had come to Texas in 1859, settling near Oakland. His family had evidently been slaveholders in Georgia, and, when his wife came to join him in Texas, she reportedly was accompanied by at least one slave. However, either because he had insufficient land or because he had other ideas regarding how to prosper, Stafford apparently had no intentions of owning slaves himself. As soon as he could, he divested himself of his slaves and invested the money in livestock. When the Civil War broke out, he had enlisted as a private in the company raised by John Cunningham Upton for Hood's Texas Brigade on April 8, 1862. However, later the same month, he had a fight, apparently with another Confederate soldier, near Niblett's Bluff, Louisiana, and was injured enough to secure a medical discharge, which was finally approved on June 2, 1863. By the end of the war, Stafford had become well established in the cattle business, so well established, in fact, that nearly a dozen of his brothers and sisters decided to join him to Texas.50

Five years after Stafford returned home from his military service, he made the deal which secured his fortune. On July 13, 1868, he became partners in the cattle business with James F. Wright. At the time, Wright owned 3700 head of cattle valued at $8000, and Stafford owned 1800 head valued at $5900. Each man took a half interest in the partnership, to which Stafford also brought $2100 in borrowed money. It was scheduled to last five years. In the spring of 1869, Stafford, Wright, and Mary Pinchback organized a cattle drive. In March and April that year, the trio made deals with T. J. Groin and R. J. Hoskins to drive 1200 of their cattle to Abilene, Kansas. Groin, who was to have charge of 1000 head, was to be paid $100 per month in salary. He was to pay Stafford, Wright, and Pinchback $10 per head after the herd was sold at Abilene, less a $300 down payment he made to Stafford. Hoskins took charge of 200 head, for which he was contracted to pay $1700, $500 down and $1200 after the trail drive. When the cattle were delivered to Groin and Hoskins on May 15, 1869, there were 1211 head.51

Even as Stafford and Wright's cattle-drive made its way north, John R. Brooks and William H. Carlton, were building up their herds. In June 1869, Brooks purchased 195 head in five different transactions, and Carlton 56 head in four transactions. Their deals show how much cattle prices had risen. Brooks paid, on average, $9.67 a head, and Carlton, $8.27.52

The following year, Robert Branch Johnson, and his brother, Henry Madison Johnson, who was also Robert E. Stafford's brother-in-law, organized a trail drive of their own to Kansas. The Johnsons had purchased three sizeable herds of cattle in the winter of 1868, when prices were still very low. In early 1870, they added considerably to their herd. A few months later, on June 11, 1870, they and Bob Stafford and two of his brothers, Benjamin Franklin Stafford and John Stafford, gathered about 800 head. Apparently, Bob Johnson, Ben Stafford, and John Stafford went on the drive. So did a young black cowboy named George Glenn, who had been raised by Bob Johnson. When Johnson died in Kansas that autumn, he was quickly buried. After his family heard of the death, they asked that his body be disinterred and returned to Columbus. When everyone else balked at the prospect of bringing the body back down the trail, Glenn volunteered. Setting out alone, sleeping atop Johnson's coffin every night and chasing away the many wild creatures which followed him (and Johnson's body), he made the trip in 42 days.53


As they had been before the war, the citizens of Colorado County were heavily preoccupied with politics in the immediate postwar period. Generally speaking, the voters were divided into two prevailing modes of thought: one embraced by the national Democratic Party and the vast majority of the county's white voters, the other embraced by the national Republican Party and the vast majority of the county's new black voters. Each faction included some 40 to 45 percent of the voters in the county. The other 10 to 20 percent were the German and Czech voters in the north and northeast parts of the county. These voters, who before the war had constituted an often insignificant minority and had been regarded by the majority as a fringe element, suddenly found themselves in position to decide most county-wide elections. Much to the dismay of the county's Democratic voters, the Germans and Czechs were willing to see how blacks, and even how former Yankee soldiers, would perform as office-holders. However, they did not immediately get the opportunity.

The first step in reconstructing the civil authority of the United States government was to decide who constituted the electorate. President Andrew Johnson's proclamation of May 29, 1865 offered amnesty for their recent treason to most of the persons who had been or could have been voters before the war, provided that they take an oath of loyality to the constitution and laws of the United States. In the summer of 1865, many such persons in Colorado County swore Johnson's oath, and were, thereby, restored to the electorate. The freedmen, who of course had nothing to be pardoned for, were excluded.54

The county's first officials after the dissolution of the Confederate government were appointed by Texas governor Andrew Jackson Hamilton. Hamilton made his appointments for Colorado County on August 9, 1865. He made John D. Gillmore county judge, James B. Good sheriff, Jasper N. Binkley, Gerhard Frels, Phineas M. Garrett, and Calvin York commissioners, John C. Miller county clerk, Edward Musgrove Glenn district clerk, and William B. Dewees treasurer. None of the new officials were what would come to be called carpetbaggers. All had lived in Colorado County before the war. Garrett had owned a considerable number of slaves and a large plantation. Good had been an officer in the Confederate army. The others were all over thirty years old when the war opened, and could have avoided military service because of their ages.55

But, when the second slate of post-war county officials was elected, on June 25, 1866, the German vote began to make a difference. Though black voters had not yet been registered, principally because a profusion of candidates split the non-German vote, German-backed candidates won most county-wide races. The Germans supported Gillmore for county judge. Two other candidates split the non-German vote, and Gillmore was returned to office. Four candidates ran for sheriff. Johann Baptist Leyendecker got 90% of the votes in the two German boxes; and though he got only 38% of the votes county-wide, he outpolled his three opponents. Seven men ran for county treasurer. The German votes were split between Charles Schmidt and Simon Thulemeyer, who finished tied atop the field. In a runoff on July 14, Schmidt won the office. In a three-man field for county clerk, the Germans supported the incumbent, Miller. He was narrowly defeated by George Millan McCormick, a Confederate veteran who won on the strength of his vote totals in Columbus and Oakland. For district clerk, German and non-German alike strongly supported Alexander Lookup, and he won easily. He, and John S. Hancock, who was elected assessor-collector with the backing of the Germans, were the only local candidates who received a majority of the votes cast. Twelve candidates ran for the four at-large seats on the commissioners court. In these races, evidently, the Germans did not understand that they could vote for more than one candidate. The Frelsburg Germans concentrated their votes on Mathias Malsch, a Frelsburg store keeper, and despite little or no support elsewhere, he was elected. The Bernardo-area Germans supported Alexander Dunlavy, who won a seat by securing a great many votes in Columbus. The Columbus vote also carried George W. Breeding to victory. The fourth seat went to William S. Good. Though he got two fewer votes in Columbus than Noah Bonds, he outpolled Bonds by a huge margin in Eagle Lake.56

The new county officials were destined to become casualties of, and martyrs to, Reconstruction. On March 2, 1867, the federal congress passed an act, over the president's veto, which imposed military rule on the former Confederate states until they were readmitted to the union. Again over the president's veto, they passed the Second Reconstruction Act on March 23. The second act authorized the military to provide for the registration of all voters, white and black, though some exclusions were mandated. It also required that all persons, before registering, swear that they were a qualified voter and take another oath to support and obey the constitution and laws of the United States. The new registration of Colorado County voters began on July 11 and proceeded through the end of August. Benjamin F. Williams, a Columbus freedman who was engaged to travel a seven-county area encouraging blacks to register, reported that whites had spread rumors warning the freedmen that the true purpose of the registration was to raise an army to be sent to Mexico to fight the French; and that his own life had been threatened. The three-man board of registrars, Enon M. Harris, the Columbus Freedman's Bureau agent, Robert Peter Tendick, a former Union officer, and Isaac Yates, a freedman, traveled around the county, establishing stations in Columbus, Bernardo, Frelsburg, Osage, Content, Oakland, and Eagle Lake. Unlike Williams, they encountered few problems. Those were minor: they did not have enough German language forms; the statewide yellow fever epidemic may have frightened some people into staying home. Though most of the people in the county were white, most of those who came to register were black. By the end of the registration period, 1163 blacks had been enrolled; only one had been rejected. During the same period, the board enrolled 655 whites and rejected eighty. Among those who were rejected were Ira A. Harris, Daniel D. Claiborne, William B. Dewees, John D. Gillmore, and Richard V. Cook, all of whom were determined to have been civil officials before the war, and civil officials or Confederate soldiers during the war. The new voters got their first chance to express an opinion between February 10 and February 13, 1868, when they were asked to approve a constitutional convention and elect delegates to it, should it be approved. In Colorado County, the white voters stayed away from the polls: only about 150 of them deigned to vote in the election, whereas about 1000 blacks cast ballots. The convention was approved by an overwhelming 1084 to 64 vote margin, and conservative delegate candidates Johann Friedrich "Fritz" Leyendecker and Frederick Boettcher were roundly defeated by Republicans Williams and H. H. Foster, both of whom were disowned by the Columbus Times.57

On July 19, 1867, the federal congress passed the Third Reconstruction Act, which, among other things, authorized the military government to remove elected civil officials and replace them with appointees it deemed more qualified. This process began in Colorado County on October 16, 1868. The first to go were two justices of the peace, both of whom were recommended for removal by Freedmen's Bureau agent Louis W. Stevenson. The government further followed Stevenson's recommendation by giving one of the slots to George S. Ziegler. The most sweeping changes came in April 1869. On April 22, county clerk George McCormick and district clerk Alexander Lookup were replaced by Robert P. Tendick and Edward M. Glenn. On April 30, the county judge, Gillmore, the sheriff, Johann Baptist Leyendecker, and three county commissioners, Breeding, Dunlavy, and Good, the last two of whom had been delegates at a county Democratic Party gathering on June 27, 1868, were replaced. Stevenson had criticized both Gillmore and Leyendecker. Daniel D. Claiborne became the new county judge, Charles Schmidt the new sheriff, and Henry Boedeker, Andrew S. Wirtz, and William T. Wilkinson the new county commissioners. Schmidt, however, evidently refused the position, and was accordingly replaced by a new appointee, Jesse H. Johnson, on May 14, 1869.58

Johnson was destined to last as sheriff only a short time. From November 30 through December 3, 1869, voters went to the polls to cast their votes for or against a proposed constitution, and for candidates to fill the offices that would be created by the new constitution, provided that it was adopted. The new constitution called for the election of a sheriff and a district clerk, but replaced the county judge and commissioners court with five justices of the peace, one of whom was to be designated as the presiding justice. In addition, voters in Colorado and Lavaca Counties got to pick a state senator and three state representatives. The races pitted many of the men who had recently been appointed to offices against many of those who had been removed from them; and afforded black voters their first real chance to express an opinion. The state senate seat went to Abner Kneeland Foster of Lavaca County, who beat Colorado County's former county judge, John D. Gillmore. Four of the six candidates for the lower house were from Colorado County. Two, William T. Wilkinson and Benjamin F. Williams won seats. The defeated candidates were George McCormick, the county clerk who had been removed by the military government, and Johann Zwiegel, a Democratic delegate in 1868. In the sheriff's race, William M. Smith, who had been appointed mayor of Columbus in 1868, but had resigned the post on July 31, 1869, defeated former sheriff Johann Baptist Leyendecker. Robert P. Tendick won the district clerk's seat, beating Alexander Lookup. Curiously, three of the five justices of the peace, Camillus Jones, Henry Clay Everett, and Daniel Washington Jackson, were political newcomers. The fourth, Fritz Leyendecker, had lost his bid for a seat at the constitutional convention in February 1868, then was appointed assessor and collector on August 31, 1868, after Hancock, who was elected in 1866, resigned. The fifth new justice of the peace was George Ziegler.59

The new constitution was approved, though it did not go into effect immediately. Most of the newly elected candidates did not take office until May 2, 1870. Shortly after the election, however, Johnson resigned as sheriff, allowing, on December 30, 1869, Smith to be appointed to take the spot. Apparently impatient, the military government also saw fit to make more changes in the lame duck county government. The fourth county commissioner who had been elected in 1866, Malsch, was removed from office on January 27, 1870, and replaced by William H. Dodd. The same day, Henry Boedeker, who "failed to qualify" for his commissioners seat, was replaced by Isaac Yates. On February 5, 1870, the shuffling continued. Glenn resigned as district clerk to take the post of district judge; Tendick, the district-clerk-elect, was moved into the office early, but kept his job as county clerk. Jones assumed his office as justice of the peace on April 9, 1870.60

These new officeholders, then, were the men who went down in the public memory as carpetbaggers and scalawags. Three, Tendick, Wilkinson, and Ziegler, fit the accepted definition of a carpetbagger. All served in the 30th Missouri Infantry, the United States Army unit which was posted to the county in July 1865. Tendick was a lieutenant, Wilkinson a lieutenant colonel and the commanding officer, and Ziegler a captain. All three remained in the county after their unit was mustered out. Johnson too had recently come from a state which was part of the Union during the war. He was born in the part of Virginia which became West Virginia and moved to Colorado County after the war, in March 1868. At least six of the others, Glenn, Wirtz, Jackson, Schmidt, Boedeker, and Fritz Leyendecker, had been in the county in 1860. Boedeker was German, and likely had been against secession. Schmidt too, was German, but had clearly been in favor of secession, as he had been one of the group of men who cancelled their subscriptions to the Colorado Citizen in 1860 to protest the newspaper's moderate tone. Schmidt, though, had a family connection to Tendick; his daughter, Kate, married Tendick on December 19, 1865. Leyendecker and Everett were both Confederate veterans, and like Jackson, leaned toward the positions of the Democratic Party. Leyendecker, however, also had a family connection which may have helped him bridge the gap between the two political factions: he was the brother of former sheriff Johann Baptist Leyendecker. The new sheriff, Smith, had a similar connection. His brother, George W. Smith, was a leader of the conservatives. Sheriff Smith was praised by the conservative newspaper, the Columbus Times, which commented that he was not "a member of the negro conclave, or loyal league" and that he "deprecates all such thieving and incendiary associations." Claiborne, the new county judge, certainly was no carpetbagger. He had lived in Washington County before the war, and had owned numerous slaves. In 1867, he had been one of the men who was not allowed to register to vote.61

For Colorado County's representatives, the Twelfth Legislature proved unusually fatal. State Senator Foster made it through the provisional session in February 1870, but died shortly thereafter, on March 9. State Representative Wilkinson was in Austin, attending the called session, when he became ill and, on May 24, died. The elections to fill their seats would be among the bitterest, and longest remembered, in the county's history.62

Continue with Part 8