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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 9 : 1878-1883

In 1880, federal census takers counted 16,673 people in Colorado County, twice as many as had been recorded only ten years earlier. The enormous population growth of the preceding decade was, at least in part, a testimony to the success of the immigration efforts of Mathias Malsch, Rowan Green, and others. And immigrants continued to come. Between 1880 and 1882, several groups of German, Austrian, and Czech immigrants arrived in the county. Some undoubtedly were sponsored by entrepreneurs, or by family members already in the country; others came on their own accord, and brought with them enough money to immediately purchase land.1

To the European immigrant, the county must have seemed like a natural wonderland. Though perhaps as much as 75% of the county was prairie, there were more than enough trees to meet the building and fuel needs of the enlarged populace. Fish were plentiful, and still readily available, in Eagle Lake, Adkins Lake, and Miller Lake. Game, too, in the form of deer, turkeys, geese, ducks, beaver, rabbits, prairie chickens, quail, plover, raccoons, possums, squirrels, and alligators was still abundant. A few wildcats and eagles could also be found. Most county residents regarded any and all of these creatures as potential targets. The county seat, Columbus, with a population of about 2000, had several schools, six churches, two lumber yards, five hotels, a bank, a weekly newspaper, and numerous stores. The town boasted several brick buildings, including a multi-story school, and several concrete buildings, many of which were private homes. The small town of Alleyton, across the river from Columbus, where the numerous farmers to its north and south brought their crops to be delivered to markets, was relatively prosperous. The supposed medicinal powers of Kessler's Springs, to the north of Alleyton, were at the height of their reputation. To the west of Columbus, the relatively new town of Weimar had perhaps 800 inhabitants and some two dozen stores of various sorts. Though it had been in existence for only a short time, Weimar had developed so rapidly and had become so much the focus of the resources of the west side of the county that all the older surrounding communities---Oakland and Content to the south, Borden to the east, and Osage to the north---were in sharp decline.2

By the end of 1878, Weimar had some forty business establishments. Among the most successful were the Blue Store, operated by Leo W. Ulrich, a Jewish man who had been in business in Weimar since 1874, and his partner, William A. Baar; the Galveston Cash Grocery Store, principally owned and operated by William Gerhard; a general store run by Frederick W. Boettcher, which had moved to Weimar from Content as early as 1876; another grocery store run by Thomas Anderson Hill and James J. Holloway; a store run by Joseph Buttigig; a lumber yard run by Charles M. Brasher and John Fisher; a dry goods store owned and operated by George W. Dickey and William Ocker; another lumber yard operated by Willis Berry McCormick; a saddle shop run by A. F. Rose, who had moved his business to Weimar from Columbus in February 1878; and a drug store owned by George W. Christian, a local physician. Another physician, Eugene Potthast, had just joined the Weimar business community. On May 6, 1878, he had purchased the store of Charles Weete and William Boeer. Before the end of the year, he had constructed a new brick building to house it.3

These businesses were bedeviled by a crime wave in the late 1870s. On August 2, 1877, Hill's and Holloway's store was burglarized, with the thief getting away with two guns, a small amount of cash, and what food he could carry. On June 8, 1878, two stores in town were similarly burglarized. For the next few months, such break-ins were regular occurrences, and Weimar merchants began to take greater precautions. In December 1878, when someone attempted to break into Gerhard's store, he was chased away by gunfire directed at him by a man who had been sleeping inside. The same thing happened at Rose's saddle shop the next month. Thereafter, the burglaries seem to have ceased. However, on June 2, 1879, someone apparently broke in to a store belonging to Henry Earl Carey and, perhaps after robbing it, set it on fire. The fire raced out of control, destroying Carey's store, Christian's pharmacy, and Gerhard's grocery store, and severely damaging six other downtown buildings. The catastrophe brought about the immediate organization of a fire company in town and, within a week, the passage of a curfew by the city council. Within a month, Gerhard had begun construction of a new store on the site of the old one. Christian too, soon reopened, though apparently without as much enthusiasm. At the end of the year, he sold the drug store to Henry Zachariah Windrow.4

Another physician, William Trigg Hodge McLeary, moved to Weimar in the summer of 1880. The following year, he and John B. Harris bought Windrow's drug store. In January 1882, the earlier owner of the business, Christian, who until then had continued to practice medicine in town, moved to Galveston. Baar took over sole management of the Blue Store after Ulrich died on June 24, 1881. Apparently in 1880, but certainly before the end of 1881, Weimar got its first real industry, a cottonseed oil mill operated by the Hillje brothers, Frederick and Louis. In January 1882, Buttigig sold his store to Windrow and Daniel Washington Jackson, and left to visit his native Italy. When he returned some five months later, he opened a new business in town, a confectionery. Ocker sold his half of the dry goods store to Wiley Woolsey, who had until then lived at Oakland, in October 1882. The next month, Isam Tooke closed his store in Oakland and opened one in Weimar. Joseph C. Kindred followed suit, abandoning Oakland to acquire the grocery business of Hill and Holloway. The former grocers turned their principal attention to another business they had gotten into, banking. The growing city took further precautions against fire, erecting a windmill to pump water and a tower with a water tank atop it in early 1882. The first system, however, was a crashing failure. In May 1882, the tank collapsed. Undaunted, within a month, the city had undertaken to rebuild it.5

The impulse to organize clubs fully engaged the citizens of Weimar in the early 1880s. Already some five years earlier, chapters of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Free and Accepted Masons had been established in town. By 1877, both organizations had already planned and set aside property for cemeteries. In April 1880, they were joined by chapters of the Knights of Honor and of the Ladies Knights of Honor. About a month later, a chapter of the United Friends of Temperance, known as the Mutual Benefit Council, No. 428, appeared in town. In August 1878, and again in March 1881, military companies, with Charles Davenport Barnett as captain, were organized. On May 22, 1881, Weimar got a chapter of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. That August, they, the Odd Fellows, and the Knights of Honor, jointly purchased a building to use as their meeting hall. Weimar's black citizens also got into the club frenzy. In December 1881, they organized an Odd Fellows lodge of their own. Soon, there were chapters of two other black organizations, the United Brothers of Friendship and the allied Sisters of the Mysterious Ten, in town. On October 13, 1882, they staged a very public ceremony to install their officers, forming up behind the Weimar Brass Band and marching to their meeting hall through streets lined with onlookers.6

In 1880, Oakland had about 170 residents. Though it was clearly in decline, or at least in a state of arrested development, it still contained five or six stores, including those of Rupert Van Wagner, Henry J. Strunk, Wilber F. Rogers, and John H. Mullin, a saloon run by Charles Bock, halls for the local Masonic and odd fellows chapters, and two churches, one used by the local white Methodist and Baptist congregations, the other used by local blacks as both a church and a school. In addition, two physicians, Thomas M. Laidley and John F. Hutchins, and two blacksmiths, William F. Schott and William Henry Isaacs, the second of whom was a black man, lived in town. Oakland's principal social organization was the Schützen Verein (shooting club), which held various shooting contests throughout the year. In May 1878, the club began a series of large-scale annual festivals known as Schützen Fests. The festivals opened with a typical parade; people gathered in town and formed themselves into a procession to the festival grounds north of town. The first order of business on the grounds was a shooting contest among the men. The winner was declared the king of the festival and allowed to pick his queen. The rest of the day featured more shooting contests, foot races, games for children, music, beer, food, and ice cream. At night, there was a dance. By 1882, the residents of Oakland had taken up a newer sport, forming a baseball team.7

Though there had been talk of incorporating the place four years earlier, in 1880 the town of Eagle Lake was still very small, with most of its buildings insubstantial and obviously temporary. It contained about 400 people, most of whom owned or worked on farms. There also were a considerable number of cattlemen and railroad employees, and three men who made their living fishing on the lake. There were three school teachers, two white and one black, and three physicians, Jaquelin Smith Bruce, Benjamin C. Jones, and Frank Oliver Norris. Bruce had practiced in the area for ten years at least; Jones, in 1879, had also opened a drug store. Eagle Lake also had two lawyers. One, George S. Ziegler, who had served in various political offices for most of his time in the county, had settled into the early stages of what would be a thirty year career as a justice of the peace. The other, Joseph Schiller, was a native of Czechoslovakia who had changed his name from Silar. He had opened the first law practice in Eagle Lake in 1876. In 1880, the town had only three merchants, James William McCarty, Thomas Greenleaf, and William Edward Calhoun. Calhoun had been in business with one partner or another since 1876.8

Since February 11, 1878, Calhoun's partner had been John F. Ficklin. Ficklin's other business endeavor, however, was surely more important and probably more lucrative. He and Henry Sylvester Tracy were the first people to tap the commercial potential of the lake itself. On May 1 and May 7, 1877, they acquired the portion of the lake nearest the town for $26 and, probably for the first time in its history, denied persons full and unrestricted access to the lake. Soon, Ficklin and Tracy stocked the lake with boats to be rented by fishermen and pleasure seekers. Testifying to their success, only five years later, on April 8, 1882, Tracy sold his half of the enterprise to Ficklin for more than 25 times what he paid for it.9

Alleyton, in 1878, had fewer than 200 inhabitants, but contained four stores, two schools, a hotel, and one physician, Todd S. M. Robinson. That year, a second physician, David G. Gregory, moved to town. Gregory, however, who was nearly seventy years old, had long since abandoned the practice of medicine. In Alleyton, he and Williamson Daniels opened the Val Verde Nursery, a highly successful endeavor that offered fruit trees as well as ornamental plants, including roses. In 1879, Daniels left the business, and Joseph Jefferson Mansfield took over managing it. By 1881 yet another physician, John King Davidson, had moved to the small community, where he opened a drug store. Among the other Alleyton storekeepers of the time were William Munch, who reopened his store, which dated to the early 1870s, after it was burned to the ground by a malicious arsonist on November 23, 1879; Louis Wink, who, in September 1881, took over the store of Edward J. Biering, which had been in place since at least 1870; and Charles Augustus Dittman, whose store predated the Civil War. These citizens were at the center of Alleyton's fairly active social life, most of which revolved around three clubs: the Alleyton Literary and Debating Society, a secret society called the United Band of Careful Builders, and the Alleyton Temperance Social Club. Though the last-named was only organized in March 1881, temperance efforts among both the black and white populations of Alleyton had been strong since 1878 at least. Alleyton's blacks, for their part, organized chapters of the United Brothers of Friendship and the Sisters of the Mysterious Ten in late 1882.10

In Columbus, as elsewhere, clubs and social organizations sprang up. By 1882, there was at least one black lodge in town, a chapter of the United Brothers of Friendship. In addition to the branches of national and international organizations to which they belonged, whites formed a number of local clubs. In January 1880, nine men and eight women organized themselves into the Columbus Dramatic Club. They gave two or three performances in town during the year, then disappeared. However, they left an enduring legacy by christening their home town "The Live Oak City." The same year, the Columbus Social Club, which primarily sponsored dances, was formed out of the ashes of an earlier club. In 1881, two clubs, the Columbus Literary Association and the Young Men's Literary and Debating Society of Columbus, were formed. In 1882, the latter organization, led by John Claybourne Crisp, William M. Crisp, Leroy Lamotte Beach, and Marcus Harvey Townsend, engaged in two debates with the similar club in Alleyton. The Alleyton debaters, among them Joseph J. Mansfield, John K. Davidson, and Williamson Daniels, won both contests.11

Columbus' commercial landscape remained heavily Jewish. By 1879, there were enough Jewish families in town to allow, on April 27, 1879, the organization of a chapter of the B'nai B'rith. The chapter, which was designated Naomi Lodge, No. 313, and selected Joseph G. Rosenfield as its first president, boasted a membership of twenty-nine Jewish men, most if not all of whom lived in Columbus. On July 24, the lodge purchased a small tract of land on which they established a cemetery. The first burial, of a seventy-year-old man named M. A. Levy, came just short of a month later. Even as Levy was buried, however, scandal and controversy embarrassed and divided the Jewish community. Leopold Burgheim, who owned a drug store in Columbus, had secured a medical degree in New York and, in March 1879, returned to town to open a medical practice. The following August, he was accused of raping a female patient while she was under sedation. Though, in early 1882, the case would be dismissed, the intervening years would be hard on Columbus' Jewish merchants. Further damage would be done by a very public dispute between John Rosenfield and Max Hirsch, culminating in a lengthy letter written by Rosenfield on September 10, 1879, which he had printed as an advertisement in the local newspaper. In it, Rosenfield accused Hirsch, who had been an officer in the B'nai B'rith, of disreputable conduct, and characterized him as "a slippery fellow, a dirty blackguard, and a coward."12

Whether because of the Burgheim scandal or because the competition for business was too great, one by one a number of Columbus stores owned by Jewish men closed or changed hands. In November 1879, Henry M. Ehrenwerth sold both his brick and his adjacent wooden building in downtown Columbus, as well as the businesses he conducted inside them (a general store and a grocery store), to Robert Earl Stafford. On January 6, 1881, Louis Mendel followed suit, selling his store on Milam Street. Soon afterward, Burgheim sold his drug store. Though its new owner, James Burgheim, also was Jewish, only six months later he sold the store and moved out of town. In January 1882, Nimon Rosenfield also abandoned business in Columbus, closing his store and moving to Houston. And, although Adolph Senftenberg and his New York Cheap Store prospered more than ever, he too almost left town. Committed to providing the broadest selection possible, his inventory swelled to the point that, in October 1879, he had opened a branch store in Columbus. In January 1880, he moved another of his stores into the brick building Stafford had only recently purchased from Ehrenwerth. He spent most of the next three months in Europe visiting his parents, and, one must imagine, basking in his success. He returned in May and began planning his next venture. In January 1881, he opened yet another store, this one in La Grange, and announced that he intended to personally operate it and move his residence there. But ultimately, he decided to stay in Columbus, assigning his chief clerk, I. Mehringer, to the La Grange operation. By then, David Steiner and Louis Rauh, doing business as D. Steiner & Co. in a rented building on Spring Street, were among his few remaining known Jewish competitors in town.13

Of course there were also many non-Jewish merchants in Columbus. By 1878, Thomas W. Wagner had opened a grocery store in his building on Spring Street. Kaspar Vogel, who started with a small store on Spring Street, expanded his operation in 1879, buying and moving into a larger store on Milam Street. Charles J. G. Leesemann followed a similar career course. In 1879, he moved into a larger store on the courthouse square. Two years later, he bought Mendel's Milam Street store and operated it as well. Elcaney Calvin Sronce, a furniture dealer, enlarged his store in the summer of 1879. Later that year, he built a second store. The same year, Charles Olaf Nelson constructed a building next to his saloon on the corner of Milam and Spring Streets and opened a store. Innovatively minded, in August 1879, Nelson decided to defy the recently-passed law against selling liquor on Sunday, announcing that he would instead close his saloon on Fridays, because, he said, he conscientiously believed that "Friday is the proper day for observance." What might be seen as his plan to monopolize Sunday liquor sales came to naught when, on the first Sunday he was open, he was arrested. The following year, in an effort to boost sales at his store, he reorganized it according to price, offering goods at five, ten, and fifteen cent counters. In 1881, he sold the saloon and devoted his attention to the store. Nelson's saloon, known as the Bank Saloon, was purchased by George Singleton, who already operated a saloon in Eagle Lake. Among Singleton's numerous competitors in the saloon business in Columbus were Charles Brunson, who owned the Lone Star Saloon, Hugo Miller, who ran the Humboldt Saloon, and Henry Ilse, whose Ilse's Saloon was on the ground floor of his theater.14

In 1876, Richard A. Thornton, the owner and operator of the most prominent livery stable in Columbus, the Live Oak Livery Stable on the northeast corner of the courthouse square, opened a store next door. Two years later, he offered the stable for sale. After trying to sell it for months, in April 1880 he instead rented it to Charles Eugene Crary, who until then had operated a ferry. A year later, Crary had built his own stable, a two-story frame building on the southwest corner of the square. He opened for business as the Star Livery Stable in June 1881.15

Other important Columbus businesses of the time were the saddle and harness shop of Wenzel Frank Zwiener, which opened in February 1878; the jewelry store of Frank Stupl, which had opened by 1880 and was enlarged in 1882; a lumber yard owned by James Asbury Toliver and George H. Early, which opened in 1881; a store belonging to William Beethe, which reopened for business in late 1881; and what was probably the first black-owned business in downtown Columbus, William Anderson's ice cream parlor on the courthouse square, which opened in May 1882.16

One Columbus business endeavor was the product of a collective effort. On May 23, 1881, a number of men met at the courthouse and agreed to solicit subscriptions for the construction of a cottonseed oil mill in town. Greatly buoyed by investments by Robert E. Stafford and Thomas Wentworth Peirce, within a month of the meeting, the Columbus Cottonseed Oil Company elected a board of directors, named a president, Friench Simpson, and secured from the city both a ten-year tax exemption and the right to build railroad track across a city street. After some construction delays, the mill began operation in February 1882. Three months later, the company expanded its operations, purchasing an existing cotton gin.17

Among the most notable rural stores in the county was that of Walter C. Jones at the recently named community of Vox Populi some fifteen miles south of Columbus. All over the county, new small rural communities like Vox Populi developed, usually around schools and, sometimes, churches. Such communities, like the schools and churches at their centers, tended to be racially segregated. Among the larger schools for blacks that were established in the late 1870s were the Rocky Chapel, Good Hope, Hill's Chapel, Brownsville, Toland Chapel, Thompsonville, Jones' Bend, Pleasant Grove, and Shaw's Bend schools. In 1880, the Rocky Chapel school was taught by D. J. Thomas and had 84 students. Hill's Chapel was created on May 29, 1878, when one acre near the old settlement of Cuba about seven miles southwest of Columbus was set aside for both a Methodist Episcopal Church and a school. Thompsonville was created in an identical manner three days later. Thompsonville's school and Methodist Episcopal Church, which evidently was known as the Asbury Chapel, were about three and one half miles south and slightly east of Columbus. By 1880, Thompsonville's school, taught by Melissa Taylor, attracted 70 students, making it the third largest black school in the county. Brownsville was established on November 12, 1878, but contained only a school. It was on the east side of the river near the Wharton County line. In 1880, the Brownsville school had 38 students.18

One of the new communities, Hill's Chapel, was destined to have a very short life. Following the lead of Robert E. Stafford, white cattlemen continued to terrorize rural blacks whom they suspected of rustling. On June 12, 1879, some five to eight white men went to the home of Oliver Horace, at Hill's Chapel, apparently to confront him with such accusations. After a brief discussion, the men approached the house, guns firing. Horace climbed into the loft while his wife and two children went outside to plead for their lives. Sparing his family, the mob riddled Horace with bullets, then, with his body still inside, burned his house to the ground. His terrified family alerted their neighbors, all of whom fled the settlement. Shortly, the small mob returned and burned all the buildings in the community, including the church. The sheriff, James A. Toliver, conducted an extensive investigation, and the citizens of the county held a mass meeting at the courthouse where they denounced the murderers and offered a reward for their arrest and conviction, but no member of the mob was ever identified. Though some surely tended to blame the Staffords themselves for the killing of Horace and the destruction of the settlement, most apparently thought otherwise. Their feeling was reaffirmed in early November, when the same mob, or a similar one, attempted to frighten away two other black men living in the area, Marlin Johnson and Martin Bean, by handing a threatening note to one and shooting into the home of the other. Only days earlier, the Staffords had become embroiled in another incident, and no one thought them brazen enough to risk further legal troubles before one set was disposed of.19

On the evening of October 30, 1879, Stafford's son, Warren Decatur Stafford, and three black cowboys, John Denley, Dave Johnson, and Frank "Hebird" Wright, all of whom apparently were inebriated, were at the cattle pens on the railroad about a mile west of Columbus when Wash Johnson and his younger brother, Ben, approached in a wagon. Stafford called to the elder Johnson to stop the wagon, but he ignored Stafford and passed by. Infuriated, Stafford jumped onto the wagon. Johnson knocked him off, but Stafford drew a knife and jumped back onto the wagon. Johnson immediately jumped off, whereupon Stafford threw a bottle at him, striking him in the face. Two other black men, Jim McDonald and Sam Scott, then intervened on behalf of Johnson, asking Stafford to return his wagon. Scott had picked up a club; Stafford wrenched it from his hands, knocked him down with a blow to the head, then struck him again as he lay on the ground. Stafford and the three cowboys then turned their attention to McDonald, chasing him down and beating him with clubs in a similar manner. With McDonald and Scott dazed or perhaps already dead, Stafford, Denley, Johnson, and Wright strung ropes around their necks, tied them to horses, and dragged them about one-half mile to a tree that was near the road to Hallettsville. There, they hanged them. Just when the two men died during this ordeal is unknown, but they were certainly long dead when Sheriff Toliver found their bodies, still suspended from the tree, the next morning. The four presumed murderers were arrested, but after Stafford was acquitted, on March 24, 1881, the prosecution dropped its case against the remaining defendants.20

In the interim, two more members of the Stafford family faced murder indictments. On the evening of February 19, 1880, Benjamin Franklin Stafford and his cousin, Silas Wesley Ratcliff, rode out of Columbus in company with one of Robert E. Stafford's cowhands, William W. Guinn. All three were drunk or had been drinking. The next morning, Guinn's body was found south of town. He had been shot twice, once through the body and once through the head. It was soon determined that the second shot had been fired at point-blank range as Guinn lay face down on the ground, in the manner that has come to be called "execution style." Though neither Stafford nor Ratcliff was known to have any grudge against Guinn, both men were quickly arrested and brought to trial. Both were acquitted, Ratcliff on September 9, 1881 and Stafford, after many delays, on September 11, 1885.21

Even before those cases were resolved, other members of the Stafford family had had their names added to the court docket. On November 6, 1881, Francis Marion "Doc" Stafford, who like Ben was a brother of Robert E. Stafford, so severely beat a man named Andres Pettis that, nine days later, Pettis died. Indicted for murder, on September 16, 1882 Stafford pled guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated assault and was fined $25. On November 23, 1881, George H. Early, who had married Robert E. Stafford's daughter Myra, shot a man named Fillmore Murray in the arm, wounding him. He declared himself not guilty of the attempted murder charge, and in a manner of speaking, the court agreed. On March 12, 1883 they found him guilty of aggravated assault and fined him $50.22

By then, Warren Stafford was back in trouble. To all appearances, he had curbed the considerable appetite for liquor he had demonstrated in his youth, and had settled down to a relatively quiet life. In 1880, he had married, had a son, and taken up residence in his parents' old home. His parents spent most of November and December 1880 in their home state of Georgia and, upon their return to Texas, moved into a house in Columbus. Still, when the elder Stafford organized a bank, drawing up an agreement with his son and Edward Julius Sandmeyer to run it on October 12, 1882, he felt it necessary to insert a clause designed to ensure his son's continued sobriety. The agreement called for Robert E. Stafford to capitalize the endeavor, and for the younger Stafford and Sandmeyer to "give their entire time and attention" to managing the business. The bank was to be called R. E. Stafford & Co., and its profits were to be split evenly among the partners. In the telling tenth section of the agreement, Warren Stafford and Sandmeyer declared that if either man should "drink any malt, vinous or alcoholic liquors or any intoxicating liquors of any kind whatsoever" during the five year term of the agreement, he would forfeit any and all interest in the bank. The three men signed the agreement on December 23, 1882. Four days later, trouble struck Warren Stafford again.23

As he was riding to a party at his uncle John Stafford's house on the night of December 27, 1882, Warren Stafford encountered a man named J. W. Stedham. Stedham somehow became enraged. He shot Stafford in the shoulder, wounding him severely. Stafford rode on to his uncle's house, where he was greeted with shock and anger. Two of his uncles, John Stafford and William Henry Stafford, and a third man named William R. Townsend, rode out into the darkness. The next morning, Stedham's body was found. He had been hanged and, for good measure, shot several times. In short order, William H. Stafford was arrested and released on bail. John Stafford and Townsend remained at large, perhaps in hiding, for some time before they were arrested. All three were indicted for murder. The state relied on the testimony of Stedham's wife, who had been present when three men came for her husband. As she grabbed him and begged for her husband's life, a man she identified as William H. Stafford pulled her away and held her. The other two men, by her account John Stafford and Townsend, took her husband away. However, by the time the cases came up for trial, the state could not find her. After several attempts to present their case, the state finally proceeded against William H. Stafford without her. He was acquitted on September 11, 1885. At the next session of the court, on March 15, 1886, the other two cases were dismissed.24

Though his son seemed to be a magnet for trouble, the most successful of the Staffords, Robert E. Stafford, kept himself above the gunplay. By 1880, he was a millionaire who owned at least 50,000 head of cattle. Many other county residents had followed him into the cattle business. In 1880, Stafford was one of thirty Colorado County people who owned at least 100 head of cattle. Other large owners were Frank Auerbach, with 3000, Henry Amthor, with nearly 2000, Henry Simpson Abell, Adam Braden, Jacob Braden, Charles Reichardt, Jr., and Julius F. Sandmeyer, who had about 1000 each, and Anderson Causey, Daniel Washington Jackson, George Huff Little, Thomas Jefferson Oakes, Charles Reichardt, Benjamin F. Stafford, and Francis M. Stafford, who had at least 500. Though it must be presumed that these cattle roamed ranges that extended well beyond the confines of the county, it is clear that there were an enormous number of cows in the county. To some, they had become a nuisance. On March 30, 1878, Weimar and Oakland became the first communities in Colorado County to ban livestock from their streets. In September 1879, Frelsburg and Alleyton adopted similar stock laws. Buescher followed in 1881. In the countryside, some farmers had begun to build fences around their fields to keep out wandering cattle.25

Most of the fields that were thus enclosed, it must be imagined, contained cotton or corn, for those two crops remained the county's agricultural base. The largest farmers did not produce cotton on anything like the pre-war scale, but the great majority of farmers in the county produced at least one bale. The largest cotton producer of 1879, Joseph Pinckney Anderson with 500 bales, would have been tied with the second largest producer in the county in 1860; the next nine largest producers, William Dunovant with 250 bales, Thomas Jefferson Oakes with 225, Field Archer Tanner with 220, John Robert Hester with 203, William Stapleton with 173, John Matthews with 170, James Alexander Seymour with 149, and Stephen Harbert and Angus McNeill with 140 each, would have been far down the list. Whereas in 1860 forty-two plantations produced at least 100 bales, twenty years later only fourteen did. This is at least partly attributable to the diminishing size of the average plantation, as earlier owners died and their large tracts were divided among their several children.26

The census takers counted 1676 farmers and/or ranchers in Colorado County in 1880. One in four of them was a sharecropper, and one in seven rented his farm or ranch for cash. In the German communities of Frelsburg and Bernard Prairie, those who did not own their farms were slightly more likely to be renters than sharecroppers; elsewhere they were much more likely to be sharecroppers. Four out of every five farmers produced some corn and cotton, but only a little more than half raised cattle. Farmers in the German communities were more likely to be in the cattle business, though their operations tended to be on a much smaller scale than those elsewhere. Nearly two out of every three farmers kept swine and/or poultry, with poultry slightly more common in the German communities, and swine more common elsewhere.27

About one out of every fourteen county farmers also produced molasses. Most had small fields of either sugar cane or sorghum, with the latter being far more common in the German communities. One man, Underwood Frazar, made molasses on a commercial scale, producing 3600 gallons from his nineteen-acre sugar cane field in 1879. One in every ten farmers grew sweet potatoes, and one in every thirteen, so-called Irish potatoes. Two men, Charles Kessler and Clark Finney, operated wineries. Kessler had expanded his Pine-Grove Vineyard to six acres, and Finney had planted a four-acre vineyard. In 1879, Kessler produced 600 gallons of wine and Finney 400. Peach orchards had been established on 67 farms. The largest, with some 5000 trees, was maintained by Exum Phillip Whitfield. Four men, including William Kretzschmar, who had eighty trees, were trying to grow apples. Twenty-five farmers kept bees. Of them, Williamson Daniels had the largest operation. In 1879, he produced 600 pounds of honey, twice as much as his nearest competitor. But only five men still grew tobacco, and only 42 people kept any sheep at all. Joseph Hoover was the largest tobacco farmer, producing 100 pounds. Henry Waldrem Bennett's flock of 320 sheep was easily the largest. No one else had more than 100.28

Times were, it seems, generally good for agriculture. Though cotton worms were seen in the county, the degree to which they damaged the crop was apparently less severe than it had been in earlier years. A prolonged drought in the summer of 1879 was a more serious annoyance to farmers. So too was the severe winter of 1880, which included a late frost. The first of several ice storms that winter hit the county on November 16. What was probably the longest sustained period of ice and snow in the county's history began on December 28. Every day thereafter for at least two weeks, the residents of Columbus woke up to find ice and snow blanketing their city. In some places, on some days, the snow got to be eight inches deep. On January 9, it sleeted all day. That night, as a half-inch of snow fell, one man froze to death in his home. There followed a period of some relief before, on January 23, it snowed again. Though the weather got warmer, a severe windstorm accompanied by heavy rains struck the county on February 5, 1881. The storm damaged several buildings and five minor bridges and trestles. A month later, on March 7, the county was pummeled by a hailstorm. Finally, on April 14, 1881, the hard winter ended with the late frost, which damaged crops. The following year saw only one unusual weather episode. In May 1882, heavy rainfall and high winds did considerable damage around the county. At Frelsburg, one man's house blew over, and he was struck in the head by a rafter and seriously injured. At Columbus, the rise in the river disabled the ferry, knocking over the cottonwood tree to which its cable had been lashed.29

Naturally, with more people and more cattle in the county, large tracts of previously vacant land were conveyed by the state to its citizens. Between 1878 and 1885, thirty-three private citizens patented some 11,479 acres of land in Colorado County. In the same years, various railroads secured about 5772 acres in land grants inside the county. In addition, lands in the county that had been surveyed by the railroads but set aside by the state to benefit the school fund, were, for the first time, offered for sale. Usually, persons who bought the land paid for it in ten or more annual installments. Dozens of persons, many of whom lived in the county, took advantage of the state's terms to acquire thousands of acres of land in southern Colorado County.30

The best and most valuable lands in the county that were patented by the Texas General Land Office during the period were acquired by the estate of Walter M. Booth. Thirty years earlier, Booth had identified a surveying error which he believed indicated that more than 2000 acres of river-bottom land amidst the largest and most prolific cotton plantations in the county should be declared vacant. Until then, the land had been considered part of the McLain & McNair Survey and had been farmed, in part, by Caleb Claiborne Herbert. Booth contended that the original surveyor grievously understated the distance between the proposed northern and southern boundaries of the McLain & McNair Survey, and therefore that one or the other ought to be adjusted, and that the land between the new boundary and the old one ought to be declared vacant. On September 16, 1854, he filed claim to the land, using certificates he had acquired from Mary Hawley and Henry Clay Davis. But the county surveyor, E. F. Strippleman, refused to survey the property, prompting Booth, on July 25, 1855, to file a lawsuit to compel him to do so. Booth's suit also sought to evict five men who occupied or claimed some part of the disputed land, including Herbert and Alexander Quay Dunovant. The suit dragged on for years, twice going to the state supreme court. On November 11, 1856, the district court ruled against Booth, declaring that no land in the disputed area should be considered vacant. He appealed, and, on March 4, 1863, the supreme court overturned the decision. More than a decade later, though Booth, Strippleman, Herbert, and Dunovant had all died, the district court heard the case again. On June 21, 1875, a Colorado County jury again ruled against Booth's attempt to acquire the land. His heirs again appealed, and the supreme court, on March 25, 1884, again reversed the decision. This time, the supreme court declared that Booth had "the right to have his location and survey made, and his title perfected by issuance of the patent" and "no good reason is perceived for a further refusal, upon the part of the surveyor, to enter the location, make the survey and return the field notes to the general land office." The court's suggestion was carried out in short order. The Texas General Land Office issued patents in the names of Hawley and Davis to the two disputed tracts on September 26 and 27, 1884. The Colorado County district court formally dismissed Booth's lawsuit on March 2, 1886.31

By 1878, the continuing disrespect of the county's principal media outlet, the Colorado Citizen, and the diminishing economic ascendancy of its members, had begun to take a toll on the county's Republican Party. On June 15, 1878, when they met in Columbus and elected Alex F. Kinnison, the black county commissioner and school teacher from Alleyton, as local chairman, they also felt it necessary to adopt a resolution decrying their own lack of unity. On September 21, they met again to nominate candidates, issuing endorsements for nine county offices. The Democrats already had nominated a similar slate. On September 7, after holding primary elections, they had met and formally nominated men for ten county offices. The most important tests of party strength came in the county judge's race, which pitted Republican Charles Riley against Democratic incumbent S. D. Delany; the sheriff's race, which matched Republican incumbent James A. Toliver against Democratic challenger George W. Breeding; the district clerk's race, in which Republican incumbent Jesse H. Johnson faced Democrat Charles C. Maigne; the county treasurer's race, which matched Republican incumbent Henry Boedeker against Democrat Peter Hahn; and the race for assessor, which pitted Republican Felix Grundy Mahon against Democrat John William Schoellmann. Both parties nominated Lyle J. Logue, the incumbent county attorney, for reelection.32

The bitterest contest of the year was for one of the two seats in the state legislature that were accorded to the district comprised of Colorado and Lavaca Counties. Three men emerged from the various primaries, conventions, and meetings as viable candidates: R. C. Saunders, a Democrat from Lavaca County; Ibzan William Middlebrook, an incumbent Democrat from Colorado County; and Jahu Worner Johnson, a longtime Colorado County Republican. Saunders, as the only Lavaca County candidate, was virtually assured of election. Johnson and Middlebrook waged a small war for the other seat. Early on, Johnson tried to distance himself from his Republican roots, claiming that he had been urged to run by Democrats and Republicans alike as an "independent and non-partisan candidate" and that such a candidacy was the only way "to defeat and thwart the machinations of rings, cliques and political wire-workers that have so long managed to elevate to high position, men without regard to moral standing or other qualifications." The Colorado Citizen responded with an editorial asserting that Johnson had apparently "forgotten he has held many offices given him by the colored ring." Middlebrook slashed away in a lengthy diatribe, addressing Johnson directly to tell him that regardless of his new status as "an Independent man, of no fixed principles or purpose" who sought votes from adherents of both parties, "you stink in the nostrils of all honest Democrats, both white and colored, throughout the District, and you will find that you will be repudiated on the fifth of November." The week before the election, Johnson replied by casting doubts on the method by which Middlebrook secured his nomination, by expressing the wish that such men as Middlebrook "be allowed to remain in obscurity, where nature intended them to remain," and by calling into question Middlebrook's opinions on taxes because, he wrote, "if any one will take the trouble to inquire, it will be found that I. W. Middlebrook's name still stands as delinquent upon the rolls as far back as 1874." With no time left for Middlebrook to respond, the Citizen leapt to his defense, characterizing him as a "plain, unassuming and very quiet man" and assuring potential voters that, according to the sheriff, Middlebrook had indeed paid his taxes. However, on election day, Johnson carried Colorado County by a very large margin, and, with Saunders, took a seat in the legislature.33

Republican candidates also won the five principal Colorado County races. Jesse Johnson, Charles Riley, and Henry Boedeker won by comfortable margins, but Mahon beat Schoellmann by only eleven votes, and Toliver even more narrowly held onto the sheriff's office, polling just six more votes than Breeding. Three of the four seats on the commissioners court went to men nominated by the Democrats: William G. Hunt, Joseph C. Kindred, and Mike Muckleroy. Kindred, by virtue of appointment in March 1877, and Muckleroy were incumbents. The fourth seat on the court was won by Cicero Howard. Though the local Republicans had failed to nominate a candidate for any of the commissioners court seats, Howard, like defeated Henry S. Green, James Shepard, Alex Kinnison, and Achilles Broaddus, was black, and accordingly was almost certainly a Republican.34

The Republicans' continuing problem with the Colorado Citizen might have been partly responsible for the establishment of a new newspaper in Columbus. In January 1879, Gail Borden Johnson, the nineteen-year-old son of Jahu W. Johnson, using a small, borrowed printing press, brought out the first issue of a newspaper he called Occasional. Probably, the name was a reference to the publication schedule. Six months later, Johnson bought a larger press, changed the name of the paper to Columbus Plaindealer and, on June 3, began weekly publication. By November, Johnson and his father had decided to move to Houston, where they would jointly establish another newspaper. Johnson sold his press to Henry Columbus Quin, who had moved his family to Columbus from Weimar only two months earlier. In early February 1880, Quin moved his newspaper to Weimar and began publication of that city's first newspaper, the Weimar Plaindealer. Had Quin remained in Columbus he might have found more success, for his competition in the town, Benjamin Marshall Baker's Colorado Citizen, was struck by a disaster on February 5, 1880. That night, fire broke out in the newspaper's office, destroying everything except a single, small press. The same fire severely damaged Robert Henry Harrison's drug store next door, as well as the law offices of Mumford Kennon and Edward J. Sandmeyer, who had become Harrison's second-floor tenants only a month earlier. Quin, still based in Columbus, produced an extra containing a magnanimous call for the townspeople to raise money to help reestablish the Citizen. The citizens responded, and within weeks had helped finance the construction of a new building for the Citizen. On March 25, 1880, having missed six weekly editions, the paper resumed publication. Quin, meanwhile, struggled to succeed in Weimar. By July 1880, his paper had failed. He sold the press to Kennon and Sandmeyer, who the same month began yet another Columbus newspaper. For it, they revived the name of a local paper from just over a decade earlier, Columbus Times. Their version of the Columbus Times lasted only nine months. Its failure again left the field to Baker and his Colorado Citizen.35

Even before the Johnsons moved out of the county, Baker had begun to shift his political feelings. In late 1879, he suggested that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans should nominate candidates for county offices, and praised Republican officeholders with: "As usual the Republican ticket carried the county, and it must be admitted that a majority of the elected are good officers, as shown by their past official conduct." Jahu W. Johnson, of course, had to forfeit his seat in the legislature when he moved out of the district. Despite the fact that the legislature had adjourned months earlier and was not scheduled to meet again until after the next regular election, the governor insisted that a special election be held to fill the vacated seat. In the election, held February 17, 1880, Kinnison carried the county over Rowan Green, and won the district. However, as might have been expected, the legislature never convened while he held the office. The following November, he failed to mount a campaign for reelection. Instead, the Democrats fielded Joseph C. Kindred and E. J. Riggs, and the Republicans nominated Frank Green and Daniel Bailey, both of whom were black. Ben Baker in the Citizen characterized the Republican candidates as "well informed, for colored people," but urged its readers to vote for the Democrats. Green and Bailey carried Colorado County, but Kindred and Riggs posted big margins in Lavaca County and were elected. The local branches of the two parties had also nominated candidates for some of Colorado County's offices. The Republicans emerged from their September 22 meeting with a slate of eight candidates headed by the incumbent county judge, Charles Riley, and a new candidate for sheriff, James Light Townsend. For county attorney, the Republicans dropped their endorsement of the incumbent, Lyle J. Logue, and selected George B. Webber. The Democrats met on October 9 and, after a brief address by former governor and sitting United States Senator Richard Coke, countered with nine nominations, including William John Darden for county judge, George H. Allen for sheriff, and Logue for county attorney. On election day, November 2, 1880, all eight Republican candidates won their races handily. In addition, two black men, James Shepard and Cicero Howard, won seats on the commissioners court. By then it was clear that Kinnison, as local party chairman, had reunified and revitalized the Republicans. Baker, in fact, praised their effort, and noted that they had been "better organized than ever heretofore," and stipulated that the Democrats "were divided, [and] did not poll their full strength."36

On May 3, 1882, the legislature passed a law that gave Colorado County Republicans, who repeatedly had seen their legislative candidates defeated by the voters of Lavaca County, reason to celebrate. The law replaced the two-county district, which had sent two representatives to Austin, with two districts, one for each county, each of which would elect its own legislator. The local Republicans were further buoyed by a growing number of defections from the ranks of the Democrats to the nation's third major party, the Greenback Party. In April 1882, the Greenbackers got their own local newspaper, the Free Politician, with Leroy Lamotte Beach as editor. However, as the 1882 elections approached, it was becoming clear that many residents of the county had begun to look on political parties as unnecessary and unwelcome. As had become customary, a number of men presented themselves as candidates well before either local party held a convention. Though many did so with an eventual endorsement of a party in mind (as they expressed it, "subject to the action of the County Convention"), several had declared themselves to be independent. The Colorado Citizen, which had previously been sympathetic to the move away from political parties and nominating conventions, responded with an attack on the independents, characterizing them as "self-nominated" men who "egotistically presume to represent the people, and thrust themselves forwerd in the hope of obtaining office because of the presumed opposition of the masses to the workings of the convention system."37

When the Republicans met in Columbus on October 9, 1882, they nominated six incumbents, including Riley for county judge and Townsend, though he declared himself a Democrat, for sheriff. They also offered new candidates for county attorney and district clerk, the latter of whom, Howard W. Christian, was black. Six men were considered for the legislative seat, including the never-seated incumbent, Alex Kinnison, but the nomination went to Achilles Broaddus. Five other men, including Oliver L. Battle, Charles O. Nelson, Isaac Towell, and Marcus Harvey Townsend, had already declared for the office. The Democrats did not hold a convention, and, in recognition that "the present incumbents have made good and efficient officers," made no nominations for county offices. The Greenbackers tried to organize a meeting in June, apparently with little success. Nonetheless, Towell soon emerged as the Greenback candidate for the legislature. The Democrats' executive committee met on October 16 and determined to endorse either Battle or Townsend for the legislative seat, provided that one of the two drop out of the race. The next day, Battle agreed to defer to Townsend, and offered him his "hearty endorsement," though he noted that Townsend, who was only 24 years old, lacked "age and experience."38

Townsend had already campaigned extensively for the office. He had gone so far as to attend the Republican convention and ask for an endorsement, though he announced to them that he considered himself a Democrat. In late October, the Republican effort was greatly weakened when Broaddus withdrew from the race. He and the Republican party threw their support to Nelson, who was thought better able to attract the German vote. Towell attacked his opponents vigorously, characterizing Broaddus as "a colored man who can neither read nor write," Townsend as a "youthful sprig" whose "zeal to get a seat in the Legislature troubles him more than the responsible duties which devolve upon him if elected," and Nelson as "the meanest cur that it has ever been my duty to kick." In the election on November 6, Townsend easily bested Nelson in the German areas, and won the election with 1098 votes to Nelson's 979. Broaddus, who seems to have regretted his withdrawal, got 205 votes, all from his hometown of Eagle Lake. Towell fared best in Columbus and Weimar, where he got more than half of the 271 votes he received. He carried two boxes, Brushy and Buescher. Still, the Greenback Party had fared poorly, and though the Free Politician lasted into 1883, it soon ceased publication. In the local races, the six Republican incumbents all won reelection. Generally, independent candidates like Mumford Kennon for county judge, Henry Phillippi for county clerk, John F. Ficklin for tax collector, and Jasper N. Binkley for county treasurer, were easily defeated. One, however, did win. Jesse Joyner Harrison, with large majorities in Weimar and the German areas, beat Christian in the race for district clerk. Samuel Lewis Green, who ran unopposed as a Republican, won the county attorney's office. Commissioners court seats went to Henry S. Green, Daniel Washington Jackson, Johann Friedrich "Fritz" Leyendecker, and Cicero Howard. Howard and Green, the latter of whom outpolled the respected cattleman and Confederate veteran George Huff Little, were black.39

Despite the sharply reduced level of political rancor in the air, and the diminished likelihood of rustling, the pattern of frequent random violence involving all levels of society which had been established in the previous decade did not abate, nor by any means was it confined to the Stafford family and their cowhands. By 1880, guns had become so popular that salvos fired into the air or at inanimate targets had become a regular and annoying feature of nightlife around the county. Naturally, people more than occasionally shot at each other. On February 10, 1877, Frank Duke shot Tucker Hoover in the side, wounding him. On February 11, 1878, Joe Chapman, a tenant farmer near Borden, was called to the door of his home and shot to death. On November 18, 1878, at Weimar, Fritz Homuth, in an act he declared was self-defense, killed a Lavaca County man named James C. Reynolds by shooting him in the head with a shotgun. On May 2, 1879, Larkin Secrest Hope shot a man named Burton who had followed him across a field in what Hope regarded as a threatening manner. On July 27, 1879, at Minter's Crossing on the river south of Columbus, Otho H. Crebbs, investigating the supposed theft of some horses, encountered several black men returning to their homes from a nearby church, and when one, John Bonzano, failed to stop for questioning, Crebbs shot and killed him. On August 11, 1879, again at Weimar, Ben F. Holman shot and killed Pedro Torras during a seemingly-minor argument. A week later in Columbus, James Hitchfeldt, standing inside a butcher shop, fired four shots at Wes Kirby, who was walking by on the street. Though Kirby was not hit, another man, Charles McCuen, was struck in the arm and the abdomen. On January 10, 1880, John Johnson was shot and killed while bringing a wagon load of wood to his home. After felling him with three shots, his killer made sure he was dead by firing a bullet into his head at point-blank range. On June 16, 1880, about eight miles east of Columbus, Reuben Roberts, on a drunken rampage by which his wife felt threatened, was shot and killed by their mutual friend Juba Fricke. On July 6, 1880, another black tenant farmer, Dan Barnett, was killed at his home by unknown assailants. At the railroad depot in Eagle Lake on September 25, 1880, brothers named Robert M. and Morgan D. Flowers assaulted Dr. Benjamin C. Jones. Jones drew a pistol and fired, fatally wounding Robert Flowers. The same month, Joe Thomas was shot and wounded at a dance near Weimar. On February 3, 1881, Albert Williams was found about six miles south of Columbus, dead of gunshot wounds apparently inflicted by James M. Walker and his son, William Robert Walker. In July 1881 near Content, Charley Fields shot Dock Verse through the chest, severely wounding him. On August 14, 1881 near Weimar, Scott Rhodes wounded Martin Thompson with a knife, and, after Thompson had left the scene, Henry Garner shot Rhodes with a load of birdshot. On June 24, 1882 in Alleyton, Robert G. Armstrong shot and killed Milton Boyd after Boyd insulted and struck him. On September 21, 1882, Samuel K. Gardner of Columbus was killed at Eagle Lake by a bartender named Bion White. On November 25, 1882, there were two incidents, both involving tenant farmers: Jerry Wilkins killed Marshall Wells and James Williams killed Benjamin Brooks. On December 22, 1882 in Columbus, Bill Johnson shot and killed James Gaskin after an argument. In Alleyton on January 28, 1883, an Eagle Lake man named William McFarland shot and fatally wounded Sam Clift.40

When guns were not handy, knives would do. In early August 1878, two men attending a temperance meeting in Alleyton got into a knife fight. About two weeks later, on August 17, 1878, at Frelsburg, William Henry "Dick" Muckleroy attacked Johann Friedrich "Fritz" Leyendecker with a knife, wounding him in the throat and neck. On October 22, 1878, William Stewart, Jr., stabbed and killed Joseph William Loveland at the home of Conrad Weigel near New Mainz. Their quarrel might have been over a woman; earlier that day, Loveland and his fiancée, Elizabeth Mary Witte, had taken out a marriage license. On January 31, 1879, in a saloon fight at Eagle Lake, James C. Harbert stabbed Charles Draub to death. On September 26, 1879, at Weimar, George Chandler was stabbed by an unidentified black man. In July 1880, Dick Muckleroy struck again. When he and another man got into an argument with Jim Cole, who was driving a wagon, on the road between Ellinger and Fayetteville, Muckleroy drew a knife and cut Cole on the shoulder. On July 19, 1881, at a camp meeting near Columbus, Bill Smith stabbed Henry Simmons in the back. On September 5, 1881, at Vox Populi, James William Guynn stabbed Henry Simpson Abell with a pocket knife. Two months later in Weimar, West B. Henderson wounded Jonathan Bradshaw with his knife. On July 4, 1882, at Cat Spring, two Colorado County farmers, Charles Reichardt and Wenzel Bubak, cut and stabbed each other severely with knives. Reichardt died on July 11 and Bubak on July 13.41

Neither did women and children escape the violence. Boys routinely (but surreptitiously) carried .22 caliber pistols, which they referred to as "toy pistols." In May 1878, a young boy identified as Franz Byer accidentally killed himself with a derringer. On July 9, 1878, James Jones broke up a fight between his wife, Patsy, and a woman named Eliza Kelly by throwing Kelly against a door and striking her in the abdomen with his knee, killing her. On July 14, 1878, in a fit of jealousy, William Thomas killed Celia Delany, shooting her off a horse on which she had been riding in tandem with another man. Later the same month, two boys were playing with a rifle in Alleyton when one shot the other. In Columbus on December 17, 1878, two teenagers had a fight that ended with one, Henry Walker, shooting the other, George Dickerson, in the head with a shotgun, costing Dickerson his right eye. In May 1881, Sam E. Brown killed his wife and then committed suicide at their home near Weimar. On October 1, 1882, a boy named Jimmy Pettus killed a man named Taswell Lee. In July 1883, a tenant farmer named Lee Blackman was repairing a pistol when it discharged. The bullet struck a girl named Bell Wilson, killing her.42

The most prominent citizen who was killed by gunfire during the period was John D. Gillmore, who had served as county judge, as a justice of the peace, and as mayor of the City of Columbus. On December 12, 1879, Gillmore went to consult an attorney, Mumford Kennon, regarding a legal matter. As he and Kennon were talking, Joseph P. Harris and Jesse J. Harrison entered the building. Harrison, who had succeeded Harris as Columbus city marshal, was obviously intoxicated. He collapsed onto a table near the center of the room. Harris and Kennon's partner, Edward Julius Sandmeyer, each soon left. Harrison, still on the table, vaguely threatened Kennon, then pulled out his pistol and began waving it around. Kennon warily slipped out of the building, leaving Gillmore, reading a law book, alone with Harrison. Moments later, a shot was fired. As Sandmeyer and Kennon moved to return to their office, a second shot was fired. Gillmore staggered out the side door of the building and through the adjacent office building, exclaimed "Jesse Harrison has shot me," and collapsed. He was moved to a nearby building, where he died of a bullet wound in the side within a few minutes.43

Harrison, like his predecessor Harris, had had something of a troubled career as marshal. In June 1878, when Harrison had attempted to arrest Bob Hines for wife beating, Hines had broken free and led Harrison on a chase to the river. There, after a brief struggle, Hines fell into the river and, as Harrison watched, drowned. Harrison explained that he had been "too much exhausted to render assistance." To his greater regret, Harrison let another lawbreaker briefly slip away from him seven months later. On December 19, 1878, he arrested Johnny Kessler for firing a shot, apparently at no particular target, inside a Columbus saloon. As Harrison and his deputy, James Harrison Caller, escorted him away from the saloon, Kessler broke loose. In the ensuing struggle, Kessler kicked Harrison in the head, fracturing his skull. The killing of Gillmore, however, brought his career as marshal to a close. Harrison had strong support within the community and on the city council. But, after lengthy debates spanning several meetings, on January 20, 1880, the council finally accepted his resignation and appointed Henry B. Middleton to take his place.44

Middleton too would engage in armed confrontations with suspected criminals. In fact, in both Columbus and Weimar, city police officers often found themselves in such conflicts. In November 1880, Middleton and his deputy, Victor H. Byars, shot Willis Reed three times in the course of arresting him. The same month, Weimar marshal O. B. Nicholson led a posse to arrest Gus Clark in his home. Clark fired a shot into the group, wounding Otto Goethe, then escaped. On August 17, 1881, Byars shot and killed Dave King as he ran through Columbus in an attempt to escape from the county jail. Because King, who was serving time rather than pay a fine he had been assessed, was not a violent criminal, and because he was due to be released in ten days, Byars was sharply criticized for killing him. Two days later, Weimar marshal George H. Allen was even more reckless with his gun. After hearing that two brothers, Matt and Jack Day, were making drunken threats, Allen and Sam H. Hancock joined forces to find them and search them for weapons. As they approached, the Days mounted their horses and fled. Allen and Hancock pursued, also on horseback, exchanging wild shots with the fleeing brothers for about three miles. On June 15, 1882, Allen was involved in another gunfight. As he arrested a Schulenburg man named George Griffith in front of the Two Brothers saloon in Weimar, Griffith's brother, Thomas, approached, gun in hand. Thomas Griffith may have fired a shot. Allen may have warned him not to come any closer. In any case, Allen shot him twice, killing him, but was subsequently exonerated of any wrongdoing. Allen's successor as Weimar marshal, Love T. Tooke, had his trouble with a gun on April 7, 1883, shooting J. C. Wall as he attempted to arrest him at Insall's Saloon in Weimar.45

The county's two sheriffs during the period, James A. Toliver and J. Light Townsend, and their common deputy George Best, generally were less violent and more effective. In August 1878, Best foiled a jailbreak, sneaking up behind prisoners who were working on the bars with a small saw. Townsend did the same thing in a nearly identical manner four years later. But Best's carelessness led to the escape of Dan Williams on September 29, 1879. Having removed Williams from his cell to inspect it, the deputy allowed Williams to lock him in, and could only call for help as Williams fled. By the time Toliver arrived to free the embarrassed Best, Williams had escaped to the other side of the river. Townsend drew criticism for the previously discussed August 17, 1881 escape of Dave King, and for his supposed neglect in allowing a prisoner, John Wesley Brown, to die in jail after a long illness.46

Despite the numerous killings, only one offender, a black laborer named James Stanley, paid the ultimate penalty for a crime committed during the period. Stanley was convicted of the November 27, 1882 murder of Robert L. Strickland. That evening, Stanley had prepared dinner for himself, Strickland, and another man. As he was cooking, he observed Strickland with a small bag of money. That night, he and Strickland both slept in the store. During the night, Stanley awoke, found an axe, and murdered Strickland with it as he slept. Then he took the money ($63.50) and fled the scene. The next morning, he quit his job, bought a new suit, and took a train to San Antonio. Strickland's body was not discovered until the evening of November 28, whereupon Sheriff Townsend initiated an investigation. He quickly identified Stanley as the likely culprit, determined that he had gone to San Antonio, followed him there, and, within days, returned him to jail in Columbus. On March 21, 1883, Stanley was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. His motion for a new trial was denied the same day, and his appeal was rejected on June 2, 1883. He was returned to Colorado County and, on September 10, 1883, his execution date was set. The sentence was carried out on October 19, 1883 at a site west of Columbus before a crowd of about 3000 people, among them Strickland's mother, brother, and two sisters. In the interim, and at the behest of a local minister named Hamilton McKenna, Stanley made a full confession to the crime. In his final statement, made as he stood on the scaffold, he warned the crowd to beware of whiskey, cards, and women, and urged them to turn to religion.47


By 1878, the county's free public schools boasted a total of 2397 students, 1292 of whom were black and 1105 of whom were white. That number grew to 2556 in 1879 and 2729 (1357 black, 1370 white) in 1880. There were sixty public schools in the county in 1879 (24 for blacks and 36 for whites), and sixty-six in 1880 (27 for blacks and 39 for whites), meaning that the average public school in the county had 43 students in 1879 and 41 students in 1880. The biggest public school in the county, by far, was the black school in Columbus, which, under principal Robert H. Harbert, had 208 pupils in 1879 and 173 in 1880. The next largest, the Catholic parish school for whites at Frelsburg, had 111 students in 1879 and 94 in 1880. No other public school had as many as 100 in either year. Generally, it seems, about half of the students in the county were male.48

By 1879, the once-loftily-ambitious Hermann Seminary was operating with a one-man faculty. The school had only twenty students, and they were more in need of elementary than of higher education. Most of the community's people were Roman Catholics who readily exercised the option of sending their children to the parish school, which had been conducted by the Sisters of Divine Providence for several years. They did so for two reasons. The first was because the school was reasonably priced; at fifty cents per month per student, the nuns' school charged only one-third as much as Hermann Seminary. The second was, in a sense, religious. The facility was a public free school, meaning that no religion was taught there. However, by and large, the Frelsburg Catholics and the considerably smaller number of Frelsburg Lutherans were in constant disagreement with each other, and neither denomination wanted their children to attend school with the children of the other. For that reason, most of the Lutheran parents sent their children to a school conducted by their pastor, Friedrich Gerstmann. This left the Hermann Seminary to survive on the tuitions of the irreligious minority and the few broader-minded Catholics and Lutherans. And, though the state provided some money to pay the $1.50 per month tuition for the students, generally, the state money ran out after just a few months. At Hermann Seminary, as elsewhere, a great many students dropped out after the state tuitions expired, leaving the school and its teacher to struggle through the second half of the school year with greatly diminished income. The financial crisis was so grave that, in March 1880, the school's only teacher, William Andreas Trenckmann, resigned to accept a better position at the school in the small Austin County community of Shelby.49

In and around Weimar, schools underwent a number of changes. South of town, two notable rural schools opened. The first, the Diamond Grove Academy, opened under the tutelage of John P. Woolsey at the County Line community south of Oakland in 1877. Nearby, at a location between Content and Oakland, J. C. Herndon was conducting a school known as the Sam Houston Institute by 1878. In July 1879, the highly respected Edward Brady Carruth, who had taught at Osage for six years, announced that he intended to move to a school in Flatonia. He turned the Osage school over to James A. McNeill, who renamed the facility Osage High School. In Weimar, three schools competed for students in the 1878 school year: the Weimar Institute under Patrick Henry Hargon and Robert A. Shaver; the Preparatory and Classical School for Males and Females under Henry C. Quin; and the German School (taught in the German language), which had just completed construction of a new building and hired a new teacher, Louis Moes, who also was a physician. Apparently, none of the three schools flourished economically. In the summer of 1879, Hargon resigned and took over the Sam Houston Institute, where Herndon had possibly become too ill to continue, Quin closed his Weimar school, announcing his intention to open a school in Columbus, and Moes was replaced by J. R. Holmy. Quin's departure may have prompted Hargon to reconsider his move to the country, for he returned to the Weimar Institute for the 1880 school year. The following year, R. P. Decherd became the school's principal, ushering in a period of relative stability. Over the next few years, several members of the Decherd family, including Fulton D. Decherd, Mattie Decherd, and Julia Decherd, would appear on the school's faculty. In 1881, the school opened a new facility, on the ground floor of a renovated store building. By 1882, perhaps partly because Holmy quit his school and moved to Brenham, the Weimar Institute had become perhaps the largest school in the county. Things did not go as well at the Diamond Grove Academy. Woolsey finally quit the school in 1882. That year, James Williams Holt, who had taught at Oakland for some years, took it over. But, within a month of beginning the 1882 school year, Holt resigned, citing a lack of patronage. By then, he had been succeeded in Oakland by A. J. Peterson, a man whose hobbies including writing poetry.50

Like that of Weimar, at the end of the 1870s the white student population of Columbus was spread among a number of competing schools. In 1878, there were at least five schools for white children in town, including one at the Colorado College building and one at the Colorado Academy facility in the Masonic building. That fall, yet another school, with John Seebich as the teacher, was organized. Reflecting Columbus' population mix, it was a bilingual school, conducted in both German and English. In May 1880, the local chapter of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows resolved to correct this awkward situation by establishing a new school which they hoped would unite educational efforts in the city. Though the Odd Fellows owned the Colorado College building, they lacked the funds to renovate it sufficiently to contain the sizeable school they envisioned. So, they approached the community with a proposition: if the citizenry raised $2500 to renovate the building, they would establish a school with a nine-member board of trustees, five members of which were to be picked by the lodge and four by the city government, and allow the school to use the Colorado College building rent-free for ten years. A month later, nearly all the money had been raised and the first board of trustees was elected. The school opened with a faculty of John Claybourne Crisp, Philip M. Riley, and Cornelia C. Binkley, and under the name Colorado Academy, in the fall of 1880. Henry C. Quin, who had conducted his Preparatory and Classical School in the building the previous year, moved to a small school in Fayette County.51

Though the Colorado Academy's fundraising campaign was readily and immediately successful, its efforts to unite Columbus' schools were not. The bilingual German-English school remained open. So did the school that was opened by Pleasant J. Oakes and his wife, Kate Oakes, in the Masonic building in 1879. In fact, in 1880, the Oakes' school attracted more students than the new academy. The academy soon began to experience defections of its faculty. Binkley apparently left before February 1881. That month, Riley resigned. The school limped along with Crisp and his sister, Annie Eliza Crisp, as its teachers. In July 1881, a new board of trustees was selected, and it immediately moved to unite the two prominent schools by hiring Pleasant and Kate Oakes to join John Crisp. It also, apparently, adopted the system, then coming into vogue, of dividing the student body into grades, a proposition which had been strongly advocated during the previous school year by a number of articles in the Colorado Citizen. The academy opened on September 5, 1881 with 140 students, as large a student body as the Odd Fellows could have hoped for. They added twenty more students before the end of the month. From their standpoint, however, things soon regressed. In December, Crisp resigned from the academy. In January 1882, he opened his own school, the Columbus Preparatory School. The same month, three women opened yet another school in town, the Columbus Female Academy. During the summer, as the trustees of the Colorado Academy hired Robert C. Bardenwerper as their new principal, Pleasant Oakes decided to return to conducting his private school at the Masonic building. His wife, though, remained with the academy, and Crisp apparently left town. When the academy opened in September 1882, it had about 150 students in nine grades.52

Bardenwerper proved to be a disaster. Concerns about his educational philosophy swept town. Worse, he seemed all too able to accumulate debts and none too willing to pay them. On April 21, 1883, at the culmination of an argument over a debt, Ibzan William Middlebrook publicly whipped Bardenwerper with a cane. Very shortly, Bardenwerper was ousted from the academy, replaced until the end of the school year by a man from Cuero. On May 14, Bardenwerper and his son sneaked out of town, making their way to Borden, where they caught a train. The money he owed, including considerable sums to his three assistant teachers, remained uncollected.53

In 1880, there were also at least four sizeable schools for whites in the area around New Mainz, and large schools for each race in Alleyton, Eagle Lake, Oakland, and Weimar. In the summer of 1882, the citizens of Alleyton made an effort to establish a single community school for whites, principally by renovating an existing school building. The school opened with Sarah A. Gregory, the wife of David G. Gregory, as teacher on October 23, 1882. However, before the end of the school year, Julia Finney had opened another school for whites in the small town. By then, the Alleyton correspondent to the Colorado Citizen was ready to declare that Gregory's school, "in consequence of the stubborness of a portion of our good people, has proven a substantial failure." The situation was little better for Alleyton's black schools. By the end of the 1882 school year, there were two schools for blacks in town, a well-established one conducted by Granville Smith at the Baptist church, and another, newer school, at the Methodist church.54

The county's best educational environment for blacks, it seems, was in Oakland, where, like elsewhere, a church and a school co-existed in a single structure. Oakland's unusual hospitality to blacks, which would lead it to briefly become a center of black prosperity, was demonstrated in the summer of 1882. That July, G. Reed Townsend, who had interrupted his education at the Meharry Medical Department of Central Tennessee College in Nashville, organized the first known session of the Oakland Colored School Normal, an instructional school for teachers. Later that summer, Oakland hosted a conference of black Methodist Episcopal ministers which was attended by some ninety men.55

Religion continued to be a strong influence in the black community, and was one of the few aspects of black life which drew the praise of whites. In Columbus, a cluster of small homes occupied by black families began cropping up around the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1880, one white woman, upon hearing the church's organ and choir, played and directed by Robert H. Harbert, was inspired to write rapturously, and patronizingly, to the Citizen: "As I sat and listened I wondered as in a dream, can these be the slaves, or servants as we were accustomed to call them, of former days? and to rejoice at their advancement in civilization and moral culture . . . All who formerly owned them as servants are glad to witness their improvement and prosperity. In former days their interest was our interest, and we also felt deep anxiety for their welfare in all things."56

The county's other large towns soon had similar religious facilities. At Alleyton, a black Missionary Baptist Church congregation purchased a lot on which to construct a church on August 28, 1880. At Eagle Lake, Daniel Whitley led an effort to build a church for the local black Baptist congregation. On March 19, 1880, Whitley and four other trustees purchased a lot for the church. In little more than a year, a building had been erected. Whitley, the congregation's pastor, conducted the first service on April 24, 1881.57

In Weimar, both the black congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the white congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, began building churches in late 1878. The white Methodist church was not completed for more than a year. It was dedicated with its first service on June 20, 1880. By then, the AME church had apparently long since been completed.58

Elsewhere around the county, Protestant congregations that were too small to afford either a full-time minister or a church of their own, combined their efforts to construct what usually were referred to as Union churches, which they shared on alternating Sundays. By 1878, the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians shared the use of such a church in Osage. By 1879, Oakland had a single church shared by the Methodists and Baptists. That year, Eagle Lake Methodists and Baptists followed suit, acquiring a lot and constructing their Union church. The Methodists and Baptists in Alleyton got into the act two years later. Construction of their church began in May 1881. It opened that summer.59

Nowhere, however, did Catholics become involved in Union churches. In 1878, seven years after their previous attempt, the Catholics, in the person of Peter Victor Gury, the priest at Frelsburg, again set about organizing a congregation in Columbus. Beginning that September, Gury spearheaded a campaign to raise funds to construct a church. A year later, a priest, M. Orth, had been assigned to the incipient congregation, and services were being held, evidently irregularly, in the courthouse. Most of the early members of the parish, which soon became known as St. Mathias, were German. In late 1879, Louisa M. Tait donated a lot for the church. Construction began on December 4, 1879. The first service in the building was scheduled for January 1880, but it may have been delayed. Orth left in February or March 1880 amid suspicions of financial impropriety and with the parish deeply in debt. He was replaced by T. S. Major, who set about saving the parish, borrowing a considerable sum of money from the bishop and organizing a "Debt Association" to help raise funds. He further suggested that the kitchen building and stove might be sold, and that "a Fair or Picnic might be held at proper season." In January 1881, with things on a firmer footing but with the congregation still very small, Major left the parish. Though he was soon replaced, for much of its early history St. Mathias would not have a resident priest.60

Even as the Catholic parish was established and developed, the German Methodist congregation in Columbus, too small to sustain a pastor, disbanded. On December 7, 1880, they sold the church building, which they had purchased from a former congregation of German Lutherans only four years earlier, to Henry Wagenfuhr. He announced his intention to convert it into a school. By then, Germans who wanted to continue as members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South German Mission could travel to Content, where another such church had been built.61

In October 1879, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad began surveying a proposed extension of their track to La Grange, intending to tie into their main line at a point just north of Alleyton. The railroad's plan, which called for them to build a bridge over Cummins Creek rather than building another over the much wider Colorado River, soon sent the citizens of Columbus into fits of anxiety. On November 22, a number of men, determined that the La Grange branch ought to originate in Columbus, met at the courthouse to discuss their options. On December 18, the Colorado Citizen argued that since the route over Cummins Creek would be slightly longer, the cost of track and construction along either route would be nearly the same. On April 21, 1880, a delegation from Columbus, Wells Thompson, Robert P. Tendick, Friench Simpson, and Dr. Robert H. Harrison, met with the railroad's president, Thomas W. Peirce, in San Antonio and urged him to place the terminus of the new branch at Columbus. Promised that the city or its citizens would pay any additional cost to get the line to Columbus, Peirce agreed to look into the matter. Without further ado, the Citizen prepared the city for a fundraising campaign, declaring in an editorial that if the branch did not originate in town "we fear Columbus is doomed---that her glory will have departed forever! Her property will depreciate, her citizens move away, and leave this a fit place for bats and owls."62

The alarmist rhetoric, however, would prove useless. Within days, the railroad had completed its study of the proposed alternative route and decided to proceed with its original plans. Peirce himself came to Columbus to announce that he would not accept money to build a second bridge across the river. By June, track construction, from a point north of Alleyton which became known as Smith Junction, had begun. By the middle of July, the bridge over Cummins Creek had been built. The track to the newly established town of Ellinger, just inside Fayette County, was opened on October 26, 1880. The branch to La Grange was completed on December 30, and the first train arrived there the next day.63

Though it did not achieve its hoped-for result, the meeting in San Antonio with Peirce may have produced an unexpected benefit for Columbus. In touting their hometown, the delegates might have mentioned a project that one of their number then had underway. After the February 5, 1880 fire which had ravaged his office, Dr. Harrison, in casting about for a new place to center his medical practice, had conceived of a bold plan. On March 25, 1880, just a month before the meeting with Peirce, he had purchased an old hotel in Columbus with the intention of converting it into a hospital. Repairs and renovations had begun almost immediately. Though Harrison intended for the facility to be private, upon hearing of the project, Peirce arranged to make it the railroad's primary hospital. Before it was completed, he and Harrison had drawn up a contract that called for the railroad to pay the hospital a fee (which was to be deducted from the wages of each and every railroad employee) in return for which Harrison was to treat railroad employees without further charge. In July 1880, the hospital opened with four wards that could house six to eight patients each, plus ten private rooms. The facility did a booming business. In its first four months of operation, it admitted some 300 patients. Those who were not employed by the railroad paid, usually, two dollars per day. Buoyed by the success, in early December Harrison expanded the facility. Soon, it had about eighty beds. Two months later, Harrison sold the small drug store he had opened in 1879, and in which he had maintained his office, and moved his practice into the hospital. By the following month he had taken in two medical students, James Byars and Arthur Shaw McDaniel. In the summer of 1881, with Byars and McDaniel slated to go to Cincinnati to further their medical training, another physician, George H. Rice, joined the staff. He was joined (or replaced) by Dr. Dorsey Mason that September. With, on average, two new patients admitted every day and only about one death among them per month, the hospital seemed a fantastic success.64

The hospital flourished in part because the railroad had done little to make the conditions under which its employees labored safe. Railroad work continued to be among the most dangerous in the country. Injuries, and even deaths, were common. In 1878, two railroad employees were killed in accidents in Colorado County. One more was killed in 1879, two in 1882, and two more, in separate accidents, on June 11, 1883. In addition, George Faber, a fireman for the railroad who lived in Columbus, was killed in an accident at Waelder on June 25, 1883. Three of the deaths prompted family members to sue the railroad, all unsuccessfully.65

The high mortality rate among its workers and numerous lawsuits did not retard the growth of the railroad. In the summer of 1881, Peirce entered into an agreement with the Southern Pacific Railroad which would link the G H & S A to the west coast. The Southern Pacific was to build east from El Paso, and the G H & S A west from San Antonio, to connect somewhere in between. Though the G H & S A remained in existence, and Peirce remained its chief executive officer, after May 1, 1882 it became known as the Southern Pacific, and the route between New Orleans and Los Angeles which passed through Colorado County became known as the Sunset Route.66

Though the small Columbus hospital continued to have great success in treating its patients, the expanding scope of the railroad's operations did not bode well for it. As early as the summer of 1881, rumors were afloat that the railroad intended to construct a new, larger hospital in another city, perhaps even as far west as El Paso. By the following summer, the railroad had begun making preparations to build a new hospital in San Antonio. One consideration, however, kept them from proceeding. Peirce very much wanted Harrison to continue as the director of the railroad's hospital; but Harrison did not want to leave Columbus. Accordingly, on July 1, 1882, a delegation from the railroad visited Columbus to examine the feasibility of building a new, considerably larger, hospital in town. They asked for two concessions from the city: a right of way for a track through town on Preston Street and a city block on which to build the new hospital. By the end of the month, a drive to raise funds to purchase the necessary land and donate it to the railroad had begun. Despite some objections, the campaign moved fast. By early August enough money to purchase not one but two city blocks on the north side of town had been raised, and the city had agreed both to donate the street between the blocks to the railroad, and to exempt the new facility from taxation for ten years. Still, the railroad wavered. Undaunted by the continuing uncertainty, in early 1883, Harrison expanded his hospital, adding a two-story bath house for use by both patients and the general public.67

The railroad had demonstrated its continuing interest in Columbus by constructing, beginning on July 13, 1880, a new, two-story passenger depot in town. After it was completed, in late 1880, the second floor was used by railroad employee Elbridge G. Thompson as a residence. The city had traded the railroad the land on which the depot was built, most of which was on Crockett Street, for a strip of land around the south and west sides of the building to use as a street. However, they steadfastly refused to allow the railroad a right-of-way across Preston, or any other street, for additional track. In late 1882, the railroad abandoned its attempts to secure more space for its installations in Columbus and decided to develop a site of its own nearby. On December 21, 1882, the railroad purchased nearly 160 acres two to three miles west of Columbus from Thomas Jefferson Oakes. At least part of the land was a quagmire, which the railroad attempted to drain by digging a ditch from it to, apparently, the northwestern extension of Ratliff's Creek. For at least a year, however, the land remained swampy. Nonetheless, before the end of January 1883, the railroad had built a roundhouse and considerable switch track on the site. Soon, the new community had been named Glidden. In March, the railroad announced that it would conduct a sale of lots in the new town, but it seems that no lots were sold for nearly two more years. Probably the continuing drainage problems retarded residential development. The railroad's telegraph office, however, was moved to Glidden from Columbus in December 1883.68

Whether one worked for the railroad or not, the perils of everyday life were great. People who did not work for the railroad were killed by trains in December 1880, and on August 13, 1881, January 14, 1882, and May 13, 1883. All four were run over by moving trains. The second and last of the three victims, Aaron Gordon and Kern Campbell, were assumed by authorities to have fallen asleep on the track. Both men were black, and, as a railroad track seems an odd place to take a nap, it could be supposed by suspicious persons that unknown assassins might have killed them and laid their bodies on the track, secure in the knowledge that after they had been run over by a train, no local authority would or could detect any earlier wounds. These men might also have used the certain arrival of the train as a means of committing suicide. The other two victims were attempting to move from one car to another when they slipped and fell onto the track.69

In June 1879, a cowboy named John Green, who worked for the Staffords, was crushed to death when a herd of cattle stampeded near Skull Creek. Between 1878 and 1883, in addition to Bob Hines, who drowned after being chased to the river by Marshal Jesse J. Harrison, five persons drowned in the Colorado River and two in the Navidad. Usually, the victims, like Tim Hall, who drowned near Alleyton on July 17, 1881, and Henry Schneider, who drowned at Maigne's Ferry on May 24, 1883, had been attempting routine crossings of the river. However, one of the victims, Freddie Binkley, who drowned on June 14, 1878, was a twelve-year-old boy who had been playing with some friends near the river.70

Household accidents could also be grievous. At Oakland, in May 1881, a four-year-old boy named Homer Lowrey fell into the family's well. His father, John Alexander Lowrey, found him there when he came to get a drink of water. As another man held a rope, he descended the well, grabbed his son, and carried him up to safety. In July 1881, the Weimar family of John B. McKennon had a different difficulty with their well. Either intentionally or accidentally, someone threw a packet of arsenic into it, poisoning the water. Though McKennon and his family became ill, they all survived. In Columbus, on May 22, 1880, Louisa M. Tait was walking up the stairs in her home when a lamp in her hand exploded. Though her clothing was drenched in oil, she remained calm, and with the lantern at arm's length, carried it to the fireplace and threw it in. Neither she nor her home was burned. Augusta Dick was not so lucky. On June 15, 1881, as she was lighting a fire, a bottle of kerosene exploded in her hand, setting her clothes on fire. A bystander finally extinguished the fire by burying her in the sand on the street, but she had been too badly burned. She died the next day.71

House and building fires occurred with frightening regularity. The most notable apparently accidental fires included that which destroyed Daniel W. Stockbridge's gin near Eagle Lake on November 30, 1878; that which destroyed the home of James Lee in Weimar on May 28, 1879; that which destroyed the home of George W. Breeding near Borden on November 9, 1879; the previously-mentioned fire which destroyed the office of the Colorado Citizen and an adjacent building in Columbus on February 5, 1880; that which destroyed Phillip William Highland's gin and mill near Eagle Lake on June 5, 1880; that which destroyed the home of Kate Finucane in Columbus on December 22, 1880; that which destroyed a building in Borden on July 28, 1881; that which destroyed the gin of Walter C. Jones near Vox Populi on September 15, 1881; that which destroyed the home of Sam Waddell in Columbus on November 3, 1881; that which destroyed the corn crib of Henry Charles Gaedke at Alleyton in November 1881; that which destroyed the blacksmith shop and corn crib of Michael Nave at Osage in December 1881; that which destroyed the old Stapleton family home in Borden on March 24, 1882; that which destroyed a home near Weimar, and killed two children trapped inside, on July 9, 1882; and that which destroyed the gin of Louis Pietzsch in Weimar on November 6, 1882. Few, if any, of these fires drew the attention of firefighters. Weimar and Columbus had formed volunteer fire companies in 1879, but both companies struggled to maintain their existence. The City of Weimar at least aided its potential firefighters by purchasing, in late 1882, a fire engine.72


By the end of the 1870s, the literary careers of Friench Simpson and Fannie Amelia Dickson Darden had gone into remission. Between the beginning of 1878 and the end of 1881, Simpson is not known to have produced anything, and Darden only two poems. Darden's career, however, was revived by two events in the spring of 1881. From late March through early May that year, a writer named Laura Jack Irvine was in Columbus, gathering information about the town for an article she intended to publish in an Austin magazine, American Sketch Book. Darden's contact with Irvine, and the death of her husband on May 29, 1881, evidently stimulated her to resume writing. Her first new poem, said to be "the first she has written for many months," appeared in the Citizen on January 17, 1882. Later that year she published a prose work, "Legend of Eagle Lake, Texas," in American Sketch Book. Still, her productivity was no doubt limited by a disease, diagnosed as breast cancer, for which she had surgery in November 1882.73

Simpson's place among the literary lights of Colorado County was taken by Edmund Clarke Klein, who produced short works of fiction for the Colorado Citizen. Under the pen name Addie's Uncle, Klein serialized a five-part story, "On a Lonely Sea: A Story of the Storm of 1875," in the Citizen from October 30 through November 27, 1879. Klein used his pen name for one more story in the Citizen, "Won at Last," published on January 15, 1880, and for a story he published in the May 22, 1880 issue of Waverly Magazine, "What Some Have Found so Sweet." Thereafter, he wrote under his own name. "Letty's Husband," a love story set in Columbus, appeared on April 28, 1881; "Under the Christmas Stars," a predictable romance, on December 22, 1881; and "Valerie's New Year's Gift," a similar offering, on December 27, 1883. His subsequent literary efforts made no impact on Colorado County.74

For music, the citizenry turned to local bands, like the brass band composed of blacks established in Columbus in 1878; the Schmidt Orchestra, established by Charles H. Schmidt in 1879; the Arnold Prause band, which was in existence as early as 1880; the Weimar Brass Band, reorganized under A. F. Rose in 1880; the Columbus String Band, a six-piece ensemble established in 1881; and the Columbus Cornet Band, which came to light in 1882. Besides the usual dances and concerts at public halls in Columbus, Weimar, and Eagle Lake, Schmidt's Orchestra and the Columbus Cornet Band also held dances on an open-air platform at the Grove north of Columbus. The Frelsburg Gesang Verein (Singing Club) continued to hold its annual exhibitions each year, usually in May. Schmidt organized a similar club, the Columbus Liederkranz (Song Circle), in the spring of 1880. His 24-member all-male choir sang, at least at first, only in German, and had ambitious plans. Two months after organizing it, Schmidt announced that in only another month his choir planned to perform Die Schöpfung ("The Creation"), an oratorio by Joseph Haydn. Schmidt allowed that such a project would "require all the singing talent in the community." The group's first concert, on July 29, 1880, featured simpler selections. Whether or not Haydn's mighty work ever suffered any indignities at their hands has not been recorded.75

These musical groups were frequently among the attractions at the considerable number of local festivals. The Schützen Fests in Oakland, the fall festivals in Weimar, and the Juneteenth celebrations around the county remained vibrant. Keeping pace, the citizens of Eagle Lake began conducting their own event, a community picnic at the lake, each spring. In Columbus, the Volks Fest, which had not been held since 1875, was revived in May 1880. Another similar festival, complete with a parade, speeches, a shooting contest, and a recreation of a medieval tournament, was staged the following year, though not until early July. The change in date was, apparently, significant, for in 1882, the Columbus Volks Fests were abandoned in favor of a Fourth of July celebration. Only two years earlier, an attempt to gather the public for a celebration of the nation's independence had failed utterly. The same year, former United States president and Union army general Ulysses S. Grant had passed through the county on a train, and had been greeted by small, unenthusiastic crowds in both Columbus and Weimar. But in 1882, perhaps in part because of the association with the earlier Volks Fests, the Fourth of July celebration succeeded. One of its highlights was a baseball game, in which a team from Columbus rather soundly beat one from La Grange. The celebration also featured a tournament, sack races, foot races, croquet, dancing, and, after dark, a fireworks display. It was the first successful large-scale celebration of the national holiday in the county since before the Civil War.76

Though there were occasional small shows in Eagle Lake and Weimar, Ilse's Hall in Columbus remained the only venue in the county that consistently attracted professional entertainers. The pianist Blind Tom played the hall for the third time on March 28, 1880. The actress Fay Templeton, with her troupe known as the Star Alliance, returned to Ilse's in early April 1880 and again in February 1881. Two celebrated minstrel troupes, the Big Four Minstrels and Callendar's Minstrels, performed at Ilse's in 1882. In addition to these shows, Ilse's hosted at least seven other performances by professional companies between 1879 and 1882. Also, major circuses played Columbus in each of 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1882. In 1879 it was the Great London Circus, which featured a display of electric lights. In 1880, it was the most famous circus of all, Phineas Taylor Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth. In 1881, it was the Great Pacific Circus, and in 1882, Bacheller & Doris' Circus.77

A more novel leisure facility became available to the county's residents when, on Sunday, April 9, 1882, Helmuth Kulow opened Kulow's Amusement Garden. Located on a nearly 200-acre tract about one and a half miles south of Columbus, Kulow's garden was billed as "a nice retreat for the pleasure of our citizens from the cares of business on Sunday." The opening attracted most of the citizens of Columbus. Many of them returned for a dance, featuring the Columbus Cornet Band, the next night. In its early weeks, the garden was so successful that Columbus livery stable operator Charles Crary established a special transportation service to it, with a regular schedule of departures and arrivals. Inspired by the availability of Kulow's garden, a German Germania Club was reorganized in Columbus. They gave their first dance at the site on May 5. Their second followed less than a month later. But the novelty of the garden quickly wore off. In 1883, Kulow sold the property and purchased a lot near the railroad depot in Columbus, where, the next year, he built a hotel.78

The revival of the celebration of the Fourth of July in 1882 was followed, the same year, by the most widespread public celebrations of Christmas in the county's history. The drunkenness and rowdy behavior which had characterized the holiday only a few years earlier had been superseded by a sober conviviality and a focus on children. Large crowds attended community Christmas tree celebrations at the Oakland schoolhouse and at two venues in Columbus, the Methodist church and Ilse's Hall. Both celebrations in Columbus featured the distribution of gifts to children in attendance; that at Ilse's Hall also featured a concert by the local school children. In Weimar, Christmas was highlighted by a school holiday and a performance, on Christmas Day, by a professional theatrical company. There was, as yet, no public recognition of Thanksgiving in the county.79