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Still the Arena of Civil War

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Following the Civil War, the United States was fully engaged in a bloody conflict with ex-Confederates, conservative Democrats, and members of organized terrorist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, for control of the southern states. Texas became one of the earliest battleground states in the War of Reconstruction. Throughout this era, white Texans claimed that Radical Republicans in Congress were attempting to dominate their state through "Negro-Carpetbag-Scalawag rule." In response to these perceived threats, whites initiated a violent guerilla war that was designed to limit support for the Republican Party. They targeted loyal Unionists throughout the South, especially African Americans who represented the largest block of Republican voters in the region. Was the Reconstruction era in the Lone Star State simply a continuation of the Civil War? Evidence presented by sixteen contributors in this new anthology, edited by Kenneth W. Howell, argues that this indeed was the case. Topics include the role of the Freedmen's Bureau and the occupying army, focusing on both sides of the violence. Several contributors analyze the origins of the Ku Klux Klan and its operations in Texas, how the Texas State Police attempted to quell the violence, and Tejano adjustment to Reconstruction. Other chapters focus on violence against African-American women, the failure of Governor Throckmorton to establish law and order, and the role of newspaper editors influencing popular opinion. Finally, several contributors study Reconstruction by region in the Lower Brazos River Valley and in Lavaca County.

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Part One

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Chapter 1

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CHAPTER 1

The Post of Greatest Peril?: The Freedmen’s

Bureau Subassistant Commissioners and

Reconstruction Violence in Texas, 1865–1869 by

Christopher Bean

F

ollowing the Civil War, federal authorities often described Texas as a bastion of unconquered former Confederates and violenceprone frontiersmen. Many northerners viewed Texas as an unpleasant place—in many cases, a deadly one, especially for Unionists and freedmen who either worked for or supported the federal government and the Republican Party. During the early postwar years, white Texans were particularly concerned about subassistant commissioners (SAC) of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (more commonly referred to as the Freedmen’s Bureau), a select group of men who were entrusted to oversee the former slaves’ transition from bondage to freedom and who proved a biting reminder of the South’s recent defeat.

Even the commissioner of the Bureau, Oliver Otis Howard, wrote in his autobiography that Texas was “the post of greatest peril.” Given that contemporaries viewed Texas in such negative terms, it is not surprising that scholars examining the Reconstruction era have emphasized the role that violence played in obstructing the Bureau’s activities in the state. In fact, during the last fifty years within academia, violence against members of the Freedmen’s Bureau has become a self-evident truth, something all

 

Chapter 2

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CHAPTER 2

“Shoot or Get Out of the Way!”: The Murder of Texas Freedmen’s Bureau Agent William G.

Kirkman by Cullen Baker—and the Historians by

William L. Richter

D

eep in the northeast corner of Texas dominated by the misty swamps that form the Sulphur River lies Bowie County, named after the famous knife-wielding frontiersman who died at the Alamo. Created in 1841, Bowie County had a pre-Civil War white population dominated by planters who emigrated from the Deep South. Steeped in the slavery system of antebellum Dixie, these whites voted overwhelmingly (96 percent) to secede twenty years later. As if to taunt the whites for their miscalculation in supporting the Lost Cause, newly freed slaves made up a majority (64 percent) of the citizens of Bowie County in 1865 and registered voters (55 percent) in 1867. Even the name of the county seat, Boston, has a strange Yankee-like ring that continues to mock its rich southern heritage. Nowadays some do claim that the town was actually named after the New England metropolis by its first settlers, the Burnam brothers. Other more-unreconstructed souls insist just as vehemently that it received its seemingly-out-of-place appellation from the surname of an early store owner.1

 

Chapter 3

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CHAPTER 3

The World Turned Upside Down?:

The Military Occupation of Victoria and Calhoun Counties, 1865–1867 by

Charles D. Spurlin

T

he last remnant of formal Confederate military resistance in the

Civil War ended on June 2, 1865, with the capitulation of the

Trans-Mississippi Department by Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith. Soon thereafter, federal forces under Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, commander of the Thirteenth Army Corps and overall commander of the Union troops in Texas, commenced occupation duty in the state and thus began the first phase of Reconstruction that lasted until 1867. Cavalry units made their way from Louisiana through eastern Texas to reach their assignments in San Antonio and Austin. In addition to the Thirteenth Army

Corps and the cavalry regiments, troops from the Twenty-fifth Army

Corps were transported by water from City Point, Virginia, to the Texas coast for duty at Indianola and Corpus Christi, but the bulk of the corps was instructed to take positions along the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, the

 

Chapter 4

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CHAPTER 4

William Longworth, Republican Villain by

Richard B. McCaslin

T

he scholarly effort to retrieve an accurate history of Reconstruction from the intellectual dustbin to which it had been consigned by popular memory has advanced rapidly in the last fifty years or so.

Republicans are generally now seen as reformers, local politicians who supported reform are no longer considered scoundrels, and most Freedmen’s Bureau agents are considered to have been well-intentioned, if not entirely ready for the tasks to which they were assigned.1 In fact, the revisionist push has been so effective that historians might well question how the South, and even the nation, was able to embrace a perception of

Reconstruction as an era of overzealous or even venal reform. Perhaps even more important, how could Southerners justify violence against such well-intentioned reformers? But if one wants to appreciate the complexity of Reconstruction, one has to accept that, like most myths, there is a kernel of truth in the depiction of it as an era of malice and greed. William

 

Chapter 5

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CHAPTER 5

“The Old Hero of Many Cowardly and Bloody

Murders”: Scalawag Gang Leader Ben Brown by

Dale Baum

T

raditional accounts of Texas history written during the first century after the Civil War portrayed many of the violent desperados of the state’s Reconstruction era in the context of family feuds or gun fights in which men would have rather died than backed down from confrontations with their adversaries. Revisionist interpretations more accurately have situated these killers in the arena of the continuation of the war by outlaw guerrilla Klansmen who viciously assaulted exslaves and white Unionists. However, the bloody exploits of Benjamin

(“Ben”) Brown, who in the years immediately after the war became one of the most notorious gang leaders in east central Texas criminal history, are nowhere to be found in either the chronicles of local folklore or published secondary accounts. Ben Brown failed to be romanticized in Reconstruction mythology because he was a southern Unionist who cooperated with the federal army and radical Republican officeholders and even served for a brief period as a hired gun for the Freedmen’s Bureau. His disobedience of the law and courts and administering vigilante justice began during the last years of the war and peaked during the early years of Reconstruction. His power and influence waned rapidly after a trial by a military commission in 1869 found him guilty of killing a respected physician in the downtown streets of the newly created railroad town of Calvert (see map 1).1

 

Chapter 6

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CHAPTER 6

Finding a Solution to Reconstruction

Violence: The Texas State Police by

Donaly Brice

V

iolence has ever been associated with Texas. The causes for this brutal propensity by its inhabitants, especially after the arrival of immigrants from the United States, have often attracted the attention of writers. Texas violence has been characterized as extensive and the state’s “reputation for lawlessness” has been repeatedly chronicled. Charles L. Sonnichsen, a noted scholar of Texas feuds, claimed that the frontier setting, reinforced by a southern and western heritage,

“produced a habit of self-redress more deeply ingrained” than anywhere in the country. Perhaps he was right; perhaps the moral code propagated the belief that “‘ revolvers make all men equal.’”1

The Lone Star State has been widely touted for its wayward ways long before the Civil War. After all, the Republic had been born through revolution. The isolation of the frontier and its attendant culture perpetuated the idea of self-defense and “no duty to retreat.”2 The new majority of the inhabitants, many of whom transported slaves, were of a similar cultural background, which tended to be violent, honor-driven, and thus tumultuous. The legacy of the South’s defeat in the Civil War and the destruction of slavery added fuel to an already lawless reputation.

 

Part 2

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Chapter 7

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CHAPTER 7

When the Klan Rode: Terrorism in Reconstruction Texas by

James M. Smallwood

I

n Texas during Reconstruction terrorist groups and outlaw gangs were legion, and they kept the state bathed in blood from 1865 to the mid-1870s. They wrapped themselves in the Confederate flag, bespoke the “Lost Cause,” and claimed to be taking the field against

Texas’s enemies: native white Unionists, who were willing to cooperate with federal authorities; the ex-slaves whose leaders demanded true freedom and wanted all the rights whites enjoyed; and the “Yankee” forces of occupation, including regulars and officers on detached duty as agents for the Freedmen’s Bureau. Indeed, for former Confederates in Texas, the war did not end in 1865; rather the “Second Civil War,” also called the “War of Reconstruction” was really a holocaust fought in a new guise. Generally in the first phase of Civil War (1861–1865), professional armies fought each other until 1865 when the Northern forces prevailed on the fields of battle. In the second phase (1865–1877), former Confederates, including those living in Texas, were victorious and by 1877 the second phase ended in the South with the region returned to the white supremacist Democratic Party. In the Texas effort, terrorist groups formed in more than sixty counties, and at least a dozen large bands of outlaw guerrilla raiders flourished, all the while claiming to represent the continued fighting spirit of old Dixie. Together the

 

Chapter 8

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CHAPTER 8

The Democratic Party, the Ku Klux

Klan, and the Politics of Fear by

Carl H. Moneyhon

T

he era of Reconstruction in Texas, as elsewhere in the South, was marked by a wave of violence that revisionist historian Eric Foner has described as lacking a “counterpart in the American experience or in that of the other Western Hemisphere societies that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century.” Historians have long recognized that central to the story of this upheaval was the secret organization known as the Ku Klux Klan. Foner, synthesizing Reconstruction scholarship, concluded that while racial, social, and political conflict had been widespread in the South from the end of the Civil War, that strife increased and intensified with the appearance of the Klan. Foner identified the

Klan as the embodiment of what he called the “counterrevolutionary terror” that swept over the former Confederate States after 1867. What was this powerful organization? Foner summed up the work of others when he described the Klan movement as a popular uprising by dissatisfied whites who opposed the course of Reconstruction. It served as a “military force” protecting the interests of the planter class, the Democratic party, and all whites who wished to restore as much as possible the white supremacist order of the antebellum South, and ultimately helped undo

 

Chapter 9

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CHAPTER 9

“A Free and Outspoken Press”: Coverage of Reconstruction Violence and Turmoil in Texas Newspapers, 1866–1868 by

Mary Jo O’Rear1

I

n early February of 1861 virtually every publisher in Texas printed the Declaration of Causes of Secession in his newspaper. Two items stood out within its last paragraph. One, that “the servitude of the

African race is mutually beneficial to both bond and free,” became a clarion call for many as the Confederacy moved into war. The other, that

“the destruction of the existing relations between the two races . . . [will] bring inevitable calamities upon both,” served as a warning for the future; Southern loss meant cultural chaos.2 Secession’s failure made the first concept moot and the second real. With no value as property and little as citizens in the eyes of many, Texas freedmen became human targets. Their persecution between April 1865 and November 1868 would not only create unparalleled records of abuse but also underscore the overt bias of the state press.

 

Part 3

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Chapter 10

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CHAPTER 10

Into Freedom’s Abyss: Reflections of

Reconstruction Violence in Texas by

Ronald E. Goodwin

D

uring the past four decades, scholars have convincingly argued that violence was commonplace in Texas during the post-Civil

War years. These scholars have examined various aspects of Reconstruction violence, including political, racial, and socio-economic factors. Unfortunately, few researchers have discussed the intense atmosphere of violence from the perspective of the freedmen themselves.

Many black Texans, whether they were enslaved elsewhere throughout the old Confederacy or not, found themselves mired in the abyss of a theoretical freedom, a freedom where they faced racism as intense and violent as any experienced during the antebellum years. Nonetheless, these former slaves attempted to transform their promised freedoms into a tangible reality. They faced the daunting task of altering their own mind-sets from thinking and acting as dependent chattel slaves to succeeding in a free society as independent freed men and women.

 

Chapter 11

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CHAPTER 11

Foreigners in Their Native Land: The Violent

Struggle between Anglos and Tejanos for Land

Titles in South Texas during Reconstruction by

Andrés Tijerina

W

e were really a vigilante committee.” In these words, a raider admitted that though they acted under the color of law as

“rangers” or “Minutemen Militia,” scores of Anglo-Texan vigilantes in the 1870s raided Tejano homes and ranches, killing, lynching, and driving them out of Texas. The Tejanos who survived fled sometimes to Mexico, sometimes to neighboring counties, but always out of prime lands coveted by Anglo ranchers, land speculators, and squatters.

The raids occurred in different parts of the state and varied according to circumstances, but the attacks had a few basic commonalities: The raiders often acted in cooperation with lawmen and used terror tactics to acquire Tejano lands. As such, the violence waged against the Tejanos represented a continuation of a struggle that predated the Civil War by more than twenty-five years—a dispute between Hispanics and Anglos over land titles in Texas.

 

Chapter 12

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CHAPTER 12

“To Punish and Humiliate the

Entire Community”: White Violence

Perpetrated Against African-American

Women in Texas, 1865–1868 by

Rebecca A. Kosary

I

mmediately following the Civil War, many former slaves in Texas found themselves at the mercy of whites—in their homes, their places of work and recreation, their churches, and even in the courts. For them, the “freedom” granted in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution was a far cry from reality. Although nominal rights for African Americans had increased since 1865, violence of against them increased as well. This was particularly true for black women, whose ambiguous legal status (ironically, now equal to that of white women) left them particularly vulnerable to racist violence that was often perpetrated against them with impunity.

Freedwomen were subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual assaults, torture, and murder during Reconstruction and they received little or no protection from local and state authorities. In addition, as mothers and wives, black women endured the trauma of separated families, the forcible apprenticeship of their children, and the injury and death of family members at the hands of resentful, bitter whites. While black men certainly suffered vicious and deadly attacks by whites during the period, black women were, by virtue of their gender, peculiarly susceptible to racist violence, and doubly victimized—once as blacks and again as women. As victims of both racism and sexism, black women in Texas faced incredible obstacles in the transition from slavery to freedom.

 

Part 4

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Chapter 13

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CHAPTER 13

Governor James Throckmorton and the Question of Frontier Violence in

Reconstruction Texas, 1866–1867 by

Kenneth W. Howell

A

t the close of the Civil War, Kiowa and Comanche warriors increased their raids against Anglo settlers living along the Texas frontier. The line of settlements, which were fairly stable during the war, retreated more than a hundred miles eastward as settlers abandoned their homes and moved to the safety of more populated regions.

The population of Wise County alone decreased from 3,160 in 1860 to

1,450 in 1870. Those families who refused to leave their homes often moved in close proximity of their neighbors and created fortifications to guard against Indian raiders. Many settlers hoped that the end of the war would prompt the return of the U.S. Army. In fact, in 1865, approximately

4,000 federal troops were stationed in Texas, but instead of serving on the frontier, they were located in the interior of the state. General Philip

H. Sheridan, Commander of the Department of the Gulf, ordered them to remain in the interior where they could protect freedmen and white

 

Chapter 14

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CHAPTER 14

An Uncompromising Line between

Yankee Rule and Rebel Rowdies:

Reconstruction Violence in Lavaca County by

Douglas Kubicek and Carroll Scogin-Brincefield

L

avaca County was one of the many counties in Texas that continued to resist federal intervention in state and local politics following the Civil War. Corrupt politicians, outlaw gangs, and horse rustlers were commonplace in the region. Murders, lynchings, raids, and the destruction of private property made Lavaca County unsafe for all living within its borders, especially blacks and their white allies. What made the county such a violent place? Primarily, ex-Confederates and conservative Democrats refused to accept federal control in the county, detesting what they termed “Yankee rule.” Violence basically divided the county into three areas: Tiger Bend in the southwest part of the county;

Mixon Creek in the northeast part of the county in the bend of the Lavaca

River; and the Navidad Nation located on the Navidad River east of Hallettsville. The latter became the favored haunt of the most violent citizens in the area. Criminals often met in the Navidad Nation to divvy up the spoils of their crimes.

 

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