Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

texas history

I've been reading about the persecution of abolitionists and war opponents in our area during the civil war. Anthony Bewley, a Methodist minister, working near Fort Worth, became suspected of sympathizing with John Brown due to a letter, arguably forged, that newpapers widely published. The letter was sent from a noted abolitionist to Mr. Bewley, and supposedly urged him to work to end slavery in Texas. Mr. Bewley had sense enough to leave Texas prior to a lynch mob capturing him in the resulting uproar. Unfortunately, a posse followed him, caught up with him in Missouri, and killed him.

My part of north Texas, the counties just north of Dallas, were sparsely populated farm counties. Most of the folks who worked these farms were ordinary small-holders, with no slaves. A few of the richer and powerful residents were slaveholders. Fewer than ten percent of the local population owned slaves. My county, Collin, along with neighboring Cooke county (now a wonderful horse-raising country) and Grayson County, at that time a local "seat of culture", all voted against secession. These counties had major agricultural trading relationships with the north, and saw little need to go to war to uphold slavery. East Texas was cotton country, though, where slaveholding was common. Although the German-American hill country had traditionally been anti-slavery,the hill country folks had receded from their abolition sentiments over time. Dissenters, such as Marxist, free-thinker and atheist writer Adolf Douai (a veteran of the 1848 conflagrations in Europe) fled the state prior to the war. The state voted overwhelmingly to secede.

In Cooke County,the first Confederate act for the conscription of men into the military was met with resistance. Thirty men signed a petition opposing the exemption of large slaveholders from the draft, and sent it to the Confederate government, seated in Richmond, Virginia. They later formed a Union League to resist the draft and also to ensure defense against hostile native Americans in the region.

A local Sherman newspaper editor in neighboring Grayson County called for north Texas to secede and form its own "free" state. Although the resisters were not organized, rumours of a planned uprising led Confederate generals to order that all able-bodied men not conscripted be arrested. the contradictory evidence suggests that some abolitionist groups were simple expressions of dissent from secession, while other groups used the situation as a pretext for lawlessness. Similarly, the established government appears not to have been run on conventional grounds, but instead to partake of a lawlessness, vigilantism, and eagerness to settle scores and confiscate property. They were troubled times, among people who were caught up in struggles not really their own.

Texas state troops invaded the region, and arrested the leaders of the anti-conscription movement. A Gainesvile mob lynched fourteen of them while a "citizens' jury" of slaveholders was out on the first "sedition" trial.

One of the local planters, a Confederate colonel home on sick leave who organized the kangaroo court trials, was assasinated. A series of hangings of abolitionists ensued. Some forty people died before the madness ended.

When conscripted men from the region, forced to serve in Arkansas, heard of the killings, they almost mutinied. General Joe Shelby, later both reviled as a war criminal and appointed US Marshall for the western district of Missouri in 1893 (in the odd way that things worked then, and, for that matter, things work now), convinced them not to mutiny en masse from his "Iron Brigade". Several did desert, though, and go home to Texas.

After the war, only a single man was prosecuted for the hangings. When you go to Gainesville now, you see a quiet town with a quaint downtown. You pass incredibly gorgeous fields of horses all around, interlaced with the cattle which help the area earn its livelihood. Downtown a fried pie shop is famous for having the best pies around. In 1946, Ike Walker and C.S. Turbeville started the Bomber Bait Company, and Gainesville's main claim to fame until 1971 was a deep-running fishing lure for bass. You'd never guess the stories of dissent and disaster, nearly 140 years ago.

I think that the Civil War is a crucible for southerners, since some of the cultural attitudes dating to that war and its aftermath still exist today, giving rise to the cliche "the war is still being fought". It's all ancient history, but it's interesting to read that the history is more complex than the morality plays one learns in elementary school. Still, I wonder that people imagined they could keep slaves and still be free.

Things are entirely different now, although I remember the very last vestiges of the oppresssive Jim Crow apartheid rules, in the earliest part of my childhood.
I wonder, sometimes, about people who imagine that the battle for equality is over.
I think, too, about prairie farmers, opposed to slavery, forced to go to war or hang. It's so easy to render the past as picturesque, with a Gone with the Wind patina. But their issues, like our issues, were complex, dark and important.

Let's hope we can be on the side of the abolitionists in our own time, and not on the side of the complacent oppressors.

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