Texas Killers and Vigilantes

There is a good book titled, Brush Men and Vigilantes (2000), written by David Pickering and Judy Falls that tells of the terror that was spread by white supremacists and how there was no justice during and after the Civil War in Texas. In the North Texas Counties of Fannin, Hunt, Lamar, Hopkins, Dallas, Bowie, and others blacks and those favorable to staying in the Union were hanged by mobs of crazed and fanatical Texans. Pro-secessionist vigilantes and mobs hanged blacks and groups of men that deserted the Confederacy or supported the United States. 



According to Richard B. McCaskin, these killers that operated in mobs and with artificial legal authority “hanged dissenters on the Trinity River, slaughtered German Unionists along the Nueces River, and lynched Federal recruits by the Rio Grande.” In an attempt to make it look like all Texans supported the Confederacy, these rebel traitors even killed their friends and neighbors often using the charge of being a “Yankee” or a Lincoln supporter to settle grudges. Although white racist mobs were active across the state, they were extremely active in Northeastern Texas. In the cities of Paris, Greenville, Tarrant, Clarksville, Marshall, and the Sulphur Springs area dozens of men were murdered and hundreds had to flee the crazed mobs that were intent on killing them or politically cleansing the area of pro-Union men. Abolitionists and Confederate deserters were often the main target and were often chased down or kidnapped on dirt roads and hanged on the spot.


The Civil War was clearly and centrally about slavery. Rich planters often generated the hate that filled the minds of the ignorant rabble as every attempt was made to make it look like whites were united in the cause of the South. This was basically another Texas lie as thousands of Confederate soldiers deserted the Confederate States of American Army and hid in the thick brush of North Texas and in the Bayous of Houston. “Vigilance Committees,” which were nothing more than illegal mobs of murderers, were organized to watch slaves and people that they fingered as “suspicious.” Texas broke from the Union in March of 1861, and wrote the Articles of Secession in which they clearly admit that the Civil War was about slavery, white supremacy, and about stopping abolitionists all under the fake guise of “states rights.” 


Scholars have pointed out that violence was the accepted norm in the South. According to Pickering in quoting Wyatt-Brown, “When Southerners spoke of liberty, they generally meant the birthright to self-determination of one’s place in society.” This flies in the face of university textbooks that claim that “liberty” was part of the Texan Creed as if it meant liberty for all—it did not. Racism was connected to customs that produced a swagger that was displayed as a chip on the shoulder stance, and braggadocio declarations about being a multiple-generation Texan. Originally Texas settlers never came fromTexas, as this was Comanche and Spanish territory, but came from the southern states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and others. Texas settlers were all immigrants, and in many cases illegal immigrants having defied Mexican law. John Wayne acted in western movies as a person with an arrogant chip on his shoulder and an arrogant swagger in his walk. Hence, this cultural custom was imbued with violence,and violence that thought it acceptable to see people hanging from a rope if their ideas were different from white supremacy or the so-called southern way of life. 


Between 1840 and 1860 over 300 people were hanged or brutally burned alive by mobs in Texas. According to Pickering, “Texas was the most violent of all the Southern States,” and it was the home of the most vigilante crimes of any other state. Later, this violent cultural behavior would devour black people who were burned alive or hanged all the way into the middle 1900s. Numerous groups sprung up during and after the Civil War to protect the institution of slavery and to destroy Reconstruction. Many of these groups adopted names that tried to present a picture of glory or of a sanctified character. They named themselves with such labels as “Sons of Liberty,” and “Sons of the Confederacy,” and “Sons of Washington,” and “Sons of the South.” Many in these racist vigilante groups were white racist Masons who used their secret societies to spread hatred in secretive ways.  However, thousands of whites deserted the Confederate army after it became clear that slave owners did not have to serve in the Confederate army under the “20 Negro Law.” This law basically exempted slave owners that owned 20 slaves from having to fight and perhaps die on the battlefield. When poor white confederates realized this they deserted and fled into the brush and often shot followers of Robert E. Lee.  




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