Murder in Jefferson, Texas, Oct. 4, 1868

James N.

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Part I - George W. Smith, Victim of Mob Violence
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George Webster Smith was the victim of one of Reconstruction Texas' most notable crimes, one which pitted Federal authorities against white members of the community of Jefferson, Texas. During the war Smith had been an officer in the 123rd New York, a regiment raised by his uncle. As can be seen in Smith's photograph on a CDV above showing him as a captain, his unit was a member of the 12th/20th Corps whose star insignia pinned to his left breast is obvious. The unit and its parent corps served at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg before transferring west where renumbered it formed part of Sherman's army in the Atlanta Campaign, the March to the Sea, and campaigns in the Carolinas to the end of the war. Note the length of crepe attached to his left sleeve, likely in mourning for the death of Abraham Lincoln and indicating this was made at the end of the war in 1865.

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Smith came to Jefferson, Texas, following the war where he engaged in local politics, both as a member of the 1867 - 68 Texas Constitutional Convention and more ominously as head of the Union Loyal League and member of the Republican Voter Registration Board which was active both in the registration of newly-enfranchised black voters and the subsequent disenfranchisement of white former Confederates, earning him the enmity of most white locals, as described on the historical marker above near the site of his death. To many, Smith epitomized the prejudicial term carpetbagger.

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This was the site of The Calaboose, Jefferson's new city jail; the house above on the corner of Lafayette and Marshall Streets is a relatively new one. In 1868, this entire block was given to storehouses, a stable and its yards, and the jail which was surrounded by a plank fence. Smith was here on the fatal night of Oct. 4 because of an event the previous night which happened only across Marshall Street below. This area was the site of a grocery store owned by Lewis Grant, one of Smith's black friends and associates in the Board and was where the altercation referred to in the marker had occurred in which Smith had defended himself, shooting and wounding two of his assailants. For his own protection he was placed under guard in the Calaboose along with four of the blacks who also felt threatened.

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The Union Missionary Baptist Church of the 1860's which stood at the southwest edge of town on the site now occupied by its 1880's replacement was the scene of much activity by Smith and the Loyal League and Voter Registration Board. It was therefore a target for white resentment and recrimination which likely resulted eventually in its burning as detailed on the historical marker below.

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Federal occupation troops under Major James Curtis were sent to Jefferson to protect the work of the Freedman's Bureau, establishing at least two camps, one for infantry and another for cavalry. One of these camps may have been in the vicinity of the church, but Curtis' headquarters was located in town where the gazebo and U. S. flag now stand. In the photo below, note the landmark Excelsior House Hotel at right and at left at the intersection the Jefferson House Hotel. This was only two blocks from the location of the Calaboose.

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A mob began to gather in the Lady Gay Saloon which stood in the now-vacant lot below fronting Dallas Street. Around 9 pm it began to move up Market Street towards the Calaboose, gathering members and momentum; by the time it arrived it numbered at least seventy but perhaps over a hundred men. According to conflicting testimony most members of the mob were disguised by masks or blackened faces. Improbably, the large group surprised and overcame the pairs of sentinels stationed at street corners and approached the Calaboose undetected until they broke in the fence and entered the compound where they quickly subdued the remaining guards who were under the leadership of town Mayor William N. "Uncle Billy" Hodge.

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Smith was being guarded by a combination of locals and soldiers from the garrison, altogether numbering one or two dozen. Unable to dislodge Smith from his cell, he was shot several times through the open windows and door by the light of a torch that was thrust through one of the windows. Three of the four four black men were seized and taken into the woods toward Sulphur Spring, where two of them, Lewis Grant and Richard Stewart, were killed, and the other, Anderson Wright, escaped. The fourth, Cornelius Turner, had escaped earlier in the initial confusion.
 
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Pat Young

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"The letter from Marion County chief justice Donald Campbell (later lieutenant governor) tells of Klan activity in Jefferson and threats against Lieutenant George W. Smith," according to the Texas State Library. Here is a transcript of the letter:

Jefferson Tuesday Aug 25

Hon. E.M. Pease

Austin

My Dear Sir --

The excitiment was much higher

with us last night than it has ever been before. It came

very near resulting in a general riot and massacre.

The K.R.S. had a meeting about 5 o'clock in the town

Hall and invited Lieut Smith to be present. They had great

complaints to make in regard to the negroes being armed,

but not a word to say in regard to the outrages recurring

here every day and night by their war party. The negroes

feel that they have been outraged and that unless they protect

themselves they will be killed up by these outlaws.

Threats have been made that their Church is to be burnt or

torn down and they have simply armed themselves and when

night comes, they go to their Church and await any attack

that may be made upon it. They interfere with no one and

will interfere with no one, but have determined if their

Church is attacked, to die in defending it. Last night a party

of Ku Kluxes went out to attack them, but through the

efforts of Lieut Smith and several others, it was prevented.

During the night however, the wildest excitement prevailed

all over our city -- horsemen from the direction of the Church

were running at full speed. The Hall bell was run 5

or six times, horns were blown in different parts of

town. Yelling and shooting and all manner of things

were done to alarm loyal men and freedmen. It

was feared at the time that the troops would be

attacked and they stood with their guns in their

hands ready to resist them. But fortunately

everything passed off without injury to any one.

It is understood here that 300 of the expected

troops have reached Marshall. If so, we may ex-

pect them here very soon. But when they come,

will it be sufficient if the rebels will be quiet u-

ntil they are withdrawn? This has been the practice

heretofore, and the moment the troops are taken away

they commence their devilment again. They must

be hunted up and punished. They must

be made to fear a violation and resistance of the

authority of the U. States. Without it, all will go

for nothing. Turning outlaws and assassins over

to the Civil Authorities amounts to their sure

release. They must be tried by Military Commissioners

the moment they are caught and dealt with as they

deserve.

By last mail we rec'd letters from our

friends Judge Caldwell and Mr. Grigsly. I would

write them, but don't know when the Conven-

tion will take recess and fear they might leave before

a letter could reach them and in either event

they can hear from us through you. We will

write them by next mail.

Truly yours

D. Campbell
 

James N.

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great post. thanks for the photos and commentary!
Thanks for educating me on this incident as I was not at all familiar with it. And as always excellent photos, too! :thumbsup:
Thanks for teaching us more (Texas!) regional history, James!
Great photos and story James!
Wonderful! Makes me feel like I'm there.
Thanks for the tour. This is really intriguing.

Thanks to all for your interest and comments; yesterday I was working without my sources and largely from memory. I have lightly edited the above post for additional information and will soon add a Part II concerning the resulting trial itself.
 
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James N.

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Part II - The Stockade Trial
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This incident was too great a threat to the Reconstruction government of Texas and additional troops were dispatched and investigation begun. Unfortunately for the prosecution, the gathering of evidence was tainted by U. S. detective Charles H. Bostwick operating in classic Pinkerton fashion by badgering, threatening, and intimidating witnesses. Eventually over thirty locals were indicted and a stockade erected to hold the prisoners which may have stood in the general area above, across from Union Missionary Baptist Church and in a bend of Cypress Bayou, more evident below. In very recent years this area has become the location for a number of fashionable homes, some of which may well stand on sites of the Federal camps.

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It was deemed necessary for the accused to be tried by a military tribunal headed by Brevet Maj. Gen. Edward P. Hatch as President of the Commission that also included Bvt. Col.'s S. H. Starr, N. A. M. Dudley, and William R. Shafter (later known as Pecos Bill and commander of all U. S. troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War); Bvt. Lt. Col.'s George A. Gordon and Samuel K. Schwenk; and Majors Lyman Bissell and Henry Goodfellow, J.A.G. During the trial proceedings Col. Starr removed himself and resigned as a member of the court after being accused of bias; and Gen. Hatch removed and placed under arrest Lt. Col. Gordon for reasons unknown. Regardless these changes, the court continued with its work.

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Left to right: Maj. Gen. Edward P. Hatch, President of the Commission and senior officer involved; Bvt. Brig. Gen. George P. Buell who replaced Major Curtis as commander of Jefferson's garrison following the murders; and Maj. Gen. William R. "Big Bill" Shafter, seen later in his career.

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One of the few private homes indicated on the map used during the Stockade Trial was the Stilley-Young House above, also known as The Grove. Likely it was featured because it was near the Sulphur Spring where the three black victims Lewis Grant, Richard Stewart, and Anderson Wright had been taken and shot.

The trial convened on Monday, May 24, 1869, and dragged on for nearly three months until concluding Thursday, Aug. 19. Of the thirty-two accused, only six men were convicted; all the rest were acquitted and eventually released. Of those actually serving prison time even those were soon pardoned by President Grant in what was widely seen by many as a travesty of justice. It must be remembered that Grant had been elected in 1868 on the slogan "Let there be Peace", only taking office in March, 1869. He and many members of the Republican party were anxious to put Reconstruction and its woes behind, accepting "solutions" intended to reconcile but which in reality paved the way for even greater excesses.

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On March 30, 1870, President Grant signed a bill officially ending Texas Reconstruction; today little remains in Jefferson to show evidence of those turbulent times. In Oakwood Cemetery, however, twenty-five U. S. Government headstones have fairly recently been placed to commemorate at least that many soldiers of the Reconstruction garrison who died while on duty here. They include one lieutenant, two or three sergeants, and the balance privates; most were members of either the 11th U. S. Infantry or 6th U. S. Cavalry. The garrison was never large, only thirty or so during the period of the murders, but grew considerably in the weeks following, companies of cavalry being drawn from as far as Fort Richardson west of Fort Worth.

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This period has become known more for the trial than the murders and unrest that prompted it; I have relied heavily on the slim 130 pp. volume above in both my location of sites relating to the incident as well as preparation of this much-condensed account. It is currently available for $12.95 from a variety of sources.
 

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James N.

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The letter speaks of the "K.R.S.", presumably the Knights of the Rising Sun.

Assigning blame for the murders of Smith, Grant, Stewart, and Wright seems as impossible to prove now as it was in 1869. Unlike the comment in the account above referring to the Ku Kluxes, the Knights of the Rising Sun were NOT in any way a "secret" society. According to their charter, quoted in the book above, "The objects of the association, are to preserve the peace and quiet of the community by assisting the constituted authorities, in bringing offenders against the same to answer, before the courts of justice and in checking crime, and offenses against law and order." There was even a parade of the newly-organized society July 31, 1868, and their Grand Officers were sworn in during a public ceremony the night of Sept. 19.

Of course this could merely be so much double-talk, but significantly Capt. Smith accepted members of the Knights as his guards on that fatal night; Jefferson's civilian Mayor William N. Hodge was in charge of the guard detail and appeared to be his friend and someone Smith trusted. Hodge's testimony was an important part of the trial and he himself was not indicted for any wrongdoing. It seems likely to me that there were Knights that composed at least part of the membership of the mob that night, and possibly at least some of the guard were "in on" the action; none of that could be proven in court, however, and remains at best speculation.
 

Pat Young

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Assigning blame for the murders of Smith, Grant, Stewart, and Wright seems as impossible to prove now as it was in 1869. Unlike the comment in the account above referring to the Ku Kluxes, the Knights of the Rising Sun were NOT in any way a "secret" society. According to their charter, quoted in the book above, "The objects of the association, are to preserve the peace and quiet of the community by assisting the constituted authorities, in bringing offenders against the same to answer, before the courts of justice and in checking crime, and offenses against law and order." There was even a parade of the newly-organized society July 31, 1868, and their Grand Officers were sworn in during a public ceremony the night of Sept. 19.

Of course this could merely be so much double-talk, but significantly Capt. Smith accepted members of the Knights as his guards on that fatal night; Jefferson's civilian Mayor William N. Hodge was in charge of the guard detail and appeared to be his friend and someone Smith trusted. Hodge's testimony was an important part of the trial and he himself was not indicted for any wrongdoing. It seems likely to me that there were Knights that composed at least part of the membership of the mob that night, and possibly at least some of the guard were "in on" the action; none of that could be proven in court, however, and remains at best speculation.
I am not very familiar with the KRS and was just trying to guess at what the abbreviation in the letter meant. I did find a number of secondary sources that referred to the KRS as a similar manifestation as the Klan, but very little that went into details.
 

Pat Young

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Part II - The Stockade Trial
View attachment 92335

This incident was too great a threat to the government of Reconstruction Texas and additional troops were dispatched and investigation begun. Unfortunately for the prosecution, the gathering of evidence was tainted by U. S. detective Charles H. Bostwick operating in classic Pinkerton fashion by badgering, threatening, and intimidating witnesses. Eventually over thirty locals were indicted and a stockade erected to hold the prisoners which may have stood in the general area above, across from Union Missionary Baptist Church and in a bend of Cypress Bayou, more evident below. In very recent years this area has become the location for a number of fashionable homes, some of which may well stand on sites of the Federal camps.

View attachment 92334

It was deemed necessary for the accused to be tried by a military tribunal headed by Brevet Maj. Gen. Edward P. Hatch as President of the Commission that also included Bvt. Col.'s S. H. Starr, N. A. M. Dudley, and William R. Shafter (later known as Pecos Bill and commander of all U. S. troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War); Bvt. Lt. Col.'s George A. Gordon and Samuel K. Schwenk; and Majors Lyman Bissell and Henry Goodfellow, J.A.G. During the trial proceedings Col. Starr removed himself and resigned as a member of the court after being accused of bias; and Gen. Hatch removed and placed under arrest Lt. Col. Gordon for reasons unknown. Regardless these changes, the court continued with its work.

View attachment 92337
Left to right: maj. Gen. Edward P. Hatch, President of the Commission and senior officer involved; Bvt. Brig. Gen. George P. Buell who replaced Major Curtis as commander of Jefferson's garrison following the murders; and Maj. Gen. William R. "Big Bill" Shafter, seen later in his career.

dsc03893-jpg.jpg

One of the few private homes indicated on the map used during the Stockade Trial was the Stilley-Young House above, also known as The Grove. Likely it was featured because it was near the Sulphur Spring where the three black victims Lewis Grant, Richard Stewart, and Anderson Wright had been taken and shot.

The trial convened on Monday, May 24, 1869, and dragged on for nearly three months until concluding Thursday, Aug. 19. Of the thirty-two accused, only six men were convicted; all the rest were acquitted and eventually released. Of those actually serving prison time even those were soon pardoned by President Grant in what was widely seen by many as a travesty of justice. It must be remembered that Grant had been elected in 1868 on the slogan "Let there be Peace", only taking office in March, 1869. He and many members of the Republican party were anxious to put Reconstruction and its woes behind, accepting "solutions" intended to reconcile but which in reality paved the way for even greater excesses.

View attachment 92336

On March 30, 1870, President Grant signed a bill officially ending Texas Reconstruction; today little remains in Jefferson to show evidence of those turbulent times. In Oakwood Cemetery, however, twenty-five U. S. Government headstones have fairly recently been placed to commemorate at least that many soldiers of the Reconstruction garrison who died while on duty here. They include one lieutenant, two or three sergeants, and the balance privates; most were members of either the 11th U. S. Infantry or 6th U. S. Cavalry. The garrison was never large, only thirty or so during the period of the murders, but grew considerably in the weeks following, companies of cavalry being drawn from as far as Fort Richardson west of Fort Worth.

View attachment 92338

This period has become known more for the trial than the murders and unrest that prompted it; I have relied heavily on the slim 130 pp. volume above in both my location of sites relating to the incident as well as preparation of this much-condensed account. It is currently available for $12.95 from a variety of sources.
Thanks for the additional info.
 

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James N.

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I am not very familiar with the KRS and was just trying to guess at what the abbreviation in the letter meant. I did find a number of secondary sources that referred to the KRS as a similar manifestation as the Klan, but very little that went into details.

In some secondary accounts the Knights organization is specifically named as the killer of Smith, but from the transcriptions of the trial, which the authors of the text above say ran to "...over 3000 handwritten pages. Many of the testimonies it contains are contradictory, entire sections are dedicated to bureaucratic maneuvering, and most of it is fairly tedious." it seems pretty obvious no such blanket statement is justified. The consensus at the time was that, as usual in cases such as this, the truly guilty had escaped punishment and that those convicted were scapegoats; even two members of the Commission were among those asking for the release of one of the prisoners. Perhaps whoever it was - likely his parents - who erected George Smith's tombstone back at his home in Branch County, Michigan, to which his body was returned said it best:

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Pat Young

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In some secondary accounts the Knights organization is specifically named as the killer of Smith, but from the transcriptions of the trial, which the authors of the text above say ran to "...over 3000 handwritten pages. Many of the testimonies it contains are contradictory, entire sections are dedicated to bureaucratic maneuvering, and most of it is fairly tedious." it seems pretty obvious no such blanket statement is justified. The consensus at the time was that, as usual in cases such as this, the truly guilty had escaped punishment and that those convicted were scapegoats; even two members of the Commission were among those asking for the release of one of the prisoners. Perhaps whoever it was - likely his parents - who erected George Smith's tombstone back at his home in Branch County, Michigan, to which his body was returned said it best:

33086449_123250715034.jpg
Thanks.
 

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