Featured Book Reviewer
- Feb 23, 2013
- East Texas
Above, road through Wildcat Thicket, little changed other than width from its appearance in the turbulent 1860's. This and the other "thickets" throughout the region had served during the war as hideouts and continued to do so in the first years of Reconstruction.
The so-called Lee - Peacock Feud was a once-famous/notorious episode of Reconstruction that took place largely in what was then known as the Four Corners - shortened to the Corners - area where Grayson, Fannin, Collin, and Hunt Counties join in the top two tiers of Texas counties. (At the left in the map above from the book Brush Men and Vigilantes.) Their county seats of Sherman (named for Kentuckian and Texas revolutionary patriot Sidney Sherman and not William T.), Bonham, McKinney, and Greenville are all antebellum settlements that witnessed troublesome events and personalities during the war, including settlers who volunteered and fought for the Confederacy, and more than a few Union volunteers as well as dissenters who resisted service in various ways; the leaders Robert "Bob" Lee and Lewis Peacock exemplified both sides of the subsequent controversy. On occasion during the war, Peacock "took to the brush", as did Lee upon his return in 1865. Both men attracted considerable followings among those of like mind and were considered the respective leaders of their groups. The so-called "feud" was far more than the local incident it is usually portrayed, being much related to political events going on simultaneously on both a state and national level.
As can be seen on the map this part of Texas was noted for its near-impenetrable tangled growth known locally as thickets, the most notable of which were Jernigan's (the largest), Black Cat, Mustang, and Wild Cat; almost all have now disappeared through settlement and routine farming activities. This remaining patch of Wild Cat is in Grayson County near the Lee Family Cemetery where Bob Lee was ambushed and killed in 1869. The various thickets served during the war years as a hideout for draft evaders, dissenters, Unionists, and outright outlaws. Things got so serious the local Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Henry McCullough "invited' the guerrillas of William Clarke Quantrill who were wintering near Sherman to attempt to break up the hideouts within the thickets but unfortunately Quantrill's men proved to be more trouble than the outlaws and were asked to leave the state!
Within the thickets it was difficult for outsiders to move around and find their own way, much less searching for fugitives who were usually locals more or less familiar with the terrain. With the end of the war, the tables were turned and as Unionists like peacock began to emerge, the thickets welcomed new inhabitants in the form of former Confederates who sought to prey on the Unionists, Federal Reconstruction garrisons, and newly-emancipated freedmen. According to local lore, former Confederate cavalry Captain Robert "Bob" Lee was being harassed by neighboring Unionists led by Lewis Peacock who sought to settle scores with their ex-Rebel neighbors, causing Lee to abandon his farm Lee Station and hide here in Wild Cat Thicket. Eventually, a reward of $1000 was placed on the heads of Lee and other resistance leaders by the Federal military governor of the State; when a group of three bounty hunters appeared to find and kill Lee and collect, it was they who instead became easy prey for those well-hidden inside!
The tiny postwar town of Leonard (1889) in Fannin County today is nearest to the Corners and scene of major activity. At the time, the most notable settlement, however, was the now almost-vanished town of Pilot Grove in Grayson County. The Grove was more or less home to both the Lees and the Peacocks and their followers, but most people including them lived out in the countryside on their plots of land; towns were largely centers for commercial and social activity. In the worst part of the action here Peacock requested and received from local Federal authorities in county seat Sherman a corporal's guard of around a dozen cavalrymen of the 6th U.S. The troopers had been brought all the way from Fort Richardson west of Fort Worth to counteract Southern-sympathizing raiders as far east as Jefferson. However, there were never enough Federal troops to truly maintain order and protect all the Unionists and freedmen and local law enforcement throughout the Corners was unreliable and as likely to sympathize with Lee and his followers.
Pilot Grove likely gets its name from its position on somewhat elevated land like that above looking out over what at the time would have been mainly rolling grasslands. Today little remains other than some scattered modern housing and the tumble-down church below. But in the 1860's it was a viable community with churches, stores, and saloons typical of a frontier settlement. It was only natural that local Unionists here would seek protection from the army, especially since county seats like Sherman, McKinney and Bonham were known pro-Confederate centers. A local Federally-appointed circuit judge named Hart refused to visit many of his court sites and when he did, even though escorted by a marshal and several cavalrymen was ambushed and seriously wounded, subsequently losing his arm.
Although giving a history of the local Baptist Church and a little about the early settlement of Pilot Grove, this historical marker remains mum about the goings-on here during Reconstruction.
The mis-named "feud' was really part of a network of unrest and resistance to Federal authority stretching from Pilot Grove east along the Jefferson Road all the way to Texas' border with Louisiana. Other Federal garrisons of varying size were established in Sulphur Springs (Bright Star on this map) in Hopkins County and in Jefferson itself, the most important town in the region. https://civilwartalk.com/threads/murder-in-jefferson-texas-oct-4-1868.121598/ Three large areas being terrorized by gangs led by local former Confederate soldiers included: Bob Lee in the Corners; Ben Bickerstaff in Gray Rock (between Mount Vernon and mount Pleasant but centered on Sulphur Springs); and Cullen Baker in and around Jefferson. Other than mere resistance to Federal control their motives included making sure newly-enfranchised blacks were denied the vote, usually through acts of violence and even murder. Often members of one group were combined with the others; one period account put Bickerstaff's force at over 200 hiding in another smaller thicket near Sulphur Springs, likely including members of the other groups as well. Eventually things grew too hot in the region for the bands: Cullen Baker was killed in an ambush and is buried in Jefferson's Oakwood Cemetery https://civilwartalk.com/threads/oakwood-cemetery-jefferson-texas.161100/; Ben Bickerstaff removed south of Fort Worth near Alvarado, Texas where he and one of his followers were gunned down by the local townfolk when they rode in, who no doubt disliked having such dubious characters shooting up their otherwise peaceful community!
Bob Lee's turn came next in June, 1869; he was also killed in an ambush as he rode away from a brief visit to his wife and home at Lee Station back into Wild Cat Thicket. He was buried in the nearby Lee Family Cemetery in an unmarked grave. His assailants included several members of the Regular U. S. Army but surprisingly his body was left to lay where it fell and nobody attempted to claim the $1000 reward for killing him. Below a recently-installed marker placed by the SCV describes the Lee - Peacock Feud. This private cemetery is well-within what's left of the thicket and near both his home at Lee Station and the spot where he was gunned down.
Was "Captain" Bob Lee really a captain - or only a sergeant like his surviving military records show? Enlisted in the 9th Texas Cavalry he served in the Western theatre of the war, usually as part of the division commanded by Maj. Gen. William H. "Red" Jackson which was at times attached to the Cavalry Corps of Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. His absences at times might be explained by the practice of allowing Confederate cavalrymen - who usually owned their own horses - to return to their native states on leaves to secure remounts, etc. It is now thought by sympathetic researchers that in the waning days of the war that Lee was promoted captain to command his company of scouts but that in the turmoil of the downfall of the Confederacy any records of his promotion were lost. At any rate, his many followers throughout the Corners readily accepted his leadership up until the time of his death and there were those who swore revenge.
Other members of the Lee family buried here include his parents; his father D. W. Lee was also killed in the aftermath of the "feud" and is buried beneath the marker above, though most graves are unmarked or marked with sadly-deteriorating wooden stumps like those below. Bob Lee is said to be buried quite nearby in an unmarked grave.
With the death of Captain Bob the feud was said to have ended and peace returned to the Corners and Unionists and freedmen breathed more easily far a time. But old feelings, like the men, died hard and only two years later the leader of the opposing faction Lewis Peacock met his own end. He was also killed from ambush like many if not most of the others; his three assailants waited patiently outside his house early one morning before dawn for him to make the usual trek to the woodpile or the outhouse. When they opened fire, he supposedly "slapped leather" but found his holsters - buckled on over his longjohns - empty; he had forgotten to put his pistols in them and they were found still laying on the kitchen table inside! Not being satisfied, his killers - who may have included a teenaged John Wesley Hardin, also a native of the Corners - reloaded their shotguns, walked over to where he lay, and shot him again at point-blank range; leaving, they told the neighbor on the next farm over who was both a parson and the local coroner, "We've killed the bird - now you can go dress it."
Peacock's mangled body was carried to what is now the Old Pilot Grove Cemetery where it was originally buried furtively and in an unmarked grave. Much later in the Twentieth Century the location was remembered and marked, first by the smaller stone seen here, and later by the descriptive concrete slab. Even though the grave is decorated with a U. S. flag, in fact Peacock was never a veteran, though he did serve as a volunteer scout for the U. S. Army while they were searching for Bob Lee and his followers. According to the marker he also served as agent for the Freedman's Bureau.