The Lee - Peacock Feud In Northeast Texas, 1867 - 71

James N.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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Rusk County Avengers

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Thank you for the tour! I've always wanted to get out and find sites of the feud.

I remember a History Channel Documentary on Reconstruction, (I actually have a copy), that told the story of the feud in its final act. It was a big lie!!!!

Not single thing in that show right other than the rank question of Bob Lee. They painted it as Peacock was an innocent Union man, who was attacked by Bob Lee, a Confederate deserter and well known murderer of prisoners who owned a vast plantation and fought the Freedman's Bureau to keep his numerous slaves. Attacking Peacock for no reason other than to stir up trouble, and painting the whole thing as a Wild West gunfight.

Its always been my understanding it started when Peacock broke into Lee's house, arrested him took him to half a mile from Jefferson, stripped him of his nightclothes taking money, and leaving him there.

I need to know of any proper books on this happening in East Texas...
 

James N.

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… I remember a History Channel Documentary on Reconstruction, (I actually have a copy), that told the story of the feud in its final act. It was a big lie!!!!

Not single thing in that show right other than the rank question of Bob Lee. They painted it as Peacock was an innocent Union man, who was attacked by Bob Lee, a Confederate deserter and well known murderer of prisoners who owned a vast plantation and fought the Freedman's Bureau to keep his numerous slaves. Attacking Peacock for no reason other than to stir up trouble, and painting the whole thing as a Wild West gunfight.

Its always been my understanding it started when Peacock broke into Lee's house, arrested him took him to half a mile from Jefferson, stripped him of his nightclothes taking money, and leaving him there.

I need to know of any proper books on this happening in East Texas...
And thank you for giving me the perfect lead-in to a discussion of sources!

To my knowledge there are currently only two sources for the Lee-Peacock affair, neither worthy candidates for serious consideration, both pictured below. neither rise to the level of my previously reviewed Brush Men And Vigilantes: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/br...xas-by-david-pickering-and-judy-falls.160889/ In fact, this work by David Pickering and Judy Falls which covers the Civil War era in the same general area is superior in every respect and provides the background necessary for understanding the later troubles, concerning which both of the others ignore completely.

The main trouble with both of them is the times in which each was written. The oldest, G. B. Ray's Murder At The Corners was written by Gladys Ray, a resident of the area in the 1950's who heard vague stories and asked her elderly neighbors about them. The result was a series of reminiscences of hard times told by descendants of survivors, all of whom represented the pro-Southern Bob Lee viewpoint and says nothing at all about exactly what it was he was doing while hiding out in the thickets and certainly nothing at all about the freedmen. According to the reviews of it on Amazon it is by far the preferred of the two, primarily because of its one-sidedness. Nevertheless it is an interesting and quick read and I recommend it for that reason as an overview.

Murder and Mayhem on the other hand is a much more recent and at first glance far more comprehensive account from the same university press as Brush Men; unfortunately, it reads EXACTLY like your description of the politically correct History Channel garbage, which I believe incidentally to have been based on this very book! A look down at the trio of authors and the name Larry Peacock among them should be clue enough as to what this will be. As a product of a university press a reader would rightly expect a professional writing style, but they would be wrong. This is turgidly written, highly repetitive and full of unflattering libelous characterizations of ex-Rebels, Lost Causers, various murderers and criminals, etc., etc.; naturally, no one involved on Peacock's side ever did anything wrong or committed any atrocities. Whereas Ray's old book has no notes and cites no sources, this one is full of them - unfortunately they are mostly period newspaper accounts that are no more reliable and just as partisan as anything in similar contemporary sources like the New York Times or Washington Post.

Given the extreme partisanship of both books, my main complaint is nevertheless their almost total failure to connect the events happening in the Corners and Northeast Texas with other State or National happenings of Reconstruction. Although Ben Bickerstaff and Cullen Baker are mentioned, at least in Murder And Mayhem, other than tarring and associating them generally with Bob Lee nothing is said about what may have motivated their activities other than a hatred for blacks and the Reconstruction government - specifically there is nothing about the Texas Constitutional Convention that upended everyone's lives at this time. As for your account of Bob Lee's supposed arrest and extortion to gain his release, it appears there is no evidence to back up his accusation of Peacock on this event. My opinion is that to attempt to get a clear picture of what was going on it is necessary to read both of these short books and let your own assumptions and prejudices guide what you choose to believe of them; the true story has yet to and probably never will be told.

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Rusk County Avengers

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View attachment 361358


And thank you for giving me the perfect lead-in to a discussion of sources!

To my knowledge there are currently only two sources for the Lee-Peacock affair, neither worthy candidates for serious consideration, both pictured below. neither rise to the level of my previously reviewed Brush Men And Vigilantes: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/br...xas-by-david-pickering-and-judy-falls.160889/ In fact, this work by David Pickering and Judy Falls which covers the Civil War era in the same general area is superior in every respect and provides the background necessary for understanding the later troubles, concerning which both of the others ignore completely.

The main trouble with both of them is the times in which each was written. The oldest, G. B. Ray's Murder At The Corners was written by Gladys Ray, a resident of the area in the 1950's who heard vague stories and asked her elderly neighbors about them. The result was a series of reminiscences of hard times told by descendants of survivors, all of whom represented the pro-Southern Bob Lee viewpoint and says nothing at all about exactly what it was he was doing while hiding out in the thickets and certainly nothing at all about the freedmen. According to the reviews of it on Amazon it is by far the preferred of the two, primarily because of its one-sidedness. Nevertheless it is an interesting and quick read and I recommend it for that reason as an overview.

Murder and Mayhem on the other hand is a much more recent and at first glance far more comprehensive account from the same university press as Brush Men; unfortunately, it reads EXACTLY like your description of the politically correct History Channel garbage, which I believe incidentally to have been based on this very book! A look down at the trio of authors and the name Larry Peacock among them should be clue enough as to what this will be. As a product of a university press a reader would rightly expect a professional writing style, but they would be wrong. This is turgidly written, highly repetitive and full of unflattering libelous characterizations of ex-Rebels, Lost Causers, various murderers and criminals, etc., etc.; naturally, no one involved on Peacock's side ever did anything wrong or committed any atrocities. Whereas Ray's old book has no notes and cites no sources, this one is full of them - unfortunately they are mostly period newspaper accounts that are no more reliable and just as partisan as anything in similar contemporary sources like the New York Times or Washington Post.

Given the extreme partisanship of both books, my main complaint is nevertheless their almost total failure to connect the events happening in the Corners and Northeast Texas with other State or National happenings of Reconstruction. Although Ben Bickerstaff and Cullen Baker are mentioned, at least in Murder And Mayhem, other than tarring and associating them generally with Bob Lee nothing is said about what may have motivated their activities other than a hatred for blacks and the Reconstruction government - specifically there is nothing about the Texas Constitutional Convention that upended everyone's lives at this time. As for your account of Bob Lee's supposed arrest and extortion to gain his release, it appears there is no evidence to back up his accusation of Peacock on this event. My opinion is that to attempt to get a clear picture of what was going on it is necessary to read both of these short books and let your own assumptions and prejudices guide what you choose to believe of them; the true story has yet to and probably never will be told.

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Sounds to me like Brush Men and Vigilantes and Murder at the Corners are the books to get! I might just have to re-watch the old garbage from History Channel, I remember the head historian covering the feud was out of Oklahoma City and a professor, (I can't say that carries much weight to me, their still human), and I bet his name is one of the authors of that book and I'll have to re-watch the show to find out what it was.

As for Cullen Baker, I too wish the connection would be made. The closest I'm familiar with is a novel by Louis Lamour titled "The First Fast Draw" where Baker and Lee are old friends, (and bear no resemblance to the historical true men). It was years after reading that novel as a kid before I learned they were real people!
 

James N.

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Sounds to me like Brush Men and Vigilantes and Murder at the Corners are the books to get!

As for Cullen Baker, I too wish the connection would be made. The closest I'm familiar with is a novel by Louis Lamour titled "The First Fast Draw" where Baker and Lee are old friends, (and bear no resemblance to the historical true men). It was years after reading that novel as a kid before I learned they were real people!
I neglected to mention one inexcusable aspect of both books: there are NO MAPS! Only the hokey cover illustration on Murder At The Corners with its background diagram (not really much of a map) is at all helpful, and that not much as you can plainly see. The other one has a single map copied from Vigilantes And Brush Men, but it has NO relation to the events of the feud. Most annoyingly, those authors make repeated references to places but provide nothing better than an indication of which county they happened in.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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I neglected to mention one inexcusable aspect of both books: there are NO MAPS! Only the hokey cover illustration on Murder At The Corners with its background diagram (not really much of a map) is at all helpful, and that not much as you can plainly see. The other one has a single map copied from Vigilantes And Brush Men, but it has NO relation to the events of the feud. Most annoyingly, those authors make repeated references to places but provide nothing better than an indication of which county they happened in.

Google Earth comes in handy when a book has no maps.
 

J. D. Stevens

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Interesting and informative narrative (as usual) with excellent pictures. "Brush Men And Vigilantes" is a book on my list to purchase. In my bookcase is "The Governor's Bloodhounds, The Texas State Police, 1870-1873" by Barry A. Crouch and Donaly E. Brice which goes into detail about the post war violence in Texas. As the title suggests, the book revolves around the organizing and service performed by Governor Davis' State Police (NOT Texas Rangers). The only reference to the characters you mention above are on page 20. "....in most communities everyone knew who committed these depredations but feared for their life if they reported them to the proper authorities. The recognizable ones, such as Cullen Baker, Elisha Guest, Benjamin Bickerstaff, Bob Lee, Bill Longley, Ben Griffith, and a host of others, left a body count of blacks and whites wherever they operated."

Reference #42 for this paragraph includes the "Journal of the Reconstruction Convention" plus three books previously written or co-authored by Mr. Crouch. They include "Murder and Mayhem" which you have already mentioned, "The Freedman's Bureau and Black Texans," and "Cullen Montgomery Baker; Reconstruction Desperado." You and Rusk County might be interested in the last book.

"The Governor's Bloodhounds" had a special interest for me since Chapter 3 is titled; "An Affair Only Equalled by the Exploits of the Comanches, The Hill County Imbroglio." Walker County and my home county of Hill were both placed under martial law during reconstruction. According to the author, after the CW, Hill County earned a reputation for being a brutal section involving feuds, rings of horse and cattle thieves, and an abundance of bad actors including John Wesley Hardin, Kinch West, and several others of lesser fame. The declaration of Martial Law in Hill County was due to my direct ancestors and their neighbors who supported them.

The Governor's Hounds.jpg
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Interesting and informative narrative (as usual) with excellent pictures. "Brush Men And Vigilantes" is a book on my list to purchase. In my bookcase is "The Governor's Bloodhounds, The Texas State Police, 1870-1873" by Barry A. Crouch and Donaly E. Brice which goes into detail about the post war violence in Texas. As the title suggests, the book revolves around the organizing and service performed by Governor Davis' State Police (NOT Texas Rangers). The only reference to the characters you mention above are on page 20. "....in most communities everyone knew who committed these depredations but feared for their life if they reported them to the proper authorities. The recognizable ones, such as Cullen Baker, Elisha Guest, Benjamin Bickerstaff, Bob Lee, Bill Longley, Ben Griffith, and a host of others, left a body count of blacks and whites wherever they operated."

Reference #42 for this paragraph includes the "Journal of the Reconstruction Convention" plus three books previously written or co-authored by Mr. Crouch. They include "Murder and Mayhem" which you have already mentioned, "The Freedman's Bureau and Black Texans," and "Cullen Montgomery Baker; Reconstruction Desperado." You and Rusk County might be interested in the last book.

"The Governor's Bloodhounds" had a special interest for me since Chapter 3 is titled; "An Affair Only Equalled by the Exploits of the Comanches, The Hill County Imbroglio." Walker County and my home county of Hill were both placed under martial law during reconstruction. According to the author, after the CW, Hill County earned a reputation for being a brutal section involving feuds, rings of horse and cattle thieves, and an abundance of bad actors including John Wesley Hardin, Kinch West, and several others of lesser fame. The declaration of Martial Law in Hill County was due to my direct ancestors and their neighbors who supported them.

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That book there has been on my list to get for some time now. I wish someone made reproductions of that particular police agency's badges. It'd be a good decoration in my work shop.
 

James N.

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Interesting and informative narrative (as usual) with excellent pictures. "Brush Men And Vigilantes" is a book on my list to purchase. In my bookcase is "The Governor's Bloodhounds, The Texas State Police, 1870-1873" by Barry A. Crouch and Donaly E. Brice which goes into detail about the post war violence in Texas. As the title suggests, the book revolves around the organizing and service performed by Governor Davis' State Police (NOT Texas Rangers). The only reference to the characters you mention above are on page 20. "....in most communities everyone knew who committed these depredations but feared for their life if they reported them to the proper authorities. The recognizable ones, such as Cullen Baker, Elisha Guest, Benjamin Bickerstaff, Bob Lee, Bill Longley, Ben Griffith, and a host of others, left a body count of blacks and whites wherever they operated."

Reference #42 for this paragraph includes the "Journal of the Reconstruction Convention" plus three books previously written or co-authored by Mr. Crouch. They include "Murder and Mayhem" which you have already mentioned, "The Freedman's Bureau and Black Texans," and "Cullen Montgomery Baker; Reconstruction Desperado." You and Rusk County might be interested in the last book.

"The Governor's Bloodhounds" had a special interest for me since Chapter 3 is titled; "An Affair Only Equalled by the Exploits of the Comanches, The Hill County Imbroglio." Walker County and my home county of Hill were both placed under martial law during reconstruction. According to the author, after the CW, Hill County earned a reputation for being a brutal section involving feuds, rings of horse and cattle thieves, and an abundance of bad actors including John Wesley Hardin, Kinch West, and several others of lesser fame. The declaration of Martial Law in Hill County was due to my direct ancestors and their neighbors who supported them.
Thanks for your kind comments! As I've recommended in my review of it, I think you will find Brush Men... worthwhile and certainly better-written than the Smallwood-Crouch-Peacock travesty; it is for that reason that I'd certainly suspect the alleged biography of Cullen Baker, which I imagine is merely another "hit" piece. There's no doubt that men such as Baker, Lee, and Bickerstaff were NO angels and doubtless committed their share of assaults and likely outright murders, but they were certainly living in some of the interesting times of legend! Another problem is that any unknown crimes were automatically assigned by the authorities to them without the least real evidence. According to Murder And Mayhem, it appears that many members of these gangs removed to your general area, Hardin (who was another briefly mentioned in my thread as a possible killer of Peacock) and Bickerstaff among the more obvious but scarcely by themselves.
 

Rusk County Avengers

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Thanks for your kind comments! As I've recommended in my review of it, I think you will find Brush Men... worthwhile and certainly better-written than the Smallwood-Crouch-Peacock travesty; it is for that reason that I'd certainly suspect the alleged biography of Cullen Baker, which I imagine is merely another "hit" piece. There's no doubt that men such as Baker, Lee, and Bickerstaff were NO angels and doubtless committed their share of assaults and likely outright murders, but they were certainly living in some of the interesting times of legend! Another problem is that any unknown crimes were automatically assigned by the authorities to them without the least real evidence. According to Murder And Mayhem, it appears that many members of these gangs removed to your general area, Hardin (who was another briefly mentioned in my thread as a possible killer of Peacock) and Bickerstaff among the more obvious but scarcely by themselves.

In the Marion County Museum in Jefferson, looking through their archives I found an old typed and bound manuscript for a biography of Cullen Baker. Thankfully the good folks there allowed me to copy a few pages, (at a nickel apiece and I was welcome to do the whole thing!). Funny part is, they had no idea they had it!

The author went around in the early 1900's till the 1920's interviewing all the people he could find who knew Cullen Baker, along with more than a few of them's own Confederate service, one serving under Crump and knowing Baker then.

I have no idea if it was ever published, but going through it the first time convinced me its a goldmine of information!

I'd be happy to type out one of those first hand accounts if asked. They're pretty long though...
 
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