Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 90
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
arrested. He pointed out that he had military force at his disposal sufficient to prevent
his arrest, but that he had advised Tate that if he made his complaint known to Gregory
or General Wright, he would answer it with pleasure.59
Raper correctly believed that he had the authority to assess a fine against
Tate for his assault upon the black man. However, he noted that, though, in a radical
change from the past, the testimony of freedmen was now admitted in the courts in
Columbus, "it is almost superfluous to add that they cannot obtain impartial justice,
perhaps more from public prejudice than anything else." In a conflict between a
Freedmen's Bureau agent and local civil officials, the agent needed the support of the
bureau's chief executive officer. Gregory provided just such support for his agent in
Columbus, Raper, writing to him "I see nothing in your report of the case of Mr. Tate
wrong. You have the right to try him and fine him for the assault committed upon the
Freedman. Stand your ground. You are right."60
Barnard, became so incensed over the issue that he wrote to Provisional
Governor Hamilton. He noted that the two affidavits that had been sworn before him
charging Raper with swindling and false imprisonment required him to take action, but
that when he had issued a warrant for Raper's arrest, and dispatched the marshal to
execute it, Raper refused to submit to arrest, "alleging that he was not amenable to the
Laws of the State of Texas for any of his actions." Outraged, and still in need of Raper's
presence and testimony to investigate the charges against him, Barnard then had sent
a note to Captain Merrill requesting his assistance in executing the warrants, but Merrill
had refused to intervene, claiming he had no authority over Raper. Uncertain how to
proceed, Barnard approached the governor with a single question: Did officers of the
state have the authority to arrest and try persons belonging to the United States military
who had violated criminal law?61
In actuality, Raper had almost certainly violated no law. As an agent of the
Freedmen's Bureau, he was empowered to try and to fine individuals who perpetrated
outrages upon blacks. He certainly was within his rights to accept the testimony of the
freedmen. Much of the controversy probably stemmed from Raper's position as a
defender of black rights, and of his assumption of authority to apprentice black children,
which seems to have angered a local judicial official.62
On January 15, 1866, not long after this imbroglio, Raper made application
through bureau headquarters to General Wright to be mustered out of the military, and
asked that Gregory also approve his request. Earlier, he had made a similar request,
asking to leave the army but to stay with the Freedmen's Bureau and to be assigned a
position at bureau headquarters in Galveston. The War Department had reversed its
earlier stand, and then allowed agents to remain in the Freedmen's Bureau even after they
left the military, however, Commissioner Oliver Otis Howard had rejected Raper's
61 Fred Barnard (Columbus mayor) to Andrew J. Hamilton, December 26, 1865, Governor's Papers:
Hamilton, Texas State Library.
62 Ibid.; Richter, Overreached On All Sides, p. 42; Campbell, "Reconstruction in Colorado County,
Texas," p. 7.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995, periodical, May 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151394/m1/22/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.