Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 99
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The Freedmen 's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
Johnson immediately observed that the freedmen were complying with the
contracts they had signed and, in his admittedly brief time in the county, noted that he
"had not heard of one direct violation" of them. This was perhaps not surprising, since
the crop season had just begun and Johnson had not fully established an office or begun
to act as agent. He also reported, however, that though he had few advantages in
obtaining information, he was already "entirely satisfied" that freedmen had but a "small
chance for getting a fair compensation for their labor or justice in any particular" without
protection. "Of course," he wrote, "the planters think but little of the 'Bureau,' not so
however with the freedmen."93
Between the time Raper left in January 1866 and the arrival of George Van
De Sande the following April, the bureau position in Columbus remained vacant. The
bureau did not, however, completely ignore the area, and occasionally ordered a
headquarters official to tour the section in an attempt to ferret out individuals who falsely
acted as agents. S. J. W. Mintzer, the surgeon-in-chief for the bureau, briefly served as
just such an itinerant agent, travelling to Richmond and Columbus. Though he found no
evidence that "any person, other than the authorized Agents represented themselves,
as acting under orders of this Bureau," he presented an overly generous account of his
visit to more than forty plantations to headquarters. The report praised Gregory's
influence, and suggested-contrary to much other contemporary evidence-that the
employers actually supported the bureau. He found the freedmen to be "industriously
employed, and the planters regarding the bureau as their true friend: many said if it was
not for your direct influence upon the Freedmen, they would not have planted this year,
as no Freedmen were disposed to contract." Though he found a few plantations that had
been "abandoned by the freedmen," he ascribed that to "mismanagement" that was the
"natural result of self-opinioned men who presume to 'know all about the niggers,' and
[have] no knowledge of human nature."94
On some plantations, Mintzer reported regretfully, "many" of the freedmen
seemed to be "indolent," not appearing for work before nine or ten in the morning. After
investigating the contracts on many of the farms, Mintzer discovered that the majority
worked for a share of the crop, and that none was stipulated to receive less than one-
fourth. He inquired as to cause of this "liberal division" and "found it was for want of
influence to secure labor, non-payment of last years wages," with "no care for their
welfare." Clearly, the freedmen had forced a larger division of the crop. "Invariably,"
Mintzer had instructed blacks on the nature of a contract, its legal character, and the
importance of performing their part of the bargain.95
He claimed that he addressed the freedmen as often as five or six times a
day "and in several instances was the means of explaining imaginary difficulties, and
saving labor for the planter, where he was well disposed." In two cases, Mintzer had
10, 1866, Assistant Commissioner, Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, Texas, BRFAL, RG 105, National
94 S. J. W. Mintzer (surgeon-in-chief) to Edgar M. Gregory (assistant commissioner, Texas),
January 17, 1866, Assistant Commissioner, Unregistered Letters, 1865-1866, Texas, BRFAL, RG 105,
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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/m1/31/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed September 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.