Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 75
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The Freedmen 's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
Simultaneously with the changed economic situation in Colorado County,
the new district judge for the First Judicial District, George Washington Smith, wrote the
governor about the state of affairs. Concerned about the stability of the area, Smith
wanted to be of "some service in restoring law and order to this once prosperous and
happy country but now almost distracted and ruined." Smith informed Hamilton that he
felt like he was "representing a Government, not a stack twisted 'Agency'-yes! a
Government of power, whose strength will ever be ample to enforce obedience to its
laws, civil and criminal." He assumed he would receive the governor's support in "en-
forcing the civil rights of the people against all unlawful invasions."'14
Smith, who had already commenced his judicial duties, desired that peace
and order once again return to the region. He had tried two people upon a writ of habeas
corpus; one for the murder of a black man and the other for "alleged jayhawking."
Happily, Smith could report that Colonel William T. Wilkinson, the local military
commander, had readily delivered the two individuals to the civil authorities in obedience
to the writs Smith had issued and they had been admitted to jail. This cooperation
between the military and the recently-appointed local officials perhaps lulled the citizens
into believing federal interference would be minimal. Smith told the governor that the
"people here are very much pleased at the return of civil authority to our land."'"15
The twin themes of restoration and black rights, a debate which would rage
until Texas was readmitted to the union in 1870, concerned most citizens in Colorado
County and the surrounding region. Walker and Battle had opposite viewpoints about
both. Walker believed that the process of bringing Texas back into the Union should be
prolonged through a military apprenticeship and Battle that the quicker Texas was
readmitted, the better it would be for the nation. Their attitudes about the newly-
emancipated slaves also differed sharply. Although Walker seemed to be pessimistic
about the future of blacks in Texas, Battle argued that freedom had to be recognized and
that the freedmen had to be given rights. The national government had already made
plans for this transformation.
The Freedmen's Bureau
Four months before the occupation army arrived in Texas, Congress, at the
urging of Abraham Lincoln, had established a national agency to oversee the transition
of the slaves to freedom. In March 1865, under the direction of the War Department,
the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, commonly known as the
Freedmen's Bureau, was created. The first social/legal/welfare agency in the history of
the United States, the bureau was endowed with considerable power and daunting
responsibilities. The American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission had justified the estab-
lishment of an interim organization to assist the former slaves because they were "men
who have been, for generations, despoiled of their rights."16
14 George W. Smith (Columbus) to Andrew J. Hamilton, August 21, 1865, Governor's Papers:
Hamilton, Texas State Library.
16 OR, series III, vol 4, pp. 381-382; John G. Sproat, "Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction," Journal
of Southern History, vol. 23 (February 1957), pp. 33-44; Herman Belz, "The Freedmen's Bureau Act of 1865
and the Principle of No Discrimination According to Color," Civil War History, vol. 21 (September 1975), pp.
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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/m1/7/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed November 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.