Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, January, 1998 Page: 30
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
persons intending to fire the town. W. M. Young, George Washington Smith, William J.
Darden, and the sheriff, Johann Baptist Leyendecker, organized themselves into a local
investigating committee, and began monitoring Stevenson's movements round-the-clock.
Several prominent citizens informed Stevenson that if the fire had occurred his "life would
have paid the penalty. " Naturally, Stevenson thought his position within the community was
precarious. Three weeks into the investigation, with his life in constant peril, the agent had
been told nothing about the proceedings. Finally, on November 17, a friend informed him
that an anonymous person had transmitted some incriminating letters, which were
described as being in a woman's handwriting, to the postmaster. The letters incriminated
Stevenson in the attempted arson. Stevenson went to Young's office to demand a look at
them. To protect himself, he sent copies of the letters to the editor of the Columbus Times
and denounced the anonymous writer. Then, he wrote headquarters that there were many
people who believed that nothing was too bad for an agent, and feared that anyone who
"would stoop to do such an infamous act to wreak vengeance" on him might do more. Ste-
venson's submission to the Times was printed without comment or explanation, prompting
more concern, in Stevenson's mind, about how the local populace would regard it. He
continued to believe that the "people proper" did not think him guilty of such a "base act, "
but the Times, as the repository of public sentiment which had led to the initial condemnation
of the letters as false, had now changed to a new perception that the story might be the truth.
He requested that headquarters send an officer to investigate the case.67
Agents, or sub-assistant commissioners, naturally varied in their abilities and
personalities in dealing with both the white and black Columbus communities. Harris, who
appeared to be gregarious and often met and congregated with the black communities in his
sub-district, embezzled almost all the money they entrusted to him to erect a school and a
church. There can be no doubt that Harris was not the ideal agent sought by the bureau.
A thief, a liar, and a cheat, in short a rather despicable individual, he managed to alienate
most of the citizens of Colorado County and beyond. His constant verbal abuse of the
women schoolteachers brought to the area to teach the freedmen was unnecessary and
indeed wrong. What is so surprising is that Harris managed to survive as long as he did.
Perhaps Harris' tenure in the 14th Sub-District was not a total disaster, although it came
close to being that. He seems to have made a half-hearted attempt to protect black legal
rights and equality. Harris was also active in the economic arena in attempting to ensure
that blacks received their equitable share.
67 Louis W. Stevenson to Vernou, November 18, 1868, Assistant Commissioner, Letters Received,
S-336, BRFAL, RG 105, National Archives.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, January, 1998, periodical, January 1998; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151402/m1/30/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed May 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.