Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, January, 1998 Page: 31
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The Freedmen's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
But the central bureau records, as well as the reports of the major inspector of
this governmental agency, William H. Sinclair, demonstrate that Harris was indeed a thief.
At first, Sinclair thought Harris a "good man" but he worried about the white woman,
Maggie Hartnett, "who taught the local black children," for she taught anti-Southern songs
in her lessons. When, in mid 1868, after Stevenson had replaced Harris, Sinclair once again
visited Columbus, he determined that Stevenson was a prime agent. When weighed against
his recent discoveries about Harris and his peccadilloes, Stevenson struck Sinclair as more
than competent. Stevenson may have been somewhat less approachable than Harris, and
certainly was more formal, but he was honest. Because of what Harris had done, Stevenson
had to win the trust of the black community. Despite this handicap, it is evident that the
freedmen made far greater educational, political, and legal strides under his sub-assistant
commissionership than under Harris'.68
The Freedmen's Bureau agents who made Columbus their headquarters and
who served the surrounding region present a striking contrast in their personality,
character, and integrity. In fact, these individuals ranged across the gamut of the
psychological profile. They included an army officer who could not truly perform his
responsibilities and duties, apparently because of wounds received in the war, though
possibly because of a lack of earnestness. Another soldier detailed to the bureau office at
Columbus turned out to be a thief, scoundrel, and an unpleasant human being. Finally, an
industrious and conscientious agent appeared who committed himself to bettering the social
and economic condition of the black communities in the area.
There can be little question that these federal interlopers received a mixed
reception from Colorado County whites and blacks. After all, they were entering an arena,
race relations, that had long been sacrosanct and untouchable in the South. White hostility
was to be expected: the bureau agents did represent the winning side of the war that the white
southerners had only just lost. But this should not deter us from presenting a composite
portrait and an evaluation of the performance of these federal officials. The fact that their
presence was resented warrants neither an automatic negative nor an automatic positive
assessment of these men. They encountered a situation that was demanding, and indeed,
impossible. The way in which they carried out their duties is important for understanding
Reconstruction at the local level.
68 Roberts to Louis W. Stevenson, April 17, 1868, Field Records, vol. 71, p. 62, BRFAL, RG 105,
National Archives; William L. Richter, "Who Was the Real Head of the Texas Freedmen's Bureau?: The Role
of Brevet Colonel William H. Sinclair as Acting Assistant Inspector General, " Military History of the Southwest,
vol. 20, Fall 1990, pp. 129-130, 143-144, 146-147, 152.
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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/m1/31/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.