Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 9, Number 1, January, 1999 Page: 25
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Consider the Lily: The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas
Whatever their status in other endeavors, the freedmen immediately achieved
equality in one regard: the number of crimes committed by and against them. In 1866, 1867,
and 1868, about half of the criminal indictments handed down by Colorado County's grand
juries were against freedmen; a number that was well in keeping with the percentage of the
population that was black. In the two years after the war, at least five freedmen were shot
and killed: a man known only as Braxton on August 2, 1865; Alex Gaedke on June 18,
1866; Ben Johnson on February 9, 1867; Hise Hancock on February 11, 1867; and Stephen
King on February 26, 1867. In three of the cases, other freedmen were accused of the crime.
In only one of the cases, that of Ben Johnson, was there any certainty about the identity of
the shooter. He was shot by a white man named John Rogers at the Globe Hotel in Alleyton
at the culmination of an argument over whether or not Johnson was intoxicated.38
At least three white men were shot and killed in the same time span. The last of
the three occurred on August 21, 1867 in a Columbus saloon. After bystanders heard five
shots ring out from inside the saloon, its owner, Phocian Tate, emerged and announced that
he had killed his clerk, Thomas J. Roberts. Officers entered the saloon and found Roberts
lying on the floor, dead, a derringer in his left hand. He had been shot three times in the left
side and arm, and had died instantly. Tate was tried for the shooting, and eventually, on
October 13, 1869, found not guilty of murder. The earliest of the three shootings occurred
in June 1865 and involved a former slaveowner. At the culmination of what must have been
a bitter argument, Nathan C. Womble, who had fortuitously sold his plantation before the
war, shot and wounded Ira Albert Harris, and was in turn shot and killed by one of Harris'
The Harrises were also involved in the third murder, which was one of the most
shocking in the county's history. On the evening of July 5, 1867, Caleb Claiborne Herbert,
the wealthy and influential plantation owner and former Confederate congressman, booked
a room in the Bonds Hotel on the south side of the courthouse square in Columbus. While
he was seated in the lobby, two men came in, one after the other. Both apparently were so
intoxicated that they offended Herbert. He asked each in turn his name. The first barked
that his name was Fry, and when Herbert reproached him for his tone, the second man,
38 Colorado County District Court Records, Criminal Cause File No. 542: State of Texas v. William
H. Trammell, Criminal Cause File No. 629: State of Texas v. Henry Montgomery, Criminal Cause File No. 648:
State of Texas v. John Rogers, Criminal Cause File No. 650: State of Texas v. Anderson Putney, Criminal Cause
File No. 651: State of Texas v. J. Wallace Foote; Notes from sub-assistant commissioner's field notes: Affidavit
of Tony Williams, April 17, 1867, Barry A. Crouch Collection (Ms. 41), Archives of the Nesbitt Memorial
Library, Columbus. A count revealed 171 criminal indictments in 1866, 1867, and 1868, 80 in each 1866 and
1868 and only 11 in 1867. Of the 171, it could be determined with certainty that 77 were against freedmen; 30
in 1866, 3 in 1867, and 44 in 1868.
39 Galveston Tri-Weekly News, June 27, 1865; Colorado County District Court Records, Criminal
Cause File No. 664: State of Texas v. Phocian Tate, Criminal Minute Book D, p. 239; [La Grange] State Rights
Democrat, August 30, 1867.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 9, Number 1, January, 1999, periodical, January 1999; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151405/m1/25/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed March 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.