Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 9, Number 1, January, 1999 Page: 26
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
whose name was actually Jefferson Spear, said that his name was also Fry. Herbert shortly
arose and went down the street to Brunson's Saloon, while Fry and Spear celebrated their
sudden kinship with a few more drinks. By 10 o'clock, Fry and Spear had worked them-
selves into a frenzy. They followed Herbert to Brunson's, and Spear, standing near the door,
called for him to come out. When Herbert did so, Spear shot him dead. Even as Spear and
Fry rode off into the night, Herbert's many friends in the community, including Ira Harris's
son Joseph P., formed themselves into a posse. Spear would prove easy to catch. Drunk and
riding too fast in the dark of night, he had been knocked from his horse by an overhanging
tree limb and had taken shelter at Toliver's Mill, less than a mile from the scene of the
killing. Just before daylight on July 6, the posse cornered him in the mill. Reportedly, he
refused an opportunity to surrender. In any case, he was killed, by Harris, with a shotgun.
Herbert was buried in a cemetery on his plantation, next to his wife, who had died only a
Other crimes, too, grabbed the attention of the locals. On March 7, 1866, in
what was probably the largest robbery in the history of the county, unknown thieves stole a
safe which contained some $12,000 from the railroad office at Alleyton, leaving few if any
clues to their identity. On March 24, another safe was stolen and rifled, this one from the
law office of James M. Daniels in Columbus. As there were no banks in town, many per-
sons used the safe to store their money and valuables. In fact, the county treasurer, William
Bluford Dewees, kept the county's funds in the safe. Until three months before the robbery,
someone regularly slept in the office, providing security. When the guard found accommo-
dations elsewhere, Daniels' law partner, Daniel D. Claiborne, removed his funds from the
safe, and advised everyone else to do the same. Few, if any, followed his advice. Those who
did not found themselves suddenly impoverished. Within three weeks, thieves struck again.
On April 11, six to eight men, two of them black and the rest disguised as blacks, attacked
and robbed a wagon in a rural area. The gang reportedly got away with $2000. Officers
tracked them to Columbus, but apparently never made any arrests.41
The seeming increase in high-criminal activity was, unfortunately, concurrent
with a decline in the ability of the county to deal with it. The principal problem was the lack
of respect for the government and by extension, the law, among the white population, which
40 Galveston Daily News, July 18, 1867; Texas State Gazette, July 13, 1867; Letter of Blanche and
Will to Mother, July 6, 1867, Letter of John H. Bowers, July 10, 1867, both in Small Manuscripts Collection
(Ms. 5), Archives of the Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus.
41 Galveston Tri-Weekly News, March 9, 1866; Letter of Caledonia C. Wright, March 11, 1866,
Josepha Wright Papers, The Center for American History, University of Texas, Austin, or transcription in Wil-
liam H. Harrison, Alleyton, Texas "Back Door to the Confederacy, " (Alleyton: Show Me Type and Print, 1993),
p. 181; Colorado County District Court Records, Civil Cause No. 2098: Colorado County v. William B. Dewees,
et al.; [Houston] Evening Star, April 12, 1866. It is at least possible that all three robberies were committed by
the same gang of men. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they occurred after the departure of Freedmen's Bureau
agent John T. Raper but before the arrival of his replacement, George Van De Sande.
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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/m1/26/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed June 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.