Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 9, Number 1, January, 1999 Page: 30
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
early on the morning of June 27, 1868. That fire led to the formation of a company of
volunteer fire fighters, and to the controversial arrest of a man named E. C. Powell, who,
though he had come to Columbus just a few days earlier, was widely known as a Union
sympathizer. The newest attempt at arson further infuriated the citizens of Columbus. Within
days, a mysterious letter was delivered to Holman D. Donald. An accompanying note stated
that it had been found near the ferry on the river north of town. The letter, dated October 28
and signed "Carpet Bager," was addressed to Stevenson, and implicated him in a plot to
burn the town. Donald kept the letter a secret. It finally came to public attention on Novem-
ber 8, when the man who claimed to have found it wrote the Columbus postmaster, Horace
H. Haskell, to inform him of its existence. Stevenson did not learn of the letter until Novem-
ber 17. He secured a copy, wrote a note denouncing it as a fraud, and delivered both docu-
ments to James M. Daniels, the editor of the Columbus Times. Daniels printed all the docu-
ments in his next edition. Stevenson had hoped that the newspaper coverage of the events
would exonerate him in the minds of the locals. It did not. On December 5, he accepted
another position within the bureau. His departure, however, was slow in coming. He re-
mained in town, dodging the suspicious glances of his fellow residents, for nearly three
more months. He finally left, for Jefferson, Texas, in February 1869. No agent was sent to
Colorado County to take his place. Except for brief postings in Columbus of members of
the 17th U. S. Infantry in April 1869 and of the 11th U. S. Infantry in February and March
1870, Stevenson's departure marked the end of the federal government's attempts to di-
rectly intervene on behalf of the freedmen in Colorado County. But, the situation had appar-
ently stabilized enough that, when a black man named Amos Burrell was arrested for raping
an underage white girl, the citizens calmly let the law take its course. Burrell was sentenced
to fifty years at hard labor on October 16, 1869, and went off to serve his sentence without
Another crisis afflicted the county in 1869. That year, for the first time since
the end of the war, the county's cotton farmers seemed on the verge of producing a very
profitable crop. For each of the four previous years, a pest the farmers referred to as "cotton
worms" had damaged the crop. The cotton crops had been so bad, that, in 1868, one desper-
47 Reports of Louis W. Stevenson, October 31, 1868, November 18, 1868, Letters of Louis W.
Stevenson, November 22, 1868, December 5, 1868, February 10, 1869, March 1, 1869, Testimony in the Case
of E. C. Powell, all in Barry A. Crouch Collection (Ms. 41), Archives of the Nesbitt Memorial Library, Colum-
bus; Columbus Times, July 4, 1868; Post Returns, United States Military, xerographic copies in Small Manu-
scripts Collection (Ms. 5), Archives of the Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus; Colorado County District
Court Records, Criminal Cause Files No. 779 and 778: State of Texas v. Amos Burrell, Criminal Minute Book D,
p. 248. The fact that Burrell was not lynched further complicates interpretation of the Bowen lynching. If the
mob which lynched Bowen really meant to lynch Thomas, then it seems reasonable to assume that some attempt
would have been made to lynch Burrell. Perhaps though, the reaction to the Bowen lynching was so strong as to
deter future efforts. Perhaps too the mob got the man they wanted man when they lynched Bowen, and, at this
time in county history, were not interested in black rapists such as Thomas and Burrell.
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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/m1/30/?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.