Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000 Page: 44
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
Columbus city alderman and member of the state guards, apparently intending to assault
him. Harbert got wind of the affair, armed himself, enlisted the aid of a friend, and con-
fronted Harris and McDowell. Soon, Harbert and McDowell had each drawn pistols. Though
no shots were exchanged,Harris had taken the opportunity to pistol-whip Harbert, then un-
duly alarmed the populace by informing the mayor, with no justification whatever, that local
blacks were on the verge of a riot. Little more than three months later, in early March 1872,
Harris had another physical altercation with a local black official, the local state policeman,
Fayette Yancy. The following month, under staunch criticism by local Republicans, he had
been removed as marshal. On December 14, 1873, very shortly after he returned to the job,
Harris was sent to investigate a disturbance at a residence on Dewees Street. He was
accompanied by, of all people, Bartley Harbert, who was acting in his capacity as a special
Columbus policeman. When Harris and Harbert arrived at the house, the tenant, a black
man named Pierce Henderson, opened the front door. Harbert waited on the porch as Harris
entered the house, gun in hand. Reportedly, Henderson was holding a rifle. True to form, the
trigger-happy Harris opened fire, killing Henderson. Though Harris seemingly suffered little
criticism for the killing, less than a year later, he was again in trouble. On October 14, 1874,
he was indicted for using his office to extort money from a local merchant. Finally, in Janu-
ary 1875, amid a swirl of rumors that Henderson's rifle had been leaning in a corner rather
than in his hands when he was killed, Harris resigned. Five months later, on June 14, 1875, a
grand jury indicted him for murdering Henderson. He was brought to trial, but was acquit-
57 State Police Roster, Seventh Police District, p. 422, Adjutant General's Records (RG 401);
City Officials Appointment Book, City of Columbus, p. 36, Colorado County Election Returns, both in
Secretary of State Records (RG 307) Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin; Statements of
Bartley Harbert, Westley Burford, and Andrew Pickens, December 12, 1871, Camillus Jones to Edmund
J. Davis, Edmund J. Davis Records (RG 301), Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin; Fayette
County New Era, December 19, 1873; Colorado Citizen, March 21, 1872, January 14, 1875; Colorado
County District Court Records, Criminal Cause File No. 1277: State of Texas v. Joseph P Harris;
Criminal Cause File No. 1368: State of Texas v. Joseph P Harris. Before his first stint as city marshal,
Harris had worked for the county as a jailor (see Colorado County Police [Commissioners] Court
Minutes, Book 1862-1876, p. 154). At the time of their assault on Harbert, Harris and McDowell were
good friends. That friendship lapsed in mid-1872. McDowell married Harris's sister, Sarah, on Febru-
ary 11, 1872, without telling her, or anyone else, that he already had a wife, who was living, abandoned,
in Alabama. When the Harris family found out, McDowell fled, apparently to Tennessee. Joe Harris
wanted to pursue him but was hindered by the fact that he had to support his poor, widowed mother.
She was Dilue Rose Harris, who would later become well known as the author of reminiscences of her
life in early Texas and the traumas of the Runaway Scrape, and as the subject of a number ofbiographi-
cal efforts. Sarah Harris later married George S. Ziegler, the important local Republican politician who
spent the latter part of his adult life in Eagle Lake. It was at his home that Dilue Harris wrote her
reminiscences, and at which she died. Another of her daughters, and of Joe Harris's sisters, Mary
Victoria, was married to Johann Baptist Leyendecker, the one-time Republican sheriff of Colorado
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000, periodical, January 2000; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151408/m1/44/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed February 25, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.