Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 10, Number 1, January, 2000 Page: 52
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
Probably, most of the blacks killed in rural areas had been suspected of rustling,
for local cattlemen did not hesitate to shoot such individuals. Following the practice of the
day, ranchers let their cattle roam freely and unattended across the unfenced countryside,
rounding them up twice a year to brand and sell them. For most of the year, they were easy
prey for rustlers, most of whom, in Colorado County, slaughtered stray cows for their meat.
Despite the growing concern of ranchers, the county official whose duties and powers were
most pertinent toward mitigating the rustling problem, the inspector of hides and animals,
found little support for his activities, and sometimes encountered active, violent resistance.
Though it is not known to have been a factor in the incident, at the time he was killed, William
L. Wynn was serving as a deputy inspector. No doubt the situation did not improve when a
black man, Ellsworth O. Almond, was elected to the office in 1876. Almost immediately,
Almond fell victim to an assault. By then, ranchers had determined to protect their own
cattle. All around the county, vigilante groups began to emerge. In February 1876, ranchers
on the Navidad River formed the Navidad Stock Association to guard their cattle against
theft. The following month, the citizens of Weimar followed suit, stating that they were
forming the Protection Society of Colorado and Fayette Counties because "depredations
have and are now being committed upon persons and property in our vicinity, which the
officers of the law have heretofore failed to arrest." On July 10, forty-nine blacks who lived
in or near Eagle Lake formed a similar society, pledging "to report to the officers of the law
all stealing of cattle and hogs, and in fact the stealing or depredating upon property of any
kind whatsoever, whether said property belongs to white or colored." 67
Their effort, apparently, was too little too late. In July and August 1876, violence
which had its roots in the conflict over rustling near Eagle Lake escalated into a range war.
James Underwood Frazar and his brother, Newton Ford Frazar, who ran a store in the Eagle
Lake Bottom, had come under suspicion in the recent murder of two black men, and a
number of area blacks had threatened to attack their store in retaliation. Robert E. Stafford,
67 Colorado County Bond and Mortgage Records, Book I, p. 114; Colorado Citizen, March
2, 1876, March 30, 1876, May 2, 1876, May 11, 1876, June 1, 1876, July 13, 1876, August 10, 1876. The
theft of livestock, of course, was not new; however, the primacy of the notion that ranchers must exact
their own retribution was. One must wonder what effect cases like that of Karl Friedrich Sophus Jordt,
a longtime resident of Frelsburg and then Columbus, had on the psyches of ranchers. Jordt was
convicted of stealing "a certain sorrel horse" and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. He
appealed the case to the state supreme court, which, in early 1869, overruled his conviction on the
grounds that Jordt ought not have been convicted of stealing a horse because the term "horse" meant
either a male or a female animal and Jordt had actually stolen a gelding (see Colorado County District
Court Records, Criminal Cause File No. 775: State of Texas v. Charles Jordt; George W. Paschal,
Reports of Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Texas [Texas Reports]
(Washington, D. C.: W H. & O. H. Morrison, 1870), vol. 31, pp. 571-572; Galveston DailyNews, March
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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/m1/52/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed October 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.