A Resolution Was Passed by the Unanimous Voice of the County, Forever Forbidding any Mexican from Coming Within the Limits of the County
August 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
This is the last installment of our snapshot looks at the treatment of Mexicans in Texas during the latter part of the 19th century. Today, we look at Columbus and Colorado County.
Columbus is one of the most picturesque towns in Texas, with its dozens of ancient, spreading live oaks and victorian homes. It has also been one if Texas most violent towns, with one famous feud that lasted more than decade, beginning with the gunning down of Bob Stafford, Columbus’ wealthiest citizen, and his younger brother John, on the evening of the present courthouse’s cornerstone laying celebration, July 7, 1890, by City Marshal Larkin Hope and brother Marion. The feud then hopped across family lines to continue until at least 1907. Columbus can also boast of hosting the last lynching in Texas, in 1935, from one of the town’s most massive live oaks, which still stands at the outskirts of town. Killing at least one of your fellow man was once almost considered a rite of passage here. To be fair, Columbus has since seen the light and is now as law-abiding a town as you can find in Texas. Ironically, given its past, Columbus boasts the State’s only Santa Claus museum.
And now to our story.
Despite the intense hatred of Mexicans engendered amongst most Texians by Santa Anna, the people of Columbus seemed to be an extraordinarily hospitable bunch of people in the months after the Texas revolution.
In the early days of June 1837, a “Citizen of Ohio” visited Columbus, which he described for a series of articles that ran in an Ohio monthly called the Hesperian:
“Columbus, a small town consisting of two public houses, two small stores and a half-dozen shanties, stands upon the west side of the Colorado River about one hundred miles from its mouth. Since the expulsion of the Mexicans, quite a settlement has been made in the vicinity of Columbus, consisting of twenty or thirty families who in their collected strength, aided by the citizens of the town, think themselves able to resist any predatory or general attack of the Indians. The people in this settlement had more the appearance of industry than any I had yet seen, and with the exception of gambling, the besetting sin here as everywhere else in Texas, there would be little to complain of more than is common among men anywhere.”
The anonymous author remained in Columbus for several days, preparing for a journey to San Antonio. It would be no casual lark, as the author related:
“All began to prepare for war. Rifles and pistols were put in order, bullets run, and powder distributed. Our wallets were filled with dodgers, and everything attended to necessary for a regular Indian campaign. A course was laid down to regulate our conduct so as to avoid danger to ourselves and especially to our horses during the night, the time when there was the greatest reason for fear. The plan was the same that is most in practice by those who are in the frequent habit of traveling from the coast to the interior. It is to stop about dark, build up a fire and prepare something to eat, to remain in this situation until ten o’clock, then after replenishing the fire, to depart with great secrecy and travel eight or ten miles on the course. To make assurance doubly sure, it is then customary to ride three or four miles either to the right or left and go quickly to sleep. But it is common, after all this precaution, for the party to take turns in watching during the night.
“A number of discharged Mexican prisoners had been collecting for some days from every part of the country until they amounted to near forty, and these were making similar preparations with ourselves to meet the dangers of the unsettled country. A prospect of once more seeing their native land made their hearts glad with joy. The kindness of the citizens had furnished the company which was now preparing to proceed to Mexico a number of muskets to kill game and defend themselves in case of attack, as well as many other things that would be required along the way.”
Attitudes toward Mexicans were very different 19 years later, as both Mexicans and the county’s slave population earned the ire of Colorado County’s Anglo supremacists.
According to several contemporary newspaper accounts, Colorado County was very nearly laid to waste in September 1856. On Sept. 9, 1856, the Vigilance Committee of Colorado County wrote the following report for the Galveston News.
“The object of this communication is to state to you all the facts of any importance connected with a recent intended insurrection. Our suspicions were aroused about two weeks ago, when a meeting of the citizens of the county was called, and a committee of investigation appointed to ferret out the whole matter, and lay the facts before the people of the county for their consideration. The committee entered upon their duties, and, in a short time, they were in full possession of the facts of a well-organized and systematized plan for the murder of our entire white population, with the exception of the young ladies, who were to be taken captives, and made the wives of the diabolical murderers of their parents and friends. The committee found in their possession a number of pistols, bowie-knives, guns, and ammunition. Their passwords of organization were adopted, and their motto, “Leave not a shadow behind.”
“Last Saturday, the 6th inst., was the time agreed upon for the execution of their damning designs. At a late hour at night, all were to make one simultaneous, desperate effort, with from two to ten apportioned to nearly every house in the county, kill all the whites, save the above exception, plunder their homes, take their horses and arms, and fight their way on to a “free State” (Mexico).
“Notwithstanding the intense excitement which moved every member of our community, and the desperate measures to which men are liable to be led on by such impending danger to which we have been exposed by our indulgence and lenity to our slaves, we must say the people acted with more caution and deliberation than ever before characterized the action of any people under similar circumstances.
“More than two hundred negroes had violated the law, the penalty of which is death. But, by unanimous consent, the law was withheld, and their lives spared, with the exception of three of the ringleaders, who were, on last Friday, the 5th inst., at 2 o’clock P. M., hung, in compliance with the unanimous voice of the citizens of the county.
“Without exception, every Mexican in the county was implicated. They were arrested, and ordered to leave the county within five days, and never again to return, under the penalty of death. There is one, however, by the name of Frank, who is proven to be one of the prime movers of the affair, that was not arrested; but we hope that he may yet be, and have meted out to him sue reward as his black deed demands.
“We are satisfied that the lower class of the Mexican population are incendiaries in any country where slaves are held, and should be dealt with accordingly. And, for the benefit of the Mexican population, we would here state, that a resolution was passed by the unanimous voice of the county, forever forbidding any Mexican from coming within the limits of the county.
“Peace, quiet, and good order are again restored, and, by the watchful care of our Vigilance Committee, a well-organized patrol, and good discipline among our planters, we are persuaded that there will never again occur the necessity of a communication of the character of this.”
The September 11 issue of the Galveston News contained the following update: “We learn, from the Columbian Planter, of the 9th, that two of the negroes engaged in the insurrection at Columbus were whipped to death; three more were hung last Friday, and the Mexicans who were implicated were ordered to leave the country. There was no proof against these last beyond surmises. The band had a deposit of arms and ammunition in the bottom. They had quite a number of guns, and a large lot of knives, manufactured by one of their number. It was their intention to fight their way to Mexico.”
The September 5 issue of the La Grange True Issue reported, “We noticed last week the rumor that a large number of slaves, of Colorado county, had combined and armed themselves for the purpose of fighting their way into Mexico. Developments have since been made of a much more serious nature than our information then indicated. It is ascertained that a secret combination had been formed, embracing most of the negroes of the county, for the purpose of not fleeing to Mexico, but of murdering the inhabitants — men, women, and children promiscuously. To carry out their hellish purposes, they had organized into companies of various sizes, had adopted secret signs and passwords, sworn never to divulge the plot under the penalty of death, and had elected captains and subordinate officers to command the respective companies. They had provided themselves with some fire-arms and home-made bowie knives, and had appointed the time for a simultaneous movement. Some two hundred, we learn have been severely punished under the lash, and several are now in jail awaiting the more serious punishment of death, which is to be inflicted today. One of the principal instigators of the movement is a free negro, or one who had been permitted to control his own time as a free man.”