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Civil War and Reconstruction
The Travails of Reconstruction
Leroy Dean Discusses Vigilantes in Texas

Leroy Dean's mother was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Texas in 1860. His father came to Texas from Mississippi after serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In 1869 or 1870, his father came to the communities of Stranger and Odds, where he met Leroy's mother. What is Leroy's attitude toward what he calls "Quantrell's men" and vigilantes? What reasons can you find for his views?

View the entire interview with Leroy Dean from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


"In the days before there were the communities of Odds, Stranger, Eureka, Ogdon, or the other little settlements on Blue Ridge, or close by, the country was part prairie, part lowland and part timber, surrounding the Ridge. I can recall, as a boy, how we used to roam over the wooded part, up and down the creeks hunting for birds of all kinds and wild turkeys, and hogs. We learned the lore of the birds and the woods, to understand the wild life was part of our education. It was our delight to listen to the talk of the older men as they discussed the politics of the day; or the latest hanging; or the newest committee of Vigilants who were organized to help the officers to see that the law was upheld. For, at that time, law enforcement was yet in its infancy in Texas.

"The organization known as "Quantrell's Men", [whowere?] bushwhackers during the Civil War had some members who lived after the war in our nearby town of Marlin, Texas. There were three or four whom my father knew well. These were Major Swann, a lawyer of Marlin; Stump Ashby, another lawyer, and Professor Lattimore, father of the late Professor John Lattimore, who was at one time the County School Superintendent of Falls County. After the Civil War ended, and the days of Reconstruction required the best of men to help to uphold the law, there was a committee of men formed called Vigilants[.]

These men who had belonged to Quantrell's Organization were among the first to help to make Texas a place unsafe for criminals. The course of the law being so often delayed and not enforced caused many a man to be dealt with without recourse to a trial by jury. I remember that in our own community there was an example of this. It was the hanging of one of the neighborhood men, Milt Brothers, who was accused of cattle theft.

Another instance of taking the law into ones own hands was the killing of a Mr. Heaton, who was a Northern man who came to this country soon after the end of the Civil War. He owned a ranch in the community now known as Mart, but at that time it was known as Willow Springs. This was east of Big Creek and twelve miles north of the Odds settlement. He was killed in a dispute about some cattle that he had bought from the widow Walker. Her son, Abner Walker, was accused and tried by jury and sent to the penetentiary for life for this murder. He only stayed there eighteen years. He was pardoned and came home a broken man. He plead his innocence to the last day of his life. From later evidence, it was believed that he really was innocent and that another party was guilty. But this revelation came to late to remedy the result of circumstantial evidence which sent him to the pen. In those days of hasty judgment, there were perhaps many men who suffered for the crimes of others."
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View the entire interview with Leroy Dean from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.