Monday, June 27, 2016

Book Review- Murder and Mayhem: War of Reconstruction in Texas

Historical context is one of the keys to understanding our family history.  I was searching for answers regarding the reasons that my client's ancestor, Isaac O. Meadows filed suit against the City of Bonham, Texas in 1874.  He was elected constable of Bonham on 7 November 1874.  On the same date, James M. Reed was elected Mayor of Bonham and the following persons were elected Aldermen of Bonham: Willis A. Nunnelle, Richard B. Semple, Peter B. Maddrey, Lake C. Wilson, and John R. Russell all of which were named as defendants in this case. His petition to the District Court of Fannin County alleged that he was deprived of his elected position by the mayor and the aldermen and that he was due damages for the income lost and the damage to his reputation.  To find out more about the historical context, I conducted a google search for "Reconstruction, Fannin County, Texas" and came across a recent book entitled, Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas. This immediately caught my attention because it might help to explain the nature of the conflict between Isaac O. Meadows and the Mayor and Aldermen of Bonham.

Front Cover of Murder and Mayhem: The War of Reconstruction in Texas
by James Smallwood, Barry A. Crouch, and Larry Peacock
Published by Texas A&M University Press, 2003 - History - 182 pages
IMAGE SOURCE: Google Books

The preview on Google Books was just enough to tantalize and intrigue me and fortunately, the nearby Helen Hall Library had a copy in their stacks.  Both Google Books and the book jacket feature a summary of the book as follows:

In the states of the former Confederacy, Reconstruction amounted to a second Civil War, one that white southerners were determined to win. An important chapter in that undeclared conflict played out in northeast Texas, in the Corners region where Grayson, Fannin, Hunt, and Collin Counties converged. Part of that violence came to be called the Lee-Peacock Feud, a struggle in which Unionists led by Lewis Peacock and former Confederates led by Bob Lee sought to even old scores, as well as to set the terms of the new South, especially regarding the status of freed slaves. Until recently, the Lee-Peacock violence has been placed squarely within the Lost Cause mythology. This account sets the record straight. For Bob Lee, a Confederate veteran, the new phase of the war began when he refused to release his slaves. When Federal officials came to his farm in July to enforce emancipation, he fought back and finally fled as a fugitive. In the relatively short time left to his life, he claimed personally to have killed at least forty people—civilian and military, Unionists and freedmen. Peacock, a dedicated leader of the Unionist efforts, became his primary target and chief foe. Both men eventually died at the hands of each other’s supporters. From previously untapped sources in the National Archives and other records, the authors have tracked down the details of the Corners violence and the larger issues it reflected, adding to the reinterpretation of Reconstruction history and rescuing from myth events that shaped the following century of Southern politics.
This book helps to set the stage for the drama that was unfolding in the Fannin County Court Case. The corners counties of Grayson, Fannin, Hunt, and Collin Counties were very divided in their loyalties.  Unionists and former confederates were struggling for control of local and state government.  Most of the settlers in the corner counties had come from the upper south with a sprinkling of northerners.  Most were yeoman farmers who were naturally suspicious of the plantation owners who advocated secession.  Located on the edge of the Indian Territory, these counties served as hideouts for outlaws and renegades that preyed on the isolated farmers often using the excuse of their political leanings to justify theft and murder.  Unionists had a slight majority in most of these counties.  These Unionists were loyal to Governor Sam Houston who attempted to keep Texas in the union during the secession votes.

Bob Lee made his position clear when he refused to release his slaves after their emancipation in June of 1865.  Federal officials came to his farm in July to enforce emancipation and he was forced to become a fugitive from federal justice.  During his run from federal and local authorities, he personally claimed to have killed at least forty people- civilian and military, Unionists and freedmen. Lewis Peacock was his main adversary and became the target of many of his raids.  Both men eventually were killed by the other’s supporters.

There is nothing in the facts of the 1874 legal case to show that Isaac O. Meadows was a party in this greater conflict which was occurring in Fannin and neighboring counties.  However, he was represented by a legal firm that appears to have been founded by a well known leader of Texas Unionists.

The law firm that filed the petition of I.O. Meadows was described variantly as Taylor and Cox and Taylor and Son.  The petition was signed by L.B. Cox for plaintiff.  Attempts to find L.B. Cox in the 1870 and 1880 census of Fannin County were unsuccessful.  Taylor and Cox may have been associated with Robert H. Taylor, a noted Unionist of Fannin County.   Taylor served in the Mexican War and then returned to practice law in Bonham and farm in the 1850s. The following biographical information was excerpted from the Handbook of Texas Online:

As a member of the Eighth Legislature in January 1861, Taylor opposed recognition of the Secession Convention and signed the antisecessionist "Address to the People of Texas." Once Texas seceded, however, Taylor remained loyal to the South. He helped raise three companies of cavalry during the Civil War and served as colonel of the Twenty-second Texas Cavalry…Taylor returned to public life shortly after the end of the war, when, in recognition of his prewar unionism, provisional governor Andrew J. Hamilton appointed him chief justice of Fannin County. He served in that capacity from August until November 1865 and then became state comptroller, a position he held until mid-1866. Taylor was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1866 and sided with the Unionist minority. He was one of only three men calling for Negro suffrage. As Reconstruction advanced, Taylor became an active member of the new Republican party. Governor Edmund J. Davis appointed him judge of the Fourteenth Judicial District in 1870, but for unknown reasons he did not qualify for the position. Three years later, when Davis sought to make him judge of the Eighth District, the state Senate, then controlled by Democrats, refused to confirm his nomination. Taylor served as president of the 1872 Republican state convention, which supported the renomination of President Ulysses S. Grant. The Republican party made Taylor its candidate for lieutenant governor of Texas in 1873, but he and Governor Davis went down to defeat as the Democrats "redeemed" Texas. In 1879 personal popularity enabled Taylor to overcome his party affiliation and win a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, the last public office that he held. He was a member of the Republican state convention in 1882 and served his party as a presidential elector in the election of 1884… Taylor died at his home near Bonham on May 10, 1889. He is buried beside his first wife in Willow Wild Cemetery.
The importance of historical context to family history cannot be overemphasized.  We must research our family history with an understanding of the local events that were occurring around our ancestors.  All genealogists should read the preface that was written by Larry Peacock, one of the authors and a descendant of Lewis Peacock.  What began as an inquiry into the Peacock family history became a mission to set the historical record straight.  After enlisting two noted historians and five years of effort, this impressive book was the result.   I highly recommend the Murder and Mayhem book be added to your reading list. 

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