Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Texas
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865 - 1869
National Archives Microfilm Publication M821 Roll 32
"Miscellaneous Records Relating to Murders and Other Criminal Offenses Committed in Texas 1865 - 1868"
Letter from Hopkins County,
July 17, 1868.
Hon. M. L. Armstrong:
Dear Sir----I am this morning situated like a mariner whose vessel is sinking, and he is dripping out slips of paper, hoping they may fall into some friendly hands, that the world may know what became of him.
The reign of terror is set up in this county. I will not undertake to give a minute description of it; time and space is not sufficient. Suffice it to say that the history of the darkest ages of the world does not, in my estimation, afford a parallel.
It commenced about the 1st of June, by brutally murdering Charles Grimes, the old freedman who was on the Board of Registrars. This occurred on Sunday night, as well as I recollect, about the 17th of June. There was not the least semblance of any provocation for the outrage. Next, I ascertained beyond a doubt that the same parties were seeking an opportunity to kill me. I was cultivating my farm two and a half miles from town. I employed hands who agreed to assist me until I could wind up my farming. Just as I was nearly through, I was waylaid by the assassins as I was returning from my farm house, but happening to see them in time I made my escape and got home. They then followed me to town the next day, and I was forced to take shelter in my house. There I remained for five days and nights, not venturing to poke my head out of doors day or night. Just at this time I ascertained that there were five wagon loads of government supplies landed here for soldiers, and at the same time one Ben Bickerstaff arrived with three men. The next day (which was day before yesterday) he attacked and took possession of all the stores, carrying off one wagon and team. He burned some of the provisions, it is said. Yesterday there was a party engaged in hauling off the goods. They were armed, and would not let any one come near enough to ascertain who they were; but the wagon tracks show where they went.
P. A. Turk, the Wagon Master, told me there were twenty or more armed men when he was robbed, all young men, mostly armed with double barreled guns and six shooters.
Mark you, Bickerstaff only had three men besides himself the day before. So you see he must have recruited 16 or 18 men here. Straws show which way the wind blows. At this juncture I was notified by those who professed to know, that I had but a few minutes to make my escape in. I saw two of the citizens, and they promised they would use their influence to save my family from being murdered; and this shows where I took up quarters.
I suppose you think strange of the murder of women and children. Ah, sir, it has already happened. About one week ago Minerva James was taken out of the house of Mr. Herman Spencer, four miles from this place, by five armed men, carried about one mile, and brutally murdered. It if had space to give you the particulars, you would say it was the most horrid murder you ever heard of.
Three days ago there was a man by the name of Flowers, taken out of his house at night and killed. The next day a party of men were carrying him to the burying ground, when they were fired into, and one man and a little boy killed, and another man dangerously wounded, receiving a shot through the lungs.
Mark you, these are all Union men. No doctor will attend the wounded man; his name is Jesse Starr, whose brother was wounded by the Shelby men; and it was his little son that was killed.
It is impossible to give the number of negroes that have been killed. There is a great many missing that have not been heard from. Four nights ago there was a freedman taken out of Buck Thomas' kitchen and carried out on the prairie and killed. There is no cause assigned or conjectured for his murder, as he was one of the most innocent of negroes. I mention this, as there is generally some pretext got up by the rebels for every murder. The would-be social class of rebels stand ever ready to fabricate false hoods and make excuses for all murders committed by their friends. The only excuse they could get up for the murder of Minerva James, was that she should have told some one (but nobody knows who) that she knew who killed Charley Grimes, and that when the soldiers came she was going to tell it. So you can see from what I have written, how things stand in this county.
I was informed by Musgrove that we would have soldiers here. They were to have been here two weeks ago; still they have not come yet, and we can hear nothing from them. I have tried to rally the Union men, but all in vain; four is all that I can get together.
The freed people have had all their arms taken away from them, and they are in the most deplorable condition of any people on earth. All that were living in the county by themselves, have been robbed of every thing of the least value-even taking the under dressing of freed women, their bed clothes; in a word every thing of the smallest value, and then driven from their homes into the woods. It is the most sickening sight I ever witnessed to see their fine corn crops now being destroyed by the stock. But I must close this sickening subject.
I am aiming to send this letter to Dallas, to have it mailed. It is impossible to have anything of the kind sent from this county by mail. The postmasters are all Ku Klux.
I see from the papers, you are doing all you can in the Convention to give protection; but if it comes at all, (which I very much doubt) it will be too late for most of the prominent Republicans. I know that I can't survive but a few days, unless there is a speedy change in our favor. They are recruiting daily. Every day makes them more bold and defiant. Every outrage they commit seems to increase their desire for something worse.
I cannot leave my family to be murdered by them. I am bound to stay near them, so that I can give them protection at night.
Show this to any one you see proper, I care not who. I don't suppose I will be alive when this comes to hand; at least the chances look slim. I prefer a martyr's grave to living a slave. I shall die the same.
Sulphur Springs, Texas
July 27th 1868
Hon. M. L. Armstrong
There have been but three murders in this county since I wrote you last, but of all the crimes yet committed they are the most inhuman. I will now give you the details as they have been handed to me from various sources. You recollect that I wrote to you about the murder of a portion of the Starr family. Well, since that one Everett Jackson, a son-in-law of old lady Starr was shot and killed dead just at day light, as he walked out of his house. (It seems that all the family had assembled at the old lady Starrs). About 9 o'clock A. M. a party of men appeared in front of the house and demanded the surrender of Luke Starr, the youngest and only son left of the family. Of course the demand was not complied with. They then told the old lady Starr that if they would deliver up all the fire arms and Luke they would not hurt him or any of the family, if not they would burn them all in the house together whereupon they complied with the demand of the mob, first by delivering all the fire arms in their possession. They then demanded Luke. He at first resisted, but his mother and sisters took him and led him out to where they were, outside of the gate. They told them to sit down on a log, which they did, his mother and sisters sitting beside him, with their arms around his body. One of the party put a double barrel gun against him and hurled him into eternity. This makes a final disposition of the Starr family, except females.
The other murder was committed in the forks of Sulphur. I know nothing of the particulars. He was a freedman. The wildest excitement prevails throughout the county. The Union men are leaving. Eight families are leaving for the North today; while a great many others are said to be making preparations to leave soon. It looks as though I would soon be left alone so far as Union man are concerned. But depend upon it I shall stand at my post. I prefer death to submission. I know that Republican principles will prevail, though every loyal man in the rebel states may fall, if not there is nothing left to live for.
(Signed) J. M. Easley
A true copy