Sunday strollers gawk at 1899 floods in Navasota. Note the awkward racial clash in the foreground.III
Gradually, menacingly, fragile federal order was being overtaken by locally inspired chaos. Grimes County and most other counties in east Texas were boiling with race controversy. For 35 years the white citizens bitterly suffered the humiliations and considerable losses resulting from their rebellion against the North. Many of their kinsmen dead or crippled for life, their fortunes lost with the complete loss of their capital (slaves) in the now dissolved slave economy, men who fought for the Confederacy had been stripped of their civilian rights, even to bear arms. Families who had never broken a sweat were forced in the new economic reality to labor in the fields, and Yankee “carpetbaggers” were at every turn, ready to profit from their misfortune. Black citizens were now voting and electing their own favorites, qualified or not, to serve public office, and like many Texans, many white Grimes Countians were powder kegs ready to blow.
As time wore on, the whites learned to defeat the Federal Government’s attempts at “Reconstruction,” with overt Klu Klux sponsored violence, and then finally by outright vigilante law, sometimes sponsored by local law enforcement. By 1900, the whites had organized, found their leaders, visioned their return to power, and were watching for the right time to spring their plan. It was not a matter of if, but when.
“Whites Only.” A sampling of Grimes County’s young men who turned out to volunteer for the Spanish American War in 1898.
These were hard men. Many were veterans of the Civil War, or youth just baptized and tested by the Spanish American war, or just sons of the South who sought revenge. They resented the Federal Government who lorded over them, and who had once placed black soldiers in charge to humiliate them, and had empowered black politicians to run and win and hold office. Some of them could remember inglorious victories in battle with these foes. And many had been there, right after the war in 1868, when the Confederate veterans rallied against a race riot in nearby Millican. They had armed themselves, illegally, and found that federal occupation, like most Government programs, was an ambitious bluff.
Simultaneously, folk heroes arose in the Brazos Valley, men who killed Negroes, “Carpetbaggers” and federal soldiers with psychopathic zeal, and in so doing, winning the hearts and minds of an embittered population. John Wesley Hardin, Wild Bill Longley and Clay Allison were representative of many young Southerners, whose world had been shaken to the core, and who hated the “Northern Aggressors.” Each are believed to have proudly killed over thirty men, and were loved and protected for it. This kind of upside-down morality began to make sense in the finest homes in Texas and poisoned the minds of children struggling to sort out right from wrong.
In years since the failure of Reconstruction, white Texans had learned to manipulate the black population through social and economic pressure, and violence through the KKK if necessary. There was the equivalent of a white terrorist cell just across the county line in Waller County, led by a prominent new Grimes County citizen; a respected Waller County Confederate Major who had given an arm to “the Cause” during the “War of Northern Aggression,” and now practiced as a very successful lawyer, he had been elected to a statewide office. It has been written in a Waller County history that he had over three hundred followers. And there were rival groups as well. Based in and around Field’s Store, night raids were executed with military precision that smelled of Confederate guerilla training, exacting vigilante jurisprudence in Waller, Grimes and Montgomery Counties. Unlike the Federal occupation that half-heartedly governed, Southern men were not bluffing.
Never-the-less they hid their identities behind hoods and cloaks, all the while comparing themselves to Celtic knights. With the pathos of displaced aristocracy, they rationalized that they were forced to extreme measures because of the failures of the Confederacy and Federal Reconstruction. The war had made them criminals and now they still acted loyally under the Rebel flag, as if somehow it was a noble cause. But ultimately most of their actions betrayed the truth, that they were ruthless, elitist, pathological criminals, who admired John Wesley Hardin more than any law-abiding citizen. They held to White Supremacy more than any religion or deep personal friendship or political ideal. They were never going to embrace the concepts of Equality, and were irrationally devoted to the downfall of the black leaders who had been appointed or elected to local offices, regardless of their qualities as human beings. And as could be expected from Texan ferocity, they were pretty successful in their attempts to neutralize them.Not only blacks were targeted by this cell. A Waller County history tells of F. W. Thurow, a famous German-born botanist living for 47 years in Waller County, who suffered a savage attempt on his life. The noble old German was a man of books and philosophy, known well in Texas academic circles, but intolerant of Southern proclivities. He was also known to the KKK and stirred the ire of his racist enemies. On a mission to protect the South from his kind of foreign influence, a radical assassin nearly killed him, cutting his stomach so deeply his guts fell out on the ground. Leaving him for dead, the slasher then fled to the Field’s Store community. Bloodied and disemboweled, tenacious Thurow tucked his guts in and got sewn up, living to lecture again. But many of the Southern terrorist’s victims were not so fortunate. Another murderer at Field’s Store, Ed Pierce, was almost a folk hero in Waller County, and credited for hunting down Yankees and numerous Freedmen, and shooting or hanging them, single handedly. There was a famous hanging tree near Field’s Store he had supposedly used, known as “Isaiah’s Mark,” where he hung some of his victims. So wanted was this desperado, that Union forces trailing him pulled up to a wedding in process and after being fired upon, filled the unsuspecting wedding party in the home full of lead, and blood. Pierce was never apprehended.
Now decades later, in a seemingly quiet and quaint village of Anderson, the seat of government for Grimes County, this once underground movement had grown into an integral, powerful part of the Brazos Valley. They were fearless and confident, and ready to extinguish the last remnants of Reconstruction once and for all.Neighboring counties were already witnessing increased signs of white discontent and contempt for the law. Rigged elections, mass assassinations, and heavy handed justice were becoming the order of the day. The violence was almost as politically inspired as it was racist. The November election at Field’s Store in 1892 brought political animosities to a head, leading to a deadly shoot-out at the precinct voting poll. This was all south of Navasota, and just to the north, In 1896 at least four blacks were hung by vigilantes in Bryan in neighboring Brazos County.
By April of 1900, whites in Brazos County had completely commandeered the election process, forbidding Negroes to vote in the Bryan mayoral election, and beginning the prairie fire of black disenfranchisement. But in Grimes County an even more menacing front was blowing in, bending Southern tolerance to a breaking point. The eye of this human storm was embodied by Sheriff Garrett Lane Scott. A bonafide son of the South, Sheriff Scott’s father and two uncles had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. His Uncle Garrett Scott had been killed at Sharpsburg.Now Sheriff Garrett Scott and his whole family were on the brink of a different kind of war. Deadly hate crimes had terrorized Grimes County all during the summer of 1900, and then the devastating Storm of 1900 slammed into Galveston that September, a historic hurricane that ended for decades the dominance of Galveston as a major Southern port. The storm also set off a vicious backlash against blacks who found themselves under a sudden and merciless assault.
Sheriff Garrett Lane Scott about 1875
My grandfather was born on the Island and just a toddler, and by God’s design he had been taken to Houston on a weekend excursion that day. His family returned to the island as soon as they could, and saw unspeakable death and destruction, and he grew up hearing about the horrors of the storm aftermath until they were crusty scars on his psyche. He told his grandsons about it cathartically, sometimes almost coming to tears, describing what was indescribable. One of the more revolting memories, and one he never failed to remember without his teeth clenched, were the looters.He spoke of hundreds of desperate, deranged, starving people wandered the stinking wasteland like zombies, looking for their lost loved ones, eating whatever they found, taking anything that could be scavenged. Amongst them were looters, cutting off fingers of the dead to get gold rings, pulling teeth to get out the gold in them. Militias had been told simply to shoot them on sight. According to my grandfather, there were countless casualties because of this. In his excellent book on Galveston Gary Cartwright accounts for a couple of dozen, but to the citizens of Texas, it was way too many.
Local State militiamen serving with the Shaw Rifles from Navasota had been the first to arrive on the Island, and brought back rumors of the looters, reportedly mostly black, robbing the dead on the decimated island. The 1900 storm and its ghastly aftermath may have been one contributing catalyst that sprung the whites into a series of extraordinary, pre-calculated crimes that are hard to imagine.Sheriff Garrett Scott had the misfortune to be trying to lead Grimes County into an era of racial equality, at the very time Texans were the least bit patient. When he was first elected, over half of the Grimes County population was black, and for the first time in history those blacks were voting. Like some Southerners, he accepted the new paradigm of racial equality and made the best of it, and tried to provide the leadership and order needed to build a new and integrated America. Although cowardly, his opposition had shown ruthless disregard for the law, humanity or human life. But it was not his nature to step away from conflict, especially if he was convinced of his cause.
The local militias’ perceived purpose was to “keep blacks under control.”
The Scott family was naturally inclined to public service, and was proud of their patriarch James Scott Sr., who had served as a district judge and state representative in Mississippi, before coming to Texas. James Scott Sr. had also been a delegate at the Texas State Constitutional Convention in 1845. His son James married Bettie Goodrich, daughter of Dr. Benjamin Briggs Goodrich, an early Texian leader and signor of the Texas Declaration of Independence. These in-laws were legendary patriots, having carved a legacy of military and public service in early Texas.Garrett Scott was known to be a “third party man,” and was first elected as a “Greenbacker” in 1882, and was re-elected as Sheriff three more times. A black leader named Jim Kennard was elected to District Clerk during that first election. This election would begin an unlikely alliance between the two. Because of Scott’s obvious popularity, it can be assumed that he served effectively in his duties, as he so effectively stirred the ire of his racist opponents. But near the end of his fourth term, he may have lost some of his altruistic zeal after the controversial hanging of William H. Roe in 1888.
Roe, convicted of killing his wife, had already endured a mistrial in Huntsville, due to mere circumstantial evidence. Now after an amazingly streamlined conviction in Grimes County, the condemned man made an elaborate statement declaring his innocence. He claimed that he had been inadvertently framed by his brother-in-law, or other enemies, during a foiled attempt to poison him. He postulated that his Negroes had been bribed into putting something in his coffee. His poor wife had broken routine and drank it, a deadly concoction made with strychnine, which he alleged the servants had prepared and intended for him.Never-the-less, Roe was adamant concerning his innocence and his clear conscience and stated he was prepared to meet his Maker. He had made his peace with God, believed in a future state, and that “…immediately upon the release of my soul from my body I will meet my wife Jennie in Heaven.”
It had been Sheriff Garrett Scott’s thankless task to protect and transport the maligned defendant many miles as he was escorted back and forth from Huntsville for the first trial. And then back to the Grimes County jail and more escorts during the second trial. He supervised the site selection, preparation and construction of the gallows for Roe’s execution, and ultimately it fell to his office to place the noose around his neck.
Garrett L. Scott was 36 years old in 1882 when elected to his first of six terms as the Grimes County Sheriff.
It is often a heartbreaking job for lawmen to work around condemned prisoners on a daily basis, and fight off inevitable human emotions that surface as they get to know the man behind bars. Over the months it is quite possible Sheriff Scott had grown to believe the man’s testimony, and was bothered by his duties in fulfilling the requirements of the law. It takes a strong stomach to hang a man, and an even stronger one to hang someone if you have doubts about their guilt. It is fair to imagine that Scott took Roe for what he claimed he was, a Christian man, framed and innocent of the crime he had been convicted of, yet able to speak more eloquently than most men about his Faith, and his love for his deceased wife, and his place waiting for him in the Great Beyond.Thousands gathered one May afternoon in the Neblett pasture outside of town, blacks and whites, to witness Roe’s punishment. Sheriff Scott had built these gallows on his relative’s property, especially for this purpose, under the shade a large native pecan tree.
It may be significant that Reverend Phair, Roe’s attending minister, felt it appropriate to read all 3000 words of Roe’s last statement. He also felt the need to make the moment hard for every witness there, by publicly asking Roe if he wished to forever claim his innocence. This approach was often used, in the belief that dying men, with nothing to gain or lose, will speak the truth right before their execution. In Giddings, Texas, Wild Bill Longley had been given the same opportunity, after finally being convicted of murder. Born in nearby Austin County, Longley had terrorized the Brazos Valley and killed dozens of unarmed blacks and even a preacher milking a cow. But on the day of his execution, when asked for his final words, obligingly, he confessed to eight murders, as he candidly announced "I deserved this fate. It is a debt I have owed for a wild and reckless life. So long, everybody!”So it was with eager curiosity and anticipation that Roe’s innocence was questioned. “In the presence of your Maker, before whom you will be hurled, do you…declare your innocence of this crime for which you are to suffer?” the minister begged.
William H. Roe cried defiantly, “I do,” and with this affirmation, and a final prayer by Phair, Roe was dropped seven feet, and met his Maker, and was once again joined to his bride.It was Sheriff Scott’s duty to then turn over the dead man to his crushed and humiliated family. If ever the blue devils of doubt had reveled in a lawman’s head, this was the case. But if the case was closed according to the Law, it was forever unsettled in the minds of Grimes County citizens, who were split evenly about Roe’s innocence or guilt. A witness to the event later pondered that since that hanging, no Negroes would eat a single pecan known to have fallen from that hanging tree.
This seems to suggest that the Negroes were sympathetic to the hanged man, or at least haunted by the circumstances and torn about his guilt or innocence, and perhaps even had stronger convictions and insights about the crime. They knew Roe had insisted that his Negroes had been bribed (or coerced?) to add something to his coffee. Perhaps this was believed by them. Why would Roe have poisoned his wife, and especially, how could he be so foolish to do it so openly? Any murderer would know to hide the poison, but it had been found quite conveniently by investigators. If his wife had indeed been killed accidentally, who or what possible faction would use the death to destroy a God-fearing man of clean reputation? Why did someone, perhaps his own brother-in-law, want him dead? Roe’s conviction and execution raised more questions than they settled.Perhaps Sheriff Scott began to wonder about these things as well, and maybe he knew that this was a sign of things to come. One wonders if Scott did not see a brooding and formidable political machine operating in the wings, able to get unconscionable results, all the while using him as their stooge.
Then, while his confidence in the Western code of justice was already cracking, a tragic affair struck his own family that surely sent Scott into abject grief. In August of 1888, Sheriff Scott’s first cousin James L. Scott III was rounded up by vigilantes with two friends who were falsely accused of horse stealing in Apache County, Arizona. James Scott III was hung along with them by a mob without a trial. All three were new to the area and were assumed to be the culprits of some alleged crimes that occurred after their arrival and were swiftly executed by men calling themselves the “Regulators.” This was an old Southern term which harkened back to slavery times, and was an extension of pervasive Southern vigilante “justice.”At the time Arizona was divided into several violent factions who were fighting over the landscape. The power struggle between the Republican faction led by Wyatt Earp and his clan, and the large ranching interests in Cochise County had set off a decade of unanswered killings, as each side dug in and spent themselves in these feuds. In the midst of the controversy was Jimmy Scott’s uncle, Briggs Goodrich, who was the attorney of choice for some of the “Cowboy” faction, the most notable being the infamous Southwestern outlaw “Johnny Ringo.” By the time Jimmy Scott had arrived on the scene, his Uncle Briggs was the Attorney General of the Arizona Territory, and his other uncle, Ben, was practicing law in Cochise County.
All three of these men were descendants of Dr. Benjamin Briggs Goodrich, who, as his brother John was perishing within the walls of the Alamo, was fondly remembered for his prophetic words about Mexican General Santa Anna at that assembly at Washington on the Brazos; "We will meet him and teach the unprincipled scoundrel that free men can never be conquered by the hireling soldiery of a military despot."So it can be said with some confidence that this family exhibited many of the character tributes associated with the movers and shakers of the American West. Like the Scotts, the Goodrich clan was fierce and vocal and unafraid of battle. They were the kind of men who built the West, who backed up whatever they said, and were willing to lay down their lives in the process if necessary. But everywhere they travelled, there was sure to be contention and even a few casualties.
Out West, the Goodrich’s had fallen into company with the stereotypical western power group, the landed gentry and cattlemen. These were just Arizona versions of Southern Democratic good old boys. They were often accompanied by an army of Texas style, hired gunslingers, sometimes charitably called “cowboys,” who kept the whole community in check. Lawmen usually were compensated nicely to stay out of their way. This was the western pattern that described many towns west of the Mississippi.Jimmy Scott had been known in Arizona as a conscientious, straight talking cowhand, a real cowboy, and a Texan who stood his ground and once publicly “called out” an obnoxious bully. “There was no backing down to him,” observed one of his comrades. It was believed that the man he had challenged had led the group who lynched him and his two companions. Now they were buried in a wilderness far from home, and the Scotts, with all their social standing and political power, were helpless to do anything about it. Garrett Scott’s Aunt Bettie spent months trying to convince the Governor of Arizona to step in and punish the men who cold- bloodedly hung her son. Her brothers seemed helpless during this injustice, even being some the most powerful men in the Territory. Perhaps it was a case of their own methods backfiring on them. But it is just as possible the murder of Jimmy Scott was a cowardly reprisal aimed at the Goodrich’s, if not a final, deadly warning to them.
And deep down, perhaps Sheriff Scott of Grimes County, Texas knew in his heart that many folks in Anderson were no better than the land-jealous sociopaths that murdered Jimmy. The hanging of William Roe peeled back the soul of the community in such a way as to make any man recoil. The West had become the playground of gunslingers and lawyers; predators who cynically saw the law as a useful tool for empire-building. Sheriffing had become a miserable, duplicitous exercise in futility. A badge and a gun might have made a lawman an instrument of the law, but not necessarily of justice.Scott faced an unenviable fork in the road. He had successfully established a multi-racial regime and protected it for eight years, dodging political bullets and keeping the peace. At this point there was no great organized opposition to his legacy. But there were signs that unseen powers were coalescing into a formidable wave of reactionary resolve. Perhaps he had done all he could do, and yet not enough.
Pitiful, verbose William Roe was dead, hopefully reunited with his unpredictable wife, and Scott’s cousin Jimmy lynched without so much as a trial. The Goodrich’s in Arizona were losing their battle for supremacy, and many of their clients were missing in action. Johnny Ringo and the “Cowboys” were all dead and gone, after bloody behind-the-scene shootouts. Years later Wyatt Earp’s wife offered quite philosophically that “These killings were not a matter of good verses bad, as so many writers have tried to portray, but, as I realize now, the tragic outcome of very complicated struggles for political and economic power.” It had, in effect, been a shooting war between Democrats and Republicans; an American malady inevitably coming to a head in Grimes County as well. Possibly to Sheriff Scott’s disdain, the Goodrich’s and Jimmy Scott had been ganged up with landed Arizona Democrats. His was going to be a very lonely position, if ballots were going to yield to bullets, as they had in Tombstone.Now another war of similar sorts was blossoming in Grimes County, a war where lawmen would only be in the way. Sheriff Scott was entering middle age and perhaps a mid-life crisis, questioning the challenge before him, and its inevitable price. Also of concern had to be the inevitable gossip, as people in the county found out about Jimmy III being hung for horse stealing. This was bound to provide lush fodder for his enemies and further stain his waning credibility.
Very soon a group hauntingly similar to the “Regulators” in Arizona was coming out of the closet in Grimes County. Perhaps Scott sensed he was gradually being overtaken by a rising reactionary Democratic machine, and unless he cooperated with it, he would quickly fall from grace. Possibly for these reasons, and others lost to history, he chose to take a sabbatical and did not seek re-election in 1890.
As the Earps so perfectly demonstrated, these were times of blood oaths and vengeance. It is not a stretch to imagine that Garrett Scott resigned his official duties with intentions to travel to Arizona to help the Goodrich’s find and punish Jimmy’s murderers. That would be a great Western movie. Although we have no irrefutable documentation of this, there is reason to believe that Sheriff Scott was more than a little aware of the family’s interests in the Arizona Territory. An illustration above, from a collection at the National Archives, taken at Holbrook, Arizona, of two unknown men, is the very image of Garrett Scott and perhaps his younger brother Emmett.Holbrook was the frontier town where Arizona cowboys and miners and troublemakers collided to spawn mayhem every weekend. And it was the regular hang-out for Jimmy Scott. The photograph was believed taken around 1887, but could have been made right after Jimmy Scott was hung. It’s not improbable Sheriff Scott had been helping the Goodrich’s on the sly, even working shortly for Briggs Goodrich during his term as Attorney General. It is even more easily imagined that Sheriff Scott went to Arizona , upon requests from his aunt in Anderson, Texas, to find and help prosecute cousin Jimmy's killers.
Either way, Jimmy’s bones were left in Arizona. Like any astute politician, Sheriff Garrett Scott had gotten himself out of the line of fire, after four difficult terms during the tumult of post-Reconstruction Texas. He rested for three terms, or six years, probably focusing on his large plantation. This after all was the passion of his people when they came to Texas in the Republic era. The Scott name was a good one, and he had much to do to keep it that way.But Scott could not stay out of law enforcement or Grimes County politics long. No doubt he was strongly encouraged to step up and offer leadership that could help protect local blacks, who were feeling their hard-won political ground eroding, and were living in constant fear. No doubt he was patronized, and promised stalwart support by his admirers. He was probably told that he was the only man that could pull it off. Not only was this true, but Scott had few counterparts anywhere in Texas. We will never know what process lured him back into running for Grimes County Sheriff, but finally he reappeared, his vision refreshed, having reinvented himself as a Populist candidate in 1896.
By now Judge James Green McDonald, characterized by his own biographers as “a typical Southern Christian gentleman of the old school,” had returned to Anderson and had swiftly taken the reigns of the Democratic Party, and thus half of Grimes County. Imperceptible lines had quietly been drawn between these two men that would soon grow into a bloody fissure.In the 1890’s, The Grimes County Democratic Party led by Judge J. G. McDonald made great strides to take back political power, one office at a time. But just when the Democrats almost managed to get their people back in control, yet another idealist would emerge and galvanize the white third party which ran under various names, along with Republicans who were predominantly black.
This time, to their disgust the Populist Party became a popular movement all around the United States. Farmers, Union tradesmen, poor whites, Polish and German immigrants and most blacks found the precepts of the Populist Party perfect for their own hopes for a more just America, and soon Grimes County had its own robust Populist movement. Enthusiasts of the movement met in country locations, far from scrutiny, where they speechified, passed liquor around and encouraged each other until the light of day. These were called “Owl Meetings” and became the scandal of the County. It was assumed by Democrats that the white candidates of the Populist Party were making whatever promises necessary to gain black Republican support at these meetings, and that they were all up to no good. But to the participants, they were joining forces to change America into a free and equal society. This was a renewal of the 1882 rainbow coalition in Grimes County, and was a formidable and effective alliance, and for the Democratic old guard, the last straw.
Tall and confident, and leaning on what appears to be a plow handle, Garrett Scott poses up on the podium with political aspirants in downtown Navasota on Railroad Street. He was not elected as Sheriff until ten years later. This appears to be an unusually integrated throng at an election rally in 1872, when W.E. Barry last sought the office of County Judge.As Garrett Scott agreed to once again seek the Sheriff’s Office, from this date forward a network of trust, mutual need and cooperation began to form between him, his closest associates and the various black leaders of Grimes County. The wiser of them may have sensed that there was a silent force quickening before them, and they must stick together. And soon enough, they would know what they could only sense, that each of them, like poor William Roe, were marked men.
When the black Republicans joined forces with the white Populists in the 1896 election, they effectively tipped the scales that re-elected Scott into the Sheriff’s office once again, much to the protests of the Democrats, who were no longer tolerating defeat. White Populists won the day, with J. H. Teague unseating County Judge J. G. McDonald, and W. A. Womack was elected to County Clerk. W. G. Howard and D.D. Greer were elected County Tax Collector and Tax Assessor respectively. A. M. Campbell was elected as County Attorney, and John B. Terrell was elected the County Treasurer. This unexpected kind of multi-racial alliance was considered an outrage and an insult to many Southerners. The newspapers smeared the Populists as merely advocates of pro-black rule. But Populism had deeper and more devastating financial implications for the captains of agriculture.The emergence of the Populist vision of America was a double edged sword for landowners and those invested in the Southern caste system. Soon the rumor mill was choked with sensational data; Sheriff Scott had hired black deputies. Black school teachers were now being paid the same wages as whites. These were unheard-of developments. The fear of the Populist agenda spread as wealthy landowners began to realize and broadcast the inevitable changes on the horizon. And those with large investments in the cotton economy smelled disaster. Populists were not just breaking ground in race relations, but in labor-management relations.
Of even more concern were the Populist designs on commodity price protections. Southern labor lords feared Populism because it championed the tenant farmers and sought to protect their earnings, through a concept called the “sub-treasury” plan. Populists were promoting the establishment of U. S. Government warehouses, where crops like cotton could be stored until market prices were more advantageous for the growers. Farmers would in turn receive loans for the crops kept in storage, which could be paid off upon the eventual sale of the crop. If implemented, these innovations in American agriculture would not only have elevated the fortunes of the common tenant farmer, but challenged the prevailing system, which had always leaned to the advantage of cotton buyers and processors, who had always been the middlemen and were more than ready to defend their position.A groundswell of cotton industrialist alarm soon inspired a network of self-preservation. There began to be rumblings about Populist ideals, black voting rights, corporate losses, failing plantations and the Southern way of life. Throughout the South an underground movement began to weigh these irreconcilable elements.
Still, overcoming considerable opposition, a similar racially integrated alliance won the Populists re-election in 1898 and this time the Democrats protested, demanding a recount. But somehow the ballots were taken from the Populist County Clerk, C. B. Nickols, and disappeared, and reports were that they were burned, prohibiting further inquiry. This was also the election when R. G. Deadrick was the Populist candidate for Treasurer. He had been appointed when John B. Terrell “died while in office,” and he had finished Terrell’s term. History has erased the reasons, or causes of death, but records show that Deadrick “died in office” as well in 1900 and was replaced by W. T. Neblett, a Democrat but apparently acceptable to Populists because he was a first cousin of Sheriff Scott’s. Neblett ended the suspicious death curse on the treasurer’s office. Perhaps these circumstances did not seem so ominous at the time, as these public servants seemed to have had such coincidental mortality, but as time passed, these deaths took on greater significance as they fit into a larger pattern.The untimely death of the first County Treasurer paled in the glow of a countywide scandal revolving around the disappearance of the 1898 ballots. The only reason to have burned them was to destroy the only reliable evidence of the true election results, and since the ballots apparently did not serve the purposes of those who had taken them, they were destroyed. We can only assume that the ballots were originally in the custody of Sheriff Scott and his people, so it is safe to deduct that the Democrats illegally took the ballots, and when their unofficial recount failed to support their objections, they destroyed them to avoid prosecution. It is possible that Scott ordered the ballots destroyed so that they could not be corrupted. Standing by the official count and claiming victory, Garrett Scott began his sixth term as Sheriff under a siege of controversy.
After several frustrating elections, only bullets and ropes were proven effective in getting the results desired in the political arena by the Democrats, led by Judge McDonald, who resolved to win future elections with more reliable and more satisfying strategies. Rather than fight the Populists on political or economic issues, it was considered less divisive to attack the multi-racial coalition on the basis of race. By 1899, Judge McDonald and his cronies had begun to openly meet under the name “White Man’s Union,” and peace began to unravel throughout Grimes County.
A rash of race based crimes broke out like a plague. White vigilantes in Roan’s Prairie felt the need to hang a Negro for allegedly killing a white boy. Then a white church in Erwin was mysteriously destroyed by fire, and a black man was suspected of the arson. When he was approached about it he understandably refused to come out of his home and talk, and in a following tussle, he wounded two white men, and was subsequently hanged without trial. In July, Harry McGee and Henry Hamilton were hung in Navasota by vigilantes. No doubt these events were intended to challenge the authority of a sheriff with known sympathies towards blacks. It was, as it turned out, an outright declaration of war and disenfranchisement against blacks. Any black political leader in Grimes County was a marked man. One of them, a former District Clerk and conspicuous Scott ally named Jim H. Kennard, was gunned down that same month, right off of his horse in broad daylight, just yards from the Grimes County Courthouse. Witnesses later attributed the calloused murder to Judge McDonald.Also in July 1899, the Negro Baptist State Sunday School Conference announced alarmingly that it would not be holding its annual convention in Grimes County, declaring to the World that the place had become unsafe for Negroes, that Negroes were being threatened and directed to leave. The local newspapers scoffed at the black Baptist’s accusations as “irresponsible slush.”
The White man’s Union released a public statement, reassuring the citizens of Grimes County, and eager to dispel circulating “lies” about them. They boasted they were comprised of the “best” citizens in the county. That they were…
“…taxpayers, representing the worth, patriotism, the intelligence and virtues of the county.”
They invited men of every nationality to join them. All white men that is.
“We are not fighting any particular political party or individuals, but only those who band together under any name, who seeks [sic] to perpetuate Negro rule in Grimes County. Such we are fighting with all the power, with all the energy, with all the intellect God has given us.”
The statement then offered a meager expose’, including numbers to prove the Populists had been poor stewards of the County Treasury. And then the inevitable character assassination;
“We are determined that bad white men shall no longer make the negro his dupe for the purpose of carrying out his own selfish desires.”
Then, in the same letter the White Man’s Union made a distinct threat, that the “owl meetings” must cease, and the alleged “appointment of special deputy sheriffs to organize and carry them on…” would be stopped, and that “No threats of shotguns will deter us from the discharge of this duty.” This letter to the public had all the air of authority, but had no official or legal leg to stand on. Sheriff Scott and his comrades knew this, and no doubt challenged the proclamation, but it soon grew legs and engaged in some serious owl hunting.With calculated and brazen brutality, the White Man’s Union continued to pick off the black Republican leaders, one by one. And as August arrived, the forces of disenfranchisement were already celebrating their future political victories. Approximately five thousand Grimes Countians turned out for “The Grandest Barbecue of the Year,” to be held in Anderson, where copious advertisements in local papers touted that the workings of the White Man’s Union would gladly be explained to all.
Handsome and educated, Navasota blacks like Joe Cole Sr. were considered an intolerable threat to post-Reconstruction era whites, and were not long for this world. Cole was dead in 1897 before he reached age 32.
But deep at the heart of the event, so festive and enticing, racist wheels and gears began to turn with machine-like precision. Against possible objections on political grounds, the local militia known as the J. M. Shaw Rifles attended, in full uniform, providing patriotic flavor and heady security. Most of them veterans of the Spanish American War, Captain Hammond Norwood and his men displayed a very convincing military presence, as it was known that Sheriff Scott had preached quite passionately that Populist farmers be willing to take up arms to defend the black’s right to vote. Here was his answer to who the Democrats might engage in such a conflict.By late September, two more prominent black Populists were reported by the Examiner to have been killed, but neither death was associated with any political implications. Gone, according to the Navasota paper, were Morris Carrington, a black school principal, and Jack Haynes, shot down by a shotgun blast in his own cotton patch.
Captain Hammond Norwood was invited to bring his militia to the 1900 White Man’s Union picnic, and saw no conflict in his company attending the affair, in uniform.
But Morris Carrington was not dead, not even close. It seems the newspaper was privy to the latest hit-lists as they were assigned. A name on a list was as good as dead. Somehow White Man’s Union ambitions were being reported before they could be fulfilled. No doubt Carrington appreciated the warning, and made himself scarce. But the significance of these public threats and murders were not lost on the black population or white Populists. If the White Man’s Union wanted to make a statement, they might have over done it. So panicked had the whole rural population become, that whole farms and villages became vacated overnight. So many blacks evacuated in such short time that the Navasota Examiner actually voiced concern about what affect this would have on the local labor market, as harvest time, what there would be of it, was upon the land.No doubt the White Man’s Union hoped the assaults had the desired effect on the upcoming election. A haven for immigrant Poles and other white Populists, Plantersville saw the greatest evacuation. Plantersville schools became almost obsolete as all the blacks with school aged children left, and only five white families with school aged children remained. Even whites, especially those who were Populist sympathizers were leaving. Come Election Day, the opposition had nearly been exterminated. In Plantersville, the Populist voters diminished from an impressive 256 in the previous election, to a whimpering 5. In Navasota, Populists had shrunk from 636 to 23. All over the County, out of the former controlling Party, only 636 fearless Populists could be shown to have voted in the 1900 election. The strongest residue of Populists left were the White farmers in the north end of the County, who would soon have to shut up or suffer the wrath of the new and ruthless regime.
In the midst of this mayhem, Sheriff Scott made a daring bid for the County Judgeship, an obvious personal challenge to J. G. McDonald, who was the White Man’s candidate for that office. Third party politics had become a life-threatening activity and, suffering from harsh criticisms by the White Man’s Union proclamation, Judge Teague apparently had bowed out. At best a moderate Populist ally and yet a loyal Confederate veteran, he returned to his fiddle playing as a safer pastime, fully aware that each day the Republican and Populist following was evacuating the County.A coward would have run, but Sheriff Scott was true to his family character and stayed until the votes were counted. Not surprisingly, the White Man’s Union candidates were elected with minor opposition. But this was no mandate, as a fourth of the Democrats, probably disillusioned by the Union’s tactics, refrained from casting any vote in this infamous election. More importantly, in the end, less than half of the regular voters of Grimes County had voted. This was an election predicated on fear and murder; totally controlled by terrorism. But the White Man’s Union was glad to record themselves in the winning column, in their very first contest, regardless of whatever tactics may have been necessary.
The successful election of the White Man’s Union’s choice for Sheriff, Jesse Cross Baker of Plantersville, who by his own family’s admission did not seek or even want the office, was already decided when the next series of events changed and marked Grimes County forever. Had the Union taken their win like “gentlemen,” they might have stolen the election and the moral center of Grimes County without a trace. Certainly the newspapers were on their side, and had conveniently overlooked or downplayed their crimes. But intoxicated by the success of their political strategies, the White Man’s Union became impatient and intolerant. The Democratic Party had just become the darling of the electorate, the party of white supremacy, and Garrett Scott had to go, and he had to go now.Sheriff Scott was warned to get out even before his term was completed. His office was to be vacated or suffer the consequences. It was just days before the swearing-in of the new slate of White Man’s Union sanctioned candidates. But Scott showed no fear or intention of abiding by their demands, and in fact dared his enemies to face him on the street and he promised to take them all on. The deaths of his comrades and the harassment of his constituency made him even more resolved to stand up to his enemies for all of the world to see. He would not be intimidated or eschewed like a stray dog. Besides, they had their way, now surely they were satisfied and would let him leave with his dignity, in due time.
Scott had totally misjudged his enemies. What unfolded next was a virtual re-enactment of the cattlemen’s carefully planned strategies during Wyoming’s infamous Johnson County War, just eight years before, when the landed powers-that-be recruited a couple of dozen east Texas gunfighters to do their dirty work for them. Their goal was simple and direct; to take over the County by force, maligning lesser landowners as rustlers and exterminating them, assassinating the sheriff and his deputies, and anyone else who got in their way. Although the plan ended in disaster, the Texas gunmen managed to kill two innocent men before they were surrounded by locals and were escorted out by the military. This Grimes County war would be much more deadly, yet never made the annals of Western history, perhaps because it was successful, and most of the casualties were black.Once the election was over, the White Man’s Union went into overdrive. No doubt they had celebrated a great deal after hearing the election results, this time overwhelmingly in their favor, and many had been drinking all night. As the sun came up on Anderson on Nov 7th, the very next day after this historic landmark election, the mean drunks began to find their courage. Full of frustrated prejudice, and confident that they were now effectively in power, many of the newly elected leaders and White Man’s Union members climbed up the austere wooden steps of the Grimes County Courthouse, guns over their shoulders, ready to move Sheriff Scott out by force.
Far more successful than the Johnson County assault, they took possession of the Sheriff’s Office downstairs and the rest of the Courthouse as if they owned it, seizing the keys to the jail and capturing the Deputy in charge. Now Sheriff Scott’s only refuge lay across the street, at the jail where he lived. Lever action Winchester carbines were loaded. Aged fathers who had served the Confederacy found new vigor as they led their sons into this vengeful skirmish, with whims that the South would rise again. A stellar collection of perhaps fifty or more community elites, although a tad inebriated, made up of lawyers, dentists, merchants, bankers, cattlemen, farmers and elected officials, suddenly transformed into assassins. All these men ultimately found their hatred for the presiding Sheriff greater than their love of Jesus or justice or the electoral process, and had successfully whipped themselves into a murderous frenzy.The Sheriff’s sister Cornelia Kelly had noticed the ominous gathering around the courthouse of heavily armed men, and fearing for her husband’s safety, sent her nine year old son instead to warn her brother. Assuming that he would not be as easily noticed, he was sent off frantically, racing from store to store, until he found his Uncle Garrett just across the street from the Courthouse in Abercrombie’s. No doubt Scott was already well aware of the hailstorm brewing on Anderson’s town circle, as he read his sister’s note.
Upstairs in the Courthouse there was much talking and rationalizing, and nefarious scheming, and killing Sheriff Scott was the least of the mob’s fantasies. They ranted about Scott’s “Radical Negroism” and were elated to no longer be “puppets who danced for Scott’s amusement.” As a team of sharpshooters put a bead on the door of the Jailhouse door across the street, more gunmen were sent out into the county… to rid by whatever means necessary the unsuspecting black associates of Scott, some still holding public office. It was a new era, yet a time for settling old scores.
Emmett Scott, Sheriff Scott’s brother, had just ridden up on his horse across the street, and tethered his mount before entering Bradley’s store. John Bradley was a closet Populist and family friend. Perhaps Bradley could tell him what in the heck was going on over at the Courthouse. But Bradley was out on the streets finding out. Will McDonald, a nephew of Judge McDonald and the son of a minister, took upon the task of stopping Emmett from possibly warning his brother of the imminent ambush, and pulled out his revolver. As he entered Bradley’s he wasted no time ordering Emmett to give his up.
John Irvin Bradley Jr.Impetuosity led to disaster as the gunman descended on Emmett Scott, and suddenly looking down Emmett’s gun barrel, he grabbed it and fired his own revolver repeatedly into him. But Emmett Scott had been watching the commotion and was quick on the trigger, and he managed to exchange fire with McDonald, placing at least one bullet with deadly accuracy. Unfortunately, widower John Irvin Bradley Jr., a son-in-law of the prominent Buffington family, and father of two, ran into his store when the gunfire erupted and was killed instantly. First reports said he was shot right through the heart at point blank range, probably by his good friend Emmett Scott who, at this point was fighting blindly like a cat in a corner. Later evidence suggested he may have been silenced by one of the Courthouse sharpshooters. Whoever shot who, three young men lay dead in Bradley’s blood-spattered store, and none were the intended target of the White Man’s Union’s wrath.
All three men were buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery just west of town, in family grave plots within sight of one another. Bradley’s loved ones wrote at the bottom of his marble marker: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” In their minds, he had tried to stop the two men from killing each other, and lost his own life in the process.
A photograph believed to be of Emmett Scott who was shot to death along with John I. Bradley Jr. in a gunfight in Anderson in 1900.
When Sheriff Scott heard the shooting, he stepped out of Abercrombie’s and into the street and a sudden, deadly volley of Winchester fire. A Winchester slug entered his butt and came out of his upper thigh, and he was down in the street, unable to return fire. The fact that he was not riddled with bullets at this moment suggests that not many of the assassins actually had deadly intent, but rather just wanted to scare him, and preferred to let him dodge bullets and narrowly escape, and hopefully jump on his horse and race out of town. But at least one gunman meant business, and seems to have been willing to shoot his victim from behind. Instantly crippled, Scott hopped on his good side and ingloriously scrambled to a ditch, where he could get out of sight.
His sister Cornelia was watching nearby, and bravely, perhaps hysterically, ran out to help him retreat, looking into their faces and daring the assassins in the Courthouse to shoot her as well. For she too was a Scott! Little could she know how tempting a target she was, much less that their brother Emmett and two others were already dead or dying. The restraint shown by the gunmen is dumbfounding, considering their numbers and their mercenary character. There must have been some yelling and arguing in the courthouse, as the killers pushed aside the mere harassers and then tried to get the drop on Sheriff Scott as his sister scooped him up. Cornelia summoned her little boy for help, and scrambled with his assistance into the Grimes County Jail, her bleeding, shell-shocked brother Garrett in tow.
Winchesters of that period were accurate, rapid fire rifles, and any second, any of the gunmen could have cut all three of them down. But killing a woman and a little boy would have turned even the Grimes County public against them. Knowing the names of the men who Scott later accused of this crime, it is easy to imagine some of the more moderate amongst them getting a belly full and calling a cease fire. An excruciating eternity passed as sister and nephew provided life-saving cover while desperately dragging Sheriff Scott into the handsome Victorian brick structure, which proved to be an excellent fort in such times as these.
With almost stunning selectivity, the killers were willing to shoot down a political enemy in plain daylight, but not an unarmed woman. Their allegiance to an ancient code of Southern chivalry kept them from ending Sheriff Scott’s time on this earth, and robbed them of their final revenge. If only the White Man’s Union had never tried this foolish gunplay from the County Courthouse windows, their overwhelming, lawless and ruthless political victory would probably never have been known. The election results would have been seen as the spike of a regional trend, the county’s population decrease a mere curiosity, probably assumed as just a Victorian misprint. Even Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday knew to try to kill in privacy so as to maintain the benefit of doubt. But a political shootout in broad daylight was just outright crazy, even in these extraordinary times. Moreover, their convoluted code insured failure and eventual exposure, even if it took one hundred years.They may have known their prey, but the assassins way underestimated his sister. Frustrated, the new rulers of Grimes County waited for just one more clean shot, but the Scotts never afforded them another opportunity.
Enjoying safety in numbers, the finest citizens of Grimes County had found the courage of their Southern convictions and satisfied their hatred. After cooler minds prevailed, there were new and more essential priorities. If Garrett Scott was allowed to escape, their misdeeds would become public information and there might be serious repercussions. Constant vigil must have been positioned with able sharpshooters, to prevent access to the jail, and relentless bullets were sent into the den of their prey, so that there might be no survivors to tell the tale.Scott was bleeding badly and could die of his wounds. Surely only a few doomed fools dared to take a stand with the marked and mortally wounded Populist leader. They would be dealt with as well. Priority number one became keeping all medical aid away from him. Meanwhile, those conspirators with too much to lose had to get out of Anderson, and get back to their homes and businesses. A small elite group would stay behind and clean up the mess, and give this story its intended ending, and bury it if possible.
Almost instantly, instinctively, the more cerebral talents of the new regime went to work giving the political and social rearrangement of Grimes County a political spin that would survive and define the County for one hundred years. Under the headline “Battle Aftermath,” the Navasota Examiner cynically bi-lined that Sheriff Scott was not much hurt, and armed citizens, from all parts of the county, and mostly members of the White Man’s Union, were “preserving the peace.” Informants also offered that the gunmen keeping the peace had several opportunities to plug away at Sheriff Scott, but had declined.
J. Wallace Brosig, son of one of Navasota’s most beloved founders, was one of the one hundred implicated in the assassination attempt.
The next day, the Navasota Examiner cynically printed the “wild reports” coming in from Anderson. It reported the first shot had come from the jail! Only five or six shots had been fired, total, but noone was hurt. All the businesses had closed, and even the saloon had shut down when the shooting started. The Governor was sending investigators, prompted by “Dame Rumor.” Sheriff Scott had pleaded for the safe exit of all his family and entourage, and in trade offered to leave and never return, and not seek legal action against the gunmen. Those “preserving the peace” denied his request. They had no problem with his leaving, they just would not promise safe passage. In other words, those self-appointed gunmen, who were keeping the peace, could not or would not keep the peace.Several histories of the County would be written in future decades, two of them nearly ignoring blacks, and all of them ignoring the dastardly deeds of the White Man’s Union, the oppression and expulsion of thousands of blacks and Populists, the heroic service of Sheriff Garrett Scott, and the sacrifices of his family and associates. As in the riots in Millican, they "never happened." The local newspapers gave biased and confused reports of the incident, and blamed Sheriff Scott for the deaths in Bradley’s store!
Well armed and backed by his deputies, the Sheriff might have considered orchestrating an engagement with his attackers, but he soon realized that he might bleed to death, and simply sent for help. Serious help. One of the Nebletts fled to Navasota and called the Governor’s office. Surrounded and out-gunned, the fifteen Populists and a few inmates under siege at the jail just hunkered down. Scott’s instincts were to keep his party together, and wait out his enemies. Heroic forays were out of the question. His deputies, some of them black, would have just been killed in cold-blood, and there was no cause left that could be worth that. So fearfully and helplessly, six women and eight men stayed with him and barricaded the door, as they sought the services of his physician, Dr. W. H. Haynie. For five long days the Scott faction begged for a doctor to come to the aid the perishing Sheriff, whose wounds had grown into gangrene, as White Man’s Union henchmen took pot shots into the windows of the terrorized jail, and the local newspapers took pot shots at Scott’s integrity.Meanwhile those barricaded inside the Grimes County jail rationed food and water, and prayed for God’s mercy. No help, and especially no doctor was allowed to approach them. We can only imagine the cold stares between Dr. Haynie and the gunmen who restrained him. For five days Anderson, Texas was a battleground for its own soul, and for five days the Devil held his ground.
Jim Shaw, Navasota banker, civic leader, and financier of the Shaw Rifles, originally organized the militia to send Grimes County boys to the Spanish American War.
Scott’s desperate pleas got to the Governor, Joseph Sayers, who immediately telephoned orders to send in a State Militia to disarm the White Man’s Union, and perhaps save Scott’s life. Shaw’s Rifles were handy and available, having recently returned from the Spanish American War, and service at Galveston during the 1900 storm, but it was feared they were not an objective party, having just appeared in uniform at a White Man’s Union barbeque. When offered, Scott rejected them without hesitation as a possible escort.The State Militia chosen, made up of 40 volunteers known as the Houston Light Infantry of the Texas Volunteer State Guard, arrived after five days of blood sweat and tears. But immediately a local, Col. Gordon Boone of the Shaw Rifles took command of them. No wonder Scott refused the local State militia, as he knew Col. Boone, and later named him and his brother among the alleged conspirators in his assassination attempt. The White Man’s Union had so effectively infiltrated every wing of society, that one brother might have watched through the sites of his rifle as another brother arranged the rescue of his prey. Almost miraculously, the serpents that had held Scott and his deputies under siege slithered into their holes. Finding no opposition, the militia called a truce and put Sheriff Scott on a mattress and into a wagon and removed him to safety with little resistance. In fact locals provided them with a banquet of hospitality. The mop-up crew of the White Man’s Union was apparently made up of hot headed assassins who had sobered up and dared not face armed and ready foes, especially a military force led by one of their own. Anderson appeared as peaceful as a Presbyterian picnic.
Governor Joseph D. Sayers
Hated and hammered, six-termed Sheriff Garrett Scott left Grimes County wounded and crippled for life, and never came back again. A veritable wagon train of the Scotts, Kellys and Nebletts, and their extended family and close associates were provided a military escort to Navasota where Garrett Scott was boarded on a southbound train, which would take him to Houston for medical care. Prayers for God’s mercy had been answered, but God’s judgment was a long time coming.
Since the White Man’s Union had failed to destroy Scott, the paper set out to do it in black and white. The Navasota Tablet taunted Scott, repeatedly calling him a coward for laying low while his brother was being killed, then hiding in a ditch after he was shot, for letting women protect him from sure death, and for negotiating an armed escort out of Anderson. If he had been any kind of man, he would have raced to his brother’s aid, faced his enemies and shot it out with them, regardless of their overwhelming numbers and superior position, and taken his bullets like a real Sheriff. The Tablet made him out to be a contemptible scoundrel that deserved his wounds, a crooked politician who left Grimes County in shame. He was to be completely blamed for the deaths of three of Anderson’s finest white citizens. His attackers received no criticism, and were implicitly justified; Scott’s unacceptable flaws forced them to resort to violence. The newspaper gloated at his demise and assured its readers that all would be well once he was gone.Sheriff Scott not only lost his beloved brother and several allies, but his job, and his health, and even access to his large plantation in Grimes County. All he had left was his self-respect. But more importantly, Scott survived, and to the White Man’s Union’s regret, his version of Grimes Democratic Party gangland politics and terrorism went with him. He chose to test the American legal system, and try to recover some of his losses. From Houston, Scott went to San Antonio where he managed to heal up and file a civil suit against his enemies most likely to have conspired in his assassination. Surely, once exposed, the Devil’s den in Grimes County would be brought to justice.
His list of probable assassins included most of the men that he knew were his political opponents, Democrats and members of the White Man’s Union. They were, quite simply, the leaders and pillars of Navasota and Grimes County. Even today many of their names would be recognized, and certainly there are numerous streets, buildings and parks with their names on them.
After Sheriff Scott and his regime were vanquished, the killing continued. The Republican Party became a footnote in Grimes County History. The Populist Party became a dirty word. Now there was noone to champion the powerless and protect them, or to mitigate organized Democratic Party oppression. Later in his lawsuit Scott claimed that the White Man’s Union had murdered at least ten people during a six month period, with his attempted assassination as the centerpiece. If his brother and poor Irvin Bradley were included in that number, then we can assume that around eight black Republican leaders were rubbed out like vermin, by white supremacists. Scott also alleged, echoing the warnings of the Negro Baptists, that many others were whipped and beaten and driven from the county. This would be the last time public objections were ever raised against the new social order in Grimes County.
The trial intended to expose the true villains of Grimes County was held in 1901 on “neutral” ground, in Galveston, still limping after an historic natural disaster, and where sympathies were somewhat confused. Many German immigrants and blacks had made the town lean Republican in recent Presidential elections, but many a Galvestonian’s heart beat passionately for the South. Galveston had a great sense of arrogance and was still a place where the likes of the White Man’s Union were considered gallant Southern heroes. Scraping just to survive, Galvestonians were not likely to be sympathetic to a radical, negro- loving Sheriff from the hinterland. The newspapers seemed to think Scott should have been happy that he survived, and scoffed at the $200,000.00 he thought he was due, to compensate him for his losses, which included the inability to ever work again. The defendants, around one hundred of them, wore their indictments with honor, insolently demanded proof, and ended up paying a pittance. Scott’s plea for the implementation of American ideals devolved into a judicial farce.And institutional injustice began to produce its own art. The Navasota Examiner ran long winded and biased editorials and even a shameful poem, making clear her position. Here is just one stanza of one arrogant diatribe, bizarrely accepted as politically correct at the time:
Give up our place to an inferior race!
It was never known thus in other climes
Nor do we believe, from our present pace.
Will it ever be done in grand Old Grimes.
The very last line went:
And we, Anglo –Saxons of grand Old Grimes
must force the African to keep his place.
This became a common rallying cry from the day it was committed to ink. And as the historian E. L. Blair noted, minds such as this ran Grimes County from that day on up until he published his history of the County in 1930. Much of what he wrote was provided by a dear old gentleman who seemed to know more than anyone and graciously provided him the scoop on everything. Who else but old Judge McDonald himself! Another example of history being written by the victors. One has to wonder what kind of daily fear ruled Blacks unable to relocate, as they toiled every day under these kinds of community leaders, who considered murder and lynching a necessary evil, and who had no conscience or higher authority who might keep them in check. These were leaders who could and would freeze the conscience of the white community until their dying day.Although Sheriff Scott failed to fully expose the wrongs done to him and his family and his constituency, the greater loss was the covering of an ultimate veil of secrecy over the county, and its cover of the terrorism by Grimes County Democrats on our system of government, and even our idea of civilization, or the permanent social and political changes brought about that would last almost six decades. The very fact that this story has remained under wraps for over one hundred years is proof enough of the absolute power and complete destruction of real democracy and freedom in Grimes County. For decades after, free speech, free press and free elections were suppressed. With some amount of wistful pride, another local historian waxed innocently in 1957 that not since that election had anyone been elected that was not a White Man’s Union candidate. “…since 1900, politics have been entirely controlled by white people in Grimes County.”
Little Mance Lipscomb was just five years old when this regime became his life-long reality. All blacks had to learn how to dance with this deadly partner, or starve. Or move. And many did. Ten years later the 1910 Census reflected that nearly a third, or around five thousand Blacks fled Grimes County since the previous census. Their hopes and dreams and very will broken, running for their lives with nowhere to go, their personal heroes crushed or banished, these may have been the most tragic days and circumstances that would someday find their voice in the blues.With such disregard for life or common decency, or the laws of the land, only chaos and anarchy could be expected from now on in Grimes County. Racial outrages continued. Saloons and brothels bred mayhem while drunks, gamblers and cowboy factions threatened and picked off each other. But ethnic cleansing has its benefits, no matter how ugly. The Navasota economy flourished as everyone enjoyed low unemployment and materials salvaged from abandoned properties everywhere.
More black men were illegally hung for mere suspicion of crimes. In 1904 a Black couple was found dead, shot up with shotguns in their own kitchen in the predominantly white community of Yarboro. Bodies were routinely found lifeless in downtown every Sunday morning, after another Saturday night downtown. The undertakers hitched up the mules every Sunday morning as a weekly habit, assuming there would be bodies to gather and dispose of. Mothers instructed their daughters to never walk downtown without an escort.Meanwhile, the newspaper found something nice to talk about. Whenever there were serious problems and legal infractions, the newspaper whined and blamed the undesirable elements in town for violating the peace. If a person really wanted to know the news about Navasota, he had to read about it in an out of town newspaper.
Gravestone of John I. Bradley, killed in the crossfire.
“Being the weaker race, it is our desire to protect you from the schemes of those men who are now seeking to place you before them. Therefore the White Man’s Union kindly and earnestly requests you to keep your hands off in the coming struggle. Do not let impudent men influence you in that pathway that certainly leads to trouble…”The Union intended to pacify blacks by subtle warnings that the Populist way was led by troublemakers that would get their due. And then, they unveiled the most successful and insincere political strategy often used in the South in the future to gain black cooperation and support:
“In the future, permit us to show you, and convince you by our action, that we are truly your best friends.”Strangely, the black population seems to have suspended disbelief and made peace with these overtures. The rocky road to freedom had turned into an insurmountable reality check. Raw, shameless power was now the law. And it wore a big smile. But one fair way to judge these men who many have made excuses for, and the Democratic Party that now ruled with no check or balance, was the kind of society they fostered once they obtained absolute power. In the few years since their conquest, an estimated one hundred citizens had met with violent deaths, and mostly blacks. By 1907, when a short-lived town Marshal pinned on his badge, he was told by the arrogant local thugs that “we don’t allow our kind to be arrested.” To many whites, the laws and the lawmen were strictly for controlling the blacks, Republicans and strangers. This was an outrageous antithesis of the Founding Father’s vision of American society. Even one of the founders of the KKK, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, had called for Southern restraint. Forrest had to admit that the KKK had gone too far, and he spoke against racial hatred, and in support of political and social enfranchisement of blacks. But in Grimes County, the ugly extreme of his ill-conceived fraternity had opened into full bloom. Something had to be done.
Ranger Frank A. Hamer, in 1906