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Cullen Baker, Reconstruction-Era Mass Murderer in the Red River Valley

An account of Cullen Baker and how he was killed, written by his killer and love rival Thomas Orr, was published in 1870 (LOC).

Psychopath Cullen Baker's despicable Reconstruction-era crimes in the Red River Valley make him a mass-murderer.


After the Civil War, Ku Klux Klan dens infiltrated the Red River Valley. The purpose of these dens was terroristic - they meant to undermine the Reconstruction government, stop freedmen from voting, and intimidate African American people into states of quasi-slavery again. Although local historians have pretended these dens were secret, they were not. The men who belonged to them tended to be prominent and embedded members of their communities, and all of them were former Confederates; of course the names of the Klansmen were known to their families, but they won't talk.

Cullen Baker, originally from Tennessee, was like a Klansman in all the methods except that his own family disavowed him. His racism, supremacism, and wanton cruelty were exceptional in a time period of exceptional violence - he killed over 200 people in southwestern Arkansas and northeastern Texas in the Reconstruction period. He wasn't simply a killer. He was a mass murderer who targeted African Americans, caravans, soldiers, and Reconstructionists.

Baker was drafted into the confederate army and then deserted his regiment during the Civil War. Apologists say that he had been wounded, but considering violent proclivities towards women and having killed at least two men prior to his enlistment, it's safe to say his problem was a violent disdain for authority and a grandiose sense of self. During his brief time as a Confederate soldier, he didn't impress with any valor. Instead, he shot an African American woman in Sevier County, Arkansas simply because he wanted to. He shot an African American boy to death near the Sulphur River. In 1864, Baker joined the Union Army in Little Rock and was put in charge of a contingent of African American workers. He shot one of the workers to death and then fled to Perry County in northwestern Arkansas.

Baker's Gang

Desertion was actually a fairly common practice for both Southern and Northern soldiers. When the young deserters came back to their home territories, they congregated into vigilante gangs that proposed to ferret out "draft dodgers" but in reality, simply existed to terrorize, rob, and rape whomever they chanced upon (Quantrill's Guerillas are another good example). Baker belonged to a gang that styled themselves as "Independent Rangers." In October of 1864, Baker and the gang stopped a wagon train of men, women, and children (both races) who were leaving Perry County, Arkansas due to the gang violence. The gang stopped them at the Saline River crossing and proceeded to massacre the civilians.

Baker and his gang mostly hid out in the Sulphur River bottoms near his father's house in Cass County, TX (styled as Davis County during the Civil War in honor of Jefferson Davis) and occassionally, in the Red River bottom in Lafayette County, AR. He and his second wife (the first one, with whom he had a daughter that he abandoned, died young) lived in a house at Line Ferry along the Sulphur River in Miller County. When she died in 1865, Baker tried to marry his wife's sister Bell Foster, but she was a smart woman and refused him. She instead married Thomas Orr, a school teacher. Baker sought to kill Orr on multiple occassions thereafter, but in a twist of fate, Orr wound up killing Cullen instead.

According to Orr's 1870 book, Cullen Baker had a reputation as a "negro killer." Doc Quinn, a freedman from Texarkana, explained that after he saved Cullen Baker from drowning at Fulton, Quinn received protection from Baker. Quinn returned the favor by helping Baker massacre black men on the pretense of forming "a colored militia to catch Cullen Baker and his gang." Once gathered, the freedmen were shot to death - according to Quinn, Baker and his gang shot 53 at Homan, 86 at Rocky Comfort, six at Ogden, 62 in Jefferson, 100 in northern Louisiana, and 73 at Marshall. Thomas Orr described a massacre at Howell Smith's plantation by the Sulphur River, where Cullen Baker and his gang shot and stabbed to death a whole family of freedmen.

Soaked in Blood

The incredible violence that Baker displayed towards African Americans was not an aberration. Texas and Arkansas were soaked in the blood of freedmen during the Reconstruction period as well as afterward. White southern men killed, maimed, and raped blacks with impunity. The Freedmen's Bureau in Sherman listed so many atrocities committed by whites that the federal soldiers became nearly despondent. That Baker could kill over 200 people and never face trial or punishment is testament to the complicity of the whites that surrounded him. Historians aptly named this period an all-out race-war that was meted out exclusively by whites, who protected each other, but placed the blame on blacks. To unrepentant Confederates, Cullen Baker became, in Thomas Orr's words, the "Yankee killer" and "Bowie County hero" who was the sole survivor of the South's "lost cause."

Baker was also a murderer of white men. While white Confederates didn't chase him for killing blacks, they did so for killing whites. Citizen militias formed in places like Rondo and Bright Star. Union troops placed a substantial bounty on his head. Baker finally met his violent end in 1869 when a posse, led by Thomas Orr, showed up at Baker's father-in-law's house in Bloomburg and shot him to pieces. The posse then dragged the body to Jefferson (Marion County, TX), where Thomas Orr collected the reward.

Apologists, Go Home

I have been asked to change the narrative of this essay because "Cullen Baker has been maligned" and that certain facts, which I culled from Orr's book and Quinn's interview, are disputed by Baker's family. While I freely acknowledge that Orr and Quinn could have been mistaken on some of the facts, I am nonplussed that people try to apologize for this person. It's a typical, selective narrative for apologists of "victimhood" that deny the troubles and difficulties for other groups but themselves. They only give creedence when it fits their own biases and conceptions. What makes Quinn's narrative questionable to them -- that it was a black man's word?

Cullen Baker was a truly despicable man. The complicity of whites and Doc Quinn, who helped him commit his horrendous acts, was not much better. Baker's notoriety is still acknowledged in some parts of East Texas and southern Arkansas; there's even a "Cullen Baker Festival" held annually in Bloomburg, Cass County, Texas. Orr and Baker's confrontation is reenacted, and the festival benefits the community' volunteer fire department. At least some good can come from this monster.

Newspapers reported on Cullen's death but portrayed him as a wayward "desperado" instead of the serial killer he was. This 1869 newspaper account actually made up scenarios, with dialogue, to romanticize Baker. Baker's treatment by the press and later, by local historians, helped to mythologize the murderous and supremacist gangs of the post-Civil-War period, creating of narratives of "valor" and "lost cause" that have no basis in truth.

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2 comentários

Ann Lucas
Ann Lucas
08 de set. de 2023

Beyond appalling. A Cullen Baker *festival* in Bloomburg??????

Robin Cole-Jett
Robin Cole-Jett
07 de jan.
Respondendo a

Yes, it makes my blood boil. Sorry for the late reply! I am still trying to figure out this blogging software, but I now found the commens section.

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