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Racialist Deflection: Violence in the Red River Valley

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

​The Grand Jury of Caddo Parish (Shreveport) made headlines when it condemned the murderers of Charles Tyson and Charles Bell, two African American residents of Mira and Vivian. However, they still failed to indict (Shreveport Journal, March 1913).

The Red River Valley witnessed racialist violence, based on whites deflecting, throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Racialists believe that one race is superior to others. It is based on the imaginary concept of "race" (color), and the very real reaction of racism. Much of this superiority complex was directed from whites towards blacks, and some white men took racialism one step further by using racism to lay blame for crimes on black men. Following are some examples of this.

Murders in Whitesboro - Deflecting from a spouse murder The Sanborn Ranch community in Grayson County, east of Whitesboro, was made up of a loose conglomeration of houses that were situated near the headquarters of Henry Sanborn's ranch. Sanborn, originally from Illinois, was Texas's first distributor of barbed wire. In late August of 1901, a young woman named Bessie Bullard Caldwell, a newly-wed who lived between the Sanborn Ranch Community and Southmayd, was found raped and murdered in her own home, in broad daylight. According to her husband, he had left for Whitesboro and discovered his wife's body in the root cellar when he returned two hours later. The husband pointed suspicion onto Abe Wildner, a black man who, according to the husband, had eaten a lunch made by Ms. Caldwell earlier that day. Wildner had a previous robbery conviction, which the newspapers ensured readers knew. Within a few days, the county constable, Ben Davenport, traced Abe Widener into Indian Territory, where he was arrested near Mud Creek in the Chickasaw Nation. Within hours after the murder, a white mob had formed — and this mob's numbers kept growing. The men weren't just agitated about the murder, but also because the Texas governor had called out state militias (Denison Rifles, Denton Light Guard, and Company K, Fourth Infantry) to prevent a lynching and ensure that laws be obeyed. Posses had fanned out all over North Texas and southern Indian Territory, arresting and hounding several black men as they searched for Wildner before the militias took him into custody. When word spread that Constable Ben Davenport had captured Abe Wildner, the mob, instead of waiting for the Constable to return to Whitesboro with the accused man, drove out to Dexter in Cooke County to meet the Constable and Wildner. The lynching of Wildner was apparently a foregone conclusion: the mob that drove to Dexter had chains and barbed wire ready. According to the Sunday Gazetteer (Denison, August 25, 1901), the mob in Whitesboro was comprised of "several thousand people... eager for the sacrifice." Led by J. M. Caldwell, the murdered woman's husband, this large group of men overpowered Constable Davenport and grabbed Wildner. They tied him to an elm tree "on Bill Nelson's ranch" and lit a fire beneath him. While partially on fire, Wildner stated he was willing to confess. According to Davenport, when the fire was pushed away, Wildner "closed his mouth like a clam and would not utter a word." The fire was re-lit and Wildner slowly roasted to death. It took almost an hour for him to die. Afterwards, a resident of Dexter took Wildner's heart as a souvenir; his burned eye was sent to a McKinney council member as a "joke," and his ears were cut off to be kept as a keepsake. According to a local man who grew up near Dexter, Wildner's skull was displayed at the town's general store for years afterwards. According to the Sunday Gazetteer, "two or three accounts of the confession of Wildner" were given, but the one that the newspaper decided to print was from Snyder Omohundro, a citizen" whose account was "probably correct." Omohundro claimed that Wildner struggled with Mrs. Caldwell, then hit her, raped her, and slashed her throat with an axe in the root cellar. How Snyder Omohundro knew such details about the crime scene is uncertain, until it becomes clear that he simply retold the official recounting of the crime scene by authorities. The Bastrop Advertiser (August 24, 1901) stated that Mrs. Caldwell was found in a room inside the house, not the cellar. The Bastrop Advertiser also related that Wildner confessed to other assaults in Whitesboro, but these crimes were recounted by the Sunday Gazetteer, which only linked the crimes to Wildner as a possibility. It is interesting and a bit disconcerting that Davenport's

account of the events differs from Omohundro — Omohundro claimed that Wildner "confessed fully at Dexter" but Davenport said that Wildner confessed only briefly along Mud Creek in Indian Territory.

In other words, the complicity of newspapers in racialist murders was clearly evident in Wildner's death. White men like Caldwell, the victim's husband, were spared any scrutiny. His statement of the events was taken at face value. Perhaps he was the perpetrator, and his accusation against Abe Wildner was a convenient way to alleviate suspicion? With the lynching of Wildner, which Caldwell led, no investigations took place afterwards, and no trial for Bessie Caldwell's murder was held. The posse left Wildner's boy hanging on the elm tree for two days. Every newspaper that recounted the story showed itself sympathetic to the mob: "Justice is Done" (Honey Grove Signal), "Burned the Black: Food for the fiery flames" (Decatur News). The Weekly Herald (Weatherford) added that "All negroes who do not own property or have a good, established character, have been warned to leave Whitesboro." According to the Brenham Daily Banner, "not less than 15,000 visited the scene of the torture."

The crime against Bessie Caldwell was brutal, but so was the crime against Abe Wildner. He was not afforded a trial, and his murderers, whose names were known to all in the community and even appeared in the newspapers, were never brought to justice. District Judge Sam Bell Maxey ordered a grand jury investigation, but it went nowhere. The murders of both Caldwell and Wildner prove that in the early 20th century, a white man's word superseded any other authority.

General Ducket - Deflection used to stop labor organization The Red River Valley around the Great Bend Region of southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana has always had a violent reputation. Once the home to a sizeable Caddoan population, by the early 19th century this area had become a place of border disputes and land preemption (also called "land smuggling.") Crimes against people were also common place - criminal activity against Shawnees and Delawares convinced the U.S. government, in part, to erect Fort Towson in 1819. During the Civil War, the area was inundated by roving bands of Confederate deserters like Cullen Baker and his gang. After the war, the Ku Klux Klan assassinated a number of Republicans and held many inhabitants in a state of terror. These acts of violence were perpetrated among a period of major economic disparity. African Americans had great difficulty earning cash for their labor or their crops, which the Freedmen Bureau records attest. When the Bureau was not renewed, the lack of oversight did not mean that injustice was discontinued. Black families still lived under cash-less share cropping conditions, with their lives and livelihoods often threatened by white supremacists who feared justified retaliation. By the turn of the 20th century, the running tensions spilled over into incredible racial violence. General Ducket labored as a share cropper for James Stockton, a prominent white planter near Rocky Comfort in Little River County, Arkansas. Ducket came from an old line of black Arkansas families who had been enslaved. Ducket and several other black men had been organizing against the sharecropping system, with Ducket the de facto leader. After Ducket was accused of shooting and killing Stockton, a man much hated in the black community, he was arrested by the county sheriff when a mob of two hundred men overtook the wagon and lynched him at the Stockton Plantation. But their murder spree did not end there. The planters became convinced that the labor organizers were actually wanting to start a race war, and preemptively began hunting and killing twenty-three men whom they implicated. Wherever a black man was found, "he was quickly strung up and his body perforated with bullets." The newspapers of the day do not seem to question why the black men, if desirous of a race war, had not taken up arms. In reality, the black men instead fled the county and crossed the Red River into Texas, where they nonetheless were hunted and executed, while at least two were whipped and let go. An article from the St. Paul Globe (MN) listed some of the victim's names: Edward Goodwin, Dan King, Joe Jones, Ben Jones, and Moses Jones. The last three, all brothers, were killed and dumped into the Red River. Entire families fled from the violence in southwestern Arkansas into Bowie County, Texas.

A number of the lynchings in the area were related to labor unrest. Both black and white workers sought better wages and working conditions in the sawmills, lumber mills, railroads, and coal mines. But the labor unions were dominated by white men who refused to let black men join. So, when unions decided to strike, companies employed scab labor, who more often than not were black men. This led to racial violence meted out not just by the rich and powerful, but also by the white working class against the black working class. Charles Tyson and Charles Bell - Deflection for land theft An incredible amount of violence happened against whole families in northwestern Louisiana, and no white men were ever prosecuted for their participation the violence. When Charles Tyson, a preacher who lived near Mira, was found hanged from a tree on his own property in 1913, a grand jury convened to condemn the act but yet did not indict... although the names of the perpetrators may have been known. Tyson and Charles Bell, an African American man who had been lynched at Vivian during the same year, were deemed "assassinated" by newspaper editors. It failed to mention that the a reason for these murders may have been attempted land theft, as the area was a magnet for wildcatters. Browning Tuggle - Deflection of a rape Hope has always been an upstart town in southwestern Arkansas. A child of the Cairo and Fulton Railorad, Hope was founded around 1873 when the town-building arm of the company sold the first lots. Quickly, Hope became the largest city in Hempstead County. It was a progressive place, too. In 1895, Henry Yeager founded the Shover Street School, a college founded for future African Americans teachers. By 1938, voters designated Hope the new county seat, leaving old Washington behind in an embrace of the modern era. Even though Hope had no ties to the old planter families and didn't even exist before or during the Civil War, hundreds of whites in the town proved themselves defenders of the Old South, which the completely unjustified lynching of Browning Tuggle in 1921 attested. A native of Hope, Browning Tuggle had a wife, a daughter, and drove a jitney (an early kind of taxi) from the train depot to local places that passengers requested. When an unnamed white woman accused a black man of assaulting her after she had previously talked to Tuggle about hiring him, he was targeted as the perpetrator even though he did not fit the description. Police arrested him. They linked him to the crime after the woman believed he "may" have been the perpetrator and finding a pair of stained pants at his mother's home. The police allowed the mob to take over. On March 15, Tuggle was hanged on a scaffold attached to the town's water tower, the highest spot in town. His body was then riddled with bullets, and he remained on the water tower all day and night, pointed directly at the "black part of town." Tony Williams - Deflection of white men's own ill manners A month later, the town of Rodessa, Louisiana - about 70 miles south of Hope - witnessed a lynching. Like Hope, Rodessa was a new town. It was founded along the Kansas City Southern line as Frogtown, but when oil was discovered in the region, the town was renamed for the daughter of a railroad official. On April 15, 1921, Tony Williams was shot by a white vigilante posse after being accused of talking dirty to Mrs. W. B. Green, a white woman from Myrtis. According to his accuser, he apparently made a remark that he likes to be with white women. After she threatened him with a shotgun, he left and said something "rude" to her. A posse, which included a sheriff deputy named Hudson, formed to track him down; they found him sleeping in a small cabin. According to Deputy Hudson, Tony Williams struggled when he was placed under arrest and Hudson shot him. Later, the sheriff's office brought blood hounds to confirm that they had killed the right person... a person accused of talking smack. The Dyer Act In January the very next year after Rodessa, the Dyer Anti-lynching act, championed for years by the NAACP, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Using figures compiled by the NAACP, supporters of the Bill listed 52 lynchings that occurred in 1921, and wrote that

"In the 30 years from 1889 to 1918, 3224 persons were lynched, of whom 2,522 were Negroes, and of these, 50 were women.... We must set our faces against lawlessness within our own border. Whatever we may say about the cause for our entering this war, we know that one of the principal reasons was the lawlessness of the German nation - what they have done in Belgium and northern France... For us to tolerate lynching is to do the same thing that we are condemning in the Germans."

The bill, however, failed to pass in the Senate when the Southern Democrats blocked its progress with a filibuster. An anti-lynching bill and resolution was finally passed by both the House and Senate in 2019 and 2020.

White supremacists start race wars by claiming African Americans want race wars. This deflection was very much in evidence after the murder of General Ducket in Little River County, Arkansas in 1889, when twenty-three black men were hunted and executed (St. Paul Globe, MN, March 1899).

African Americans were ordered to leave Whitesboro, Grayson County, Texas after the lynching of Abe Wildener in 1901. (Alexandria, LA).
The mob lynching of Browning Tuggle in Hope, Arkansas in 1921 was based on a rape accusation, a typical tactic by racialists who use this crime against women as justification for their own crimes (Oklahoma City Times).

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Ann Lucas
Ann Lucas
Nov 02, 2023

Even a little casual reading reveals what a dangerous place Bowie County was after Reconstruction. Dreams of Old South grandeur died hard. Sickening.

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