Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gainesville Hanging Marker

The marker for the "Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862" is located in the Georgia Bass Park on the east bank of Pecan Creek, between Main Street and California Street.  The marker was erected in 1964.  According to a local, at one time the Gainesville Hanging marker was located west of I-35, near Elm Creek and later moved to it's present location.

Close-up of the marker - marker text at bottom of this post.

Marker Text:Facing the threat of invasion from the north and fearing a Unionist uprising in their midst, the people of North Texas lived in constant dread during the Civil War. Word of a "Peace Party" of Union sympathizers, sworn to destroy their government, kill their leaders, and bring in Federal troops caused great alarm in Cooke and neighboring counties. Spies joined the "Peace Party" discovered its members and details of their plans. Under the leadership of Colonels James Bourland, Daniel Montague and others, citizens loyal to the Confederacy determined to destroy the order; and on the morning of October 1, 1862, there were widespread arrests "by authority of the people of Cook County." Fear of rescue by "Peace Party" members brought troops and militia to Gainesville, where the prisoners were assembled, and hastened action by the citizens committee. At a meeting of Cooke County citizens, with Colonel W.C. Young presiding, it was unanimously resolved to establish a Citizens Court and to have the Chairman choose a committee to select a jury. 68 men were brought speedily before the court. 39 of them were found guilty of conspiracy and insurrection, sentenced and immediately hanged. Three other prisoners who were members of military units were allowed trial by Court Martial at their request and were subsequently hanged by its order. Two others broke from their guard and were shot and killed. The Texas Legislature appropriated $4,500 for rations, forage used by State troops here during the unrest. (1964)

Not sure why the names of all the men who died in the hanging were not placed on the marker. It would seem that they deserve being remembered by name!

Found an article on the Gainesville Hanging marker by author James Loewen.
In his book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James Loewen gives an interesting take on the Gainesville Hanging historical marker.   Loewen considers the modest marker an "extended excuse" for what happened in October 1862.   He explains how years earlier in 1911, Gainesville put up a Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn that was "a counterfactual statement to cover over the awful crime that the Confederates carried out on these very grounds in October 1862."

Ceremony Commemorates Great Hanging

Last Saturday, the fourth annual Gainesville Hanging Commemoration was sponsored by the Cooke County Historical Commission.  The following newspaper article is from the GAINESVILLE DAILY REGISTER, Gainesville Texas. October 18, 2010

Ceremony Commemorates Great Hanging
By PAMELA ROBINSON, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register

Gainesville — History can lie buried, like a civilization covered over by centuries of dust and then layers of earth. But, it is still there, and can be brought back to life by someone researching the site or event.

The Gainesville history of The Great Hanging was unearthed by Leon Russell, who made it his business to shed light on an unsettling event that took place in our town.  Russell is credited for starting the yearly ceremony to commemorate the victims of The Great Hanging which took place in 1862.

Saturday morning, Russell was at the fourth commemoration in his wheel chair and one arm in a sling, at the Georgia Bass Park, the actual site of the hangings in 1862. He said his intent has always been to bring justice to a group of men whose lives were ended.

During the ceremony Ron Melugin, Chair of the Cooke County Historical Commission and fellow commission member Colleen Clark Carri, walked through the rows of crosses and read each name and rang a bell in remembrance of each person.

Russell then spoke to those at the gathering.  “Now that we’ve heard the names, who are these people?” Russell asked. “Well, for the most part, they were non-slave owners, with one or two exceptions, and for the most part they were out in the eastern part of the county and for the most part, they were grubbing their living out of a little garden spot and trying to perfect their claim under the Peters colony. Most of them would have been subject to the draft, the Confederate draft, and they really didn’t want to go fight the rich man’s war, the planter’s war. They left 42 widows and about 170 children.”

Russell joked that people might look at him and say, “well, what’s an old guy in that shape, what would be his interest in something like this, and I can tell you right quick, when I first learned of this I thought it was just such a horrible injustice. And this is a country that’s supposed to have been formed on the basis of justice. What happened to the idea that every man is considered innocent until proven guilty by a competent court by a jury of his peers?”  Russell became very emotional during his address and said, “The people that did it trashed that and I’m here to speak out against them. And if I don’t get to say anything more, I hope they’re watching,” he said as he looked around, “because I want to say, ‘you didn’t get us all yet,’” to the applause of the gathered audience.

Russell himself is not a descendant of anyone involved in The Great Hanging but said, “The scale of justice has to be re-balanced somewhere, that’s our fundamental belief.”

L.D. Clark was the featured speaker at the commemoration and wrote the book, “A Bright Tragic Thing,” about the hanging.  Melugin introduced Clark as a noted author and specialist on the Great Hanging and a decedent of Nathaniel Miles Clark who was hanged. Clark is now as a resident of Gainesville. 
“You know why we are gathered here today? Because 148 years ago in 1862, there started what is called a ‘reign of terror’ in Gainesville because over a three-week period, 42 men were hanged and a couple were shot. This went on for three weeks and you can imagine what it was like in the whole county,” Clark started. “They had a so-called jury...You might as well say it was a mob to begin with.”

Clark said most of the people got the sham trial, but pointed out that his ancestor Nathaniel Miles Clark and 11 other men never even got the sham trial. “When everything is going into chaos, that’s when the rule of law is supposed to kick in,” Clark said.

Clark introduced two of Ephraim Chiles’ great-granddaughters, Barbara Parcell of North Richland Hills and Shirley Clough of Kansas. Clough addressed the audience and told them about the history they are working on, which led then to Gainesville for the first time for the commemoration. Chiles and his brother Henry Chiles were the first two men to be hanged.

The Commemoration of the Great Hanging started four years ago after Russell went before the Gainesville city council to start the ceremony.  “He felt it just needed to be done,” his daughter Gayle Russell said.  Russell grew up in Woodbine and when someone mentioned The Great Hanging to him, he had no idea what they were talking about.  “It started hanging on his heart,” Carri said, “and he contacted Ron Melugin and said ‘I want to do something about it and I’m running into roadblocks and I can’t get anybody to talk to me about this.’ Ron said, ‘well, I’ll talk about it. So one thing led to another...’”

Russell and his wife and his nurse also made the crosses, one for each victim, for the commemorations.

The commemoration is sponsored by the Cooke County Historical Commission.

A huge memorial stone commemorating the events is located in Georgia Bass Park. The park is located between California Street and Main Street and is east of Pecan Creek.