The late David Pickering had a long career as a newspaper journalist, primarily with the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Judy Falls is an award-winning teacher at Cooper High School in northeast Texas.
Brush Men and Vigilantes: Civil War Dissent in Texasby David Pickering, Judy Falls
As Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain dramatized, dissenters from the Confederacy lived in mortal danger throughout the South. In scattered pockets from the Carolinas to the frontier in Texas, some men who clung to a belief in the Union or an unwillingness to preserve the slaveholding Confederacy died at the hands of their own neighbors. Brush Men and Vigilantes tells the story of how dissent, fear, and economics developed into mob violence in a corner of Texas—the Sulphur Forks river valley northeast of Dallas.
Authors David Pickering and Judy Falls have combed through court records, newspapers, letters, and other primary sources and have collected extended-family lore to relate the details of how vigilantes captured and killed more than a dozen men. Unlike most other parts of Texas, at the onset of the Civil War the Sulphur Forks river valley had a significant population of Upper Southerners, some of whom spoke out against secession, objected to enlisting in the Confederate army, or associated with “Union men.” For some of these dissenters safety meant disappearing into the tangled brush thickets of the region.
Betrayed by links to a well-known Union guerrilla from the Sulphur Forks area, some of these men were captured, tried in mock courts, and hanged. Still others met their death by sniper fire or private execution, as did brush man Frank Chamblee, who after cleverly eluding his enemies for several years, was finally gunned down after the war, reportedly by one of the area’s most prominent men.
This carefully researched and well-written account not only tells the story of the brush men’s ordeal, but also provides insight into the emotions and thought processes of the Texans who resorted to extralegal means to protect their communities from all enemies, even imaginary ones. Anyone with an interest in the new history of the Civil War or of Texas should find much to digest in this compelling book.
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Judy Falls and David Pickering have put to rest many of the questions our family had about the hangings. As the stories passed from generation to generation, some details were lost and imaginations took over. The stories told to me when I was young barely resemble the truths uncovered by David and Judy. Thank you.
The enigma of the Confederacy was the unification of individual states each committed to a government supporting unencumbered states rights. However confusing, people in the South, particularly those on the geographic outskirts of the Confederacy, debated the political rational behind secession and their likelihood of success within a Southern Confederation. Extremists on both sides of the controversy argued adamantly about specific issues as the United States moved closer toward inevitable division. When the Civil War erupted and American began to struggle with the difficult choices that the war posed, political and social dissent transpired throughout the Confederacy on local levels. Texas, the far western anchor of the Confederacy, was not exempt from this controversy. Brush Men & Vigilantes adds to previous Texas Civil War history by looking past common Confederate idolatry revealing the true levels of dissent among certain Texas communities. By illustrating the social and political disputes, specific regional dilemmas, and how overly anxious military authorities reacted to these difficulties, Pickering and Falls present the niche of vigilantes in the complexities of Texas during and after the American Civil War. This is a strong regional history of the Sulphur Forks watershed counties of Northeast Texas during the civil war era. Anti-confederate or unionist brush men were pitted against pro-confederate vigilantes. The brush men, whether staunch unionists or merely avoiding Confederate conscription, got their name from the fact that they hid out from the vigilantes in the dense woods and brush of Jernigan¿s Thicket, then part of Fannin, Lamar, Tarrant, and Hunt counties. The book is a delightful read and illuminates some of the darker stories of Texas history that might have been forgotten if not for Pickering and Falls. The extreme vigilante violence of North Texas is best summarized at the end of the book by Judge L.L. Bowman: ¿Looking back to then from now we realize that many acts of violence were better left undone, but such is the result of all war and especially Civil wars (144).¿ Brush Men & Vigilantes sufficiently adds depth to the fields of Texas history, Civil War history, and the long history of vigilance and violence in America. This work fills in some of the blanks most would like to forget about Texas and its civil war experience. The violence in America at the hands of vigilantes reaches back from the first colonists to modern day race riots. Pickering and Falls¿ book illustrates one more example of vigilance and violence during the civil war era. It has been remarkably researched, contains extensive and well-written source notes, and is overall quite scholarly, yet still maintains a fluid readability that all can appreciate.