the Civil War ended, folks in Texas and throughout the South underwent a phase
in time known as "Reconstruction."
During this period, the states that
had previously been part of the Confederacy were now subject to military rule
as well as occupation by Union troops. Citizens of Gonzales,
Texas, had to deal with the problem of enemy soldiers, in their hated blue
uniforms, walking the streets - many who probably felt that the local folks were
somewhat inferior to them.
story in the March 26, 1931, issue of The Gonzales Inquirer prompted me
to do some research on an incident involving U.S. Army soldiers that occurred
here in 1868. The article was about a former resident of Gonzales
who had donated a rare photograph to the University of Texas Library. The paper
described the picture as, "...depicting a scene of an early tragedy." This tragic
event was said to have happened in Gonzales during the reconstruction days.
the owner of the photograph, Mr. Mac Parker, didn't know much about its content
and had asked the University of Texas to contact the Inquirer to see if
any of the locals had witnessed the event. This incident turned out to be the
killing of a local man by Yankee soldiers.
After the Inquirer
article was published, a citizen of Gonzales,
Mr. F.F. Wood came forward and said he definitely remembered the occurrence. Mr.
Wood said it happened at the old Keyser House in Gonzales. The Keyser was a hotel
located in the downtown area. Wood stated that the victim was a physician from
Belmont by the name
Mr. Wood said that Dr. Cunningham was, "called out" by
the soldiers and when he appeared at the top of the stairs, they grabbed and pulled
him feet first down the steps, and then shot him on the sidewalk. Wood said Cunningham
had done something to offend the soldiers.
article about the killing of Dr. Cunningham appeared in the Inquirer on
April 2, 1931. One local lady, Mrs. W.J. Bright, told the paper that she recalled
the event quite clearly. She was 15 years old at the time and was living with
her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell, about two miles from Gonzales.
On the day of the murder, Mrs. Bright was spending the day in town with her uncle,
David S.H. Darst.
The Inquirer reported that the old Darst home
had been a stately two-story brick house and had occupied a spot just south of
where the high school campus was located at the time the article was written in
1931. The old home was no longer there and the home of Mrs. C.H. Hoskins stood
on that ground. The location of the Darst place was evidently reasonably close
to the downtown area - near enough for Mrs. Bright to hear the shooting.
Mrs. Bright stated, "So many shots were fired, that every one in the house thought
a battle was on in the business section." Bright said that she later learned that
the soldiers shot into every business in town to intimidate the storeowners and
keep them inside while they (soldiers) killed Cunningham.
According to Mrs. Bright, the soldiers ordered Dr. Cunningham to kneel on the
sidewalk and pray for his life. She said he was kneeling in prayer when he was
shot to death.
Handbook of Texas contains more information about the murder and other events
surrounding this incident. It states that although no Union troops actually fought
in Gonzales County during the war - about 15 or 20 soldiers were stationed here
and camped on the public square for several months during the reconstruction period.
Evidently the soldiers were running roughshod over the local folks. The
problem was bad enough that the mayor complained to military authorities in February
of 1868, accusing the men of intimidating local citizens. Shortly after the complaint
was filed, two soldiers reportedly began firing into the downtown area. They beat
up the postmaster and wrecked the post office. The Handbook of Texas states,
"They pulled a civilian [Cunningham] into the street and murdered him."
months later the two soldiers were accused of murder. They were tried by a military
court and found not guilty.
I get the feeling that the Union soldiers
of occupation must have considered Southerners fair game. In this particular case
it is reported that only two men were involved in the killing. If so, why didn't
the others do something to stop them?
If you ask me, the whole bunch
should have been hanged.