Tragedy Tree 150th Anniversary Commemoration
I am the owner of the
Hanging Tree Ranch, Bandera. What I have planned is a commemoration of the 150th
anniversary by inviting descendants of the slain men to attend a gathering on
Sunday, July 21. We will have representatives from Tx., Bandera, Williamson and
Kerrville Historical societies (at least they have been invited). We are asking
each family to have a representative to speak and tell the story of the mens travels
to Mexico and the hanging as it has been passed down through their family. There
are many version of the events that have been repeated over the years. Not that
we are going to decide which is accurate but it would be helpful to know what
is in each family's story of the event. We have invited people to come to the
ranch at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday July 21, bring chairs and we will provide a forum
for a representative from each family. The ranch is located on RR 1077, 1.9 miles
west of Hwy 173. A chuckwagon meal and refreshments will be provided for all
guests. Families are invited to bring memorabilia, photos, books which we can
put on display. A videographer will record the story telling and produce videos
for those requesting one, for a fee. I encourage people to keep updated by checking
website for TexasEscapes.com and link to Bandera Tragedy Tree. You can help
by informing all family members of the event. WHAT WE DO NEED IS AN RSVP FOR
EVERYONE ATTENDING SO WE WILL KNOW HOW MANY MEALS TO PREPARE AND HOW MANY GUESTS
TO EXPECT. People can respond with RSVP to this email address. - Phil
Bandera Tragedy Tree Today|
courtesy Irene Van Winkle, July 3, 2011
tragedy referred to in the tree's name was a multiple hanging. A Confederate patrol
stationed at Camp
Verde during the Civil War intercepted a group of eight well-mounted and well-equipped
Williamson County men about 10 miles South of Hondo.|
Thinking they had nothing to fear, they surrendered their weapons and
rode with the soldiers toward Camp
Verde to clear things up with the authorities there.
they were, of course, free to travel. They were relieved of the cash they carried
which collectively amounted to nearly $1,000. This considerable sum may have had
something to do with the events that followed.
While they were camped
near this tree on the trip back to Camp
Verde, one or more of the Confederates suggested that the men should be hanged
for "evading Confederate service" (please see letter
This pretext might have been accepted by the other
soldiers or it is possible that some of them thought it was just a prank. Horsehair
nooses were made and, if it was a scare, the Commanding Officer, one Major Anderson,
turned a blind eye and did nothing to stop the "prank" once it turned
The men were lynched one at a time while the other victims watched
and waited their turn. One man asked to be shot rather than be slowly strangled
and one of the killers complied. The ramrod was left in the musket and it pierced
the man's body - pinning it to the ground.
When the bodies were found
the next morning the ramrod was at first mistaken for an arrow and the killings
were thought to be the work of Indians. A boy accompanying the men managed to
escape, but was never heard from.
After the war, the atrocity was remembered
and referred to a tribunal. But the soldiers had all left Texas
and none, including Major Anderson, could be located for trial.
photograph of the Tragedy Tree and marker|
Photo Courtesy TXDoT
killing - of German immigrants from Comfort
by Confederates in 1863 shows that Texas during the Civil War was indeed a dangerous
place. The German men were en route to Mexico to enlist in Federal service when
they were attacked by Confederate cavalry at the Nueces River near Brackettville.
Today in Comfort,
Texas, the (recently restored) Treue der Union (Loyalty to the Union) Memorial
was erected in 1866. But here in Bandera County, although the crime was even more
heinous, there is only the tree, the fence and a simple tombstone inscribed with
the victims names.
marker with the names of the victims|
photo courtesy Ralph D. Ellis
Bandera Tragedy Tree and marker|
courtesy Irene Van Winkle, July 3, 2011
Hanging Tree Forum Announcement
those who read this announcement earlier, the owner of the Hanging Tree Ranch
has had to change the date for the 150th commemoration of the hanging of the eight
men buried there. The day of the event has been changed from Saturday, July 20
to Sunday, July 21. It will take place starting at 11 a.m., and a barbecue meal
will be provided to guests by the owner. Also, remember, guests should bring their
own folding chairs, as there is no seating available on site.
in this story -- especially descendants and/or relatives of the men, and historians
-- is welcome to attend. The ranch is located outside Bandera on Highway 1077.
Bring your photos, stories, memories and family lore -- we want to hear ALL sides
of this tragic story, which has been lost to time. It is relevant to the Civil
War, to Confederate history, to Camp Verde history, to Hill Country history, and
to families of these men. For more information, please email me at email@example.com."
- Irene Van Winkle, June 03, 2013
Bandera Hanging Tree
I'm a graduate student in American History at UT-Austin. I'm researching the
story of the Bandera Hanging Tree and I'd like to contact the following individuals
who have commented on it on Texas Escapes: Jason Sawyer, James Stewart, Ashley
Phillips, and Ralph D. Ellis. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. - Regards,
Nick Roland, May 11, 2013
Bandera Hanging Tree Tragedy
Dear Editor, Thanks so much to Melanie Hester's entry.
Her message cleared up a huge mystery for our side of the Van Winkle family, a
puzzle I have agonized over for years. Turns out, we are nearly 99.99% sure, that
Andrew Jackson Van Winkle was the nephew of our ancestor in Texas, David Lawson
Van Winkle, who came to Hill County in about 1856, and was also a Confederate
veteran. We were able to connect him with Thomas H. B. Van Winkle when we learned
they both were sons of Jesse Van Winkle and Mary Ann Braden, but were very far
apart in age. We don't know if they ever were in touch after they all left South
Carolina. Our family is arranging visits now, and word is getting out to our kin
about this grave. We appreciate this so much. - Irene Van Winkle, Kerrville
Texas, email@example.com, July 1, 2011
Subject: The Bandera Tragedy Tree
Editor, I Just discovered your article regarding the Bandera Tragedy Tree, my
relative is Andrew Jackson Van Winkle: Military Service: Co. D 18th Regt.. Texas
Vol Cav (CSA) of Bell County, Texas. Andrew is the son of Thomas H. Benton Van
Winkle and Elizabeth White Smart, the daughter of John Smart. I believe, Andrew
Jackson Van Winkle and John Smart were victims in your story. Please let the other
families, have my e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can compare
notes. Thanks again for your stories, it's great preserving history! - Melanie
Hester, Lexington, Texas, October 20, 2009
TE, I recently discovered your article on the Bandera Hanging Tree. William Martin
Sawyer is my ggg-grandfather, and I have visited the mass grave located on what
is now called "The Hanging Tree Ranch" just outside Bandera.
As a result of a Sawyer reunion in Weir,
Texas, I have been contacted by another Sawyer genealogist who spurred my
interest in the family again, especially since we attended the funeral of my grandmother's
101-year-old sister Leona (Sawyer) Hobbs a couple of weeks ago in San
Jason Sawyer's comments at the end of your article were a ray
of sunshine after years of fruitless research. Attached is a photo I took of the
tombstone in the 90s. Online forums such as the one you provide are GREAT resources
for us genealogists, and anything we can do to "advertise" our kin helps others.
- Ralph D. Ellis, Austin Texas,
June 29, 2007
Phillips wrote that she had contacted all of the families connected with the victims
except the Van Winkles. I believe Mr. Van Winkle was related to John Smart, on
Mr. Smart's mother's side. I am a Shumake descendent, but not direct from the
one lynched. Does anyone know anything about the 13 year old male? - Lois Rodgers,
Cameron, Texas, July 30, 2006, email@example.com
the great great great granddaughter of William Sawyer. I have always heard about
this story and was curious to know if they were leaving their families behind
to go to Mexico. I am relieved to learn that it wasn't the case.
had contact with relatives of (I think) all of the other men, except for Mr. VanWinkle.
If anyone knows anything about him or William's parents, I'd love to know and
share some info. - Ashley Phillips, November 09, 2004
please with the Bandera Hanging Tree
I was reviewing your information
regarding the Bandera Hanging tree. I noticed a contribution from Jason Sawyer.
It seems he and I have an ancestor in common. I am the great grandson of William
I agree that Mr. Sawyer was on furlow or leave, and was attempting
to farm near Georgetown
Texas. As I understand it, as related to me by his grandchildren, Mr. Sawyer
was enroute with the other innocent men to Mexico to attempt to purchase good
farm stock, as there was little to be had in Texas at that time. This is why the
men were carrying a large sum of money.
I wonder also what the fate of
Major Alexander was ultimately. Did he join the union army after the war, as did
a goodly number of officers? If so, he was still no more than a common criminal
in uniform. How many others suffered at his hands directly or due to his "complacency"?
Certainly, the answers to some questions as these may never be known, but it sure
would be interesting to find some leads to what has been a cold trail. I would
at least like to find Alexander's grave. Maybe I could plant some goatheads on
it. - James Stewart, September 04, 2004
Dear Editor, Your article suggests that the men hanged outside
TX, in July of 1863, were going to Mexico
to avoid conscription into the Confederate Army. I would like to point out that
records indicate at least two of the men were in the [Confederate] army and on
a forty-day pass.
William M. Sawyer, my paternal great, great, grandfather,
had enlisted in the Confederate Army July 8, 1862, in Gurly's Regiment, Co. D,
Texas Partisans of the Texas Cavalry (later designated the 30th Texas Cavalry,
C.S.A) His brother, Coston J. Sawyer was also in the Texas Cavalry, Co. A, of
These men in no way [were] guilty of any wrongdoing.
They willingly gave up their arms and agreed to accompany Major Anderson to Camp
Verde, but were murdered enroute.
Your article also fails to note
that on April 24, 1866 the State of Texas indicted Major Anderson for murder and
highway robbery. Major Anderson had of course long since disappeared.
Sincerely, Jason Sawyer, December 08, 2003
thank Jason for his letter and have made appropriate corrections to the original
text. We always welcome corrections and additional information to any of our articles.
© John Troesser
Texas Historic Trees
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