by Mike Cox
Washington White lost an arm fighting for the South during the Civil
War. He could have spent the rest of his life seething with bitterness,
but that’s not how it turned out.
Born in Alabama in 1838, White served in the 26th Alabama Infantry
Regiment throughout the war, rising to captain. After the war, he
came to Texas and settled in Bremond in Robertson County. As was common,
folks tended to drop first names, so they just called him Captain
White. The captain worked as Bremond’s post master from 1885 to 1889.
A year later, he became county sheriff.
How long he held office is unclear. In fact, the most comprehensive
listing of Texas sheriffs, Sammy Tise’s “Texas County Sheriffs,” does
not include White. But J.W. Baker’s “A History of Robertson County,
Texas” shows White as sheriff in 1890.
According to Tise’s book, Lee Barton had been sheriff from 1886 to
July 19, 1890 when a district judge removed him from office. County
commissioners appointed H.P. Kellog as the new sheriff and voters
elected him to a full two-year term that November. If not the county’s
head lawman, White must have been a deputy for several years.
No matter White’s official status, most folks remembered him as the
sheriff who hanged a tenant farmer named George Freeny for killing
Captain White oversaw construction of a scaffold on the courthouse
lawn and cordially urged the public to attend the upcoming “necktie
party.” Evidently the sheriff (whether White or Kellog) saw the hanging
as an opportunity to imbue the citizenry with added awe for the majesty
of the law.
later, Lena Nettles, a young girl at the time of the hanging, remembered
the Nov. 25, 1892 event:
“School was dismissed for the children to see the hanging. I shall
never forget it. The sheriff and several officers took him up the
13 steps and he proclaimed his innocence at first. His hands and feet
were tied and a black cap was on his head and neck…The sheriff pulled
the trap door the prisoner was standing on, and he fell dead.”
The people of Franklin and Robertson County hadn’t seen a hanging
in nearly a decade. The last time had been during the administration
of Sheriff Jack W. Jones, who held office from Nov. 7, 1882 to Nov.
Jones’ predecessor had been W.I. Wyser, who served from Nov. 2, 1880
to Nov. 7, 1882. Nepotism apparently not being much of a concern at
the time, the sheriff’s brother, Addison Wyser, worked as a jailer.
In a classic example of flawed thinking, county jail prisoner Fred
E. Waite tried to escape by hitting jailer Wyser on the head when
he delivered a meal. What Waite had failed to consider was the possibility
that the blow might be fatal and second, that the jailer was the sheriff’s
A jury quickly convicted Waite and the judge sentenced him to hang
on March 23, 1883.
The victim’s future widow insisted on being on hand for the execution.
She showed up in her buggy, remaining in the wagon until the sheriff
placed a blindfold over the condemned man’s face. At that point, the
distraught woman changed her mind and rode off.
Whether Waite had expressed any last wish has been forgotten, but
years later, people still talked about Freeny’s final request. He
had not wanted a fine meal, a smoke or even a bracing shot of whiskey.
His thoughts concerned his daughter.
Worried that someone might try to harm her, Freeny had asked White
to take custody of his 11-year-old daughter, Mary, and care for her.
The old rebel soldier honored the request.
Though White died two years later, the girl lived with his family
until she was grown. The captain had been maimed in an unsuccessful
fight over slavery. Yet Freeny was black. Even a quarter-century after
the war, a white family taking in a black child invited ostracism,
but as White demonstrated, people can change.
by Mike Cox - Order Here