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Bandera, Texas

( Located on Private Property )

Book Bandera Hotel › Bandera Hotels

Texas - Bandera Hanging Tree
The Bandera Tragedy Tree Today
Photo courtesy Irene Van Winkle, July 3, 2011

The 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.

As civilians, 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 below).

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 serious.

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.

Bandera Tragedy Tree
Marker by the Bandera Tragedy Tree
Older photograph of the Tragedy Tree and marker
Photo Courtesy TXDoT

Another 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.

© John Troesser

Bandera hangings victims memorial tombstone
The marker with the names of the victims
1990s photo courtesy Ralph D. Ellis

Texas - Bandera Tragedy Tree and marker
The Bandera Tragedy Tree and marker
Photo courtesy Irene Van Winkle, July 3, 2011

The Bandera Tragedy Tree Forum


Bandera 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 Watkins phil@philwatkins.com

  • Announcement

    "For 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.

    Anyone interested 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 irenebvw@yahoo.com." - Irene Van Winkle, June 03, 2013

  • Subject: 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 nroland@utexas.edu. - Regards, Nick Roland, May 11, 2013

  • Subject: Bandera Hanging Tree Tragedy
    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, irenebvw@yahoo.com, July 1, 2011

  • Subject: The Bandera Tragedy Tree
    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 m_hester@verizon.net, so that we can compare notes. Thanks again for your stories, it's great preserving history! - Melanie Hester, Lexington, Texas, October 20, 2009

  • Subject: Bandera Hangings
    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 Angelo.

    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

  • Subject: Bandera Hangings
    Ashley 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, loisrodgers@tlabwileless.net

  • Bandera Hangings

    I am 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.

    I have 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

  • Assistance 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 Sawyer.

    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

  • Bandera Hangings
    Your article suggests that the men hanged outside of Bandera 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 Morgans Squadron.

    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

    We 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. - Editor

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