It was 73 degrees when I woke up this morning, and — no kidding — the weather app said the humidity was 100%. Nacogdoches, Texas, is a very beautiful little town. There’s a lively downtown along a nicely-bricked main street. It feels more Louisianan than Texan (especially with this humidity), although its friendly residents are proud of its history as one of the oldest Anglo towns in Texas.
Just across the highway from downtown, there’s a rather large war memorial at the north entrance of the new court house. Set in a pleasant enclosure that shields the space from the heavy traffic just outside, the quiet and contemplative memorial is inscribed with the names of hundreds of Nacogdochians who died in every war, from the War for Texas Independence to the Vietnam War. This includes those who gave their lives for the unlamentable Lost Cause of the Civil War.
This peaceful memorial is right around the corner from Rep. Louis Gohmert’s local district office. But Nacogdoches isn’t quite as conservative as you might imagine, thanks to the presence of Stephen F. Austin State University. But Nacogdoches conservative enough, and its citizens’ efforts to remember their history apparently goes only so far, because I was unable to find any memorials for Joe Adams, Esseck White or Dee Watkins. Here are their stories, as reprinted in newspapers around Texas:
Joe Adams, September 30, 1887
Joe Adams, the murderer of J.F. Looney of Douglass, was lynched here last night by a mob from the vicinity of Douglas. They met at the Narrow Guage depot about 1 o’clock and then went to the Goff house to get the keys from the jailor, but he had turned the keys over to Sheriff Spradley. They next went to Mr. Spradley’s and demanded the keys, which he positively refused to give up. When the mob saw they could do nothing with him, they left a guard over him and the balance proceeded to the jail and took a battering ram and tried to knock in the iron crating of the window which they could not do. They next tried the brick wall which soon yielded to their efforts. They went to Reid’s blacksmith shop, took his tools and cut through the steel cell in which Adams was confined. It took nearly one hour to cut through the steel. They took the prisoner to the public square and placed him on the platform of the public well and asked him if he had anything to say before he died, to which he replied, “no.”
Not being satisfied with this, they began to question him and he recconfessed the crime and also implicated another negro, Tom Thorn, as an accessory. Thorn is wanted here now for being in the well remembered fight of August 4. He will probably be served the same as Adams if he ever returns. After Adams confessed he was at once launched into eternity by two score of willing hands. Quite a number of our citizens witnessed the performance by moonlight.
— “A Hanging by Moonlight.” Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Oct 1, 1887.
The Galveston Daily News added that a mob had tried and failed to lynch Adams soon after he was first arrested. The armed “crowd of masked men” numbered about 150. “The sheriff made strenuous efforts to rouse the citizens and protect the negro’s life, but signally failed, and being overcome by superior numbers he was unable to do anything. … Spradley deserves credit for his efforts to save the life of the prisoner. The deed seems to meet with the general approbation of the public.”
Esseck White, August 6, 1897
There is very likely to be a lynching at Nacogdoches before morning. Last Wednesday, at Appleby, two negroes entered the residence of Dr. W.P. Fears, and when Miss Fears and Miss Berger were awakened they discovered the two bucks in their bed. They screamed and the negroes fled. The affair was kept very quiet until to-day, when Sheriff Spradley arrested Esseck White and Armas Phillips on a charge of attempted outrage and took them to Nacogdoches. Phillips protested his innocence, but said White had confessed to him that if the sheriff would arrest White he would find a lock of hair which he had clipped from the head of one of the young ladies. White was at once taken into custody and the hair found in his pocket. The two negroes were placed in the jail at Nacogdoches and a guard of citizens was established to see that he wasn’t moved by the sheriff. The sheriff has a number of deputies on guard in the jail and has succeeded in hiding Phillips out, but White is quite likely to swing before morning, and Phillips also, if he can be found. The entire community is being stirred up and a party is searching for Phillips.
A mob of 500 or more broke into the jail at 1 o’clock to-night and hung the negro Esseck White. A gallows was quickly erected in front of the courthouse of three pieces of scantling set up conelike with a block and tackle at the apex. A new grass rope was placed around his neck, his hands were tied, and then he was allowed to talk. He confessed his guilt virtually, and claims other negroes were equally guilty. The sheriff and military company were powerless, pleaded with the mob to disperse. No shots were fired. All is quiet now.
— “Houston, There Will Probably Be a Lynching.” The Times-Picayune (New Orleans), August 8, 1897.
Other newspapers reported that Gov. Charles Culberson had called out the Reserves from nearby Fort Stone, “but they nor the sheriff could do anything to either overawe or dissuade the men, who were bent on hanging the would-be assailant. A threat to fire was made, but if it had been carried out a very bloody conflict would have ensued.”
Dee Watkins, June 8, 1898:
Last night at Lanana Mills, Henry Collins, colored, was shot in the breast with a pistol and probably fatally wounded. The shooting occurred at 10 o’clock at Collins’ House. A report reached here (Nacogdoches) today of the killing of Dee Watkins, colored, living fourteen miles southeast of here. Watkins was arrested by a mob of whitecappers early this morning and was shot several times, being killed almost instantly. The sheriff and other officers are investigating. So far no arrests have been made.
— “Two Negros Shot.” Houston Post, June 11, 1898.