Confronting Hard Stories

Location: San Saba, Brady, Menard, Ft. McKavett TX
Churches: St. Luke’s, St. Paul’s, Calvary Episcopal, and St. James’

Opening Prayer
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe. Amen.
This is the Day: Readings and Meditations from the Iona Community, Neil Paynter, ed., Glasgow, UK: Wild Goose Publications, 2002 

Welcome to San Saba, Brady, Menard, and Ft. McKavett!

San Saba
San Saba is known as the Pecan Capital of the World (Seguin, TX boasts to have the world’s largest pecan). San Saba has a population of 3,000 and is a gem of a small town. They have a beautiful historic downtown (online or in-person tour guide can be found here: http://www.sansabatexas.com/visit-san-saba/historic-downtown-tour/ )
San Saba is the hometown of Tommy Lee Jones and opera singer Thomas Stewart.

It is also home to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. Established by Bp. R.W.B. Elliot in 1886, St. Luke’s is one of the oldest churches in the county. The first Senior Warden donated the land that the church building still stands on today. St. Luke’s has a service of Holy Eucharist on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays of the month and a service of Morning Prayer on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month. They are currently served by The Rev. William C. Grusendorf. 

San Saba’s history has its highlights, as well as stories that are hard to hear. While most of us believe that it is a simple fact that as US citizens we have the right to be free from violence, and if we commit a crime we will be tried by a jury of our peers. However, through much of the nation’s history, these basic rights have not always been guaranteed to all.  During the years following the end of the Civil War, during the time known as Reconstruction, large portions of the population of the state of Texas lived in fear of extrajudicial killings and nighttime attacks in what has come to be known as lynching.  While lynching is now usually seen as a hanging, the act of lynching is any form of violence and execution without the due process of law.  From 1865 until the beginning of the 20th century, a known 120 lynchings occurred throughout the state.  Certainly, many more lynchings occurred that were never reported or when reported those notes were lost.  Some of the prime targets of these terrors were members of the recently-freed African American community, as well as white individuals who had supported the Union during the war or were known, abolitionists.  It was in San Saba county that some of the worst extrajudicial violence occurred, with 25 known victims being recorded between 1880 and 1896.  The violence was so extensive that the state government sent in the Texas Rangers to investigate the lynchings and attempt to restore order to the county.  

One victim of these crimes was Asa Brown, a young man who was the brother of the former sheriff, who was found on February 15, 1889, hanging from a tree.  It is believed that Brown was killed for political reasons, as both money and a pistol were found on his body showing it was not a robbery. 

As Christians, some of our work is to acknowledge this history and be empathetic to the stories of surviving loved ones who lived through this brutal time in our country. One way this is being done is through a special soil collection project. The Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, AL, works with local community leaders in collecting soil from lynching sites and has a continuously growing memorial to lynching victims and their families. A short video about the project can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njWHCSDJTYc 

For more information about the Equal Justice Initiative go to their website here:

https://eji.org/

Additional sources: Outlaws & Scorned Women Podcast on Texas Lynchings and the San Saba Mob.

Brady, TX
Brady is known as the “Heart of Texas”, as it is the city closest to the geographical center of the state. It has a population of 5500, and many entertainment options, including the Heart of Texas Country Music Museum and state renowned antique shops. You can watch a short video welcome of the town here: https://www.elocallink.tv/m/v/Redesign4/?pid=w7QNz8a3&fp=txbrad_20_welc_iwd

St. Paul’s provides an episcopal presence in the community and a portion of their mission statement says, “The Episcopal Church is not the building, not the service, not the pomp or attire, it is people, people just like you. Without you, there is no church.”

Brady, along with every other individual and community in the nation was truly impacted, in one way or another by the Second World War.  While many Texans headed overseas to serve in the war effort, a portion of the war came in a unique way to the town of Brady with the establishment of Prisoner of War (POW) camps.  It is estimated that between 400,000 and 500,000 POWs would be brought to the US, with roughly 20% of these being interred in the nearly three dozen camps set up across the state.  Many of these initial prisoners had been captured in the North African campaign, and as per the rules of the Geneva Convention, the Texas environment was judged close to the environment they had been captured in.  With the end of the war in 1945, the majority of the prisoners would be returned home, however, several chose to remain and their descendants can still be found in Brady today.

With the war’s end, many of the buildings used to house the POWs were abandoned. In 1947 the State of Texas established a reformatory for female African American Juvenile offenders at the former Camp Brady grounds. While juveniles were to be tried and housed in separate facilities from adult offenders, due to segregation policies passed in 1913, and lack of an appropriate facility, African American juvenile females found themselves housed alongside adults.  The goal of the school was to act as both a reformatory and holding center while these youths awaited trial.  However, corruption among the administration was rife and many of the young women were victims of sexual assault and mistreatment by the guards, with few of these events being investigated by the state and usually brushed under the rug.  Many of these women were victims of Jim Crow era laws which denied them their rights and found them subjected to harsher punishments than their Anglo peers.  The Camp Brady school would shut down in 1951, with the opening of a reformatory school in Houston.  It would not be until 1975 that legislation would be enacted that banned racial segregation in Texas prisons.  The remains of both the POW camp and reformatory are now managed by the Heart of Texas Museum of Brady.

A guard post at Camp Brady POW Camp Image courtesy of UTSA Special Collections

Menard and Ft. McKavett
Menard, TX has a population of 1400 and is located 140 miles Northwest of San Antonio. The town began as a Spanish mission along the San Saba River. Eighty percent of the land in Menard County is used for farming and ranching, and the local economy relies on the beef, goat, grain, and pecan industries. The area is a popular destination for hunting and fishing.
Located 21 miles west of Menard, Fort McKavett was established by the 8th US Infantry to protect settlers and act as a rest stop for settlers traveling to California. Tension and violence between settlers and Comanche tribes increased after the time of the Civil War, until, in 1875 the US Government mandated the relocation of native peoples to Oklahoma. The Fort was abandoned in 1883. The Fort is now considered a ghost town, as well as one of the most well-preserved army forts in the country. Calvary Episcopal Church serves the town of Menard, and St. James’ Episcopal Church is located just outside Fort McKavett. (photos not available)

While African Americans have served in every conflict since the founding of the nation leading up to the American Civil War, they had never served as members of the regular peacetime army, instead of serving in volunteer units.  When the Civil War broke out in 1861 African Americans were forbidden from serving in the army, with a few roles being opened to them in the navy.  However, there was a strong movement among the African American and abolitionist communities that argued for allowing African American men to serve, as this was a fight for their freedom.  In 1863 the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation not only freed all enslaved individuals in States currently in rebellion, but it also allowed for the service of African Americans in both volunteer units and as members of the United States Colored Troops.  By the end of the war, over 180,000 black men would put on the uniform and played pivotal roles in ending the war.  When the war came to a close in 1865, the US government decided that while they would greatly reduce the size of the army, they would create two cavalry and six infantry units composed solely of African American men (aside from the officers who would be white).  After some budget cuts, the two cavalry units (the 9th and 10th) and the two infantry units (the 24th and 25th) would be mustered into service in 1866 and find themselves sent immediately to Texas to serve in the Indian Wars.  The men of these units would go on to serve with great distinction and prove themselves to be some of the finest troops on the frontier, and earn the nickname the Buffalo Soldiers.

Sent out to the various forts on the Texas frontier, one of the main forts the Buffalo Soldiers would find themselves stationed at was Fort McKavett.  While the main job of these soldiers was to deal with perceived threats from Native American tribes in the area, much of the work done by the Buffalo Soldiers were supporting and growing the infrastructure of these remote locations.  Whether it was stringing telegraph lines, protecting cattle drives, or mapping the frontier, the Buffalo Soldiers proved themselves time and time again the equal of any other unit in the army.  The Buffalo Soldiers would go on to serve in the Spanish American War, fighting in the battles of Kettle and San Juan Hill, and would actually beat the rough riders to the top of both hills, though this was not reported at the time.  Many Buffalo soldiers would find themselves sent overseas in WWI and WWII, with the units finally being disbanded with the end of segregation in the army during the Korean War.

While the Buffalo Soldiers proved themselves the equal of any other unit, they also had to deal with ingrained racism both from within the military and in the communities they served in.  One incident of racial violence that occurred close to Fort McKavett was the murder of a Buffalo Soldier by John Monroe Jackson in 1870.  Jackson and many residents of Menard Texas found it to be an insult that African American troops were stationed near their town.  Acting on a rumor that a black soldier from the fort had written a love letter to an Anglo woman in town, Jackson shot the soldier and then fled from justice.  Buffalo Soldiers would be dispatched to seek out Jackson and several of his compatriots, engaging in a shootout with the individuals and killing two of their party.  While the soldiers were legally in the right to apprehend and arrest Jackson and his compatriots for the murder of a US soldier, in the ensuing written narrative the Jackson party would be portrayed as men defending their home in an attempt to cover up the ingrained racism of the murder.  Many incidents such as this would occur to many Buffalo Soldiers during their service on the frontier, and many of these stories are still written in a way that portrays the soldiers not as victims of racial violence, but instead as deserving of their murder.

Additional Resources: Texas Parks & Wildlife Buffalo Soldier Program

Closing Prayer
When our eyes do not see the gravity of racial justice,

Shake us from our slumber and open our eyes, O Lord.

When out of fear we are frozen into inaction,
Give us a spirit of bravery, O Lord.

When we try our best but say the wrong things,
Give us a spirit of humility, O Lord.

When the chaos of this dies down,
Give us a lasting spirit of solidarity, O Lord.

When it becomes easier to point fingers outwards,
Help us to examine our own hearts, O Lord.

God of truth, in your wisdom, Enlighten Us.
God of hope in your kindness, Heal Us.
Creator of All People, in your generosity, Guide Us.

Racism breaks your heart,
break our hearts for what breaks yours, O Lord.

Ever-present God, you called us to be in relationship with one another and promised to dwell wherever two or three are gathered. In our community, we are many different people; we come from many different places, have many different cultures. Open our hearts that we may be bold in finding the riches of inclusion and the treasures of diversity among us. We pray in faith.

      – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Next Stop Coming Tuesday, June 29th

Heroes, Border Crossings, and School Segregation

Next Location: Junction, Sonora, and Del Rio, TX
Distance to Travel: 406,000 steps from Fort McKavett
Churches: Trinity Episcopal, St. John’s, and St. James’