Texas Vigilantes – In the two decades following the Civil War, Texas was a lawless place and in many sections of the Texas frontier, courts and jails had not been established. In others, the authorities could not be depended on to take action against the many criminal elements flooding into the state. To counteract the outrages caused by these outlaws, vigilante groups formed all over Texas to stamp out lawlessness and rid communities of desperadoes. Often formed by decent law-abiding citizens, most vigilante groups handled criminals by imitating legal court procedure where the offender was “tried” before a vigilante judge and a jury.
Convictions often resulted in whippings or expulsion from the community, but at least 17 Texas vigilante groups used hanging to curb the criminal mentality. Though their original focus may have been admirable, many of these vigilante committees degenerated into warring mobs committing criminal acts themselves.
At other times, these groups were used for private vengeance or personal gain. While many of the groups were successful, driving out murderers, horse thieves, cattle rustlers, and train robbers, they were finally put to an end in 1897 when the Texas Rangers broke up a group of vigilantes who frequently gathered at Buzzard Roost. Over the years, these many vigilante groups claimed some 140 lives, with the most active being the san Saba County Lynchers, who killed approximately 25 people between 1880 and 1896.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August, 2017.