From the Annals of the Vigilantes – In 1874, a vigilante gang hanged a suspected horse thief in Denton. After the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad reached the Red River, there was an increase in crime and general lawlessness with the introduction of outsiders. Such actions were not uncommon in post-war Texas, especially where local courts and law enforcement were either in the formative stages, undependable or non-existent. So-called “vigilance committees” formed to mete out their own form of justice in an effort to deter crime and punish desperadoes. It was rough justice at best and sometimes degenerated into mob rule or the instrument for settling personal vendettas. The historical record of their activities is typically limited to newspaper accounts which may be of dubious accuracy.
From the Annals of the Vigilantes – In 1860, fires broke out in North Texas destroying parts of Dallas, Pilot Point and Denton. The most serious fire destroyed downtown Dallas – then a small town. More than half of the town square in Denton burned, and fire razed a store in Pilot Point. The likely cause of the fires was a combination of the exceedingly hot summer (with temperatures in the 100’s) and the introduction of new and volatile phosphorous matches. Citizens of Denton were apparently satisfied with that explanation. In Dallas, however, radical white leaders had to find a villain. Charles R. Pryor of the Dallas Herald blamed the assault on an abolitionist plot “to devastate, with fire and assassination, the whole of Northern Texas.” Stirred up by Pryor’s irresponsible reporting and speculation, several communities and counties throughout North and East Texas established vigilance committees to root out and punish the alleged conspirators. By the time the vigilantes were through, between thirty and 100 blacks and whites had been killed or lynched by mobs. The Panic of 1860 or the “Texas Troubles” as dubbed by the press was one more straw on the back of the camel that led to Texas’s secession from the Union.