A White Cap Carnival in Delta County, Texas

By the summer of 1895, the white population of Delta County, Texas had had enough. The black population – all 700 of them – was being told to leave.

Delta County was booming. With good soil and adequate rain, this little county in the northeast corner of Texas saw their population more than double over the past fifteen years. But with that rise came black tenant farmers.

While Delta’s overall population was increasing, the percentage of black residents was actually waning. The 1880s saw the county’s population increase by 63%, while the black population only mustered an increase of 22%. 1From the 1880 and 1890 US Census. These records are found here.

Race relations up to this point seemed about as mild as one might expect. While some surrounding counties saw a few lynchings in the 1880s and early 1890s, Delta County itself saw none. The mere rumors of riots in Lamar County took the lives of at least three black citizens in 1892, but that was in the larger city of Paris, Texas. But under Delta County’s surface, something was about to break.

The Northern Birth of the White Caps

Following the dissolution of the original Ku Klux Klan, a group known as the White Caps was formed in Indiana. Unlike the Klan, there was no central leadership. This was more of an organic movement, each town and county mimicking the dress and actions of the preceding.

Also unlike the Klan, the White Caps weren’t a strictly racist organization. Simply put, they were vigilantes. When they saw something which bucked traditions or went against the perceived values of a community, they would take action. Typically this action found their culprits at the end of a rope. 2For instance.

But then the White Caps spread south. The Southern counterparts certainly followed suit, maintaining what they viewed as conservative values, but also adding a much stronger white supremacist bent to things.

By 1890, White Caps were reported in Texas. In nearby Leonard, not forty miles west of Delta County, they warned Mike Yeager, a black citizen, to leave town. 3Brenham Weekly Banner; Brenham, Texas; Thu, Nov 27, 1890 – Page 4. Here. In 1893, a similar threat was made true as White Caps in Caddo Mills, forty miles southwest of Delta County, whipped a black servant and forced him to leave the town. 4The Abilene Reporter; Abilene, Texas; Fri, Mar 3, 1893 – Page 1. Here. Also of note: the city of Springfield, Ohio had ordered all black citizens to leave. While white supremacy saw more action in the South, it was not without results in the North.

‘Taken Out and Hanged’

Still, White Caps had not yet made their presence known in Delta County itself. Two years later, this would change.

The early 1890s found areas like Delta County suffering from a agricultural depression. White farmers found themselves out of money and often out of land, while black tenant farmers working on larger farms still found themselves employed. This could not stand.

In sympathy their neighbors in adjacent counties, some citizens of Delta gathered themselves together in the summer of 1895 to do something about this problem.

Late one night in early August, every black person, family and farm was “notified that he must leave at once or he would be taken out and hanged.”

Come morning, the black population knew enough to take this threat seriously. “This causes a perfect stampede among the negroes,” reported the El Dorado Republican. Though whites friendly to at least the cheap labor of the black workers did all they could to persuade them to stay, this perfect stampede continued. “Valuable property has been abandoned and the scare continues.” 5El Dorado Republican; El Dorado, Kansas;
Fri, Aug 9, 1895 – Page 1. Here.

Despite the ten-day notice to leave the county, some decided to stay behind. On Saturday, August 10th, that ultimatum was up.

White Cap Carnival

From the GalvestonDaily News:

White-cappers about ten days ago notified the negroes in the Charleston neighborhood, this county [Delta], that within ten days they must be out of the community and notified, the land owners having negro tenants that they within that time must ship out those tenants.

08.13.1895 - Delta County, Texas - 2d

The whitecappers are supposed to be a set of worthless individuals who live in Sulphur bottom and can not get lands to rent where better tenants can be had.

There are about sixteen negro farms in Charleston community and honest, hardworking, peaceable tenants have been there for many years and have had every year some of the best lands rented and, being good tenants, always get good lands.

It is thought by the officers and land owners of that community that it is an effort by the worthless tenant element living in the timber and bottoms to drive out the negroes and force the land owners to rent them the lands now cultivated by the negroes.

The negroes have become panic stricken and all but two families and a few men left at once. The citizens and others guaranteed them protection, but nothing could hold them. Some moved their families and are going to remain themselves to gather their crops.

The officers are investigating this affair and think they have located the parties and have some of them up here today before the magistrate, and while they claim to know nothing, the officers think they will get some who will give the parties away. No acts of violence have yet been committed. 6The Galveston Daily News; Galveston, Texas; Tue, Aug 13, 1895 – Page 6. Here.

Shot Down by the White Caps

Many of the black families escaped into adjacent Lamar County. One woman made her way to Paris, the county seat, and told her story to the local paper, on Monday, August 12.

Paris, Tex. – An old negro woman named Stephens has just arrived here from near Pacio, in Delta county, where the White Caps are alleged to be holding carnival. She states that on Saturday morning her son was awakened about 4 o’clock, called to the door and shot down by the White Caps.

The 10 days’ notice given him had expired and he was prevented form fleeing with the wholesale exodus of negroes from that section on account of his growing crops and home, which would have been placed in jeopardy.

His name was William Stephens. He had a wife and two children. One of the White Cap notices is posted within 30 yards of his house. He has a brother in Paris who fled when he first received notice. Officers are now endeavoring to catch the perpetrators. 7Though this can be found within the same article as above, it was printed throughout much of the country. The headline used in this post – “White Cap Carnival” – was taken from The Evening Bulletin; Maysville, Kentucky; Tue, Aug 13, 1895. Here.

An Appeal to the Whites

That same day, the black refugees who fled into Lamar county drafted an appeal to the whites of their newly adopted home.

“We, the colored people of Delta county, are the poorest and most worthless people in the state of Texas, and we do not want any trouble with anybody. We ask the white people to protect us and when we do wrong to deal with us as the laws demand and we will be satisfied. So please help us to stop the White Caps.

“We are not guilty of the least crime in Delta county, so please come to our relief and we will be under lasting obligations to you. At present we are unable to go anywhere.” 8Ibid.

As many of the papers stated, reports were “conflicting,” with at least one merchant denying that any lynching had taken place at all.

A Church is Burning

This new home, however, was far from paradise. In fact, a few days before the families from Delta made their way into Lamar County, the White Caps struck first.

From the Fort Worth Daily Gazette:

Negro Church Burned
Paris, Tex., Aug 9 – White Caps have invaded this county. Last night the negro church in the village of Glory, ten miles south of the city, was burned and notices posted ordering all negroes to get out of the country within ten days, with the significant suggestion that Winchesters would be used to move them if the demand was not complied with.

Several negroes of this city received similar notices, and great consternation prevails among the colored people. Several negro families were driven from Delta county last week and took refuge here. The officers have not the slightest suspicion as to who are the investigators [instigators?] of the White Cap movement. 9Fort Worth Daily Gazette; Fort Worth, Texas; Sat, Aug 10, 1895 – Page 1. Here.

Another Lynching in Delta

If there was any investigation into the Delta White Caps, it seems to have turned up nothing. Though most of the black population had left, at least one man chose to risk staying.

“Whitecaps in Delta county, Texas,” reported the papers, “have driven all negroes out of the county. Jefferson Cole, an aged colored land owner, who refused to go, was called from his house and shot dead.” 10Many papers ran this story in their “News in Brief” sections. This specific report comes from The Great Bend Weekly Tribune; Great Bend, Kansas; Fri, Aug 30, 1895 – Page 1. Here.

Epilogue

Good news – or at least neutral news – never really makes the papers. The outright violence against the black communities in Delta and Lamar counties appears to have abated. Perhaps the white people understood who actually harvested their crops and made good with their promises of protection.

The available sources make no note of any White Cap activity in either of the two counties. This, despite similar activity reported near Dallas, as well as throughout the surrounding states, especially in Arkansas.

This is not, however, a story where they all lived happily ever after. While the small county of Delta saw no further lynchings, Lamar County, where the black families fled to escape the White Caps, would have so many lynchings that the county fair grounds became the de facto lynching grounds.

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Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.
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