DEAR SUN SPOTS: The Great Hanging Memorial Foundation of Gainesville, Texas is launching a search for descendants of those affected by a Civil War tragedy known as the “Great Hanging,” the largest extrajudicial mass execution in United States history.
When Texas voted to secede from the Union in 1861, Cooke County, then a frontier community on the Red River, was one of the few areas to vote against leaving the Union so the public was internally divided even before the war began.
Confederate sympathizers controlled the local government and militia units but the populace was far from committed to the war effort, setting up the division that led to tragedy. Panic set in as rumors of a Peace Party conspiring to overthrow the Confederacy fueled their fears and insecurities. Mass arrests followed, a “citizens’ court” was created and 40 men were hanged. Two more were shot while trying to escape.
According to Steve Gordon, president of the Memorial Foundation, “For eleven years, our group has been staging a commemoration of this historical event, and this year we would like to include as many descendants of those who were involved as we can locate. Shortly after the Civil War, most of the records of this tragedy were lost, so it was often omitted from the historical record. Professor Richard McCaslin’s book, ‘Tainted Breeze,’ began to change that when it was published in 1994, and Johnathan Paul’s documentary film, ‘The Great Hanging,’ has added interest.
Given the current focus on genealogy, we hope that by reaching out to descendants we can connect this historical event with the present. We urge anyone who has found Texas connections in their family tree or who is just interested in Civil War history to check our website at https://www.greathanging1862.com. We want to include those on both sides of the conflict, along with anyone who might have ancestors who lived in the area at the time.”
Gordon added that this year’s commemoration will be held Saturday, Oct. 14, in Gainesville and will include a tour of the local cemetery, a theatrical reading of Jonathan Paul’s prize-winning documentary film “October Mourning,” that tells the story of the event and a commemorative ceremony featuring historian Richard McCaslin. The website includes details about the time and place for each of these events. — Stephen, Gainesville, TX
ANSWER: Since this is a nationwide search for those who had descendants involved in this tragedy, Sun Spots is happy to do its part to get the word out, as always. Learning about our nation’s history, that is sometimes taken for granted, is more important now than ever.
DEAR SUN SPOTS: In answer to the request for local framing services on Sept. 4, I would recommend Hobby Lobby in Auburn. The “two Jims” do great work and the prices are very reasonable. — Jane, Auburn
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Cook County Civil War Memorial in Gainesville, TX