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2013-06-13

Hanging Tree Ranch incident - 150 years later

By Irene Van Winkle Special to the Courier

One of the most heinous acts of the Civil War happened just a few miles outside Bandera. While most people have forgotten this tragedy, a group of historians will commemorate the incident with a special event next month on its anniversary, courtesy of the owner of the Hanging Tree Ranch.

On July 25, 1863, eight men from Williamson County were hanged by Confederate soldiers out of Camp Verde. Versions of the story vary, noting some of them were deserters or that they may have been on furlough, among other reasons. What is known is that they were also carrying more than $900 with them. They were strangled by a horsehair rope, and one was shot through with a ramrod.

The soldiers responsible were indicted in 1866, but never brought to justice, and the story faded away with time. Their bodies were interred by the old pioneers of Bandera including Amasa Clark, George Hay and Frank Pyka.

Today, they lie there as they were buried - in one solitary grave under the hanging tree. A tombstone was provided by the townspeople of Bandera. Their names are listed as CJ Sawyer, W M Sawyer, George Thayre, William Shumake, Jack Whitmire, Jake Kyle, John Smart and Mr. Van Winkle.

The Hanging Tree Ranch, outside Bandera on Highway 1077, will be the setting for a 150th sesquicentennial commemoration of that sad and tragic event. Descendants of those eight men, historians and those with a special interest in this event are invited to attend the remembrance, scheduled for 11 am, Sunday, July 21.

It is hoped that additional information about what really happened will be shared. Not surprisingly, some individuals dispute the real reason for the hangings, which the soldiers claimed was because those eight men were deserters.

A number of online sources reference the Hanging Tree Tragedy, including several articles published by Carolyn B. Edwards in the Bandera County Courier in 2010, as well early accounts by Marvin Hunter, publisher of the "Frontier Times" magazine.

Photographs and other information may also be found on the website www.texasescapes.com.

For more information on the event, contact Irene Van Winkle by calling 830-285-9424 or by emailing

irenebvw@yahoo.com