(This post is also published on Southern Unionists Chronicles)
The following is a story of Civil War Unionism and its persecution in the Hill Country of Texas. Its narrative and documentation was gathered and provided by Betty Zimmerman of Woodville, TX, whose husband is a descendant of the story’s main figure, Henry Flaugher (pronounced “Flour”). For this essay, I have compressed and rearranged her material, but the history of this murder was essentially written by Betty and members of the Flaugher family.
The story passed down in Flaugher family oral history is as follows: By fall of 1860, many southerners were expressing “feelings of hatred” toward former northerners who had moved South. Such a family was that of Henry Flaugher of Burnet County. Flaugher’s son-in-law, John T. Malone, and his daughter, Allie, were frightened enough by events to leave the state shortly before secession was achieved. Not long after they left, the Malones learned that a gruesome murder of some 36 men suspected of Unionism had taken place in their former home county, and that Henry Flaugher was among them. Twenty-five of the 36 men, according to the story, were hanged over the mouth of a saltpetre cave (there are many such caves in Burnet County), the ropes then cut so that the bodies dropped into the cave, seemingly out of sight forever.
Some two years later, the bodies were discovered by family members, perfectly preserved in the cave. Henry Flaugher was given a decent burial. His personal history, and the events leading to his gruesome murder, remind us that the Civil War ripped apart communities as well as a nation. Flaugher’s simple move from a free state to a slaveholding one, more than a decade before the war, set in motion events that led to his violent death.
Sometime around 1848, Henry Flaugher moved his family from Illinois to Burnet County, Texas, where he settled near present-day Marble Falls. His decision to move South, into a slaveholding state just as the nation’s sectional crisis was heating up, may not have been an easy one. Two of Henry’s grown children from the first of his two marriages did not make the move, but his sons, John and Adam, and daughters, Allie and Catherine (Kitty), plus his second wife Eliza and their six children, were soon transplanted to the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, where Henry bought 139 acres of land on the Colorado River, and commenced buying and selling stock.
Around 1856, Henry’s eighteen-year-old daughter, Allie, married widower John T. Malone, who lived nearby. Twenty-eight-year-old Malone, a master stonemason born in Ohio, was also a relative newcomer to Texas. John had lived in California and Missouri before making his way to Texas; in 1850, he mined for gold in El Dorado, CA. John, then, was well aware of heated national debates over whether slavery should be allowed to move into the western territories. That very year, California was admitted into the Union as a free state, following a bitter political battle between pro- and anti-slavery forces.
In 1860, as southern states moved toward secession, some of John T. Malone’s neighbors suspected that he and his father-in-law, Henry Flaugher, were not “sound” on the slavery issue. John was even accused in a court of law of having assisted slaves in escaping North. Although he was acquitted, threats and suspicions continued, causing him and Allie to flee Texas, first to Iowa, then to Washington Territory, by wagon train. It was late fall, and John left behind property, tools, and an uncollected payment on a stone mill he had built.
Allie’s father, Henry Flaugher, was expected to follow, but decided to wait until after his crop was in. The results of his fateful decision are seared in the memories of his descendants. One daughter and three granddaughters of Allie Flaugher Malone told essentially the same story: Henry Flaugher was taken prisoner by a group of men while fetching a bucket of water from the river. However, a letter written by Henry’s sister, Catherine Flaugher Wilson, on May 25, 1868, differs somewhat in details. Catherine claimed that Henry and a hired hand had gone into the timber woods for a load of wood. His wagon, she said, was found half loaded, but Henry was no where to be found. Family members later found the cave, with a gallows erected by the “REBELS,” and Henry’s body in the cave. While Catherine mentioned that some forty additional bodies were found in the cave, she did not claim they had been killed alongside her brother.
Catherine Flaugher Wilson’s 1868 description dovetails nicely with a story published in a 1941 issue of Frontier Times: “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” by Walter Richter. Richter was writing the story of one Adolph Hoppe, but a secondary figure in this history was a “Mr. Flour,” surely the Henry Flaugher of this story. According to Richter, Hoppe and “Flour” were loading cedar posts in a wagon and had just started for home when they were halted by a ranger and a group of men. Accused of attending secret Union meetings, both men were “tried” on the spot, and “Mr. Flour”–but not Adolph Hoppe–was found “guilty” of Unionism. The ranger let Hoppe go, but left the man now believed to be Henry Flaugher in the hands of the vigilantes. For being in the company of a Unionist, however, Hoppe was pursued by the vigilantes as soon as the ranger went on his way. His body was recovered from the cave known as “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.
Although Hoppe rather than Flaugher was the subject of this essay, it seems clear that both men were murdered and dropped into the cave. The separate stories tell essentially the same story, and it is reasonable to assume the men met their fate together. What is not clear, however, is that 36 men were killed that same day. The story of Adolph Hoppe describes two men meeting their deaths at the hands of secessionist vigilantes. I suspect, and Betty Zimmerman concurs, that those 36 other dead men were probably victims of murders that took place throughout the Civil War, as pro- and anti-Confederates fought it out on Civil War home fronts. Like Catherine Wilson, Richter pointed out that many other bodies were found in the cave: “thousands of bones,” he reported, were brought up from “Dead Man’s Hole” in 1866.
My thanks to Betty Zimmerman for sharing this important Civil War story with us.
Note: Walter Richter’s article, “Disaster at Dead Man’s Hole,” is from Frontier Times Magazine, vol. 18, No. 6, March 1941.
For more on this story, see “Dead Man’s Hole: The Murder of German Texan Unionist Adolph Hoppe in the Texas Hill Country”