The Lee-Peacock Feud

Background

On 2 April 1866, the American Civil War had been officially ended for just shy of a year.  At best, however, the war was only almost over — but not quite.  On that date, the Thirty-ninth Congress of the United States declared, “… there is no longer any armed resistance of misguided citizens, or others, to the authority of the United States in any, or in all the States mentioned — excepting only the state of Texas … the people of said states, except Texas, are well and loyally disposed.”

Texans were not misguided citizens. When Texans put their heart and soul into an effort that they feel is important to who they are, as Texans, they tend to dig in their heels.  What the United States Congress failed to recognize in 1866 was that Texans were hard-headed, rugged, and they didn’t know how to quit the fight.  They may lose the fight, and they may one day admit to having lost the fight, but they aren’t likely to give up who they are or what they believe.  In the psychology of many Texans, “The fight is over when I say it’s over.”

Robert E. Lee (and other senior commanders) may have surrendered their armies to the Union, signifying the end to civil war — but in Texas, the war wasn’t over and it wouldn’t be over until well into the twentieth century.

Four Corners Texas

The Lee-Peacock feud took place in the four-corners area of Texas, where Fannin, Grayson, Collins, and Hunt counties join together.  Four Corners is one location in Texas where the Civil War continued — for another five years.[1]  The casualties weren’t as significant as they were at Gettysburg, of course, but given the relatively small human populations of Texas counties back then, 50 deaths were a lot.

Robert J. Lee (whom everyone called Bob) was Arkansas born.  He migrated to Texas with his family in the 1830s, settling in what would become Hunt County.  The land wasn’t much, but it was fertile, and the Lees were experienced farmers.  They transformed shrub thickets into productive land, but Texas was a hard land and people had to learn how to “make do.” Bob Lee learned how to make do from his father.

Lee was 27-years old when the Civil War broke out.  By then, Bob was married and had three children.  Leaving his family in the care of his father, Lee joined the Confederate cause, enlisting for service in the 9th Texas Cavalry.  He fought in the Trans-Mississippi and Tennessee campaigns.  When Bob returned home in 1865, thinking that the war was over, he wore the uniform of a cavalry officer, and folks began calling him Captain Lee.  What Lee discovered after returning home, however, was that the enemy lived a few miles down the road.

Bob Lee learned that a fellow named Lewis Peacock had set up an organization he called the Union League.  The league actively worked for the protection of blacks and pro-Union Texans.  Peacock set up the Union League in Pilot Grove, Texas … seven miles from the Lee homestead.[2]  Given the tragedies of war, the loss of friends, the suffering and deprivations experienced over four long years, Lee could not accept that while he was off fighting for Texas, one of his neighbors was working against the things he believed.

Lewis Peacock was born in North Carolina in 1824.  After living in Georgia for a spell, he migrated to Texas and settled in Grayson County.  Peacock had no stomach for the rebels or their cause, but he wisely kept his opinions to himself and somehow avoided Confederate conscription.  Peacock spent the war farming and running a smithy.  There was a creek everyone called Deserter’s Creek on his property because many Confederate deserters and draft-dodgers camped there during the war.  In most instances, the deserters were on their way back home, and the draft-dodgers were hiding from draft agents.

At the end of the war, Peacock no longer withheld his pro-Union attitudes.  He joined the Republican Party, supported radical reconstruction, gave aid to the Freedman’s Bureau, and supported Yankee carpetbaggers.  Living in Texas in 1866 made Peacock a political minority.  It was a dangerous undertaking because Texans were in no mood for the tyranny of Northern reconstruction.

In 1868, Bob Lee sent a letter to the editor of the Bonham News.  He told the story of a gang of men dressed in blue uniforms who accosted him in the middle of the night in 1866.  These men “arrested” Bob Lee, informed him that they would take him under guard to Sherman, Texas, for war crimes prosecution.  Lee identified these men as Lewis Peacock, Israel Boren, and James Maddison.  Lee stated that rather than taking him to Sherman, they held him for ransom along Choctaw Creek. Lee’s ransom was a mule, a saddle, a bridle, twenty dollars in gold, and the promise to pay $2,000 … payable on demand, and they ordered Lee to leave the county “forever.”

Once the Unionists released Lee, he refused to pay the “bond.” Instead, Lee filed a civil suit against Peacock in Fannin County, and county authorities arrested Peacock and others.  There is no record of such a lawsuit or an arrest in Fannin County, but this wasn’t unusual for Texas in the mid-1800s.  Some historians suggest that while the lawsuit probably was filed, Union carpetbaggers prevented it from going to trial.  This, too, is plausible, especially given the court-packing scheme set into motion by agents of Texas reconstruction.  Lending support to Lee’s story is a news item appearing in The Galveston News, reporting a jailbreak in Fannin during which Union sympathizers forcibly released several arrested men.

Captain Lee gathered around him many men who believed, as he did, that Yankees had no business sticking their nose into the affairs of Texans.  Most of these men were as tough as Bob Lee and every bit as resourceful — men such as brothers Simpson, Charlie, and William Dixon (from Dixon’s Mound), their half-brother Dick Johnson, and Bill Penn from Kentucky Town, Texas.[3]

In 1867, while visiting Pilot Grove, Bob Lee met Jim Maddox, one of Peacock’s men who kidnapped Lee the year before.  Lee called him out to settle the matter, but Maddox refused.  Later in the day, according to the Lee faction account, Maddox walked up behind Lee and shot him in the head.  The Peacock faction disputed this.  They claimed that Maddox bested Lee in a fair fight. Lee’s friends carried him to the home of Dr. William H. Pierce, who cared for Lee until he was well enough to return home.

On 24 February, one of Peacock’s men, a fellow named Hugh Hudson, went to Dr. Pierce’s home demanding that he release Lee to his custody.  Pierce informed Hudson that Lee was no longer at his home.  Hudson, who didn’t believe Pierce, shot, and killed him in front of his house.

Within a month, two men went to Lee’s house and attempted to kill him.  Lee escaped the assassination attempt.  A few hours later, Lee’s brother arrived, and the two men tracked the assassins to Farmersville.  Lee killed one man and wounded his accomplice.  According to The McKinney Enquirer, the dead man’s identity was unknown, but historians claim that the fellow was very likely Hugh Hudson.

In the spring of 1868, Elijah Clark, a long-time friend of the Dixons, called on Hester Anne Dixon, who may have been William’s eldest daughter.  Given that Clark was a member of the Peacock Group, Hester Anne wanted nothing to do with him.  Angry, Clark stormed out of the house and encountered young Billy Dixon, Hester Anne’s sixteen-year-old brother.  Clark drew his pistol and shot at Billy.  This aggressive act produced two immediate problems.  The first problem was that Clark missed his target; the second problem is that Billy didn’t miss when he returned fire.

Lewis Peacock used his position as a Unionist to influence efforts to arrest “rebel trouble-makers.” A month after Billy Dixon shot and killed Clark in self-defense, while Billy and Charlie were in the process of moving a load of cotton to Jefferson, federal cavalry surrounded their wagon.  The posse’s official report stated that the trouble-maker Billy Dixon was shot dead while trying to escape lawful arrest.

A few weeks later, Peacock led federal cavalry into Pilot Grove to arrest more Lee faction trouble-makers.  A gunfight broke out, but amazingly, no one was hurt, and the wanted man managed to escape. Peacock’s Army soon captured Lee and others of his men and transported them to Sherman, where officials released them due to a lack of credible witnesses to Lee’s trouble-making.

On 15 May 1868, two of the Dixon clan ambushed Peacock.  He was shot and wounded but escaped death.  While recovering from his wounds, Peacock sent an appeal to state and federal officials asking more troops in the four corners area.  Within a month, the conflict intensified.

One of the gathering places for unionists was the Nance Farm.  Lee and his men assaulted the unionists at the farm; when the gun smoke cleared, Dow Nance and John Baldock lay dead, and Dan Sanders was grievously wounded.  Peacock sought a federal warrant for Lee’s arrest, which sent Lee into hiding.  Federal authorities offered a bounty of $1,000.00 for Lee’s capture.  Within a few weeks, several bounty hunters showed up in Pilot Grove looking for Lee.  It might have been a scene from the Clint Eastwood film, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Much like Eastwood’s film, Lee’s bounty hunters were inept.  The four men laid in wait near Lee’s house, waiting for Lee to pass; when he did, they followed him at a distance to his property and then left as if to return to Pilot Grove.  Meanwhile, Lee circled behind them.  When Lee’s wife Melinda and Dr. Pierce’s widow, Dorinda, heard several shots, they rushed to see what happened.  The bounty hunters had, in fact, tangled with Bob Lee.  Three of the bounty hunters died, one survivor escaped with serious wounds.

With Peacock’s urging, the government’s $1,000 bounty for Lee was extended to every member of his followers.  It was then that Bob Lee decided he’d had enough, and he decided to take his family to Mexico.  One account suggests that Bob Lee was on his way to Mexico when, on 25 June 1869, soldiers of the US 6th Infantry, under the command of Captain Charles Campbell, ambushed Lee.  He fell from his horse with six bullets in his body.  Serving as a scout for Campbell was Peacock’s man, Henry Boren.

After Lee’s murder, his followers scattered for their safety, but the feud was far from over.  Peacock insisted that the Army apprehend or kill the other men, as well.  Charlie, Simpson, and Bob Dixon fought it out with soldiers in Limestone County in 1870.  Simpson died at the scene, but Charlie and Bob escaped.

Peacock and his men tracked down Charlie Dixon, his father Jack, and his half-brother Dick Johnson at Black Jack Grove (near present-day Cumby).  Peacock’s men killed Charlie and wounded Dick Johnson.  Johnson escaped and headed to West Texas.  Bob Dixon was later killed, but the particulars of that episode are lost in time.

Dick Johnson later returned and met up with Joe Parker.  The two men made plans to take care of Lewis Peacock.  Late in the evening of 14 July 1871, Johnson, Parker, and a third man surrounded the Peacock home.  Early the following day, when Lewis Peacock came out of his house to fetch firewood, all three men opened fire, dropping Peacock into the woodpile.  Some reports contend that he laid where he fell for a full day because everyone in the house was afraid to leave the safety of their cabin.

Dick Johnson didn’t waste any time relocating to Missouri.  A federal posse caught up with Joe Parker near Mount Pleasant in October 1871.  Parker confessed to killing Peacock.  We aren’t sure how authorities settled their affair with Parker, but we do know that in 1874, Joe Parker was shot and killed by a Sheriff’s Posse from Collin County when he resisted arrest on an unrelated matter.  There is no record of the identity of the third man who participated in Peacock’s assassination, but according to one popular story, the third man was likely John Wesley Hardin — and, if true, it wouldn’t have been Mr. Hardin’s only feud.  He also figured prominently in the Sutton-Taylor Feud (1868-1877) where another fifty or so men died.

Sources:

  1.  Southerland, E.  Blood for Blood Without Remorse: The Lee-Peacock Feud.  Online.
  2. Hunt, D. “A Texas Feud from the 1800s.” The Pilot Grove Herald Democrat, 16 October 2013.
  3. Sherrell, W. W.  The Lee-Peacock Feud.  Leonard Press, 1980.
  4. Sonnichsen, C. L. I’ll Die Before I Run: The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas.  New York: Harper, 1951.
  5. Douglas, C. L.  Famous Texas Feuds.  Dallas: Turner, 1936.

Endnotes:


[1] The Lee-Peacock feud continues today, only now it’s fought with words. Descendants of both factions continue to argue about what actually transpired in the post-Civil War period.  

[2] Pilot Grove, Texas was initially founded on the Bonham-McKinney Stage Line, along the property line of J. R. Dumas’s ranch.  Until 1858 Pilot Grove was known as Lick Skillet.  

[3] Kentucky Town, Texas was situated 18 miles from Sherman in eastern Grayson County.  The area became a settlement area in 1837 but did not develop until around 1849.  Most of the people settling their originated in Kentucky, hence, its name.  The town was laid out by Dr. Josiah L. Heiston. During the Civil War, Kentucky Town was frequented by William Quantrill and his Confederate guerillas.  The town began to dry up when the Texas and Pacific Railway established a stop three miles east and Whitewright Texas became the local center of activity.  

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Civil War, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Society, Texas. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Lee-Peacock Feud

  1. “Can’t We All Just Get Along? ”
    No.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mustang says:

      I saw an amusing sign once, constructed as dialogue. In the first part, someone says, “The problem with Texas men is that they’re too goll-darn stubborn.” And the second part, a response, a Texas man answers, “No we ain’t.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Andy says:

    Another fascinating tale from Texas history. From the start, i sided with Lee. So, in the end, when Peacock got his comeuppance, I was greatly relieved. Probably no one on either side of this feud was without some guilt. Still, there’s something about siding with Yankees that causes the tenth to grind and the blood to rise. Damn shame what happened to Lee.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      I don’t see much “guilt” in Bob Lee’s reactions to the terrorist activities of the unionists. No one who values his freedom will allow himself pushed around, no matter what the odds, and no where was reconstruction as bad as it was in Texas. Peacock got what was coming to him; the only shame was that he didn’t “get it” sooner. Thanks for weighing in, Andy.

      Like

  3. Pingback: The Sutton-Taylor Feud | Old West Tales

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