Red River Scrapbook: Without Remorse: The Lee-Peacock Feud, part 1
By Edward Southerland
Aug 2, 2016
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On April 2, 1866, seven days short of the first anniversary of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, a resolution by the United States congress addressed the status of law and order in the states of the former Confederacy. “...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.”

That damning phrase, “except Texas,” is sprinkled through the resolution. It points to the hard truth that south of the Red and west of the Sabine the struggle between the adherents of North and South, if not in full flame, was still smoldering with a heat that led to violent bursts of gun smoke and fury. Nowhere was this more evident than in North Texas, where the war continued in the thickets and creek bottoms between Bob Lee and Lewis Peacock and a cadre of supporters on both sides.

Robert J. Lee was born in Arkansas, and came to Texas when his family settled in as farmers on land east of Pilot Grove in Hunt County in the 1830s. It was an area known as the Four Corners, where Fannin, Grayson, Hunt and Collin counties come together.

The most notable geography of the area was the thickets. Mustang, Black Jack, Jernigan and Wild Cat thickets covered much of the area and in some places formed all but impenetrable mass of dense foliage so thick that in places the sun could not penetrate the leaves. The thickets were crisscrossed by narrow, winding game trails and animal runs, and only those exceedingly familiar with the area could navigate them.

Bob Lee was twenty-seven when Texas joined her sister Southern states in their fight for independence; he joined the Confederate Army, serving in C Company of the Ninth Texas Cavalry in the Trans Mississippi and in Tennessee. He came home in 1865 wearing the plumed hat of a cavalry officer mounted on a good horse with his side arms and a pocket full of gold. But for Captain Lee, the war was not over.

Some say he never rose above the rank of sergeant, and that the money in his pockets came from the pockets of Federal soldiers captured or shot dead by his own hand, sometimes after they had surrendered, but to the folks around the Corners, he was a hero, and they looked to him for leadership.

Lewis Peacock was from North Carolina, born there in 1824. He had come to Texas circuitously, having lived in Georgia and perhaps Kansas before crossing the Red River in 1858 and settling near the Corners in Grayson County. He had no sympathy for the secessionists and no wish to join their cause, but he muted his unionist feelings and managed to avoid conscription into the Confederate army while he lived out the war years farming and running a smithy. Desert Creek ran through the Peacock land, and during the war, local residents tagged the stream as “Deserter’s” Creek for the number of draft dodgers and men on the run from the law who camped along its banks.

At war’s end, Peacock was in a position to make his opinions known to all, and he did. He joined the Republican Party and the Union League and gave aid to the Freedmen’s Bureau, the government agency set up to protect the rights of the newly emancipated former slaves. All of this set him and his supporters at odds with Lee and his friends.

On June 26, 1868, in a letter published in The Bonham News, Lee told a story of being hauled from his bed in the middle of the night and arrested by a gang of men dressed in Union blue uniforms. He said they told him that he was to be taken to Sherman to stand trial for war crimes. This probably took place in 1865, but the date is not noted in written accounts. Lee identified the men as Lewis Peacock, Israel Boren, James Maddison, and other Union Leaguers.

According to Lee, the party never got to Sherman; instead they took him to the Choctaw Creek bottoms and held him for what amounted to ransom. “I finally accepted their offer and obtain (sic) my release,” Lee wrote. “I agreed to give them my mule, saddle and bridle, a $20 gold piece which I had in my pocket, and executed my note to ‘Doc’ Wilson with my father’s name for security for $2,000 in gold payable on demand and to leave the country forever.”

On his release, Lee repudiated the note and refused to pay. He also sought redress against his captors with a civil law suit filed in Fannin County, an action Lee supporters say he won. Peacock historians say no records of the suit can be found and that the entire tale recounted by Bob Lee in the newspaper was cut from whole cloth. (For the text of Lee’s letter, see the sidebar to this story in the subsequent article.)

That records from that era are incomplete or cannot be found is not unusual, so it is difficult to know which side of the story to believe. G.B. Ray’s 1957 book Murder at the Corners says that pressure from the Union League men kept the civil case from coming to trial, and that when the members of Peacock’s band were arrested, their supporters descended upon the Fannin County jail and released them. The Galveston News made mention the jail break incident in a sketch of Lee’s life in a story dated June 11, 1869.

During 1866, as confrontations between the two camps continued, Lee had gone deep into Wild Cat Thicket and set up a safe haven where he could escape if threatened again by the Union men. Around Captain Bob, gathered a group of men who shared his disdain for the all things Northern and were just a tough and resourceful as he was. Simpson, known as “Simp,” Charlie, and Billy Dixon, brothers from Dixon Mound, took Lee’s side, as did their stepbrother Dick Johnson. Bill Penn of Kentuckytown was another hard-bitten Lee man.

In February 1867, in Pilot Grove, Lee ran into Jim Maddox, one of the Peacock men he said had held him in Choctaw Bottoms. Lee called him out, but Maddox refused to fight. Later in the day, Maddox came up behind Lee and shot him in the head. This version of the incident was disputed by the Peacock faction, who claim Maddox got the better of Lee in a fair fight.

photo by David Womack

What is not disputed is that friends took the wounded man to the home of Doctor William H. Pierce, who took care of Lee until he was up ready to go back home. On February 24, a Union man named Hugh Hudson came to Pierce’s home, perhaps looking for Lee. Not finding him, Hudson shot and killed the doctor in front of his house. In due time, Lee supporters tracked down Hudson in Saltillo and killed him in revenge for the Pierce murder.

But this was only the beginning. The dark ground of the Corners would soon be watered with the blood of the two sides as the local war played out.

Tomorrow: The feud rages on as Lewis Peacock seeks help from the U.S. Army and officials in Austin.