The Fateful Meeting at Timber Creek Church
Bonham Daily Favorite, May 2, 1993
Although all battles of the Civil War were waged far removed from the environs of Fannin County, certain events and activities were a part of the whole tapestry of that conflict and no one in the area escaped being affected in some way by these events. The phrase "gathering storm" has been used and over used to describe every major conflict since the dawn of civilization but it remains an apt and descriptive phrase to describe three events that took place in Fannin County between March of 1859 and July of 1860.
While these occurrences seemed minor at the time, the three of them working in concert culminated in a fourth event never dreamed of by the participants of all three.
In March of 1859, the Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North was scheduled to meet at Timber Creek School House about five miles north of Bonham. The school, like so many others in the area, served as a place for education during the week, but on Sundays the structures were given over to religious activities.
At a previous meeting of the same conference four years earlier, the Reverend Anthony Bewley was placed in charge of the Texas Mission District. This early conference set the foundation for a major thrust in north Texas and was centered around Johnson, Fannin, Denton, Grayson, Kaufman, and Collin Counties. At the 1859 conference the gathered reports indicated that the largest of the congregations in these north Texas counties was the one located at Timber Creek which reported a membership of 53 members.
The convening of this group precipitated the first of the three events in the story.
The second event , and probably the most ominous, occurred in June, 1860. The Bonham Era, one of two Bonham newspapers of the period, reported that the body of a six year old son of Alfred E. Pace had been found in a well near Powder Creek, just south of the square. The Pace home was located on the present corner of Main and Third Streets where the American Theatre building is now located.
Accusations were made toward a female slave owned by Pace. The woman had a small boy who had been whipped by Pace for some misbehavior and was believed that in retribution for her son's punishment the woman had strangled the Pace child.
The woman was taken to the Fannin County Courthouse (newly constructed) and into the courtroom on the second floor. At no time was there any suggestion that the woman was to be given a fair and legal trial. Nor was any evidence to be offered in her behalf. She stood accused and by the accusation was deemed to be guilty. The purpose of the courtroom meeting was merely to take a vote of those assembled as to her disposition. Sixty-three spectators voted for hanging and fifty-four voted for burning. A rope was placed around her neck as she was led from the courtroom and she was dragged through the streets to a location southeast of the square where she was summarily hanged.
As we more closely examine the Timber Creek meeting later we find that Alfred Pace was also a participant in that event.
The third event, or actually series of events, took place in the afternoon and evening of July 8, 1860. Early in that afternoon on the town square of Dallas, a fire broke out in the store of W. W. Peak and Brothers. The fire raged out of control in a very short time and in something under two hours the north and west sides of the square were laid waste by the flames. One of the more notable losses were the offices of The Dallas Herald.
Later it was learned that on that same afternoon and evening suspicious fires had occurred in Ladonia and Honey Grove, Denton,Pilot Grove. Milford, Ellis County. Cumby in Hopkins Countv. Jefferson, Waxahachie. and two small communities in Collin County. Millwood and Black Jack Grove.
At first the coincidences of these fires, and others that took place in other regions of the state, caused no undue alarm among the citizens of Fannin County or Northeast Texas. It was only after the publication of a lengthy letter in The Austin State Gazette from Dr. Charles Pryor. editor of The Dallas Herald that the possibility of these fires being connected was discussed.
Dr. Pryor. stirring the still warm ashes, obliquely suggested that all these events had been formented in the conference at Timber Creek School a year earlier. In his letter he stated. "It was determined by certain Abolition preachers. who were expelled from the country last year. to devastate with fire and assassination the whole of Northern Texas, and when it was reduced to a helpless condition, a general revolt of the slaves, aided by white men of the North in our midst, was to come off on the day of election in August."
These are the three events that were to impact the lives of many residents of North Texas in just two months. But before we reexamine the Timber Creek Conference and its importance let us look at one more incident reported in a small Fannin County paper in later years and relatively unknown to historians.
In an article appearing in The Trenton News in 1907 under the by-line "Old Choc" some of the information concerning suspected abolitionist activities in Texas are rehashed and mention is made again of the suspected fires as well as the execution of the Pace slave.
But an additional story is told in this article which, if known in 1860, would certainly have fueled the fires of suspicion.
The story recounts the murder of a Thomas Kincaid, his wife, and five year old son by three slaves. Two of the slaves, men owned by Kincaid, named Jess and Rube along with Jess's wife who belonged to Burbee Kincaid who lived about two miles southeast of Whitewright, were the perpetrators.
Late in the night the three entered the house when everyone was asleep and killed Mr. and Mrs. Kincaid with axes. When the noise awoke the child he too was slain. The killers were caught, confessed to their guilt, and were hanged .
"Old Choc" suggests that this crime as well as the incendiary events, and the murder of the Pace child could all be laid at the doorstep of the participants of the Timber Creek meeting.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas