Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
The Showdown and Aftermath
Bonham Daily Favorite, May 16, 1993
As the delegates to the conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North met at Timber Creek Schoolhouse on that fateful March 12, 1859, the order of business for the day was merely routine activity associated with a gathering of this type. The major activity was to take place the next day, a Sunday. A communion service followed by an ordination was to be the emphasis of the day's activities. This was to be followed by a public worship service.
Back at the Fannin County Courthouse that Saturday, the number of participants in the public meeting grew as word spread throughout the community. Samuel Roberts, T.S. Green, and John Crane were appointed by Dr. Henry Hoffar to act as a committee to draft appropriate resolutions, stating the opposition of the citizens of Fannin County, to the suspected activities of the participants to the church conference.
Over the next hour or two other speakers spoke to the assemblage urging their support for the efforts to derail any activities that might be proposed by the conference participants.
The resolutions committee returned to the meeting and presented the resolutions that reflected the feelings that had been expressed earlier. In statement and summary, it was presented that, "the teachings and preachings of the ministers of that church do not meet the views of the people of Fannin and MUST, therefore, be stopped."
Next a committee of fifty men and other observers was organized to confront the meeting at Timber Creek and order "the discontinuance of their meeting in this county henceforth and forever."
The committee delayed any action until the next day when they were erroneously informed that the assembly had adjourned. Hastening to the site the committee then, according to Bishop Janes, interrupted the service and presented the resolutions and demands along with an ultimatum for a reply within two hours. It was requested that the group be allowed to finish the service and permission was given although the demand that the conference disassemble was not altered. The delegates finally agreed to adjourn the next morning and leave the county. This solution seemed to mollify the committee somewhat and was agreed to.
However, the adjournment was not the end of local involvement. On March 14th the committee of 50 made a report to the citizens of Bonham. Much of the same evidence that had been introduced at the Saturday meeting was re-hashed and enlarged upon. Other purported resolutions from other conferences of the M.E. Church, North were introduced as further evidence of the clandestine activities taking place in north Texas.
Gideon Smith, then serving as state representative from Fannin County, made accusations of certain specified activities that had taken place in the area and were assumed to be the sort of activities likely to be engaged in by members of the church group. He claimed that members of the Timber Creek Church had influenced a local slave by teaching him to read, an activity that rendered him useless to his owner. Smith also maintained that another slave had obtained abolitionist literature at the Church.
State Senator Robert H. Taylor advanced the idea that the delegates to the Timber Creek meeting were merely the advance guard of "men sent to blaze the way for the host of abolitionists to follow." One of the local observers who had been sent earlier to the meeting agreed that the danger was not with the present members at Timber Creek, but with those who were to come.
There appeared to be little activity among the members of the M.E. Church North over the next several months. The Reverend Bewley and the Reverend William Butts remained in the area of Fannin County conducting services in the homes of sympathizers. Bewley left Texas about the early part of February 1860. Soon thereafter Bishop Ames reassigned him and his son-in-law, Thomas Willet, to Texas with the recommendation that they locate wherever they might be wanted. They returned to the State late in May.
By summer all the elements in the pending tragedy were beginning to be shaped. First was the murder of the Pace child and the execution of his accused killer. Next the suspicious fires throughout north Texas began to stir suspicions. Led by Editor Charles Pryor of The Dallas Herald accusations were being made once again against the northern Methodists. Charles DeLisle issued an extra edition of The Bonham Era on August 12th which contained a letter from the Dallas editor blaming supporters of the abolition ministers for the increase in suspicious activities.
The Reverend Bewley took his family to Indian Territory about the middle of July and into Bentonville, Arkansas shortly thereafter. In the meantime vigilante committees in Fort Worth and Sherman offered a reward of $1000 for his arrest.
A.G. Brayman and Joe Johnson of Sherman led a vigilante party to Arkansas in search of Bewley. They ultimately tracked him to Barry County, Missouri where he was captured. The posse returned with him to Fayetteville, Arkansas and only through the intervention of the Sheriff was he saved from the noose.
He was brought back by stagecoach to Sherman some days later and evidently kept in the jail for sometime. While he was there he was interviewed by the editor of the local paper .
Bewley and his captors can next be placed in Fort Worth on the evening of September 13th. Sometime during the night he was taken out and hanged. Later an eyewitness stated that he was hanged from the same tree where another abolitionist named Crawford had been hanged sometime earlier.
Anthony Bewley never had the satisfaction of having his case presented in a formal trial. Nor was he allowed to face many of his accusers. In fact, all the evidence by which many proclaimed his guilt was of the flimsiest nature. The only piece of specific evidence was the existence of what became known as "The Bailey Letter." In this supposed letter Bewley was linked by his own admission to the arsons and certain slave insurrections. Some reports maintained that Bewley admitted to having lost the letter earlier although most accounts of the hanging state that Bewley made no confession of any sort.
Wesley Norton writing on this sad affair quotes a citizen of North Texas during that summer, "The time had come that ninety-nine innocent men had better suffer than let one guilty escape."