Until recently all I knew of my great grandfather, Daniel Caster, was from family stories told to me by various relatives. Dan who was my mother’s maternal grandfather, came to Texas from Peoria, Illinois just a few years prior to the Civil War. It was well established he came down the Mississippi by riverboat and picked up a conch shell on Galveston Island. This was later used on the farm to call workers in from the fields. His daughter, Rosa, (my grandmother) told the story of how it was blown in emergency when she at an early age fell in the well. Dan, hearing the shell from the fields, came running in to pull her out. The shell has been passed on in the family to my cousin, Opal Falkner, of Rochester, New York. Dan was married to Nancy Beets who was of Dutch descent yet was of an olive complexion with black hair and brown eyes with long dark lashes. We see this feature in many family members including my Aunt Florence, my brother, Sam, and his son, Sam and daughter, Peggy as well as my sister’s Juanita’s son, Larry Lincoln. Many relatives were buried in the Sowers Cemetery in Irving so I believed they lived in that part of Dallas county.
The Civil War broke out soon after Dan Caster arrived and Caster was caught in the middle. He did not want to fight against the North where he had friends and relatives still living yet he did not want to fight against his own section either. He decided not to fight for either side which was not a popular choice for many Texans at that time. In spite of the strong secessionist feeling held by the majority of Texans many disagreed including the Governor, Sam Houston. Houston made many speeches around the state trying to hold the state in the Union. Several North Texas counties voted against secession including nearby Wise, Collin, and Grayson counties. In Denton County, the Union vote polled forty percent. At times, Dan was pursued by Confederate authorities and had to hide out.
At some time during the Civil Way, Nancy Beets Caster took her young children to Illinois by wagon. It is interesting to speculate just when this may have been. If it were early in the war the children would have been: Molly, about nine years of age, Kate, about six, Rosa, around three or four, and Jack, who would have been an infant born in 1861. Another child, Daniel Henry, was born in 1863 and would have been quite young if the venture were made later in the war. As this story has been told, it was clear that Dan was not on this trip but had hired a boy to drive the wagon. If my memory holds true, the wagons were pulled by oxen. The boy found a sweetheart on another wagon and spent his time with her and Nancy Beets Caster with great difficulty had to drive the team.
Was this during the time that Dan was in hiding from Confederate authorities? I have always pictured this trip north following what was a few years later to become the famous cattle trails to Kansas and no doubt it must have followed that general path. While Kansas was secure on the side of the Union, many forts in Oklahoma were under Confederate control. Any Path to the east would have been more dangerous and a more western direction would have been too dry as well as impractical as a route to Illinois. It is likely they were either going to stay with Dan’s brother Jacob or with relatives of Nancy. I have always thought they were in route to Peoria and it is possible that Nancy could have been from that city and relatives still lived there. If the goal was to stay with Jacob then the destination would have been Mound City, which is in Pulaski County near Cairo. Jacob had left Texas for a visit in Mound City just prior to the Civil War. It is believed his wife’s family lived there and the visit extended until it was unsafe to return because of the war. We know from the story that more than one wagon was involved, but was this a large group leaving for safety? The North Texas counties went through a purge aimed at Union sentiment and it is possible Dan could have been affected some by it. Union support was high in this area. Collin county had voted 948 to 405 to stay loyal to the Union. Texas historian, T. R. Fehrenbach describes a peace party that developed in the North Texas counties which was more neutral than pro Union and was opposed to the draft. It was, however, accused of murderous plots and treason against the state. Confederate agents infiltrated this group and troops were sent from farm to farm arresting anyone who openly had denounced the war, including one family which merely suggested it might move to Kansas.
The arrested persons were tried in “people’s courts” set up on the spur of the moment without civil or military law. One of these “courts” in Gainesville, in Cooke County convicted forty men on wholly hearsay testimony that they had talked against the South. All forty were promptly hanged. In Grayson county, another forty were sentenced to death and surely would have hung had not Brigadier General J. W. Throckmorton heard about the situation and rode for Grayson County. In uniform, he intervened with a ringing plea for Anglo-Saxon justice under the law. Throckmorton’s courage and justice shamed the people’s court, and the cases were remanded to a special civil court. All but one of the condemned were set free.
It was Throckmorton, who as a legislator in 1861, was loudly booed and hissed by secessionists when he cast his vote against the mass majority favoring secession. He then rose and faced the opposition and replied, Well may patriots tremble when the rabble hiss.” However, after secession and the beginning of the war he later chose to join the Confederate side and became a General. He was later Governor during the difficult reconstruction days. He and Sam Houston were known as “Jackson” Democrats favoring Union as opposed to “Calhoun” Democrats who favored secession. We may have an early clue here on the position of Dan Caster. In 1861, Dan and Nancy had their first boy who we always knew as Uncle Jack. However, his full name was Andrew Jackson Caster. Sixteen years had passed since the death of Andrew Jackson and a full quarter century since his presidency. Could the son’s name indicate that Dan was a Jackson Democrat?
Circumstances indicate Dan was at least in sympathy with the Union supporters in North Texas yet other information indicates he moved freely and conducted business in Dallas and Hill counties apparently without fear. He was also known to have hidden at times from the authorities.. Also, in North Texas, another group existed that should not be confused with the Peace Party or the Union supporters. These were deserters who became known as bush soldiers, so called because they hid out in the woods.
According to Fehrenbach:
In the Denton area, north of Dallas, so many deserters congregated that they dominated the countryside and were able to control both the authorities and the populace. Significantly, however, while these men would fight if pursued, they rarely abused either the people or private property. By early 1865, bush soldiers, as they were called, actually from both armies, had turned parts of north Texas over to anarchy.
The bush soldiers, however, were enough of a threat that Dan’s daughter, Rosa,
often told her children of how they lived in fear of attack by this group. I remember the stories told when I was a child and recall few details but I picture the children in bed at night fearful of attack by bush soldiers. Possibly this was when Dan was away in hiding from Confederate authorities.
The following story was often told to me by my mother, Netta Bell Densmore, and my Aunt Eunice Bell Mitchell, who heard it from their mother, Rosa Caster Bell. It would often come up when my mother would use her left hand to do something which she would often do with her left although she was, for the most part, right-handed. With pride she would say the use of her left hand came from her Grandpa Caster who was left-handed and that factor had saved his life.
It should be noted the rest of the story was always told with sadness because Dan Caster had to kill a man. This was during the Civil Way and Caster was at a campfire by the Dallas County Courthouse. Someone sang a song that apparently was in sympathy with the Southern cause. At the campfire was a man who had been drinking a bit too much and he said, That doesn’t suit you does it Dan Caster?” Caster tried to avoid the confrontation but the man pursued him with great anger. At some point the man pulled a gun and Caster was able to deflect it and stab the man to save his life. For some reason, never fully explained, the fact that Caster was left-handed saved his life. I can recall asking just how the left hand was used in this fight but no one knew the details. Dan was cleared in self defense but was said to have grieved over it the remainder of his life. Once, relatives of the man came to talk to him about the fight but held no grudge.
Until 1986 this is all I knew of the incident at the courthouse and almost all I knew of the Caster family. However, I came into contact with Jean and Huitt Caster who are most knowledgeable on the Caster history. Huitt is descended from Andrew Wesley Caster who was an older brother of Daniel. It was through Jean and Huitt that I learned much of the Caster family including the name of the man who Dan killed in the fight during the Civil War. He was Trezevant Calhoun Hawpe who had been a Sheriff of Dallas County from 1850 to 1854 as well as a Confederate Colonel in charge of Hawpe’s Regiment of Texas Cavalry. I was surprised none of this was known to the family but reflected it was in keeping with Dan’s reluctance to talk about what he considered a tragedy.
An article by Ken Riffle in the “Dallas” supplement of the Dallas Morning News featuring a history of the Sheriff’s Department gives a brief description of the incident:
Sheriff Hawpe, a man who drank at least as much as was good for him, was fated to die violently. In 1863, by then a Confederate Colonel, Hawpe was stabbed to death by a livestock dealer named Dan Caster after an argument about an auction.
One would think the newspaper would carry a story on the death of a prominent citizen but after much search I found very little. The following is from the Dallas Herald, August 19, 1863, (page 2, column 3):
In Memoriam: We are sadly pained to announce the death of our friend and fellow citizen Colonel T. C. Hawpe. He fell in an unfortunate reconire at this place last Friday evening, [14 Aug ‘633, the particulars of which it is not necessary here to state. He was one of our oldest and enterprising citizens, imbued thoroughly with the spirit of the times and devoted to the good of the country as well as the interest of his immediate section…. burial in Masonic Cemetery….
[NOTE: In that era the Herald often used the word “reconire” to identify a confrontation.]
Although one might hope for more, the article does tell us a few things. T. C. Hawpe’s political stand was well supported while one could be sure Caster’s was not. It is difficult to believe Dan could have survived this without being hung. This leads one to believe Dan’s actions must have been very clearly self defense. The story told by our family places them at a campfire which would be public enough for many to witness. Other persons refer to this taking place following an auction which again would indicate some witnesses. The article references “evening” which allows for a “campfire” as told in our family stories. One might wonder why a campfire in the middle of August considering the Texas heat but it was a half day’s journey back to the Sowers area and people often would stay over night and cook when doing business at the courthouse.
After finding nothing more in the newspaper, I talked to two persons in the Sheriff’s Department. Although both men are historians, I was surprised that they talked about this as if it happened yesterday and gave a few more details. James Ewell, Publicity Director of the Sheriff’s Department, described Hawpe as an overbearing man who drank to excess. He also said Hawpe was the type of man who went around picking fights. Ewell said he thought Caster had gold and Hawpe had Confederate notes and this was why Caster’s bid was taken and subsequently led to the argument. Ewell interjected the possibility that Caster-may have been purchasing cattle or hogs for the Union side but I could not determine if he had any authority for this supposition. When I mentioned that Caster was left-handed and that was an asset in the fight, Ewell stated: “That helps explain a little because we have wondered how a man with a knife was able to kill a man with a gun”. When press for his sources, Ewell would only refer me to Deputy Sheriff O’Byrne Cox, Jr. who has written a history of the Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Cox was on duty at the Minimum Security Jail at Maple and Oak Lawn in Dallas when I met with him in November of 1986. I asked him how Caster was able to survive considering the political climate and his reply was that Caster won his case and was no billed. When I asked if any court records existed of this case, he said he did not know and that his information came from the Hawpe family. It may be possible to gain more information from the archives of the sheriff Department if any exist. Sheriff Cox gave me no knowledge or access to any such material. Cox described the fight as taking place on the courthouse steps and said Caster threw Hawpe from his shoulders into a well. I have not found any written information on this account. Cox gave me a copy of his “Sheriffs of Dallas County” and the following is from page thirteen:
He returned home to Dallas, and was killed on August 14, 1863, in Downtown Dallas near the courthouse, in a disagreement with Daniel Caster over the sale of a load of hogs which both had bid for in an auction. Caster had outbid Hawpe and gained the sale; but Hawpe had been drinking and “dogged” Caster’s steps, arguing. It was said Hawpe was most contentious, but was taken completely by surprise when Caster turned on him and stabbed him seven times. Caster was later “no-billed” by a grand jury investigation.
Cox goes on to say Hawpe was a man not lacking in a sense of humor yet domineering as the argument with Caster after the consummation of the sale seems to bear out. The major portion of the material was given to Cox by Mrs. George Hawpe, Jr. in November, 1984.
Similar information is included in “proud Heritage” published by the Dallas County Pioneer Association in 1986; again, the information comes from Coye Hawpe (Mrs. George A. Hawpe, Jr.):
Trezevant Hawpe returned home to Dallas and just ten months later (August 12, 1863) was killed in a disagreement with Daniel Caster over the outcome of a sale of hogs. Hawpe was buying supplies for the Confederate army and Caster outbid him on the sale. Hawpe became belligerent and argumentative; Caster turned on him and stabbed him seven times. Hawpe died from the wounds received. (Caster was later “no-billed” by a grand jury). There must have been previous ill feeling between the two men; nothing further is known. The newspaper of the day referred to it as an ‘unfortunate encounter”, but gave no further information.
Here we have mention of Hawpe buying for the Confederate army. One would think this would indicate a large purchase. Although Ken Biffle’s article mentions Caster as a livestock dealer, the census in 1360 lists him as a farmer. Would Caster as a livestock dealer have need of a large purchase of hogs or could he have been buying for Union needs? There were no Union forces near in August of 1363 and none of this activity in the counties to the north could have been big enough to call for any large needs? Did Caster in fact have gold? Would it have been unusual for a Texas farmer to have enough gold, or any type of funds to outbid the Confederate army? The Casters owned a great deal of land in Both Dallas and Hill Counties but land in Texas was cheap and difficult to turn into cash in those days. It seems there is more to know on this and it is possible more information exists in records from the grand jury trial if any are still around. Hawpe was forty-three and Caster thirty-seven at the time of their confrontation.
Much information on the Casters comes from Jean and Huitt Caster of Grand Prairie, Texas. When Jean and Huitt were first married in the late 1940’s Huitt traveled on business quite a bit. Living on the same property with them was Huitt’s uncle Elmer (Elmore) Caster in his seventies by this time and alone as he had never married. Uncle Elmer, hunchbacked from a fall from a horse at twenty-one, loved his family and was blessed with a keen mind and an excellent memory. For hours he would tell to Jean the stories of his family all now gone but still living in his memory. This included stories going back to the Ilinois and Kentucky days to the early years in Texas. In Jean he found an appreciation of the historical as well as a warm heart that shared with him the love of this dear family. To this unusual pair, the lonely old hunchback man who had outlived his loved ones and the keen minded young girl, we owe much of our knowledge of the Casters. Had this opportunity not presented itself or had a lesser pair been involved we would not not have the touch that makes these ancestors more than mere names from a census tract.
Dan’s father was Henry Caster (referred to as “Old Henry” to distinguish him from others with the same name). Old Henry was of German Heritage and was born in North Carolina about 1790. He married a girl named Mary Margaret (last name unknown). Their children were:
- Lewis Henry Caster born 1820 or 1822 in Tennessee; married Ruth Jane Lusk; died in 1908 in Irving, Texas.
- Catherine Caster born about 1821 in Kentucky, married a man named Hawesgur and a second marriage to Robert Worthington. She died shortly after arrival in the Sowers-Irving area around 1850.
- Andrew Wesley Caster born about 1824 in Kentucky; married four times to: Dorcus Rainbo, Elizabeth Boyd, Victoria Boyd, and Florence Brown. He was a blacksmith silversmith and a farmer. He died 1883-87 and was buried in the Sowers Cemetery in Irving.
- Daniel Caster born in 1826 in Kentucky; married Nancy Beets. He died in 1868, it is undetermined where, possibly Hill County.
- Jacob Caster born about 1829 in Kentucky; married Dorcus Ann (?). He came to Texas at the same time the rest of the family which was about 1850 but re-turned to Illinois in 1861. He died in Mound City. between 1880 and 1900.
Old Henry was a farmer, blacksmith, silversmith, and a gunsmith. He moved through Tennessee, Kentucky, to Illinois. His wife, Mary Margaret, died sometime in the 1830’s. In 1840, he married Grace (Lusk?) Robinson, a forty-four year old widow whose daughter Ruth married Henry’s oldest son, Lewis. It is believed they moved as far north in Illinois as Peoria and then slowly moved to the southern tip of that state, even crossing back and forth into Kentucky. Their son, Dan, was said to have piloted a riverboat on the Mississippi. Jean Caster thinks it is a good possibility that they were a part of a group that moved together toward Texas, sometimes delayed by economics or other things while Dan handled the boat that eventually took them to Texas. Records indicate this slow movement which was common to pioneering groups of that time.
Jean has also located records that show a settlement in Hill County most likely founded by the Casters or their group. This is the Peoria community located a few miles west of Hillsboro, Texas. It would be hard to believe they did not name it after Peoria, Illinois. It is interesting that my family always mentioned the place in Illinois from they came as Peoria while records indicated they were all over Illinois and Kentucky. This makes me wonder if Nancy Beets may have been from Peoria (along with many others of their little colony) and met Dan there while the Casters may not have been there long at all.