This is the story and events leading up to the deaths
of noted Texas Ranger, Capt. James Callahan, William
"Mallheel" S. Johnson, Woodson Blassingame
and his son Calvin, and the resulting actions. Based
on the research of Don Watson, San Antonio,
Texas, descendant of John M. Watson.
One of Capt James R. Callahan's, for whom Callahan
County was named, more notable and finally infamous events
was the chasing of Lipan Apache Indians into Mexico
in retaliation for some raids in and around the Blanco Valley
in 1855. It turned out that the Indians were in concert with the Mexicans,
and Callahan had been led into an ambush. Eventually,
he eventually was able to orchestrate his company's escape loosing only
a couple of men. Yet, for some reason, he did not immediately leave
Piedras Negras, Mexico. He remained for a day
or so, but when he came under attack, he had his men burned the town
and crossed the Rio Grande. Callahan
was criticized for this action and was drummed out of the Rangers
for it. Newspaper accounts of the day are generally complimentary of
the event, but some of the German papers seem to have been very critical
The area of Pittsburg, TX in Comal County
(which later became the town of Blanco) was settled
in large part by German immigrants. The German's seem to have been at
odds with many of the settlers from the U.S. in a "political" sense.
News accounts indicate that they greatly disagreed with Callahan's
intrusion into Mexico and felt that it was illegal. Those Texans and
newspapers that supported Callahan and similar campaigns
were referred to as "Know-nothings".
Shortly after the Piedras Negras event, Callahan
heard of some comments, reportedly made by Woodson Blassingame,
a neighbor of Callahan's and the father of Luther
Blassingame who had served in the ill-fated mission just recounted.
Some accounts have it that Woodson made some unkind
remarks about Callahan's wife (it is possible that either
Calvin or Luther were
accused of having an affair with Callahan's wife and
Woodson may have commented if Callahan
were not gone so much of the time she wouldn't need to have a lover),
but other accounts indicate that the comments were negative ones about
Callahan's raid into Mexico
suggesting that Callahan was just trying to "plunder"
the town that he burned. At any rate, Callahan had
learned of these comments from a friend, William S. "Mallheel"
Johnson. These accusations were supported by another friend,
Eli Clements Hinds (b. 27 Jan 1819, KY). Hinds
had been a friend and comrade of Callahan since their
days in the Texas Rangers in 1841 back in Gonzales,
and had later settled in Caldwell County, where Callahan
had also lived, then in 1853, moved with Callahan's
family and his own to establish homes in the Blanco River
valley, becoming the first two settlers in what is now Blanco
Eli had not wished to inform Callahan
of the comments, but William Johnson chose otherwise.
Callahan apparently informed Calvin
Blassingame, who was working for Callahan,
to tell Woodson that he should leave the territory by
a certain time or else. On April 7, 1856, Callahan
along with his friends William Johnson, William's
son Thomas, and Eli Hinds
went out to talk to Woodson.
It is reported that it was to be a peaceful event, however, upon
approaching the Blassingame cabin, Callahan
yelled into the cabin for Woodson to come out. Shooting
commenced, and again depending on the account, nobody knows who fired
first. Most accounts say the Blassingames, however one newspaper
account suggests that Thomas Johnson, William "Maulheel" Johnson's
son, a boy of about 17, may have "spooked" and fired either intentionally
or by accident, but the shooting was on. Callahan was
killed instantly, William fell next, Thomas
reportedly emptied his weapon and then fled the scene, Eli
Hinds' horse was spooked and bolted, but not before two shots
pierced Eli's throat and another through his upper
arm, breaking it. Eli's horse ran past John
M. Watson along the trail, and Watson turned
and attempted to check the horse. He pulled Eli down,
took him into his house and dressed his wounds. Watson
then, along with Bob Page, went out to see about the
Blassingames. The two killed men were still
lying where they were shot and the Blassingames were still
in their cabin.
Watson suggested to Woodson that
since there was really no law in the area and that Callahan
was a very popular man, that he might be better off going into Mexico.
Woodson chose not to and asked Watson
for his assitance in getting a fair trial. Watson
agreed. The Blassingames, Woodson, wife Mary and son Calvin
were taken into custody and since there was no jail, they were "held"
at the cabin of Justice of the Peace George Lange.
Watson, being a "deputy" but having been called
away to Lockhart, warned George Lange
that some men might come up from Caldwell County
and attempt to "lynch" the Blassingames. Reportedly,
George felt that this was not a threat.
On April 14, 1855, a mob of men, reportedly as large as 100 strong,
approached the Lange cabin and demanded the Blassingames
be turned over to them. There is a great deal of confusion and differing
reports of what happened next, but the cabin was overtaken. The two
Blassingame men were drug out by their heels and told to run. They refused,
claiming they had done nothing wrong, feeling they had acted in self defense
against Callahan. Mary Blassingame,
meanwhile, escaped into the nearby woods. The two Blassingames
were shot where they stood. One news account stated that Woodson
had more than 50 bullet holes in him and that supposedly, young Thomas
Johnson had emptied his gun into the body, although he was
never indicted for any part in the killings. Lange turned out to be
the "ring leader" of the lynch mob.
The shootout occurred April 7, 1856. Woodson and Calvin
were killed in the mob action April 14, 1856. There was no "local"
paper at that time as this was Comal County, TX and
those early settlers had only been in the area about 3 years (These
were also some of the first settlers in that area of Texas). It is estimated
that there were probably 180 families (or about 900 people) in the area
that made up Blanco County when it was organized in
1858, two years after the shooting. Blanco County at
that time included the area now known as Kendall County
as well. Woodson and family lived near Pittsburg,
now the present day town of Blanco. There were probably
less than 50 families in the area of Pittsburg at the
time of the shooting.
There was no jail. The county seat for Comal was
New Braunfels, about 35 miles southeast of the
town of Pittsburg. There was a German language newspaper
in New Braunfels called the Zeitung.
A letter from Calvin Blassingame
to the families and friends of the Blassingame's pleading
for assistance, as they were in fear of their lives was published in
the State Gazette and the Zeitung.
It relates their version of what happened. Unfortunately, the letter
was not published until April 26. There is also a letter written by
Woodson's widow Mary Blassingame
that was published May 24, 1856. Concerned that some of the accounts
of the event that the papers were reporting were inaccurate, Mary
wrote her account of the events.
James Callahan, William S. "Mallheel" Johnson, Woodson Blassingame,
and Calvin Blassingame were the first murders in the area
and, except for an infant son of Callahan that died
a few months prior to the shooting, they were the first buried in the
area. Callahan and Johnson were
buried in unmarked graves in what is now Blanco Cemetery
which was located on Callahan's land.. Callahan was
buried next to his infant son. In the 1930's, Callahan's
burial site was identified by an "old timer". Callahan's
wife had died a few months after Callahan's death due
to the stress of the loss of both the child and her husband in such a short
time and was buried beside her husband. After being identified, the State
of Texas dug up the graves of Callahan, wife and child
and re-interred them in the State Cemetery in Austin.
W. S. Johnson's grave remains unidentified,
and its exact location is not known.
Woodson and Calvin were not allowed
to be buried in the Blanco Cemetery and were buried
near their cabin in what is known as the "Sauer
Family Cemetery", located about 3 miles west of present
day Blanco. This cemetery is very near the old Blassingame
Blassingame appears to have been of similar mind
to the Germans, and it appears that based on the court records of the
criminal case involving the Blassingame murders, that
the Germans supported the Blassingame family's position.
There was great controversy noted regarding positions of the community
related to the shootings. According to Blanco County
Historian, John W. Speer, "Its effects were felt long
years after the death of Callahan . . ." That
Woodson and Calvin are buried
in a German family cemetery supports this position.
The trials were most notable at the time and highly debated and
had to be moved on change of venue due to the difficulty of seating
an impartial jury. The trials have been traced to Caldwell
County, TX, but since the courthouse in Caldwell
is currently (1999) being remodeled, all of the county records have
been moved and the "older" records are not organized so are nearly
impossible to research. The courthouse rennovations are expected to
be finished by 2001. According to research done by Don Watson
on the trial, it was still going on in May 1859.
In the aftermath of this event, many men were indicted
for the murders of Woodson and Calvin Blassingame,
with at least 22 indictments handed down. The primary defendant in the
case turned out to be none other than George Lange, the
Justice of the Peace charged with ensuring a fair trial for these men.
Five were found Not Guilty, two had charges dismissed against them, and
a third had a hung jury and was held over for retrial. He, and the rest,
had a change of venue to Caldwell County where records
are not presently available, so the outcome of the others is not known.
The trials were moved at least twice because of the difficult of seating
an impartial jury..
In spite of Callahan's popularity, many news accounts
report "regret" over the mob action taken by the people of this community
and how it might reflect on the people of Texas in general to the rest
of the world. The article quoted below is from the The
"We are satisfied
that no one who participated in causing the death of the Blassingames,
but will, in cooler moments, deeply regret the course he has taken.
We cannot tell what were the just desserts of the prisoners, but this
we know, and this every freeman will assert --that so long as there
was an opportunity to appeal to the judicial tribunal, he should have beent
ried by a jury of his counttrymen, and the proper verdict rendered by
"This sad even will go abroad to misrepresent the character of our
people...We may well say that this event would have never transpired,
could it have been forseen by the leading citizens of Hays, in time to
have interferred. We hope never again to be called on to record another
scene of the kind in this county."
Captain Callahan had just lost a child in death
about 6 months prior to being killed himself. After his death, his wife
was supposedly so overtaken by the stress that she died in Dec of the
same year leaving five orphaned children. William Johnson
left a wife and at least two sons, Rufus and Thomas,
the same Thomas involved in the shooting. It is interesting
to note that Thomas was never indicted and no mention is made of him
in any reports of the day, either because of his age, or because with
his father dead, he was now the "breadwinner" for the family. Thomas
was later killed at the Battle for Galveston during
the Civil War. Eli Hinds went
on to be a very prominant citizen in Blanco County and
became the first County Commisioner after the County was created on
12 Feb 1858. but reportedly never spoke of the incident. A daughter
of Eli in an interview in the 1920's related that
she had always known her father with his neck injury but she was a "grown
woman" before she ever knew how he had come about the injury. Eli
and his wife Catherine had thirteen chldren,
William, ? Clements, Harriet Elizabeth, Susie, Margaret,
Mary L,, John B., Minerva, Alice L,. Laura, with William, Minerva and
Laura and the last child dying young.