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Mysterious fires in North Texas

July
08
1860

On this day in 1860, a series of mysterious fires broke out in North Texas, devastating several communities and leading to the Texas slave panic of 1860. The most serious fire destroyed most of the downtown section of the small town of Dallas. In addition, about half of the town square in Denton burned, and fire razed a store in Pilot Point. At first, the leaders of the affected communities attributed the fires to a combination of the exceedingly hot summer (it was reportedly as hot as 110 degrees in Dallas on the afternoon of the fire) and the introduction into the stores of the new and volatile phosphorous matches. Indeed, subsequent experience with "prairie matches" in Denton satisfied the citizens of that town that spontaneous combustion was the probable cause of the fire there. In Dallas, however, certain white leaders detected a more sinister origin to the area's fires.Charles R. Pryor of the Dallas Herald blamed the assault on an abolitionist plot "to devastate, with fire and assassination, the whole of Northern Texas...." By the end of July, communities and counties throughout North and East Texas had established vigilance committees to root out and punish the alleged conspirators. By the time the panic subsided in September, between thirty and 100 blacks and whites had been killed by the vigilance committees. Often called "the Texas Troubles" by the press, the Texas panic of 1860 helped prepare Texans and other Southerners to leave the Union.

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