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TREASURY ROBBERY

TREASURY ROBBERY. The robbery of the state treasury, one of the boldest crimes in Texas history, occurred on June 11, 1865, during the chaotic period immediately after the downfall of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865. As news of the surrender of Confederate forces reached Texas in the late spring of 1865, civil government and law enforcement quickly began disappearing. After failing to convene the Texas legislature to repeal the secession ordinance, Governor Pendleton Murrah and many Confederate officials fled to Mexico. Most other Confederate state government officials had been removed from office, and Union occupation forces had not yet arrived. As a result, citizens in the Austin area organized to protect the populace and property from the increasing threat of violence, coupled with the breakdown of civil justice. Captain George R. Freeman, a Confederate veteran from Hamilton, organized a small company of thirty volunteers to protect the state capital until Union occupation forces arrived. The company was formed in May 1865 to counter a riotous mob in control of Austin. "I found the public stores sacked and the whole city in turmoil," Freeman wrote. After a series of unsuccessful attempts by citizens at maintaining order, Freeman's volunteers gained control and restored the peace. The group was then disbanded but subject to call if needed by the remaining local and state authorities.

Freeman related that on the night of June 11, 1865, he was informed by Gen. Nathan G. Shelley of Austin that a robbery of the state treasury was imminent. A prearranged signal by church bell was given to the volunteers to convene at the Christian Church, located at the southern end of Congress Avenue. To the alarm no more than twenty volunteers responded; many of these had been in church. The treasury building was located northeast of the Capitol. By the time the troops arrived the robbers were in the building and breaking into the safes. As Freeman's men approached the building, a brief gunfight erupted in which one of the robbers was mortally wounded by Al Musgrove and Fred Sterzing. Freeman was wounded in the arm. Of the estimated fifty desperadoes participating in the break-in, all but the one wounded man escaped. The thieves fled towards Mount Bonnell, west of Austin, carrying with them about $17,000 in specie, more than half of the gold and silver in the state treasury at the time. The wounded man was identified as Elex Campbell, a member of a group headed by a man known only as Captain Rapp. According to an audit delivered to Governor Andrew J. Hamilton in October 1865, a total of $27,525 in specie and $800 in Louisiana bank bills was located in the treasury at the time of the robbery. Several million dollars in United States bonds and coupons and other securities belonging to the state's school fund was also in the vaults at the time. The robbers failed to escape with any of the securities. Freeman reported that $25,000 in United States coupons clipped from the bonds was found on the floor of the treasury after one of the robbers apparently dropped the package in his attempt to escape. None of the other members of Rapp's company was captured. The loot was never recovered, although some of the money was found strewn between the treasury building and Mount Bonnell. Captain Freeman and his company of volunteers were later recognized by the state for their service in defending the public treasury, but the resolution providing a reward for their services never passed the legislature.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Adjutant General's Records, Texas State Archives, Austin. Frank Brown, Annals of Travis County and the City of Austin (MS, Frank Brown Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Laura V. Hamner Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Lafayette Rogers, Memories, Texas State Archives, Austin. Secretary of State Records, Texas State Archives, Austin.

Patrick Cox

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Patrick Cox, "TREASURY ROBBERY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jct03), accessed November 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.