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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The Bad Boys of Somer's Thicket

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Towards the end of the Civil War, there were some men in Texas and throughout the South who had given up on the Confederate cause. They were homesick and tired of fighting; some who had been on furlough simply refused to return to their units. As far as they were concerned it was all over - however, the authorities didn't see it that way - the men were considered traitors and deserters. As a result, they were forced to stay on the run.

According to the book A History of Lavaca County by Paul C. Boethel, men avoiding the law were looking for places that contained many trees and underbrush where they could hide out. One such place in Lavaca County was known as "Somer's Thicket" - the thicket was located on the Lavaca River in the southern part of the county and was home to some 30 men hiding there in 1864. They were said to have been deserters, draft dodgers, and just plain troublemakers from surrounding counties. Evidently, there were some men in the thicket who were bandits and preyed upon the local folks.

 TX Lavaca County 1940s map
Lavaca County 1940s map showing Lavaca River
From Texas state map #4335
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

They had been driven into Somer's Thicket by the local Home Guards. But the men living in the underbrush were not easy to take. They were military trained, well-armed, and mounted. They also had friends in the area who would warn them when elements of the Confederate army or members of the Home Guard were around.

And because there were a lot of cattle in the area, the desperados had plenty to eat and couldn't be starved out. In his book, Boethel noted, "Cornbread and salt were supplied by friends and relatives. Beef and barbecue constituted their main food."

One fellow named John Hunter wound up in Somer's Thicket after he was caught trying to procure some mules in Columbus that belonged to a Union sympathizer. He had met the man in Matamoros, Mexico, where they were both in hiding. The Union man was afraid to venture back into Confederate territory to get his mules and had offered Hunter $200 to bring them back.

As it turned out, the Columbus Home Guards captured Hunter and put him in jail. But he broke out of jail and fled on horseback to the Navidad River bottoms. Somewhere along the way, he found shelter in the home of a woman identified simply as "Mrs. Davis." She told Hunter that her husband was also a refugee in Mexico and she directed him to a man who eventually led him to Somer's Thicket.

In his book, Boethel wrote, "In the thicket, Hunter met the hardest looking set of men he ever beheld. In the camp, he found Charley and Grit Gollihar, Henry Dunn, Joe and Bob Tate, Wiley Clampit, Jake Hamersly, and others."

Of all the men hiding in the thicket, Joe Tate was one of the worse. He had served in the army but wound up being court martialed and sentenced to be shot. Once again Tate escaped and the army sent troops to his home to wait for him to return. But he was tipped off and headed back to the brush. Tate was heavily armed and vowed never to be taken alive.

So the obvious question might be, what finally happened to the men in the thicket?

Well, it seems that the task of capturing all these armed men was too great for the Lavaca Guards, so the Guards from Victoria, Concrete, Columbus, and Clinton were brought in to help raid the thicket. On their way to Hallettsville, the men from Columbus arrested fugitives in the Navidad country and the Crooked Creek section.

However, the men in Somer's Thicket had no desire to fight the Guards - no doubt they knew some of them. Boethel wrote that a few of the men decided to follow Hunter back to Matamoros and indeed 20 of them did. But the aforementioned Joe Tate and his brother Bob decided to stay and fight. Boethel's book didn't reveal their fate. Of the men who went to Mexico, some of them found work while others joined the Mexican army and helped overthrow the Maximilian Empire.

The combined units of Home Guards did eventually raid the thicket and capture a few men but when they found that most of the men had fled to Mexico, they gave up the chase and went home.

Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary July 25, 2022 Column












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