Think History is Boring?

June 22, 2008

If you are one of the millions that think history is boring, get a load of this. The setting is Fairland, Texas, sometime in the 1880s. George Gautier had insulted the Pitman family and the women in particular by calling them lazy. Soon thereafter, Gautier’s wife was visited by the offended ladies. George wrote: “The Pitman women got angry and the next day came to my place, hoisted their clothes and patted their rear parts at my wife.”

This would be amusing and humorous enough if it ended there, but sadly and unfortunately, the feud turned deadly. The situation continued to escalate over several days, and finally George had had enough. He took his loaded pistol and a broom handle with a nail through it, and went to where his wife was receiving a “tongue lashing” from Mrs. Pitman. When he saw that Mrs. Pitman was giving his wife a genuine lashing with a bull whip, he proceeded to strike her with the broom handle. Mrs. Gautier had a small stick too, and she went to work. Gautier’s son joined in by throwing rocks, then went to the house to get a shotgun. By this time, Mr. Pitman had arrived, and threw a rock at Gautier, then tried to wrest the gun from Gautier’s hand. He failed, Gautier fired twice, and Pitman was dead.

George Gautier was eventually found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in the state penitentiary. He believed he was defending his wife and family, and although expressing some regret, with periods of deep remorse, on the whole, he was relatively unapologetic. He felt like he had been drawn into the conflict. “Let women go to fussing and they will never stop until they get the men to fighting – that is my experience,” he wrote.

Gautier is an interesting, if tragic man. I’ve read a lot over the past few years about vigilante violence, and I’ve always been fascinated with the “darker” aspects of history, but I’ve never read anything like his memoir. I’ve not encountered anyone who writes so matter-of-factly about the vigilante actions he was part of.

Gautier served both as a formal member of a Texas cavalry unit, but was also involved in guerrilla activities. For a while, he was a member of the early Klan in Arkansas, and before the war, and been involved in some vigilante actions in the late 1850s in Texas. He also took part in the great hanging at Gainesville, during the war. His life is bathed in blood.

What is unique about his account is the matter-of-factness approach he takes to his involvement in these events. He freely talks about numerous hangings and killings he participated in, and occasionally punctuates it with brief paragraphs of poignant remorse – but one wonders if he can possibly be sincere, when his regret seems so short-lived. Another interesting thing about him is every so often, he will interrupt his story to include a poem that he has written! A complex man, with many facets. A brutal hangman who writes poetry!

No, history’s not boring. Just let George Gautier tell you his story….

© writingreading 2008

Text referenced is:

Harder than Death: The Life of George R. Gautier, An Old Texan, Living at the Confederate Home, Austin, Texas written by himself, 1902, pp. 30-35, 39.