Vengeance in a Small Town
The Thorndale Lynching of 1911
by George R. Nielsen
Milam County Historical Commission - Milam County, TX
Statue of Ben Milam at Milam County, TX Courthouse
Old Junior High School Building, Rockdale, TX
Milam County Courthouse - Cameron, TX
Preserve America
One hundred years ago, in 1911, two young men lost their lives: one from a stab wound and the other by mob action. In an attempt to explain how such violence could take place in a prosperous and forward-looking community, the author first examines the growth of Thorndale as a small agricultural town on the railroad and then connects Thorndale's geographical setting in central Texas with its tradition of violence. This particular lynching was unusual in that it took place at night, thereby complicating apprehension of the members of the mob. However, as a result of intervention by the governor, four men were arrested for the crime and three were tried. The lynching was also unusual because the victim was of Mexican heritage thereby inciting the Mexican community to voice its outrage and demand justice. The nature of its reaction testifies to the political awareness of the Mexican minority and also provides an insight into its perception of Anglo society.
Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Vengeance in a Small Town - The Thorndale Lynching of 1911” by George R. Nielsen

1. The Murder and Lynching

June nineteenth, the date of the murder and lynching, is also a significant date for African Americans in Texas.  That is the date in 1865 when the Union officer, General Gordon Granger, in charge of the newly arrived army in Galveston, read a general order ending slavery in Texas.  Ever since then, “Juneteenth” has been a holiday for Texas blacks, and in recent years it has become a date to remember for all blacks in American.

The blacks in Milam County celebrated they day in 1911, but in Thorndale, nothing out of the ordinary took place, and for the white community, it was business as usual.  During the heat of the day, outside activity slowed down and people looked for shade.  The few shoppers preferred the western side of Main Street where the store fronts with the verandas offered the most shade against the afternoon sun.  In “the evening” as the residents called the late afternoon, activity picked up and continued until twilight.  On that day the sun set at 7:34.

At about seven o’clock, Charles Zieschang, owner of the Thorndale Garage, which was located on South First Street three doors off of Main Street, walked eastward toward the Old Bank Saloon, also known as the Bank Saloon.  To his left, across the street, was the Thorndale Mercantile Company’s building, the oldest brick commercial building in town, and to his right was a drug store.  The Bank Saloon occupied the ground floor of the corner building, while art of the second floor housed the telephone switchboard, a real estate and insurance business, and a medical office.  Earlier that day Zieschang had stood in front of the saloon between the Lone Star Beer sign and a telephone pole and posed for a photograph.  The photo must have been a spur-of-the-moment event because Zieschang wore his work clothes, a loose fitting shirt and trousers.  And instead of the straw hat worn by farmers , Zieschang wore a workman’s cap.

As he approached the corner he stopped to talk with some men who were standing near the entrance.  One was Constable Robert L McCoy, age thirty-eight, single, and the owner of a livery stable.  Another was William S. Stephens, Zieschang’s close friend and owner of the saloon.  And there were two local men: Johnny Davis and Wallace Young.  As they were talking, Antonio Gomez, a fourteen-year-old Mexican lad, came walking along the sidewalk, whittling on a wood shingle and scattering the curls of the wood on the walk.  Stephens said to him, “Quit littering up the sidewalk, as fast as I clean it up, you mess it up again,” and grabbed Antonio in a playful manner, scuffed around a little, and turned him loose.  Antonio then backed off a bit and resumed his whittling.

Zieschang said, “I can make the damn little skunk quit whittling,” and snatched the shingle out of Antonio’s hand and took it with him into the saloon.  The other men remained outside and discussed whose duty it was to keep the sidewalks clean.  A few minutes later Zieschang came back out and said something to the effect that “If the son-of-a-bitch did that in front of my store, I would paddle his ass with it.” Antonio, about three steps away, lunged at him with is knife and struck him in the left breast below the collarbone.

Antonio pulled out the knife and threw it to the pavement.  A bystander picked it up and said to Zieschang, “There is blood on the blade of the knife; that boy has stabbed you.”  Zieschang replied, “No,  you are mistaken, he hasn’t stabbed me.”  But then the blood began to gush from the artery above the heart where it had been severed.  The constable grabbed the boy while the others took Zieschang to the adjacent drugstore and called for a physician.

When the physician arrived they took Zieschang to a room bout the saloon, quite likely the physician’s office, near the telephone switchboard.  Nothing could be done to stop the hemorrhaging and Zieschang died in approximately twenty minutes, at about seven-thirty.

As Zieschang lay bleeding to death Constable McCoy took Antonio north along Main Street, crossed the railroad tracts and then across the Taylor to Rockdale read, known as N. Railroad Street, and locked the lad in the town calaboose.  The calaboose could hardly be classified as a secure jail, but served more as holding pen for rowdy imbibers.  While McCoy was locking up Gomez, word of the incident spread across town, and soon Main Street and the side street were filled with townsfolk waiting for word of Zieschang’s condition.  When McCoy returned to the crime scene he sent word to all five of Thorndale’s saloons to close their doors and they remained closed for the night.

When Zieschang’s death was announced, the crowd, estimated to number between one and two hundred, became agitated and there were words of violence and cursing...


                                           Vengeance in a Small Town
                                         The Thorndale Lynching of 1911
                                             by George R. Nielsen

                        This book can be ordered thru booksellers or Ebay or by contacting:
                                               1663 Liberty Drive
                                             Bloomington, IN 47403
                                        1-800-Authors (1-800-288-4677

Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas