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S GROUNDStomping history


The Great Texas Treasury Robbery


STORY AND ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL ROBERT GREEN


the state experienced a period of barely controlled chaos. Most Confederate offi cials were fl eeing or hiding to avoid prosecution and perhaps hanging, particularly after the assassination of President Lincoln. Major army commands surrendered to their federal counterparts. Smaller units simply dis- banded, immigrated to Mexico, or melted into the untamed West. A few became “partisans,” or, simply put, robbers. One, “Captain” Rabb, described as “half freebooter-bushwhacker,”


T ranchero, half


terrorized Austin for months in the vacuum of authority. He struck upon the bold idea to rob the State Treasury and the Confederate sub-treasury at


the state capitol. In the


building’s fi ve safes was $2,603,188.79 in coins, notes, and bonds. Early on the moonlit night of June 11,


1865, the robbers, numbering some two dozen, fi ltered into town. At a given signal, the band converged on the capitol, over- powering the guard and battering down the door of the separate Treasury building. T e noise aroused Captain George R.


Freeman and nineteen other returned Confederates, who had formed a militia company to maintain order in the absence of any real


authority until federal troops


arrived. Some of the men were attending services at the old Christian Church on the south end of Congress Avenue. T e church bell sounded a general alarm, and within a half-hour, the company arrived at the capitol grounds. T e robbers had posted look-outs, who


exchanged fi re with Freeman’s militiamen, who were uniformly armed with the latest


exas was not always the calm, law-abiding place that it is today; immediately following the Civil War,


lethal technology, the big-bore Sharp’s


carbine. T e bandits were so busy breaking into safes and vaults, using hammers and pickaxes, that they did not hear the church bell, but the report of gunfi re caused them to cease their plundering. Rabb and his men gathered up approximately $17,000 in gold and silver coins in a blanket, tied together at the four corners and slung over a horse. All of the bandits escaped save for one “great- framed giant,” Alex Campbell, who had removed his pants and tied them tightly at the legs. T ese “were fi lled with gold pieces, for he had not deigned to touch the silver.” He exited the wrong door and ran head-on into an ambush by Freeman’s company. T e pantless robber was commanded to


halt but fi red on the militia. A dozen or more Sharp’s carbines fl ashed. Incredibly, Camp- bell lingered several days before succumbing to his many wounds. By sheer coincidence, General Jo Shelby’s


brigade of Confederate cavalry was nearby, en route to Mexico to tender their services to Emperor Maximillian. T ey assisted Free- man’s company in securing the capitol and vacant governor’s mansion against further depredations. Rabb’s men were never caught, although


it was widely known that they were locals. One source states that Rabb was married to an Austin woman but fl ed to Mexico after the aborted heist. By 1885, he returned to the United States and was living openly in San Besenta, New Mexico. No one can say for certain what happened


to the missing money. On the night of robbery, the blanket full of gold and silver came untied at one corner, leaving a trail of coins glittering in the moonlight along the escape route. •


Michael R. Green has taught at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Texas at Austin. He was also assistant editor and art director for Presidial Press and Military History of Texas & the Southwest and Archivist for Reference and Public Services at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. He has authored over thirty articles and authored, collaborated, or edited four books on military, southwestern, and archival subjects.


14 Volume 6 Issue 1 | TexasLiVE | texaslivenetwork.com


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