Editor’s note: This is the third part in a series of columns detailing the history of Tom C. Bean by Dusty Williams.
Continued from the The Galveston Daily news article: “On investigating Colonel Bean’s papers it was discovered that there was no will. Prominent citizens averred that he had one and that it had been stolen, and further hinted that $1600 in cash was missing. It was not only a matter of surprise, but a wild conjecture. Some asserted boldly that his servants had stolen the will and the money, while others supplemented this conjecture with the whispered belief that his servants had acted upon the advice of a certain white man, who is to be remunerated when everything is adjusted. This conjecture seems to have been especially well founded, as a former slave of Bean’s now comes to the front averring that he can produce the lost will, and states that it recites the substance of Saunders’ letter. It is generally believed the servants stole the document for fear the whites would destroy it and deprive them of their heritage. Mr. Saunders is expected here Friday, and it is conceded that there will soon be “rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” It is still a ghost in the path of the incredulous. Colonel Bean’s father was buried here in the English cemetery under the name of Bean, though it is asserted that no one knew his full surname. Future developments will have to settle that point. Some assert that the father assumed an alias to protect his son, while others profess to believe that the professed father was an uncle on the side of Colonel Bean’s mother and also believe that the resemblance of Thaddeus Bean comes from the same source. These startling developments in an estate of 25,000 acres of fine Texas land are beginning to leak out and create great surprise. The knowing ones, numbering a score or more, smile with complaisance, while those who have just caught a breath of it are on the tiptoe of excitement.
It is now quite apparent why Colonel Bean was such a recluse and a supposed misogynist. Fear of apprehension by the law was doubtless the skeleton of his closet. A few more hours of waiting and a mystery that has created national comment will have burst and right will have received its own.”
Shortly after this, Mr. James W. Saunders of Oxford, Mississippi arrived in Bonham with his son in law, Dr. A. W. Short of Glory, Lamar County, Texas. Another witness also appeared in the midst of all of this speculation and that was Dr. J. J. McBride of Montague County, Texas, his wife having been a sister to James W. Saunders and a supposed sister to Tom Bean.
“The person known as Colonel T. C. Bean was my brother whose name was T. L. Saunders,” Saunders said. “He was aged 76 at his death, being two years my senior. He was a Tennessean by birth, our family consisting of three brothers and a sister. My other brother Claiborne died in Georgia, my sister dying in Texas. While engaged in surveying out in Obion County, Tennessee, now Lake County, in 1836, my brother Thomas, then aged 24 or 25 years, committed a murder which caused him to become a refugee. One of the chain carriers, named Crutchfield, became enraged when my brother reprimanded him for not having accomplished a certain amount of work and struck at Tom, who knocked him down with a Jacob staff, striking him twice after he was down, fracturing his skull, from the effect of which he died. The next morning my brother fled, taking with him a boy named Alex, who witnessed the killing. My brother took refuge on Bean Island, in the Mississippi river, sending Alex to me for money and aid in making his escape. I was then an engineer on a steamboat, which I left, taking a skiff in which rowed Tom to Gains Landing, Arkansas. When on the island in the presence of Alex I advised him to take the name of Thomas Lawson, but he persisted in taking his first name, the name of the island (Bean). Leaving my brother in the bottoms near Gaines Landing, I returned to Old Commerce. A reward is now offered for information of Alex’s whereabouts. He is supposed to be in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Leaving Gaines’ landing, my brother fled to Camden, Arkansas, thence to Fayetteville, the same state and thence to his future home in Fannin County. Our first meeting was in St. Louis in 1854 or 1855, then again in Austin, Texas, in 1860, when I gave Tom $1,100 with which to perfect some land titles. We met again in Bonham in 1884 as is remembered by some citizens of this town. In 1872 I sent Alex to Bonham for $500, I being in straightened circumstances, which Tom sent me, sewing it in the waistband of Alex’s breeches. After my meeting with my brother in Bonham in 1886 I visited West Texas and met my brother again at Gainesville, Texas, in the La Clede hotel I believe. While in Gainesville, my brother stated that if he died first he would will me half of his estate, which he then estimated at about $700,000 and the other half to his servants and favored white friends; but if I died first he proposed to will my part to my children. I then told him of my daughter’s residence in Lamar County, which greatly excited him, he fearing his identity might be discovered through that source. I have no knowledge of my father since 1832, four years before Tom killed Crutchfield. My father started to North Carolina to collect some money, and was never again heard of by me. I suppose he was murdered. If the man buried in Bonham under the name of Bean was my brother’s father he was our father. My brother failed ever to mention the fact to me. As to the man Howard of San Antonio, I know nothing. He is in no way related to us. I have no letters from my brother, as his constant fear of detection brought a request to destroy them, with which I complied. These are about all the circumstances, Mr. Reporter, that I believe I care to state at present without advising with my counsel.”
The previous was taken from the Fort Worth Daily Gazette on September 24, 1887. The reporter also interviewed James Gass, a former slave of Tom Bean. He stated that his did remember Mr. Saunders visiting and that the former slaves were afraid that they would not get their portion of the estate, however, they were confident that the will would be produced at trial.
Dusty Williams is a ninth-generation Grayson County resident, author and local historian. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org