Texas History: Solving mysteries about a murder and a marker
These history questions from “Think, Texas” readers are a few of our favorite things this week.
Kay Lawson: Is there some way we could research the history of the top of the University of Texas Tower? An old family story said that my second cousin died at the top. Anyway, how could I find out? It was in 1929, and his last name was Lumsden.
Think, Texas: Interesting family mystery.
We can scratch the UT Tower from the story right away since it did not open until 1935.
I did find newspaper accounts, however, about Lawrence Lumsden Jr., who was found dead with a bullet wound to the head in a car parked in the Westfield area immediately off Exposition Boulevard, so then close to the newly developed Tarrytown neighborhood, also near what is now the Lions Municipal Golf Course.
He was found around 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec 22, 1928.
His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Lumsden of Wilson.
Lawrence had withdrawn from the University of Texas on Nov. 15 on account of bad health, the dean said. He was living at the time at 300 W. 27th St. at the Phi Gamma Delta house. That house is still there.
A week previous, Lawrence had visited Dixon Green of Shiner, a family relative. He went on to San Antonio before returning to Austin to attend a formal dance at the Country Club, which at that time would have been where Hancock Recreation Center is now off Red River Street.
That beautiful building, opened in 1924, is still there, too.
Arthur Haddaway, president of the fraternity, said that Lawrence appeared to have a great time at the dance. His body, dressed in a tuxedo, was found a few hours after the dance.
An inquest was held at C.B. Cook funeral home. The public officials came to an early conclusion that two shots had been fired from the gun, which argues against suicide.
His prominent parents hired private investigators, a common practice in those days. About 10 days after the death, some investigators proposed a theory about a bootlegging purchase gone wrong. There was a thread about a forged name on a rental car receipt.
The main investigator was J. Frank Norfleet of Hale Center.
The scent, however, goes dry there.
Jared Dennis: I’m from Snyder, Texas. We never had a Confederate monument prior to 1963 and since then there’s been only one. It’s on the north side of our courthouse near the curb.
Our town’s history was more a part of the narrative of the West than the South. The town’s founders included veterans from both sides of the conflict and, from 1885 to 1892, our county sheriff was a native Pennsylvanian. Snyder and Scurry County didn’t even exist during the American Civil War, so I thought it was odd that we had a Confederate monument.
I found it even weirder that they waited until 1963 when they were preparing to desegregate Snyder’s schools to suddenly place a marker that was so out of step with the effort. Weirder still that it said “State of Texas” on it, suggesting that it was created with state money. If that’s true, it implies that even the Black population of the whole state of Texas was compelled to subsidize a large, pink granite slab being placed in a remote western town.
It’s only been 57 years, so there are still plenty of people in Snyder who have memories of the period, but nobody knows how it got there. Most are unaware that their town even has a Confederate monument other than a few brief mentions on some historic markers. ...
I did some research online and learned that we weren’t alone. I probably haven’t found them all, but there were at least 30 of these things. They were placed in a big rush and were mostly in place for the beginning of the newly desegregated 1964-’65 school year.
I have run out of what I can easily find online, and that’s why I’m contacting you. Hopefully you can help me solve a few remaining mysteries: Were they really erected with public money? Was their placement an act of protest by the Texas Legislature after being forced to desegregate their schools? Were they originally intended to mark the centennial but sped up to make a political statement? Were they meant as deterrents to future generations who might want to rename their counties? Are there any more? If so, just how big was this project? Were they gifts to the counties, or was their placement mandatory?
Think, Texas: Your research is fascinating.
I’ll follow up to verify what you’ve discovered and to see if I can find larger patterns.
To answer your questions incompletely:
1. The Texas State Historical Survey Committee, created in 1953, placed pink granite monuments and grave markers across Texas during the 1950s and early ’60s. They were later replaced by the current metal historical markers overseen by the Texas Historical Commission.
2. Many of those granite memorials during that decade commemorated the centennial of the Civil War.
3. Any motivation related to desegregation of schools, which started in the 1950s, would be speculation unless one found the associated documents at the Texas State Library and Archives. Worth a look.
Many Confederate monuments were erected in the mid-20th century, during the same time as civil rights movements across the country.
4. Yes, it’s likely that there are many more.
5. If the TSHSC worked like the THC does today, the placement of monuments would have been a collaboration between individual county historical commissions and the state body.
6. I’ll start with the marker experts at the commission and, given some time, might follow up in the Texas State Library and Archives, which would have records of any government decisions.
Really good historical work!