The Post Oaks of the 1870s
East of San Antonio, exists a series of watersheds beginning with the Salado, and continuing to the Rocillo, the Calaveras, Chupaderas and eventually Lipan and the Cibolo creek. They encompassed a region that the people of Texas in the 1870s called the Post Oaks. In the Post Oaks there were few communities, no railroads, and news traveled only as fast as the fastest horse.
Of the communities that existed then, few exist today. Places like Tenaha, Mays Crossing, Cottage Hill, Bethesda, Easterling, and Mount Olive are not even memories of the oldest people living today. The towns that came later with the railroad in the 1890s: Adkins, Carpenter, Anville and others, did not exist then. At the junction of Lipan Creek (Dry Hollow) and the Cibolo existed the community of La Vernia. La Vernia was in the Post Oaks; in fact, its first name was Post Oak.
The Civil War (1861 – 1865), although fought in far away places claimed the lives and limbs of many of the boys from La Vernia. They were among the Old South’s best and brightest. Many of them saw it all; several of them were present at Appomattox for the surrender. When they returned to La Vernia the planter culture, based on slavery was gone and an occupying Northern Army ran the county.
These were resilient people. Many left the area, others created new businesses, some became cattle ranchers. Many trail drivers and cowboys, legends from Texas to Wyoming, came from the area around Lavernia .
Unfortunately, in the Post Oaks of the 1870s, lawlessness was the order of the day. Good people saw their lives in ruin and their children attracted to the easy money of outlawry.
The Post Oaks was considered an outlaw haven. The area in and around La Vernia was especially feared. The Minute Men, a militia formed by the men in the area, was the last line of defense. The stories of violence and criminal activities are too numerous to chronicle. However, the most heinous of these crimes took place at La Vernia in July of 1880. Listed below is the cast of characters.
Milton J. Bean
Milton J. Bean was born about 1824 in Tennessee, the son of Leroy D. Bean the brother of the legendary Peter Ellis Bean who was captured by Mexico in 1801 as part of the Nolan Expedition to what is now Texas.
Milton J. Bean was known far and wide as a cattle buyer of considerable skill. Cattle buyers were essential to the cattle industry of the 1860s and 1870s. They had the trust of the large trail drive operators. People like Dillard R. Fant of Goliad, the Erskines of Guadalupe County, the Morgans, Newtons, Humphries, Cunningham and Tiners of La Vernia relied on cattle buyers to help collect stock for their drives. The local cow hunters and farmers had to trust cattle buyers to pay a fair price for their stock.
By the 1870s M. J. Bean, a widower, lived on a small spread west of La Vernia near Easterling (now Kicaster) with his three daughters, Maud age twelve, Amanda age ten, and Mary age seven.
Richard Neasom, the nephew of Milton J. Bean, worked as a farm hand, on the nearby farm of Alfred I. Maye. Neasom was born, on October 15, 1853 to Benjamin B. Neasom and Angeline Mullins at Greensburg, St. Helena Parish in Louisiana.
James H. McMahon
James H. McMahon was born July 10, 1830 in Ireland. He came to the U. S. in January 1850 traveling from Liverpool to New York on the ship David Cannon. In the 1860 Federal Census, he declared his livelihood as “physician” and was living in Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky.
During the Civil War he enlisted as assistant surgeon on 27 September 1864, and received an officer’s commission in Company S, 54th Kentucky Infantry Regiment of the Union Army.
After the war he came to Texas and lived at Fort Davis in far west Texas. In early 1870, Dr. McMahon came to La Vernia and married Georgiana, the widow of Henry M. Morgan. Dr. McMahon quickly established himself as a pillar of the community.
Dr. McMahon was energetic and civic minded. He was a Mason, physician, and surgeon; his wife ran the local hotel. On 28 March 1870, when Lawrence H. Wall left the post, he took on the job of La Vernia postmaster.
On the 2nd of July 1880, Richard Neasom rode into La Vernia, the events that followed are best described by the newspapers of the day:
San Antonio, Daily Express July 2 & 4, 1880
…How Richard Neasom Displayed the Effects of Temporary Insanity.
“An outrage occurred yesterday in the village of Lavernia, Wilson County which has hardly an equal in point of atrocity in this section. A young man by the name of Richard Neasom rode up to Dr. McMahon’s residence and asked a Negro where he could find the doctor. The man replied that he was in his bed on the gallery.
Neasom then went to the gate and called Dr. McMahon, who answered him that he would be out directly, at the same time kindly and politely inviting Neasom to come in. After entering the hallway, in compliance with the invitation of Dr. McMahon, Neasom informed the doctor that he had come to kill him.
Neasom then drew his pistol and shot the doctor, who retreated into his room. Neasom fired twice again, but missed. The murdered then walked to his horse, mounted and rode off slowly, just as if nothing had happened. The bullet entered the doctor’s breast, and came out on his right side, above his hipbone. No reason is apparent why Neasom shot Dr. McMahon. He was his family physician, and never did any act, which should have justified anyone shooting him.”
It was discovered that the day before, Neasom had shot his uncle, M. J. Bean, and threw his body in Bean’s own forty foot well. Afterwards, he attended a country dance at which he boasted of having killed Bean.
Neasom was described as a red headed, whiskered-faced young man. Who under most circumstances was quite and polite? However, when under the influence of alcohol he could be violent. The newspapers described Neasom as insane, crazed and perverse.
H. Suhre came to San Antonio to acquire a casket for the remains of Dr. McMahon and reported the details to the newspapers.
The Cottage Hill Gang
The funeral was held in the small stone chapel at St. Hedwig. The priest presiding over the funeral was the Reverend Ladislas Tyskiewicz. He recorded the burial in St. Hedwig church records and indicated that Dr. McMahon was from La Vernia. But a dark cloud hung over the service…. violence came out of the Post Oaks. The San Antonio Express reported on July 17, 1880:
Rising Rascals…Wilson County’s Band of Twelve – Their Goal Near at Hand.
“A portion of Wilson County, from all accounts, is infested by a band of lunatics…. youngsters who think it is big to bulldoze and a bully thing to shoot at people. The complaints have been numerous about the conduct of these chaps, who number twelve to fifteen, and though efforts have been made to get their names, they have not yet been handed in.
Some time ago, while driving east of the city, J. J. Stevens and Sam Bennett were fired at, “just for fun”. By two youths named Gregg and Adams, one of who has since fled the country. While the other rests under a serious charge.
It is such fellows as these two who “take” Lavernia, Wilson County and St. Hedwig, and other places. Neasom who murdered Bean and Dr. McMahon, in Wilson County, is said to be backed by this gang, and some say that the murderer is even still in the country, sustained and fed by these youthful rascals.
When the funeral of Dr. McMahon took place at St. Hedwig, several of the gang were present, all of whom were armed with revolvers, which seem to have met the eyes of almost everybody but those of the officers. The youngsters at the funeral blowed about their ability to protect Neasom, and no one attempted to shut their mouths. The names of good families of Wilson county are associated with the conduct of these youngsters, who are evidently egging law-abiding people on to desperation.
In Guadalupe, the feeling runs high, and in eastern Bexar County it is no less intense, and unless the people of Wilson can control their own rascals, it is probable that a volunteer company of determined men from Bexar and Guadalupe counties, who are injured by the acts of these youngsters, will invade Wilson and sweep these fellows out of existence.
They have invaded St. Hedwig, this county, and have done as they pleased, cowards that they are, and they have threatened the lives of some of the best citizens of Wilson county because they testified against them in a justice court.
Major Montgomery, captain of the minute men, has been shot at by one of this gang, a renegade from this county by the name of Rowley, who received in return from the Major’s son, Pressley a charge from a weapon, which quieted him. They are the sworn enemies of the Major, however, and promise to end his career yet. They have boasted that Neasom, the murderer, could not be taken alive, thus showing that they are in intercourse with him, and they declare their intention to do just as they please, themselves, regardless of the laws, or those who are suppose to see that they are enforced.”
The Post Oaks Explode
On the 8th of July the communities rallied their resources…. The San Antonio Newspapers reported the following on 11 July 1880.
Action in Respect to the memory of Dr. McMahon
“A large and influential meeting of the citizens of Wilson, Karnes and Guadalupe counties was held at Midway Schoolhouse, Guadalupe County, on Thursday, the 8th instance. For the purpose of expressing their sympathy for the families of Dr. J. H. McMahon and Mr. Bean, citizens of Wilson County, who have recently been murdered without cause and in cold blood by one Neasom, a fugitive from justice. Reviewing the facts in connection with these heartless and unwarranted murders, the meeting further ordered the following resolutions, with hope of bringing the criminal to a speedy justice….”
The Man Hunt
The hunt for Neasom became an unsuccessful “wild goose chase”; Sheriff Houston of Wilson County, a personal friend of Dr. McMahon, was misled by a rumor and traveled sixty-five miles down the San Antonio River. The Minute Men scoured the countryside with no results. The legendary T.P. McCall, Sheriff of Bexar county, did little better and spent his time sending communications to distant locations with wants and warrants for Neasom. Cavalry troops were dispatched from San Antonio with similar results.
Adding to the misery of the residents of La Vernia; the mail courier from Marion, the source of La Vernia’s mail, refused to deliver mail to Herman Suhre, the new Postmaster.
The Killer Speaks
Neasom had disappeared but he was not content to remain hidden. This article appeared up in the San Antonio newspaper on 20 December 1880.
Neasom, the Murderer, heard from
“The man Neasom who murdered Dr. McMahon and his relative Bean, near Lavernia some months ago, has been heard from. He went directly to the house of one Mullins (maternal family), St. Helena’s Parish, Louisiana, within a very short distance of where he was born and raised and there remained for some time.
After returning to Louisiana he was taken sick, and for about two weeks was attended by physicians at Mullins house. Neasom stated to parties that he was pursued by a posse, after having killed McMahon, and, after observing the men in pursuit, he turned off the road and hid until they had passed him by. He then rode along in sight of the posse, and to their rear, for some distance, when the posse stopped, held counsel together, and turned back. He then secreted himself again until the posse, turning back had passed him, and left the road before him open. Then he continued on to his point of destination in Louisiana.”
Fate brought resolution to the affair, and dealt its own measure of justice.
The newspapers reported on 2 August 1881:
Dick Neasom’s Fate….
“We were shown a private letter from St. Helena Parish, La., to Mr. J. M. Davis of Wilson County, which stated as follows:
Dick Neasom was showing Dr. Gosa how he could defend himself with an Enfield rifle, and it was accidentally discharged. The ball passed through his thigh and cut the main artery. The doctor wanted to amputate his leg, but Neasom refused to let him do it. He said he wanted to die. He was shot on Friday afternoon and died Saturday night at 11 o’clock. He prayed all the time.
He had been home ever since last August, but he kept very close. There was but one or two that knew he was at home. Neasom it will be remembered, killed Dr. McMahon and a man by the name of Bean, in Wilson County, about a year go.
Since then, he has been at large, until overtaken by a fate, not even of that stern nature he deserved to meet, and sent into another world. His crimes were most atrocious, and all will rejoice that the world has been ridden of him.”
We are indebted to Deed L. Vest for his A Century of Light, History of Brahan Lodge No. 226 A.F. & A.M., La Vernia, Texas for information regarding the activities of the Masonic Lodge in La Vernia. Federal Census records, ship records, Republic of Texas military records, Civil War military records, and church records from Annunciation of the B.V.M., Roman Catholic Church at St. Hedwig, Texas provided source material for this article. Contemporaneous newspaper accounts provided specific information regarding the subject.