This building served as Belton's jail and was the scene of several acts of vigalante justice. In the Reconstruction period between 1865 and 1877, corruption, lawlessness, and racial divides were rampant in Bell County. Mob violence erupted on many occasions and the jail was often at the center of the conflict. This was the case on May 25, 1874, one of the most violent days in the history of Bell County.
Bell County's second jail was located at 201 N. Pearl
Street. The building witnessed one of the most violent vigilante acts in Texas
history. During and after the Civil War, deserters from both sides of the
conflict, as well as outlaws and thieves, flocked to the cedar breaks and caves
around Bell County. Lawlessness, theft, and other criminal acts abounded until
the night of May 25, 1874. While the sheriff was away on official business, a
mob of one hundred vigilantes from throughout Texas rode into Belton, tied up
the jailer, broke the five-pound lock, and proceeded to gun down nine prisoners
convicted of horse theft and murder.
The incident is recorded in Story of Bell County, Texas,
published in 1988, which includes three accounts from Waco newspapers: one by Dayton Kelley from 1966 and two
published in May 1874. Eight of the men were accused of horse theft; the ninth
had allegedly killed his wife in Coryell County. In late May, 1874, the Waco
Advance listed the names of the dead: John Alexander (alias Daily), William
Henry Grumbles, William S. Smith, J.S. McDonald, Marion McDonald, and Lloyd
Colman, the alleged wife-killer. Three other victims--Wingfield, Beckneal and
Crow-- are remembered by their surnames only. A 10th member of the group, Tyre
Thompson, escaped death because illness had caused him to be moved to another
area of the jail; he was later tried and given a life sentence, according to
Judge George W. Tyler in his 1936 History of Bell County.
According to one version of the incident, bodies of the dead
men were to be carried to a cemetery (now known as South Belton Cemetery) for
burial in a common grave; however, the county's presiding justice E. Walker
apparently decided against this course and ordered separate coffins and graves
for the men. On May 26, 1874, according to court records, John H. Johnson was
authorized $70.55 for burial of the nine men recently killed in the
county jail. Johnson and Isaac Williams were also allowed $15 for
superintending the burial of the nine dead men. On September 29,
Charles A. Wear was allowed $6 for painting the names of the nine
murdered prisoners on their headboards.