J. E. Robinson (Reported Lynching of)

Newspapers’ reports of rumors of lynchings have sometimes been recorded as actual lynchings on lists compiled by various organizations, as well as in articles and books. The rumored 1889 lynching of a white man named J. E. Robinson, which created somewhat of a sensation in Texas and Arkansas, is one such instance.

Robinson’s name appears on numerous online lynching lists, and in at least one article published in 2001. Terry Anne Scott, however, corrects the record in her 2022 book, Lynching and Leisure. Reports on Robinson’s lynching are also confusing in that it allegedly happened in Arkansas in Texarkana (Miller County), while the alleged crime occurred in Texarkana, Texas. Geography often complicates lynching reports because incidents cross county lines, and the same place names appear in different states. This is especially true of Texarkana, which straddles the Arkansas-Texas line. The date of the supposed lynching is also in dispute. A number of newspapers reported that it occurred on “Monday night,” which would have made it March 10. Lynching lists generally give the date March 8. But an early report in the Arkansas Gazette, datelined Texarkana, says that Robinson was arrested late on the night of March 5 and was taken by a mob as a deputy named Porter was taking him to jail.

The first available report on the incident appears in the Arkansas Gazette on March 7, 1889. The report notes that Robinson was the deputy postmaster at Dalby Springs (Bowie County, Texas) and had been called as a witness against a man named Savage who was charged with robbing the post office there. Robinson stayed at the Tierney house until March 4; the Tierney House hotel was listed in the Texas State Gazetteer as being in Texarkana, Texas, and Thomas Tierney is listed in the 1889 tax list for Bowie County. Robinson had allegedly paid undue attention to Tierney’s young daughter, and she supposedly visited his room. When her parents questioned her, she allegedly said that Robinson had tried to assault her. On the night of March 5, he was arrested on “the East Side” and was brought over on the Texas side. As a deputy was taking him to jail, he was seized by a mob. According to the Gazette, “Some think he has been lynched, while others say that he was treated with a severe beating and turned loose.”

That same day, in a report datelined Texarkana, Arkansas, the Galveston Daily News reported that several of Robinson’s friends had arrived in town looking for him, as he had not yet returned home as expected. They were angry about the treatment Robinson had received and said that Robinson had lived at Dalby Springs “without anything against his character for many years.” According to the Daily News, they feared that he had been killed by a mob on Monday night. On March 8, the Gazette reported that while Robinson had been taken by a mob, he was “not said to have been seriously injured, but only well whipped and made to leave the City.” On March 13, in a story datelined Texarkana, March 11, the Waco Evening News reported that Robinson was still missing but added the detail that Robinson was planning to be married soon and was carrying a large amount of cash with which he planned to prepare for the wedding. The News report indicated that an African American man reported that, on Monday night (March 10), he saw a mob “hurrying a man forward, beating, cursing, and yelling ‘hang him.’” Tierney’s daughter was reported to be “as well, bright and happy as ever.” To further muddy the waters, Tennessee’s Pulaski Citizen reported on March 14 that Robinson had been “hung to a tree and his body riddled with bullets.”

On March 20, 1889, in a story datelined March 11, the Butler Weekly Times reported that a grand jury had been empaneled, which Robinson’s friends hoped would determine the facts. The article repeated the story about Robinson’s coming wedding and noted that he was carrying around $300. Speculation was that Robinson was “the victim of a foul conspiracy on the part of persons who desire his money.”

On March 21, 1889, in a story datelined Texarkana, Arkansas, March 15, the Austin Weekly Statesman reported that the grand jury had returned “additional indictments” and said that they were done with their investigation. When the judge learned that they had not yet discovered Robinson’s whereabouts, he refused to discharge them and instead instructed them “to continue the investigations, and, if necessary, summon the entire community to give testimony.” On March 19, the Gazette reported that the citizens of Texarkana had held a mass meeting on Saturday night (March 16) and “passed several resolutions condemning the lawless and violent actions of the mob.” They reconvened on Sunday and collected money to finance three men to follow Robinson’s trail. Marshal Taylor and constable Bill Parker had already searched the immediate area with no results. Several African Americans said that they had seen Robinson “walking in the direction of the [Indian] Nation” and that he had been seen near Dickson’s ferry on the Red River with a bruised face, a broken nose, black eyes, “and a gash cut in his head four inches long.”

In a further complication, on March 21, the Russellville Democrat, in a story datelined Texarkana, Arkansas, March 15, reported: “The wildest excitement ever witnessed here was caused last evening by the report that the body of J. E. Robinson had been found hanging near the water tank, half a mile west of town.” When local citizens went to find the body, it was not there, but it was hinted “that the matter is being kept quiet on purpose to shield certain parties thought to have been participants in the supposed lynching.” Some thought that the body had been found and later taken away: “It is feared the trouble is not yet over.”

The mystery was finally solved in late March. On March 28, 1889, in an article datelined Texarkana, March 23, the Austin Weekly Statesman reported the results of the search for Robinson. Constable Parker and a man named Johnson, who had been sent to find Robinson, reported that they had found Robinson in Goodland, Indian Territory, and that he claimed to have been beaten and robbed. They advised authorities to take Tierney and Porter into custody. This was done, Tierney being accused of assault with intent to murder. According to the Galveston News, Robinson returned to Texarkana, Arkansas, by train on March 24, nineteen days after he had disappeared. Hundreds gathered to greet him. His story, as printed in several different newspapers, was that Savage, who had allegedly robbed the mail at Dalby Springs, had been “spending money freely to suborn and intimidate witnesses.” Robinson said that the mob beat him and took him to the Red River and told him never to return. He decided to follow this advice and planned to cross Indian Territory to get to Montagne, Texas, where his sister lived.

The grand jury was reconvened to “thoroughly ventilate the Robinson matter.” Robinson was exonerated, but Officer Porter and Thomas Tierney “were this morning arrested on a second charge and bailed in $500 each to answer to the grand jury.” It is not known if they were ever punished.

For additional information:
“An Exciting Find.” Russellville Democrat, March 21, 1889, p. 1.

Lang, Peter. “The Great Long National Shame: Selected Incidents of Racial Violence in the United States.” Counterpoints 163 (2001): 1165–1177.

“A Mob’s Mistake.” Butler Weekly Times, March 20, 1889, p. 3.

“Mysteriously Missing.” Waco Evening News, March 13, 1889, p. 1.

“The Return of Robinson.” Galveston Daily News, March 26, 1889, p. 6.

“Robinson.” Austin Weekly Statesman, March 28, 1889, p. 3.

“The Robinson Case.” Austin Weekly Statesman, March 21, 1889, p. 3.

“Robinson Found Alive.” Mineola Monitor, March 30, 1889, p. 1.

“Robinson’s Fate.” Arkansas Gazette, March 19, 1889, p. 1.

Scott, Terry Anne. Lynching and Leisure: Race and the Transformation of Mob Violence in Texas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2022.

“State News.” Arkansas Gazette, March 8, 1889, p. 8.

“Texarkana Local Topics.” Galveston Daily News, March 7, 1889, p. 3.

“Was Probably Lynched.” Arkansas Gazette, March 7, 1889, p. 5.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Davidson, North Carolina


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