THE PATRIOTISM OF BEAUMONT, TEXAS:
TOWN RE-ENTERED UNION JULY 4 , 1896
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, July 4, 1980.
Source: Galveston DAILY NEWS, July 5, 1896.
If Beaumont's Independence Day of 1896 were any indicator, it marked
the year that that city re-entered the Union and the day that Beaumonters were once again
proud to call themselves Americans.
One published account of July 5, 1896 remarked that:
"This day has been a whizzer! Never before in her history has
Beaumont seen such a display of industry and such a day of genuine personal pleasure. In
years gone by, the Fourth of July has come and gone and Beaumont has passed it without
notice. But now she is a city, and today has served for her debut."
Were Beaumonters really so genuinely unpatriotic back then? Not really,
but a century in retrospect, it is difficult, or perhaps impossible, to gauge and
comprehend the intensity of war hatreds that still lingered. And nearly every white male
Beaumonter of that post-bellum period was a Confederate veteran.
At any time between 1865 and 1876, when the southern states were
occupied by Federal troops and 'scalawag,' carpetbagger regimes controlled state
governments, every attempt was made to make Confederate veterans feel guilty for having
started the "late unpleasantness" known as the American Civil War. Most of the
Beaumont townsmen were barred from public office by the "Ironclad Oath," which
eliminated all persons who had sworn allegiance to the Confederates States or born arms
agains the United States. The presence of Federal troops, many of whom were former slaves,
was a constant reminder that Beaumonters were American only by bayonet law, and not by
Well into the 1880s, northern congressmen continued to "wave the
bloody shirt," reminding Southern Democrats that they were the party of rebellion who
had triggered a conflict costing more than 600,000 lives. But even then there were
movements afoot to heal the breach. Delegations from the Grand Army of the Republic came
south to New Orleans to decorate the graves of fallen Confederates, and members of the
United Confederate Veterans went north to Chicago to honor the graves of Northern
Before 1861, East Texans celebrated Independence Day in as lavish a
manner as that frontier era afforded. The grandfathers of many early Beaumonters had
fought in the American Revolution, and their exploits were passed down from father to son.
And after all, had not Beaumonters had their own very special American Revolutionary war
veteran, John Baptiste Chaison, whose tales of the war with England had been a source of
local pride until his death at age 109 in 1854?
As an example of those early-day celebrations, all of the citizens of
Orange, Texas, turned out on July 4, 1859, for an entire day of merry-making and
patriotism. The Declaration of Independence was read, and the main speaker "showed up
the British in true colors, giving a lively review of their granddaddies' ups and downs
during the American Revolution." The Orange Brass Band played martial refrains while
the tables were being emptied of tons of barbeque. The celebration ended with a
"grand ball, a few empty bottles," and lots of fireworks.
However, General Robert E. Lee's surrender of the Confederacy's troops
at Appomattox, Va., in 1865, and the subsequent harsh treatment of most Southerners during
the Reconstruction years removed any display of patriotism thereafter during Beaumont's
Independence Days of the post-bellum years. The mills, stores,and other functions always
closed for the day, but the citizens celebrated July 4 as if it were Labor Day or Sunday.
On July 4, 1876, the nation's Centennial birthday or anniversary,
"the citizens of Beaumont assembled at the depot of the Texas and New Orleans
Railroad, mounted the flat cars that had been kindly arranged for their accommodation by
the railroad contractors, went out 24 miles from town and celebrated the day by having a
"We (Beaumonters) had no orations or reading of the Declaration of
Independence, nor anything unusual to distinguish it from picnics generally. The ride on
the railroad was very pleasant indeed. The strong breeze, created by the motion of the
train, connected with the sweet strains of music from the Beaumont Brass Band, under the
leadership of Mr. J. E. Jirou, rendered the trip to and from the ground not one of the
insignificant pleasures of the day."
On July 4, 1885, the residents of Beaumont joined those of Orange,
Sabine Pass, and Johnson's Bayou, La., traveling by steamboat to Grigsby's Bluff (Port
Neches). Several hundred persons were fed there at a gigantic fish fry. Otherwise, the day
was consumed with playing games and digging ancient relics from the Indian mounds, but
again no display of patriotism was manifested.
By 1896, however, Beaumont, by then a booming city of 8,000 persons,
had shed many of its prinvincial attitudes. New generations had grown to adulthood, and
the hatreds of yesteryear had subsided somewhat. The population was more cosmopolitan as
hundreds of newcomers, many of them from Iowa, Nebraska, and elsewhere, had flocked to
Southeast Texas, principally to engage in rice farming or to man many of Beaumont's new
industries. And five new railroad systems connected the town with all neighboring points.
Perhaps local pride, as much as patriotism, spawned the 1896
celebration. Preparations began a month in advance, and invitations went out to all the
neighboring communities. The following account provides some insight into the events of
the day and the large crowds in attendance, as follows:
"Early in the morning, despite the threatening weather, the people
began clustering around the various depots to watch incoming trains from seven directions
and meet relatives. The bands began playing and for the moment the depots were minor
"But the steam whistles outclassed the music, and the crowds were
soon pouring out of the trains and surging in one solid mass along the thoroughfares. The
business streets were lined with draperies and decorations of every kind, and the
preparations far exceeded those of Beaumont's great day -- Christmas."
"While the crowds were surging back and forth along the business
streets, the scenes around the City Hall were full of bustle and hurry. The procession
that was just then beginning to form there would have made P. T. Barnum and his mile-end
parade overflow with envy."
C. S. Brown was the grand marshal as the parade of horse-drawn floats
threaded along a route from Main to Crockett Streets, then down Pearl to College and out
to Blanchette Park. And almost every Beaumont industry or business house had an entry in
the two-mile procession. The newspaper account continued:
"On one float, upon a trough in the center, rested a half-ton of
ice made by Beaumont's mammoth factory. Another float, drawn by four large horses, bore a
brace of car wheels manufactured in Beaumont by her iron foundry."
The next float was an old-fashioned log cart, bearing two heavy logs
and the notation "Timber anfd Lumber Industry." The Texas Tram and Lumber
Company had profusely ornamented its entry with a variety of flags and striped bunting.
Among those represented in the "grand trades display" were
floats of the Reliance Lumber Co., Beaumont Lumber Co., Beaumont Furniture Factory,
Blanchette Brickyard, Long Manufacturing Co., Consolidated Export Lumber Co., the
railroads, civic societies, fire companies, the Jeff Davis Rifles, and at least fifty
more, representing every branch of the retail trades.
Upon reaching the park, the brass bands struck up the national anthem,
after which Hal W. Greer read the Declaration of Independence. And suddenly, as each goose
pimple verified the presence of a new pride and patriotism, even the most case-hardened of
the ex-Confederates among them found it an opportune moment to shed the hates of the past
and rejoin the ranks of Americans.
The meal for the day consisted of 30 barbecued beeves. The afternoon
was consumed with races and games of all sorts, judged by Ed. P. Gray, Jeff Chaison, W.
L.Douglass, L. P. Ogden, and P. M. Wiess. Dancing at the pavilion continued throughout the
day, followed that night by fireworks and a grand ball.
That momentous occasion of 1896 was to be followed by many more in the
twentieth century. And after the First World War and the advent of veterans organizations,
Pearl Street resounded with the echoes of brass bands and bass drums as Beaumont
experienced a rebirth of patriotism on each July 4th. Somehow, the celebrations always
ended up in the parks where mounds of watermelons and barbecue were consumed, and the
Democratic primary candidates broached their promises and lambasted their opponents.
Since 1945, the changing patterns in American society are also reflected in the
celebration of July 4. Family recreation at the lakes and beaches has become the popular
substitute, and the parades and barbecues of yesteryear are but dim memories in the minds
of the oldsters. Perhaps the flag-waving and brass bands have passed into exile for all
time, but a fierce pride in America and everything that nation stands for certainly
lingers on in place of it.