|Geography of crime: the areas circled in red are where Cullen Baker lived and conducted his crimes; this give the reader the perspective of
Baker's negative influence in the region. This is Cass County in 1937 and the inset is Bowie County in 1921. (US Bureau of Chem & Soil)
After the Civil War, Ku Klux Klan dens infiltrated the Red River Valley. The purpose of these dens was terroristic - they meant to undermine
the Reconstruction government, stop freedmen from voting, and intimidate African American people into states of quasi-slavery again.
Although local historians have pretended these dens were secret, they were not. The men who belonged to them tended to be prominent
and embedded members of their communities, and all of them were former Confederates; of course the names of the Klansmen were
known to their families, but they won't talk.
Cullen Baker, originally from Tennessee, was like a Klansman in all the methods except that his own family disavowed him. His racism,
supremacism, and wanton cruelty were exceptional in a time period of exceptional violence - he killed over 200 people in southwestern
Arkansas and northeastern Texas in the Reconstruction period. He wasn't simply a killer. He was a mass murderer who targeted African
Americans, caravans, soldiers, and Reconstructionists.
Baker was drafted into the confederate army and then deserted his regiment during the Civil War. Apologists say that he had been
wounded, but considering violent proclivities towards women and having killed at least two men prior to his enlistment, it's safe to say his
problem was a violent disdain for authority and a grandiose sense of self. During his brief time as a Confederate soldier, he didn't impress
with any valor. Instead, he shot an African American woman in Sevier County, Arkansas simply because he wanted to. He shot an African
American boy to death near the Sulphur River. In 1864, Baker joined the Union Army in Little Rock and was put in charge of a contingent of
African American workers. He shot one of the workers to death and then fled to Perry County in northwestern Arkansas.
Desertion was actually a fairly common practice for both Southern and Northern soldiers. When the young deserters came back to their
home territories, they congregated into vigilante gangs that proposed to ferret out "draft dodgers" but in reality, simply existed to
terrorize, rob, and rape whomever they chanced upon (Quantrill's Guerillas are another good example). Baker belonged to a gang that
styled themselves as "Independent Rangers." In October of 1864, Baker and the gang stopped a wagon train of men, women, and children
(both races) who were leaving Perry County, Arkansas due to the gang violence. The gang stopped them at the Saline River crossing and
proceeded to massacre the civilians.
Baker and his gang mostly hid out in the Sulphur River bottoms near his father's
house in Cass County, TX (styled as Davis County during the Civil War in honor of
Jefferson Davis) and occassionally, in the Red River bottom in Lafayette County, AR.
He and his second wife (the first one, with whom he had a daughter that he
abandoned, died young) lived in a house at Line Ferry along the Sulphur River in
Miller County. When she died in 1865, Baker tried to marry his wife's sister Bell
Foster, but she was a smart woman and refused him. She instead married Thomas
Orr, a school teacher. Baker sought to kill Orr on multiple occassions thereafter, but
in a twist of fate, Orr wound up killing Cullen instead.
According to Orr's 1870 book, Cullen Baker had a reputation as a "negro killer." Doc
Quinn, a freedman from Texarkana, explained that after he saved Cullen Baker from
drowning at Fulton, Quinn received protection from Baker. Quinn returned the favor
by helping Baker massacre black men on the pretense of forming "a colored militia to
catch Cullen Baker and his gang." Once gathered, the freedmen were shot to death -
according to Quinn, Baker and his gang shot 53 at Homan, 86 at Rocky Comfort, six at
Ogden, 62 in Jefferson, 100 in northern Louisiana, and 73 at Marshall. Thomas Orr
described a massacre at Howell Smith's plantation by the Sulphur River, where
Cullen Baker and his gang shot and stabbed to death a whole family of freedmen.
Soaked in Blood
The incredible violence that Baker displayed towards African Americans was not an
aberration. Texas and Arkansas were soaked in the blood of freedmen during the
Reconstruction period as well as afterward. White southern men killed, maimed, and
raped blacks with impunity. The Freedmen's Bureau in Sherman listed so many
atrocities committed by whites that the federal soldiers became nearly despondent.
That Baker could kill over 200 people and never face trial or punishment is testament
to the complicity of the whites that surrounded him. Historians aptly named this
period an all-out race-war that was meted out exclusively by whites, who protected
each other. To unrepetant Confederates, Cullen Baker became, in Thomas Orr's
words, the "Yankee killer" and "Bowie County hero" who was the sole survivor of
the South's "lost cause."
Baker was also a murderer of white men. While white Confederates didn't chase him for killing blacks, they did so for killing whites. Citizen
militias formed in places like Rondo and Bright Star. Union troops placed a substantial bounty on his head. Baker finally met his violent end
in 1869 when a posse, led by Thomas Orr, showed up at Baker's father-in-law's house in Bloomburg and shot him to pieces. The posse then
dragged the body to Jefferson (Marion County, TX), where Thomas Orr collected the reward.
Cullen Baker was a truly despicable man. The complicity of whites and Doc Quinn, who helped him commit his horrendous acts, was not
much better. Baker's notoriety is still acknowledged in some parts of East Texas and southern Arkansas; there's even a "Cullen Baker
Festival" held annually in Bloomburg, Cass County, Texas. Orr and Baker's confrontation is reenacted, and the festival benefits the
community' volunteer fire department. At least some good can come from this monster.
|An account of Cullen Baker, written by his killer and
love rival Thomas Orr.