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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dead Man's Hole

The Civil War between the Union and Confederacy famously raged in Congress and on the battlefield. Less documented were the clashes between partisan groups in small neighborhoods and communities. For some unlucky Union sympathizers the war fatally ended in a gaping Texas sinkhole.

Dead Man’s Hole, as it would be baptized, was discovered in 1821 by Ferdinand Leuders, an entomologist observing nocturnal insects. He recorded his findings without taking much note of the spacious cavity. He had no idea he had stumbled upon what would become a notorious burial ground for ideological murders and lynchings. The hole, located in southern Burnet County, Texas is caused by a buildup of natural gas pressure. It measures 7 feet in diameter at the surface and has a cavernous depth of about 15 stories.

As the Civil War brought destruction and death to the United States, groups of vigilante secessionists materialized in the South wreaking havoc on anyone associated with the  Union. These anarchic gangs, colloquially known as bushwhackers and fire-eaters, harassed, robbed, and murdered those with different political and ideological views. One such victim was John R. Scott, a New York born judge living in Burnet County. Despite having four sons serving in the Confederate army, Scott was deemed guilty of espousing Union sympathies and was threatened anonymously. As he fled to Mexico, Scott was assailed by a group of bushwhackers who shot him and jettisoned the body in the fateful Dead Man’s Hole.

Similar narratives fill local chronicles. Union sympathizers were either killed on the spot and thrown down the cavern or dragged to it and murdered after a hasty trial. It is thought that 17 bodies in total ended up in Dead Man’s Hole. A mysterious epilogue to the hole’s gruesome history occurred after sacks of bones were collected from the sinkhole. Awaiting a proper burial in the Burnet County Courthouse, the bones disappeared, never to be recovered.