By Debby Schamber
The Orange Leader
The history of the legendary Hanging Tree in Orange has some uncertain stories of its demise and if a convicted murderer actually hung from its branches. However, one thing is for sure, some people have a definite opinion either way.
The Pin Oak tree was located in front of the D. Call and Sons Grocery at Fourth and Front Streets. Its broad branches were said to be perfect for supporting hanging bodies.
During the decades of the 1880s alone, the citizens ignored the laws they helped enact. The lives of three men were snuffed out by the hanging tree. The long limb, known as the “gibbet limb” projected its greenery in the general direction of the store. It was reported to be purposely endowed by nature to symbolize a “trails end” for murderers.
According to historian W.T. Block, in spite of four decades of unsettled social conditions, the hanging tree was not used until August 1881. A man, Robert Saxon, who was hired in the plot to kill Sheriff George W. Michael was hung by an angry lynch mob at the tree. The hanging was said to have been ordered by “Judge Lynch.”
Another man was lynched in 1889 after he was removed from the county jail by a masked mob of more than 300 men. The body of the man was left hanging for days and was riddled with hundreds of bullets.
Between 1882 and 1892, Orange County finally succeeded in executing on the gallows its first two men convicted to murder and condemned to death.
Historians differ on what happened to the tree. Some say it was diseased and merely fell apart.
However, sometime after 1892 two men wanting to put an end to the horror of the tree’s history cut it down, according to Block.
The sawing down of the tree did not end lynch law in Southeast Texas but the infamous practice became less frequent. Lynch law was a holdover from frontier days before state or territorial governments were organized and no elected law enforcement officers existed. Unfortunately it lingered on in many areas for decades to come.
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