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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Waxahachie Civil War Powder Mill and It's Mysterious Destruction

According to the book Ellis County: A Photo History, "Waxahachie was the site of a Confederate Gun Powder mill." The site is located near 306 N Rogers Street in Waxahachie. There is a Historical Marker,placed in 1936, 210 feet from the Powder Mill's location. Director of the Ellis County Museum stated "The mill was located on modern day N. Rogers St. (Lafayette St. if it had been named by Civil War times) not very far north past the railroad crossing."

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "..a report read in the Confederate Congress on August 18, 1863, Texas had four gun factories making 800 arms a month, two powder mills, and a percussion cap factory.." "Powder mills were established at Marshall and Waxahachie." Texas Governor Clark desperately searched for firearms from foreign countries. Firearms being such a scarcity, Texas began too encourage firearm and firearm munitions factories by subsidizing them. Waxahachie became one of the two sites in Texas to make gun powder.

The Historical Marker states "Erected in 1862 by William Rowen. On April 29, 1863 it was destroyed by an explosion and its owner killed. Also killed was Joshua G. Phillips." The Ellis County: A Photo History account says "Waxahachie was the site of a confederate gun powder mill. The mill exploded in 1863. Killing one man and injuring another. The cause of the explosion was never determined with certainty, but a stranger in town who had been though to be a Northerner disappeared immediately after the explosion and sabotage was suspected." The article goes on to speculate that maybe the fella left after the explosion because it was a good idea. Maybe he knew people would be thinking of him for a suspect.

A more detailed explanation of the Powder Mill and it's destruction can be found in the book Where Cotton Reigned Kingby Kelly McMichael Stott. It explains that the only direct contact the Civil War had on Waxahachie was when the gun powder mill exploded. Stott explains that the mill was "established in the town in cooperation with the Confederate State Government.." William Rowen was the owner of the mill.

Stott goes into the best detail I have found yet about the Powder mill and the explosion.
"The Confederacy's contract with the mill owner enabled him to make gunpowder on the halves with the southern government, but required him to supply all the sulphur and saltpeter. The owner, William Rowen, who had immigrated to Texas from Ohio, built the mill in 1862 on Rogers street (not far from where the first Baptist Church now stands) near a small branch of the Waxahachie Creek and next to the stagecoach stand. Using supplies requisitioned from an old horse mill and a blacksmith shop, the mill was powered by ten mules that worked on a treadmill, crushing and grinding the sulphur and saltpeter into hard cakes of powder.

In April 1863, less than a year after it began operating the mill exploded suddenly and without warning. The townspeople, hearing the loud explosion, came running and found debris scattered for hundreds of yards. William Rowden had been killed instantly. A worker J. G. Phillips, had been standing in the mill's doorway, and he died shortly afterward. Looking around for the third employee, the people found Dave Nance at the bottom of a nearby well. Nance, standing some distance from the mill, had been swept up in the fireball, but had kept presence of mind to jump into the well in an attempt to extinguish the fire ravaging his body. Although severely burned, Nance survived the incident.

Attempting to discover the cause of the explosion, local authorities came to believe the mill had been deliberately sabotaged. Nance reported seeing a man in the area just before the explosion occurred. The mystery man quickly became the sheriff's chief suspect. Townspeople claimed he was a northerner who had been staying with his wife at the Rogers Hotel. The man had disappeared directly after the explosion and was never seen again. At the time, rumors circulated that he was a spy sent to destroy the powder mill."

Stott's account seems to explain the seemingly different chronicles of the historical marker's and the photo history book's. The marker says two people were killed the photo book says one was killed and one was injured. Well they are technically both right. Stott says one died immediately while the other died later from his injuries. But bothe the marker and the photo book fail to report that Mr Nance cleverly survived. Nobody ever gives a name for the mystery person. You'd think if he was checked in at the Rogers Hotel they would have at least his mark. The mystery will live on!


Anonymous said...

Naja, ob das alles so richtig ist..

Anonymous said...

Interesting post... Looks like flash memory is finally beginning to take off. Hopefully we'll start seeing decreasing solid-state drive prices soon. $5 32 GB Micro SD Cards for your DS flash card... imagine that!

(Submitted by S3 for R4i Nintendo DS.)

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