Central Texas Storybooks

Central Texas Stories and Legends

The Capt. Robert Bonner and Lydia Halley Family

Part 2 of 3: Post Civil War

Recap of Part 1: Capt. Robert B. Halley and his wife Lydia moved to Texas in 1853, settling near San Antonio. In 1855 they moved to the Salado area, settling in a neighborhood of what is now Prairie Dell. In 1859, Halley bought lots on the south side of Salado Creek, built a log house, and moved his family into the village of Salado. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Halley joined the Confederate States Army in November 1862 and served in the Texas Cavalry until the end of the war in April 1865.

Capt. Halley Returns to Salado

By the time the Civil War was over, Capt. Halley had been gone from home for over three years. When he returned home, he was ready to resume his pre-war life, but his wife had something else in mind.

She was ready for a new house. Granddaughter Eugenia Halley Smith surmises, "That at this time Grandma went back to Arkansas and would not return until a house was built for her."1 Halley, being a smart wise man, responded to this situation by constructing a beautiful two-story plantation style house on the main street of Salado. Lydia returned to Salado and all was well.

Halley House in Salado, built 1869
The Robert and Lydia Halley home at 681 Main Street, Salado, Texas, built in 1869.

Lydia Halley, post Civil War
Post Civil War painting of Lydia A. Ederington Halley.

Robert Bonner Halley, post Civil War
Post Civil War painting of Robert Bonner Halley.

Their new home became known as the Halley House and was noted for its symmetrical design and double porches, one above the other, on the front of the house facing Main Street. When the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the architectural style of the house was given as Mid-19th Century Revival, and even though 1860 was given as the year of construction, Halley family records give 1869 as the year of construction.2 The house was grand in its appearance and some said that in grace and style it was comparable to Col. E.S.C. Robertson's recently constructed plantation home.

Eugenia Halley Smith wrote that the house was built in 1869 with lumber hauled from Cameron by wagon. She also wrote that, "One of the downstairs rooms was the parlor, the other my grandparents' bedroom. The two front rooms upstairs were the girls' rooms. The "L" room upstairs was the boys' room. The furniture for the house was bought in New Orleans and was left in the house when my grandmother moved from there, as it was too big for the house which she moved to."3

With a new house and a happy wife, Halley was able to resume stock farming and continue as a leader of his community. Halley, being civic minded, was a petitioner for the Dispensation and Charter for the Salado Masonic Lodge, which received its charter on June 13, 1867.4

In 1872, Capt. Halley was elected Sheriff of Bell County.5 During the years following the Civil War, law and order had not yet been firmly established in the frontier counties of Texas, including Bell County. Robbers, murderers, thieves, and ex-convicts found that the cedar brakes, the brushy creek banks, and caves scattered throughout the county made excellent hideouts.

Capt. Halley and his deputies were diligent about their work and methodically brought many of these desperadoes to justice. At one time, there were ten of these villains and gangsters in the old Bell County jail on N. Pearl Street in Belton. While Sheriff Halley was away on official business, at about 1:30 in the morning on May 25, 1874, a mob of vigilantes rode into town on horseback, proceeded directly to the jail, overpowered the guards, broke into the jail, and shot nine of the prisoners dead while they were still locked in their jail cells. The tenth man, Tyre Thompson, lay sick on a cot in an adjoining room and was overlooked by the mob.

One of the murdered prisoners, W. L. Coleman, from Coryell county, who was considered a wife-murderer, had been brought to the Bell County jail for safekeeping. Coleman was first arrested by citizens, who had tied him to a tree, and were about to roast him alive, when he was rescued by the Sheriff and a posse. It seems as if the citizens were determined to make an example of Coleman. Some speculate that the shooting of the prisoners was related to the rumor that 18 horse thieves had been hung on the San Saba River near San Saba the night before.6

The shooting of the prisoners was of course an unlawful, regrettable act, but it did send a message - don't mess with Bell County.7 Thompson later stood trial for horse-stealing and got a life sentence.8

October 4, 1875 was a memorable yet sad day for the Halley family. Capt. Halley died suddenly and quite unexpectedly. A Waco newspaper reported that Capt. R. B. Halley, Sheriff of Bell County, died at his residence in Salado, last Monday morning.9 He was buried the next day at 11:00 a.m. Even though rain was falling, a large number of people assembled at his home and followed his remains to the grave site in the Salado Cemetery. The funeral rites were performed by the Masonic fraternity. As his bewildered children stood gazing into the grave of their father, the Masons marched around his grave singing their last farewell song. Tears flowed freely for his bereaved family and in tribute for the man who was so well-respected.

After her husband's burial, Lydia and her children returned to the big empty house on Main Street to resume their lives without a husband and father. Even though Halley's death had left a deep void, Lydia and the children pressed onward.

Lydia Halley in 1924
Lydia Halley celebrated her 93rd birthday in 1924.

Lydia lived in the home for 20 years after her husband's death. In 1927 at the age of 96, she was approved for a Confederate Widow's Pension.10 She was living at 3709 Haynie Avenue in Dallas, Texas, having moved there in the fall of 1895 to make her home with daughters Emma and Mimmie. Mrs. Halley continued to own the family home in Salado until 1908 at which time it was sold. Lydia Ederington Halley entered into eternal rest on December 7, 1927 at the age of 96.11 She was buried in the Oakland Cemetery in Dallas, Texas.

Former local historian, author, and personal friend of the Halleys, Felda Davis Shanklin, once described Lydia's side of the family as "tall, large people with strong constitutions."12 Perhaps it was Lydia Ederington Halley's strong constitution that enabled her to live on the Texas frontier when the state was young and unsettled. She married at age 19, bore eight children, became a widow at age 44, and outlived her husband by 53 years. There were five young children in the home when Halley rode off to serve in the Confederate Army. She reared these children as well as taking in boarders to support her family during her husband's almost four-years absence, and after his untimely death.

The Halley House seems to have been built with a strong constitution also. Almost 150 years after it was built, it stands today at its original location at 681 N. Main St., Salado, Texas next to the Salado Civic Center, commonly known as the red brick school house.

The Halley children who grew up in this grand old house are introduced in Part 3 of this story.

By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: October 18, 2018

Footnotes:

  1Robert Halley Family Records, Halley Home, Salado, Texas. Written by Eugenia Halley Smith.
  2Ibid.
  3Robert Halley Family Records. Letter to Mrs. Cain, dated January 1, 1963, from Eugenia Halley Smith. Eugenia had visited Salado on the Sunday prior to January 1 and wrote Mrs. Cain a letter thanking her for the beautiful restoration she and her husband had done on her grandfather's house.
  4Online Salado Masonic Lodge History, 2018.
  5Robert Halley Family Records, note by Mimmie Halley Smith, October 5, 1943.
  6"More About the Belton Jail Massacre. Rumored Hanging of Horse Thieves," The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas), Wednesday, June 3, 1874.
  7Tyler, George W., History of Bell County, 1936, Dayton Kelley, Centex Press, Belton, Texas, 1985, pp. 302-303.
  8"RB Halley as Sheriff," Austin American-Statesman (Austin, Texas), Friday, January 30, 1976.
  9Waco Daily Examiner, October 12, 1875.
  10Widow's Application for Confederate Pension, Texas State Library and Archives Commission and Alabama Department of Archives and History, Pension Files Nos. 43146 to 45020.
  11Robert Halley Family Bible Birth and Death Record.
  12Shanklin, Felda Davis, Salado, Texas, Its History and People, Peter Hansbrough Bell Press, Belton, Texas, 1960.
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