Gen. Thomas Hindman, a one-time United States congressman from Helena, saw the Confederacy disintegrating into ruins by early 1865. Rather than live with the defeat or face treason charges, he fled with his family to Mexico. In this journey, he would not only rebuild his ruined life but restore his honor and love for his country.
In Mexico, he saw a country tearing itself apart. Mexico had been in an almost constant state of civil war since its independence in 1821. Government after government had been overthrown in bloody assassinations and gunfights. As bad as four years of civil war had been for the United States, the unrelenting pressures had crushed America’s neighbor to the South. The once-strong Mexico had been humiliated twice by foreign foes within twenty years.
In 1862, Mexico had been conquered by France and had a puppet government forced upon it. By 1865, the people of Mexico prepared for yet another civil war to force out the French and had little patience for the wave of Confederate refugees streaming south.
Hindman briefly attempted to return to Arkansas, only to find himself indicted for treason. He quickly left forMexico once again. He tried to establish a law practice in Mexico City but then moved to Carolota, which had a growing population of fleeing southerners. He again tried to practice law and even tried to become a coffee grower. However, the southerners faced increasing hostility from the local population and witnessed the increasing political instability. While still other former Confederates had fled to Brazil, Hindman decided that the time for running had ended and returned to Arkansas.
His family returned to Helena in April 1867, and he pursued a pardon from President Andrew Johnson. Hindman realized that the world had changed. The vision of the South he had fought for was gone forever. The slaves were free, and African-American men now had the right to vote. Confederate veterans, however, were not allowed to vote until they had taken an oath swearing loyalty to the United States.
As increasing unrest gripped the region, he also realized that southerners would not be able to overpower the federal government and had to live under the terms given.
Always a man with strong opinions, he jumped back into the political scene. He urged Confederate veterans to take the loyalty oath and become engaged in politics once again. Hindman had come to realize that in this new Arkansas, blacks and whites needed each other in a way they never had before. Even more so, he realized that the two races could stand as equals, at least at the ballot box. He argued in speeches across the state that the two races must work together to bring peace to Arkansas and an end to Reconstruction.
His stand attracted many enemies, however. On the night of September 27, 1868, a hidden gunman approached the Hindman home, aimed through the window, and shot Hindman through while he sat with his wife and young children. He knew the wound was fatal. With his last strength, he muttered, "I do not know who killed me; but I can say, whoever it was, I forgive him." He died early the next morning.
Hindman was widely mourned across the state. His murder was condemned, but the violence he tried to stop grew in the coming months. No one was ever apprehended or charged with his murder. However, Arkansans widely believed that Thomas Hindman, a man who had led Arkansas into a divisive war, had died in the cause of bringing Arkansas back together in the name of peace.