The election of Richard Cokeas governor changed the course of Texas for the next 120 years. Completely fed up with the Reconstruction government imposed by federalists, Texans tossed out E. J. Davis (who initially refused to give up his office) and elected a man who would begin to respect the will of the people of Texas.
To understand the attitudes of Texans toward the so-called Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and Negroes (by which was generally meant the so-called Buffalo Soldiers), we have to appreciate the fact that there was nothing pleasant about post-Civil War Reconstruction in Texas. The term “carpetbagger” was a pejorative term applied to individuals who relocated to the South after the Civil War, including white Northerners, black freedmen, and former slaves. They were mostly members of the radicalized Republican party formed in 1867. Texans regarded these people as corrupt adventurers seeking advantages to themselves following the defeat of the Confederacy. The term carpetbagger comes from the suggestion that their property consisted only of what they could carry in the carpet bags (suitcases made of carpeting). It was widely believed, with some justification, that they came to Texas to seize political power and plunder Texans who were then living under the thumb of the triumphant federal government. Whether this assessment is actually correct is beside the point: these attitudes remained with Texans through the mid-1990s.
During the period of radical Republican rule, Texas society was chaotic and lawless. Between 1865 and 1868, there were 939 murders; of these, 40 involved whites killing whites, 373 were whites killing blacks, 10 involved blacks killing whites, and 57 murders involved blacks killing blacks. These figures did not include the entire state, however, since many counties refused to file reports with the Reconstruction government. According to various sheriff’s reports between 1865 and 1871, there were 4,425 crimes committed with only 588 arrests —and few convictions. Only 82 Texas counties had jails, and many of these were easily escaped. The Police Act of 1870 authorized a state police force of 257 men, but the actual number never exceeded 200. State policemen included blacks, Hispanics, and whites. Some of these men fought for preservation of the union, others were Confederates; some of these officers were good lawmen, others were themselves criminals. Most were affiliated with the Republican Party. The fact that the state police employed black officers, some of whom were former slaves, and controlled by the hated reconstruction governor Edmund J. Davis, irritated Texans to no end. As governor, Davis consistently supported political programs that restricted the rights of secessionists and expanded rights for blacks, therefore intensifying racism in Texas. As we have seen in our social development, racial bias is a disease that is difficult to cure.
After the Texas legislature had (according to one author), “…cleansed itself or carpetbaggers, scalawags, and negroes, and went democratic,” one of its first acts was the dissolution of the state police. As an example of how serious the situation was in Texas, when Richard Coke was overwhelmingly elected governor, Davis barricaded himself on the second story of the state house and undertook to retain his office by force until he could appeal to president Ulysses S. Grant for military aid. Democratic legislators occupied the first floor and laid siege to Governor Davis. When Grant refused to interfere, Davis yielded his office to Coke, and Democrats began to disassemble everything Davis had done as chief executive.
One of the first things Governor Coke did was provide for the adequate protection of the Texas frontier. In his inaugural address, Governor Coke emphasized the need to protect the frontier, which led to the legislature passing a bill providing for six companies of Texas Rangers, consisting of 75-men each. The name of this organization was to be known as the Frontier Battalion; James B. Jones was appointed Major-Commanding officer. Major Jones would be responsible to the State Adjutant General and the Governor.
The forty-year-old Major Jones, of Corsicana, Texas, received his commission on 2 May 1874. Dr. Webb tells us, “It is quite certain that Governor Coke could not have found in all of Texas a man more competent for the difficult job ahead.” He was not a large man; he was of slight stature, about five feet, eight-inches tall, and weighing about 135 pounds. What he did have was a sense of command presence and dignity such that no one ever thought of him as “small.” His hair and eyes were raven black, which contrasted with his fair, though weather-beaten face. He always wore a dark, well-kept suit, a white shirt with black bow tie. His appearance was accentuated by his full dark mustache and his twinkling eyes.
Major Jones had one preeminent characteristic: his manners and his tact. It was this character that allowed Jones to go into are area filled with dangerous, volatile men, and find peace where there had been serious conflict. Along with his tact was a deep intelligence and judgment that was never better illustrated than in the post-Civil War period. His own people were hot-blooded Southerners who hated the fact that the South has lost the war. His family convinced Jones to make a trip to South America and investigate the possibility of relocating there. Upon his return, he was able to convince his family that migration was a bad idea. He told his father, “… we could never be happy there; it is overridden with priests and the social conditions unpredictable and unseemly.”
John B. Jones had only two vices: sponge cake and coffee, but his preference for the latter was out of necessity. Forced to consume green and stagnated water along the trail, Jones found that consuming liquid was far more palatable when made into coffee, which he drank black.
Within thirty days of the formation of the Frontier Battalion, Major Jones had placed five companies of Texas Rangers in the field. In thirty more days, he had the full complement of his battalion on active duty within the counties of the Texas frontier. Many of his men were young and inexperienced, but his patience, energy, and exacting standards soon brought them into peak condition. His point of view was from that of a commanding general, and while men such as Leander McNelly were fine captains, Jones behaved himself as if a flag rank officer—one that led his men from the front, rather than from an arm chair in the state capital.
(To be continued)
Richard Coke (March 18, 1829 – May 14, 1897) was a lawyer, farmer, and statesman from Waco, Texas, the fifteenth governor of Texas (1874-1876) and a member of the United States Senate (1877-1895).
Prior to the Civil War, Texans refused to create a permanent force of Texas Rangers after 1846 believing that the duty of protecting the border belonged to the central government. The Civil War, however, and the reconstruction period, permanently altered all relationships between the people of Texas and the federal authority. Walter Prescott Webb has stated, “If the Civil War emancipated the slaves, so did Reconstruction emancipate the Texans from dependence on the federal arm.”