Frontier Battalion

(Continued from last week)

As mentioned in a previous post, Texas began to regain its states’ rights under the leadership of Governor Richard Coke aided by the Democratic Party in 1874.  Part of this recovery involved doing away with the state police organization, which was at best a marginally criminal enterprise composed of so-called radical republicans with a peculiar political agenda.  The new leadership in Texas realized that Texas had become infested with white outlaws, Mexican bandits, and wide-scale depredation at the hands of hostile Indians.

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, fielded as the Texas Frontier Battalion.  Major James B. Jones was appointed its commanding officer.  The mission of the Frontier Battalion was to protect citizens living along the Texas frontier.

By July of that year, six companies were formed and organized along the entire frontier and by the first of October, Jones reported that the organization was “in good working order.”  Within the first seventeen months, the Texas Rangers had twenty-one confrontations with hostile Indians.  By early 1876, problems with Indians seemed to abate and the Texas Rangers began to concentrate on the problem with outlaws, Mexican bandits, and conflicts between agrarian and cattle interests.  Texas Rangers made arrests, escorted prisoners to stand trial, guarded jails, and protected courts of law.  Hundreds of outlaws were arrested, thousands more fled Texas for safer parts of the nation, and Texas Rangers addressed such incidents as the Mason County War, crime in Kimble County, terminating the so-called Salt War of San Elizario, and putting an end to the Horrell-Higgins Feud.

The man most responsible for the success of the Frontier Battalion, as previously stated, was its commanding officer, Major John B. Jones, a son of South Carolina.  Born in Fairfield on 22 December 1834, John’s parents were Henry and Nancy (Robertson) Jones.  The family moved to Texas in 1838, initially settling in what eventually became Travis County.  John later lived in Matagorda and Navarro Counties.

After completing his academic studies at Rutersville College and Mount Zion College at Winnsboro, South Carolina, Jones enlisted as a private in Benjamin F. Terry’s 8thTexas Cavalry.  He left Terry’s command to serve as an assistant adjutant under Joseph W. Speight’s 15thTexas Infantry, where he was commissioned a captain.  He was later appointed Adjutant[1]in General Polignac’s Brigade[2]and at the end of the war, was promoted to Major.  According to one 19thCentury historian, “Jones made an excellent record as a man of superior business, tact, and judgment, and on the field of battle, his coolness, quickness of judgment, breadth of comprehension, soldierly skill and management marked him as one to trust in time of great difficulty.”

At the conclusion of the Civil War, Jones’ father sent him to South America to research a site suitable for an expatriate Confederal colony.  Jones returned with the recommendation that South America would not be a suitable place for the family’s relocation.  In 1868, Jones was elected to the state legislature as a representative of Ellis, Hill, Kaufman, and Navarro counties, but he was denied his seat by the radical republican faction of the reconstruction government.  We next know of Jones when he received his commission to command the Frontier Battalion in 1874.

JONES JBHistory will show that Major John B. Jones was well suited to execute the governor’s mandate to put an end to Indian raids on the frontier and enforce the laws of Texas.  During his command of the Frontier Battalion, Jones reported to General William Steele, the Adjutant General of Texas.

In July 1874, Jones led a small contingent of forty Texas Rangers in an attack on a war party of Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache Indians, numbering 130 or more hostiles under the war chief Lone Wolf.  Conflicts with the hostiles took place in the Lost Valley of Young County, El Paso, and in Brown and Menard counties.  Along with putting a halt to depredations targeting white settlers, Jones returned stolen property recovered from marauding Indians and began a campaign to reign-in lawless elements from outside and within the State of Texas.

In 1877, Jones was sent to El Paso to quell the Salt War of San Elizario, but in this he was unsuccessful in overcoming a large band of Mexican citizens, many who lived across the border in Mexico, seeking to keep the salt deposits at the foot of Guadalupe Peak open to the public (by which they meant retaining access to the salt flats, which was within the territory of the United States.  This particular problem was finally resolved by an international commission convened to mediate these difficulties; Major Jones was appointed to represent the interests of Texas as a member of this commission[3].

As an illustration of Major Jones’ efforts to curtail the criminal element in Texas, here is how he was able to deal with the so-called Horrell-Higgins feud in Lampasas County in 1877, but before we get to that … this is how those events unfolded.

The Horrell and Higgins families were ranchers who settled in Lampasas before the Civil War.  They were friends and neighbors until the 1870s.  The five Horrell brothers (Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam) had initially found themselves in trouble with the State Police in 1873.  Captain Tom Williams was sent to Lampasas to put a stop to the general lawlessness of the county.  A shootout erupted in Jerry Scott’s saloon, the result of which was the death of four state police officers.  Mart Horrell was wounded in the melee and taken to jail in nearby Georgetown, but he was later aided in his escape by his brothers.  Within a few months, the Horrell family gathered a herd of cattle and moved to the New Mexico territory.

In New Mexico, the Horrell family settled west of Roswell but it wasn’t long before the Horrell clan found themselves in what has become known as the Horrell War.  It was a brief but bloody affair that resulted in the shooting deaths of seventeen men, including Ben Horrell and his brother in law Ben Turner.  Unable to stand up to the pressure of angry citizens in New Mexico, the Horrell family returned to Texas in 1874, surrendered to authorities for the murder of Thomas Williams, and stood trial.  All of the accused were acquitted of the charge of murder and the remaining brothers resettled in various parts of Lampasas.

Pink-HigginsAt some time within the next two years, the Horrell family found themselves in a quarrel with their former neighbor, John Pinckney Calhoun (known as Pink) Higgins (shown right), who accused them of cattle rustling.  On 22 January 1877, Pink Higgins shot and killed Merritt Horrell in the Gem Saloon in Lampasas.  The three remaining Horrells’ were determined to call to account Pink Higgins, his brother-in-law Bob Mitchell, and Bob’s friend Bill Wren.

On 26 March 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were enroute to attend a session of Judge Blackburn’s court when they were accosted four miles outside of Lampasas by the Higgins party, who had concealed themselves along the banks of Battle Branch Creek.  In the initial fusillade, Tom was shot from his saddle and badly wounded. Mart, also wounded, but less so, dismounted and returned fire, single-handedly running off his attackers.

horrells 001The next confrontation, apparently accidental, occurred on 7 June—three days after the Lampasas County Courthouse had been burglarized and district court records destroyed, (including the bonds of Pink Higgins and Bob Mitchell).  Both factions happened to be in Lampasas that morning when fighting suddenly erupted in the streets (shown right, part of the Higgins family).  As a result of the shootout, Bill Wren was wounded, Frank Mitchell (a cousin to Pink Higgins’ wife), and Jim Buck Miller (also known by the names Palmer and Waldrup) were killed.  Local citizens were finally able to persuade the men to stop shooting and get out of town. After this incident, the Texas Rangers were called in …

A detachment of Texas Rangers surprised the Horrells while they were asleep in their beds, persuading them to submit to arrest. Major Jones mediated the dispute, persuading both sides to sign official agreements to reconcile their differences and curtail hostilities.  In the following year, Tom and Mart Horrell were suspected of complicity in the robbery and murder of a country shopkeeper in Bosque County.  Submitting themselves to arrest, both men were placed in the Meridian jail awaiting their day in court.  While in pre-trial confinement, vigilantes stormed the jail and shot both men to death.  The last remaining Horrell, Sam, moved his family to Oregon in 1882.  Sam died in 1936; Pink Higgins died of a heart attack in 1913.

One year after the end of the Horrell-Higgins feud, Major Jones and his Texas Rangers were instrumental in running the Sam Bass gang into the ground at Round Rock, Texas.  Sam Bass was shot on 19 July, arrested the following day, and died of his wounds on his birthday, 21 July 1878.

One newspaper of the day reported how pleased Texans were with Major Jones’ service: “As an Indian fighter, Major Jones has acquired a reputation unsurpassed, and now that a quietus has been put upon the red man, he is devoting special attention to the rest of the outlaws and lawless characters generally among more civilized classes. In this field he has so far achieved a success no less conspicuous than on the frontier.”

Jones was appointed State Adjutant General in January 1879.  He passed away in Austin on 19 July 1881 while serving in that position, during which time he retaining command of the Frontier Battalion.


  1. Dictionary of American Biography, John Holland Jenkins, Recollections of Early Texas, University of Texas, 1958
  2. P. Webb, The Texas Rangers, Houghton Mifflin, 1935
  3. Cox, The Texas Rangers: Wearing the Cinco Peso, 1821-1900, 2008


[1]In the United States an adjutant is a key member of the battalion, regiment, division, air wing, or corps staff.  At the battalion or regimental level, the adjutant is a captain or major charged with managing the administrative and ceremonial functions of the command.

[2]Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac (1832-1913) was born at Millemont Seine-et-Oise, France.  His father Jules had been president of the council of Charles X of France.  Armand studied mathematics and music at St. Stanislas College.  In 1853, he won a lieutenancy in the French Army and participated in the Crimean War in that capacity.  In 1861, Polignac offered his services to the Confederacy.  He first served as a staff officer under P. G. T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg, but in January 1863 he was advanced to Brigadier General and appointed to command the Texas Infantry Brigade.

[3]As a result of this unrest, San Elizario lost its status as a county seat; it was moved to El Paso.  Buffalo Soldiers of the 9thUS Cavalry were sent to reestablish Fort Bliss and to keep an eye on the border and local Mexican population.  When the railroad came to West Texas in 1883, it bypassed San Elizario.  Soon the town’s population decreased and the Mexicans living in this area lost their political influence.

About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
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1 Response to Frontier Battalion

  1. Pablo says:

    We forget how dangerous life was in those days.
    Great post!


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