A political war situated in Fort Bend County,
Texas, the feud was between the existing Republican Reconstruction government and the vying Democratic party for political control of the county.
It began with the political election in 1888, pitting the "Jaybirds," a
Democratic group who represented wealth and about 90 percent of the white
population, against the Republican government, referred to as the "Woodpeckers,"
who had gained control during Reconstruction. The "Woodpeckers" also claimed to be "Democrats," but they represented the Republican Reconstruction and had been elected primarily as a result of the black vote for the Republican ticket.
According to legend, the conflict allegedly got its name from a local "half-crazy"
black man who was said to have been constantly singing about jaybirds and woodpeckers. For whatever reasons, the Democrats identified themselves as the Jaybirds.
As the election neared, debates began to rage between the two factions, pitting former friends, neighbors and relatives against each other. These heated arguments came to head when J.M. Shamblin, the Jaybird leader, was killed on August 2, 1888. The next month, another Jaybird leader named Henry Frost, was seriously wounded. The Jaybirds soon held a mass meeting in Richmond,
September 6, 1888 and resolved to warn certain black people in the county to
leave immediately, which they did. Soon
would be stationed in Richmond as members of both parties began arming
When election day came around that November, the
heaviest vote in county history was polled, with the Woodpeckers retaining
control, and although the election went peacefully, the breach between the two
factions widened. The threats and assaults continued, and two more killings
occurred as the county became an armed camp.
On August 16, 1889, the heated exchange culminated
in what has become known as "Battle of Richmond." It started when shots were
exchanged by two members of the Woodpeckers against two of the Jaybird faction
near the courthouse and the National Hotel. In no time, the ranks of both sides
were fortified with additional members and their blazing guns.
After exchanging shots for about twenty minutes, and leaving a number of dead
men on the ground, the Woodpecker men retreated and left the Jaybirds in
possession of the town. Jaybirds from all parts of the county hurried to
Richmond in anticipation of further hostilities, but the smoke had settled.
Upon hearing of the altercation, Governor
Lawrence S. Ross sent in the Houston Light Guards and the Brenham Light Guards
to establish martial law the next day. The governor also came to Richmond, and
acting as mediator, a complete reorganization of the county government resulted
in the removal or resignation of all Woodpecker officials and Jaybird members in
In October, the Jaybirds formally organized the Jaybird Democratic Organization of Fort Bend County,
a permanent organization whose purpose was to maintain white control by denying
blacks entry into the organization. This organization would dominate local
politics for the next several decades, until in 1953, in Terry v Adams, the
United States Supreme Court ruled that the Jaybird Democratic Organization
violated the 15th
Amendment of the
Constitution, ratified in 1870, which says that the right of citizens to
vote shall not be denied or abridged by the US or any State on account of race,
color or previous condition of servitude.
of America, updated August 2015.
Primary source -
Texas State Historical Association