major feud to break out in
Texas was born during
Texas’ days as a republic. For
years, a strip of land in East
Texas that bordered Louisiana and Mexico had been
ignored by Spanish, Mexican and
Texas authorities. By the time
Texas became a
republic, the swatch of land had developed into a lawless place where land
frauds, cattle rustlers, and killings were common.
In attempt to control the
rampant crime, a group of vigilantes formed who called themselves the
"Regulators,” but this group was so extreme in their attempts to stop the crime,
that another group of counter-vigilantes soon formed to "moderate” the
Regulators. Before long, each faction grew to include sympathizers from miles
away, spreading the "war,” which had been primarily located in just Harrison and
Shelby counties, to involve Nacogdoches, San Augustine and other East Texas
Leading the "Regulators” were
two men by the names of Charles W. Jackson and Charles Watt Moorman. The whole
affair began with a dispute between a man named Joseph Goodbread and Sheriff
Alfred George in 1840. When the sheriff asked for Charles Jackson’s assistance
in the matter, Jackson shot and killed Goodbread. Ironically, Jackson, a former
Mississippi riverboat captain, was a fugitive himself from Louisiana. Arrested
for Goodbread’s killing, Jackson was released pending a trial. Some time later,
he organized the Regulators to rid the area of cattle rustling. Soon afterwards,
the Moderators were formed with principal leaders being Edward
Merchant, John M. Bradley and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens.
On July 12, 1841, Charles
Jackson’s trial for the killing of Goodbread was scheduled before Judge John M.
Hansford in Harrison County,
Texas. Hansford had been a friend of Goodbread’s
and was a well known supporter of the Moderator faction. Jackson’s friends,
figuring that the man would not get a fair trial before Judge Hansford, arrived
at the courthouse armed to the teeth. When Hansford saw the armed men, he fled
the courthouse, leaving a note for the local sheriff stating: "I am unwilling to
risk my person in the courthouse any longer, when I see myself surrounded by
bravos and hired assassins.” The trial ended before it even began.
This, of course, enraged the
Moderators, who soon took matters into their own hands, ambushing and killing
Jackson, as well as an innocent bystander by the name of Lauer. Afterwards, the
violence escalated, when the Regulators burned the homes of two families siding
with the Moderators. Charles Watt Moorman, allegedly a fugitive from
Mississippi, now led the Regulators, spreading the reign of terror north into
Panola and Harrison counties, hanging Moderators and driving others out of the
area. The group soon numbered so many men that Moorman actually considered
Texas government and declaring himself the dictator. In the
meantime, residents were beginning to live in constant fear.
In October, 1841, Moorman led a
party to avenge the Jackson-Lauer killing, surprising the assassins 25 miles
north of Crockett. "Arresting” the McFadden brothers, all were hanged with the
exception of the youngest brother.
In the meantime, articles of
impeachment had been filed against Judge John Hansford for his failure at
bringing Jackson to trail. On January 19, 1842, Hansford left office to escape
the impeachment and retired on his farm near Jonesville. Two years later, a mob
of regulators appeared at his house, demanding possession of some slaves that he
was holding under a writ of sequestration. When Hansford refused to hand over
the slaves, the Regulators killed him.
In August, 1844, more than 200
Moderators attacked some 60 Regulators near Shelbyville in what became known as
the Church Hill Battle.
Finally, Texas President Sam Houston
had had enough. Previous to this time, Houston had stated: "I think it advisable
to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent
governments, and let them fight it out." However, by this time, Houston was
working to annex the Republic of Texas with the United States. The
taking place in east
Texas was not helping matters and on August 15, 1844, he
ordered state militia to Shelby County to put an end to the "war.”
There was some initial
resistance from both sides, but the show of force by the Republic put an end to
the conflict. Leaders from both sides were arrested, including Charles Watt
Moorman. Some years later after his release, Moorman was shot and killed in
Louisiana in 1850.
of America, updated April, 2017.