Tidbits of Shelby County History
Regulator-Moderator War, part II

In this week’s article I will continue the history of the Regulator-Moderator War that occurred in Shelby County from 1839-1844. In last week’s article, I shared some information about an incident that happened in 1844 near the end of the war.  For this week’s article I will try to share what happened at the beginning of the dispute between the warring parties. Information was gathered from the “Recollections of the War of the Moderators-Regulators” written by Eph M. Daggett. Other contributors to this history are Levi Ashcroft, Skipper Steely, John W. Middleton.

The Shelby County War would be remembered as one of the bloodiest and earliest feuds in Texas history.The 1839–1844 Regulator–Moderator War, or the Shelby County War, was a nineteenth century feud in East Texas during the Republic of Texas years between rival factions. The war started out as a dispute of land ownership before becoming a violent conflict for control of the local economy. Soon raids, livestock thievery, and murders erupted in the region and took the lives of over 40 men. (Note: Total number of men killed is unknown but is estimated between 30-50)

It was one of the worst feuds in U.S. history; more than 40 men died in the conflict, and that doesn’t count other victims who were wounded, horse-whipped or forced to leave their land for safer climes. By comparison, the Hatfield-McCoy feud claimed about a dozen victims. Arizona’s Pleasant Valley War counted about 25 dead. The Lincoln County War of New Mexico totaled about 15 casualties, if you count Billy the Kid.

As with most disputes there is never a clear view of exactly what happened to cause the conflict. This is the case with the Regulator-Moderator War. But most writers agree that the roots of the conflict lay in the frauds and land swindling that had been rife in the Neutral Ground, the lawless area between the American and Mexican borders.

One such dispute involved Joseph Goodbread and Sheriff Alfred George, who summoned Charles W. Jackson to his assistance. Jackson, a former Mississippi riverboat captain and a fugitive from Louisiana justice, shot Goodbread at Shelbyville in 1840. Jackosn got into trouble at Alexandria and killed a merchant of that place and wounded another. He defied the authorities and armed his crew and passed Alexandria defiantly. There was a $30,000 reward offered for Captain Jackson.  A cannon was obtained to fire upon his boat. He heard of it, got a cannon, and put it on the hurricane deck of his boat and placed a mortar on the bow. He had shot ready, stopped below the town, and sent a man up to notify the citizens to fire on his boat if they dared. They attempted to arrest him at New Orleans, and he had quite a fight but got off with his boat again.

Per Daggett, Jackson soon sold his boat and put up a store in Shreveport where he had many friends.  The sheriff of Natchitoches went to Shreveport to serve a process on Jackson but stopped twelve miles out of town and sent word that he had some civil processes. He knew Jackson was surrounded with his own kind of men. He had been trying to lay low, far away from his enemies.

Jackson was in several skirmishes before finally starting to Texas. He brought his store goods to Shelbyville in the Republic of Texas. Jackson made friends and enemies wherever he went. Jackson was not too incognito in Shelbyville, even running for Congress, but was defeated. He was always sober, and had a mouthful of teeth, wore a smiling countenance, and always laughed when he wanted or had an intention to fight. Shortly after Jackson’scongressional defeat, he discovered that his political opponents – County Clerk Sam Todd and others – were implicated in the issuance of fraudulent land certificates. Desiring revenge, he wrote about this to several Republic of Texas officials. (Note: In 1839, Shelby County Clerk Sam Todd apparently accepted payments of about $1000, but never sent the paperwork nor the money to Secretary of Treasurer James H. Starr. By February 4, 1840, no returns had been sent in by Todd. Moses F. Roberts wrote that actually Todd had left the county 12 months previous).

Goodbread had another enemy on his heels, ready to “waylay” him after the board of commissioners negated some of Alfred George’s land certificates. George had a home on land southwest of James English, about two miles from Shelbyville.

Apparently, sometime in 1838, Goodbread made a trade with George, soon to become Shelby County Sheriff. From the beginning, George understood that the land certificates he took from Goodbread in exchange for a George-owned Negro were not good. In fact, George had even furnished the false names to be placed on the certificates. But, in July 1840, the traveling board of commissioners came to Shelbyville. In the process, the certificates involved in the trade between George and Goodbread were declared null and void.

When word of the contents of the letters written by Jackson filtered back to Shelby County, Joseph Goodbread, a participant in the frauds and apparently a local land commissioner, fired off a letter to Jackson telling him he had better attend to his own business or he would kill him. A few nights before receiving this letter Jackson came home through the woods from Shelbyville. He came in from the back of the field where he had feed for his horse. Someone shot at him, and the bullet touched the back of his hand lightly. His wife ran out excitedly and called to him. He answered, “No harm done.” Mrs. Jackson encouraged her husband to attack Goodbread as both of them thought he was behind the attempted murder.

In a few days Jackson received the Goodbread letter. Upon reading the letter, he raised the letter up in both hands and swore he would kill Goodbread on first sight if nothing prevented him. Jackson stated, “When I see him, I may scare him, but it will be damned quick scare. He shan’t live, he shan’t,” said Jackson. (Note: this quote is from the writings of Eph Daggett and happened in Shelbyville in 1840.)

I (Daggett) passed through town and saw no one to speak to, but Goodbread came in a few minutes without a gun or pistols. In a very short time Jackson, shouldering is rifle, came in on his fine Kentucky mare, which he said he had given $600. As soon as Sheriff George heard of Goodbread’s arrival, he sent a message to Jackson.  Goodbread was sitting on an old-fashioned horse rack that was on the ground. He had a man sitting by him talking and marking in the dust with a stick. Jackson rode up quickly with a gun under his arm.

“Goodbread, here is your letter. Git up. I am going to answer that letter,” Jackson said.

“Jackson, I am unarmed,” he answered.

“So much the better”, said Jackson, “git up on your feet.”

“Charley, I was mad when I wrote that letter. I was hasty”, answered Goodbread.

“Stand up”, ordered Jackson.

Goodbread kept talking in a kind tone, all the while Jackson kept commanding him to stand up. Goodbread got nearly straight when Jackson fired a half ounce ball through Goodbread breast, entering close to his heart.The wounded man died in a few moments but not before is last breath cursed Jackson.(Note: Ashcroft Manuscript, Chapter VI. Daggett Manuscript, 7-8.)

George who had been elected sheriff came and Jackson told him to make a bond and all the good citizens would sign it. The bond was quickly made, and several men went out and stayed all night with him so he would have a guard about him.

Some accounts suggest Jackson went to Shreveport, was arrested, but escaped, only to come back to surrender at Shelbyville. In any event, he surrendered to Justice of Peace Jonas Phelps of Shelby County, making bond of $200. In addition, he agreed to appear in the next term of the District Court.

When court was held, a charge of murder was placed against Jackson. The prosecuting attorney began preparations. At this point, Jackson became alarmed and asked for a change of venue. It was granted, and the case was moved to Pulasky in Harrison County. (Note: Ashcroft mention Panola County was the site of the court, but though there was a Panola County Judicial District from January 1841 to 1842, Panola County and a county seat did not become reality until April 30, 1846. This court meeting took place in a private residence.)

However, before the trail that Fall of 1840, the judge of the First Judicial District, Thomas Johnson, a six-year resident of Texas who lived in San Augustine, refused Jackson’s bail and ordered him to jail.

At this point Sheriff George began the process to pay off Jackson for helping in the sheriff’s race. George informed the court that the jail was insecure and had to be repaired before a prisoner could be safely confined in it However, he promised the court that an arrangement would be made to guard the prisoner until the jail repairs were completed. Court was adjourned, and as soon as Judge Thomas was out of sight, Jackson was released. (Note: Ashcroft Manuscript, Chapter VI.)

Goodbread began casting about for some means by which to evade the penalty of the law, or if necessary to defy it. Chance favored him. About this time a large number of cattle were stolen from various persons in the neighborhood, and for the ostensible purpose of punishing these marauders, Jackson set about the organization of a company of Regulators.He soon had under his command about thirty men, mostly reckless and desperate characters, who had nothing to lose but their lives, which were only valuable to themselves. They caught and lynched a man, Humphreys, drove many others out of the country, and incessantly annoyed all who had been supposed to have been friends of Goodbread.

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.Before this order arrived, the jury had assembled at the courthouse, and they now insisted at the suggestion of the prisoner's counsel, that the jury had been sworn to try the case, and whether the judge came or not they intended to do it. The district attorney was invited to introduce his testimony but respectfully declined. The counsel for the defense made a speech to the jury, dwelt largely on the law of self-defense, and asked for a verdict of acquittal, which was duly rendered. The sheriff found it impossible to obey the order of the judge and Jackson was set free.

This, of course, enraged the Moderators, who soon took matters into their own hands, ambushing and killing Jackson, as well as an innocent Dutchman named Lauer". William and Bailey McFadden and James Strickland (better known in those days as "Tiger Jim") resided in the northern part of Shelby County, and were known to Jackson as desperate men, and warm friends of Goodbread, and as he could never feel himself as long as they remained in the country. He determined to get rid of them at all hazards. Jackson accordingly assembled his company, who had been previously prepared for their work by their artful leader and repaired to the residence of "Tiger Jim". But when they called for him, he was not forthcoming. They left a guard around his house to prevent his wife from apprising him of what had occurred and proceeded to the McFadden's. They were also absent, their wives and children being at home alone. Disappointed at not finding their prey a council of war was held, which resulted in a determination to burn down their houses, together with all the furniture they contained. (Note: To be continued)