Tidbits of Shelby County History
Regulator-Moderator War, Part IV
In the precious installments about the history of the Regulator-Moderator War, I have tried to give everyone a basic understanding of this conflict. To fully cover this period of Shelby County history would take several more articles. This week I will try to share the ending of this feud. There were many attacks on both side in retaliations of presumed misdeeds, but I will highlight the ending of conflict when President Sam Houston sent troops to Shelbyville to end the fighting.
In spring of 1842, news came just before the scheduled meeting of the Fifth Judicial District Court in Shelbyville that all those who had participated in McFadden hangings would be arrested and tried. The Regulators, who leader was Matt Moorman, attempted to break up the court by placing a small cannon directly in front of the courthouse as a warning sign for the judge.
However, this time William Beck Ochiltree was at the bench, having been just elected. He was not as easily cowed as Hansford had been previously. He walked calmly into the courthouse that March morning, ignoring the cannon. He took his place in his chair at the bench, pulled out his own pistols, laid them before him, ordered the sheriff to remove the cannon, and demanded the arrest of anyone who attempted to interfere.
This bold action quickly gained the attention of the Regulators, who then allowed the cannon to be removed, and court proceeded. This is just a small example of the tension in Shelbyville during this time.
Another incident of some importance happened in early 1842. Newspaperman Charles DeMorse, Senator Robert Potter and South Carolina native Thomas F. Smith, Congressional representative from Fannin County, came through Nacogdoches from Austin. Potter was on his way to his Caddo Lake home, Smith and DeMorse were on the way toward Clarksville where DeMorse was to start a newspaper. The group split and word later reached that Senator Robert Potter had expressed his personal and philosophical differences with Colonel William Rose and the Scott family. Potter tried to arrest Rose, who was also at this time under a Harrison County indictment for murder (His strong personality earned him friends and enemies, and numerous nicknames). Potter had a proclamation of approval to arrest Rose from President Mirabeau B. Lamar.
At the home, Rose’s son promised Potter his father would surrender. Potter’s servant search the place, held the women at gunpoint, ransacked the house, and took treasured pinion watch as he left. This angered Rose who immediately obtained a warrant against Potter for trespassing. Rose and nine men surrounded the Potter home the next morning. After wounding the servant, the men missed Potter six times with shots as the Congressman ran. Potter dove into Caddo Lake to escape but was shot in the back of his head by Rose’s son-in-law, John W. Scott.
Two weeks later, Harriett Potter and her brother, Abraham Moore, went to Daingerfield to file charges before Mills, accusing Rose, Preston Rose, Scott, Stephen Peters, Samuel Perkins, Sandy Miller, James Williams, William Smith, Isaac Jones, and Calvin Miller of murder. The men were true billed in Clarksville, and ten days later they were denied bail.
Though this feud between the North Carolina natives Potter and Rose group was not directly connect with the Regulator-Moderator conflicts in Shelby County, it did stir further emotion. More arose when word circulated the region that colonel John G. Berry, collector of customs at San Augustine, was shot and wounded in Shelby County. The Land Commission were also in session, stirring more anger and resentment, but clearing questions on property ownership.
After a few weeks of idleness, the two sides went at it again in early summer of 1842, when a murder and a series of subsequent killings and lynchings sent the county into a frenzy. This chapter of the long running emotional disagreements began with a dispute between two Regulators, Henry Runnells and Samuel N. Hall. The argument began over some hogs Runnells had accused Hall of stealing. Each man threatened the other’s life and went about Shelbyville heavily armed.
The difficulty might have been amicably settled if a young man who had recently moved into Runnells’ home, had not intervened. He met Hall in Shelbyville one day and accused him of being a thief. When Hall denied the charge, Stanfield shot him down without further warning.
Moorman’s disapproval of the Truitts was deep. Colonel James Truitt, who married Sarah Hall, was the head of the family coming to Shelby from North Carolina in 1839 settling at a place called White Cottage. He was a very distinguished citizen and would be elected to the Eighth and Ninth Congresses, four times to the Texas Legislature, and would participate in the Mexican War at Monterrey. He brought his son-in-lawwith him to Texas. The young man had deserted the United States Army at Fort Jessup, Louisiana. Moorman learned of this charge and planned to use it against his enemy.
When Colonel Truitt learned Moorman planned to return the son-in-law to authorities in Louisiana for the reward, he angrily stated in the presence of several members of the Regulator company that if they were willing to side with Moorman on this issue, they were no better than the Moderators. Moorman attempted to cane Truitt for this utterance, but they were separated by Eph Daggett.
Bad feeling between the two groups continued. The heartless murder of James Hall greatly aroused emotions and cast more deep resentment against the whole Regulator movement Some accounts seem to think the Regulators began to lose major support during 1843 as they continued to perform rash acts. To further the conflict between the two sides, in 1844 Helen Daggett and Watt Moorman were married to the chagrin of her brothers Charles and Eph. Some 40 Moderators tried to waylay Moorman at the wedding, but he escaped wearing a lady’s clothing.
Minor disputes were happening every day between the two groups. One such event was that voters sent Lilburn U. Edwards, apparently a neutral, to the House of Representatives in the Eighth Congress, which met from December 1843 until February 1844. James Truitt, once a Regulator now turned Moderator, had much respect from members on both sides, and was also elected to the House, but by only 37 votes over Moorman. (More hard feeling) Daggett said he, M.T. Johnson and 30 some-odd Regulators gave Truitt the winning margin.
Truitt leadership showed by the time he arrived at the Congressional meeting at Washington-On-The-Brazos. He had become a political figure of moderation. His leadership within the new group, called “Reformers,” was substantial. The Republic’s plate was now full and the feud in mid-East Texas was not on the agenda. The annexation treaty with the United Stated was signed earlier, on April 12, 1844. However, ten days later it became a political football in the Washington D.C. Senate ratification process. President John Tyler was in favor of the addition to Texas, but Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay opposed. However, James Polk, who was pro annexation, received the Democratic nomination over Van Buren. The year for the Republic had begun on a high note, only to hit snags later.
The Moderators saw the change in attitude. A large meeting was planned to reorganize the Moderators (which may have happened before the James Hall murder) in early 1844. A secret notice was sent out to all persons who had expressed their opposition to the Regulators, inviting them to attend a gathering for the purpose of organizing an army for protection from Moorman and his men. The group who attended elected Colonel James J. Cravens as commander-in-chief. He was actually a Shelby County deputy sheriff. It was later stated that Cravens was well qualified to lead the group. “He had standing and wealth, besides courage and ability”. This new group of Moderators renamed themselves “Reformers”. Many of the members of the new company belonged to the old Moderators, but there were some pretty strong neutrals now who claimed membership. This new group of Moderators received support from many leading citizens wishing the dismemberment of the Regulators. They were now more willing to fight for their desires and more adherences to law and order. Still the Regulators remained a powerful force despite their recent losses.
As soon as Moorman was informed of what had happened at the secret meeting, he unleashed a volley of curses. Ashcroft said Moorman took great pride in using and creating oaths! After regaining composure, he collected an army of about equal size to that of the Moderators to recapture the town of Shelbyville. However, the Moderators had evacuated and retired into the country to procure supplies and provisions for a final confrontation.
The Reformers organized under Cravens had a distinct difference to the earlier Moderators led by Ned Merchant. The earlier group’s main purpose did not vary widely from Moorman’s objectives—revenge. Under Cravens, the Reformers sought to stop violence. Their motives were sounder, with a desire to create a lasting peace operating under the umbrella of law and order.
The Regulators enlisted additional support in Shelbyville, then marched out of town in the direction of the Moderator camp. They secured ammunition and supplies and then settled for the night about three miles from the enemy encampment, two miles from Shelbyville. Some 100 men were with the Regulators, and less with the Moderators at this point. Many citizens of Shelby County understood the gravity of the situation and looked about for some means to prevent the approaching battle which they knew would plunge their entire region into a civil war. Communications between Moorman and Cravens stopped this battle.
Battles and conflicts continued as the two-side struggled for control of Shelby County. Overconfident, Moorman’s head was swollen beyond common sense. He and a few leaders of the Regulators conceived a plan, to overthrow the Republic of Texas. With archenemy Bradley killed, they believed the Moderators would lose their urge for supremacy. On a larger scale, the Regulators saw Texas as bankrupt, devoid of citizens capable of keeping the Republic afloat. The Regulators wanted to branch out and claim all the country and organize a new government under their control.
During the early summer of 1844, President Houston would begin to write letters to the warring group leaders imploring them to settle their differences. Houston was trying to end his administration on an upbeat. He was in no mood to allow these rag-tag hostilities to continue, giving Texas a dubious reputation east of the Mississippi. Since June, when the United States Senate rejected the Texas treaty, and Mexico ended a truce, he had worried about invasion from the south. Texas had elected a new president on September 2, 1844, and to intervene in some local feud was not Houston’s immediate desire, and only at the urging of some important people did he finally agree to do so.
Many citizens throughout the region began to write to Houston to settle the feud between the two parties. Houston probably arrived in Nacogdoches late on August 11 and he was in Shelbyville by August 14 to meet with Ochiltree, Travis G. Broocks, Oran M. Robers and others. A proclamation was drawn up -- that parties are arrayed against each other in hostile attitude, contrary to law and order.---command all citizens engages therein to lay down their arms and retire to their respective homes. After the publications of the proclamation, Houston ordered Sandy Horton to arrest 10 of the leading men on both sides and to be brought to San Augustine to treaty. At this time some 600 militia began to assemble expecting a call for action. Broocks apparently had already left with some of his men from the south of Shelbyville and arrived in the Moderator camp on August 19.
News of the militia’s march toward Shelby County came to the Regulators when a young woman accidentally came through their camp on her way to warn the Moderators. She said Houston’s militia was three miles away, coming up the Shelbyville Road. Moorman gave his men the following statement, “I will disband for awhile. Every man take the open course and take the best care of himself.” After Moorman speech, the bulk of the Regulators broke loose in a stampede, relieved the battle would not ensue.
At this time both Regulator and Reformers leaders gave bond that they would hereafter observe the laws of the Republic and maintain the peace of the county. Then, they served on the receiving end of a famous Houston lecture:
“I urge you to disband your armed forces of men at once. I desire to accomplish this peacefully, but if not peacefully, as the last alternative I shall invoke the military as badly as I dislike to do it. I feel, gentlemen, that you desire to be recognized as good citizens of the Republic instead of outlaws. In memory of the dead of San Jacinto’s bloody field, in memory of the fallen heroes at the Alamo, of Fannin and his brave companions at Goliad – in the name of our proud history – our Lone Star emblem of bravery and charity – I call upon you to forget the rifles which called you to arms against your neighbors, to lay them aside and forever be friends. I wait your answer.”
The militia troops were disbanded with exception of a squad of 20 to 30 men who were to be quartered in Shelbyville for an undetermined time, under command of old Texan Lem Mabbitt. The militia remained in Shelbyville until December 23, supplied with goods, pasture, and fodder by citizens such as John S. Bell and William M. Hewitt. Difficulties and disputes continued to arise at time during the next two years, but the horror of the last two battles, the guidance of the leadership of the surrounding counties, and the fear of the return of the militia kept major events from occurring.
By March 1846, the United States was embroiled in the Spanish-American War and many counties began to gather men for the war effort. Most counties only had one unit to send to the war but due to the previous conflict, Shelby County raised two companies. M.T. Johnson called together 63 of his Regulator friends. Albert G. Harris and Eph Dagget were his lieutenants. Alfred M. Truitt gathered 55 of his former mates of the Moderator or Reformers with Nathaniel G. Dial and Franklin Fisk Roberts as his lieutenants.
Basically, with some exceptions, these men gathered by old allegiances. However, there was one distinct difference this time. Watt Moorman was refused admittance to the Johnson group as he was just too obnoxious. He tried to join Truitt’s forces but was expectedly rebuffed. A horrific event that happened in 1847 in Shelby County was said to still be a remnant of the Regulator-Moderator War.