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

This week’s article is still a continuation of the history of the Regulator-Moderator War that occurred in Shelby County between 1839-1844. The second part focused on the start of the conflict and the establishment of the Regulators. This week’s article will tell the story of the Moderators in the dispute and the fate of the men who ambushed Jackson.

Soon after the mock trail of Jackson in Panola County, Stricklands and the MdFaddens, finding that the laws were powerless to afford them protection, and totally inadequate to the ends of justice, resolved to fall back upon their natural rights. They would seek satisfaction by their own hands for the burning of their dwelling and the ill treatment of their wives and children.

The first effort by Moderators to “maintain order and tranquility” was to assassinate Charles W. Jackson. The friends of Goodbread were consulted and the results of the matter was a company was organized and placed under the command of Edward Merchant, consisting of about thirty men. Merchant, a 30-year-old South Carolinian was a man of undoubted courage and determination of character, bold but cautious and of insinuating address. Merchant was not exactly unscathed from law trouble either. Supposedly in 1825he had killed a man in his native state, Alabama, and had fled to Texas. Rumor stated he was justified, but nothing was ever knownregarding the matter. The company met and drafted a code of laws, or rules and regulations for their government. The distracted state of the country was set out as the cause of their organization. they pledged themselves to sustain the legal tribunals in all efforts to punish the guilty and maintain order and tranquility. We can justly infer the prime object of their organization was to protect the parties who intended to murder Jackson. They called themselves Moderators. Both sides felt they were correct in what they perceived as crimes and law. 

"Tiger Jim" Strickland was a desperado who had been tried and acquitted of an earlier killing. Most people were afraid of him and his gang. Henry Strickland was a dark, red, skinny man, who had a very vicious eye, and was domineering in his appearance. Henry was "one of the most ferocious men I ever knew," stated Eph Daggett. "He had been the bully of the Tenaha for a long time" although he was carved up badly in a knife fight. Henry obviously had a strong constitution. They were friends with Bill McFadden.

Not long after it was determined to take the life of Jackson, an opportunity presented itself. Jackson, having some business in Logansport, set out for the place accompanied by a simple minded unoffending dutchman, named Lour, who resided in Shelbyville for some years engaged as a grocery clerk. The majority of those accompanying the Stricklands and McFaddens (the moderating party) resided in the northern part of the county. Jackson reached Logansport in safety but on his return, he was ambushed by the Bill, John, and BailyMcFadden, a mere boy, fourteen years of age, Tiger Jim and Henry Strickland, Sam Todd, Boatright, Bledsoe and probably Squire Humphreys - the latter of whom, had previously been beaten by the Jackson company. (Note: In the Fall of 1840 some cattle were stolen from a respectable citizen of the western end of the county. Evidence was found which indicated the guilt of English born Squire Humphries and a young boy named Wade Hampton West, the husband of Humphrey’s sister, Susan. One story says that – Boatright, James Turner, and Henry Sylvester entered Stockman’s yard on a stormy night and took 32 good horses, driving them to Arkansas. Men were sent to recapture the horses and two thieves were found and taken into the woods near Shelbyville. Here the Regulators demanded a full confession, but both men denied the theft. Humphreys was tied to a tanning log, his shirt ripped off his back lashed several times. Humphries stated, "I'd rather be hung than whipped to death.") They had secreted themselves near the road in a dense thicket of undergrowth. On the return trip from Louisiana, Jackson and Lourwere ambushed 18 miles from Shelbyville on August 20, 1841,literally filling their bodies with buckshot. Jackson fell without a struggle, but Lour survived about twenty-four hours.

The group fled to the McFaddens where Merchant’s company was awaiting to protect their escape. Middleton claims Rains was there with some 54 others.The killing of Lour was accidental, and the murders regretted it exceedingly. According to Dr. Ashcroft, Lour’s death "engendered a spirit of indignation in the breasts of many of the best citizens of the county and induced them to take sides with the Regulators". The entire feud had now been taken to a higher and exceedingly serious level.

President Mirabeau B. Lamar even entered the fray at this juncture, thinking he could entice the end of the feud by simply offering $500 for the capture of the Stricklands. However, the neutrals of the region did little to take control. The Moderators were more than aware that they were in a precarious position. In order to quiet public resentment against them, the decision was made to temporarily disband, and most of those in the ambush group should leave the countryside temporarily.

As a result of Jackson’s death, the Shelby County Regulators were leaderless, remaining inactive for a few weeks. A general meeting was called to elect a new chief. A great crowd of incensed citizens attended, and new members were gained. The new Regulator chief would be Charles Watson Moorman (called Watt). He would become the group’s spokesman, remaining so until the dissolution in 1844.  Moorman was more dramatic than Jackson, prodding drastic actions out of his group.

Twenty to thirty of the most notorious members were kept in constant arms at all times to act as a personal bodyguard for Moorman. His influence caused the organization to extend to other counties, finally leading them on an unreal conspiracy attempt to overthrow not only the local government, but in the end, he flew high with dream of running the government of the Republic.

Dr. Ashcroft says in his long memoirs that Moorman came from a respectable background. But, in Joaquin, the community resident had a lower south back-ground, unlike the upper south or middle American trail most members of the old settlers group followed through time to Texas. He was born in Columbus, Mississippi.

His personal appearance was rather prepossessing and would have been decidedly had it not been for the lurking devil in his eye and a habitual and malicious contraction of the eyebrows. His eyes were black and piercing. They shifted continually from one object to another, indicative of the restless character of their owner. But once they became fixed upon a man in anger, he must have a stout heart not to quail before their baneful glances. In stature he was about six feet, well-proportioned though spare. He usually wore a half military coat and always carried belted about his person a brace of pistols and a bowie knife.

Upon the reorganization of the Regulators, and election of Moorman to chief, a council was held which resulted in the determination to purse the murderers of Jackson and Lour. A picked company of ten or twelve men was detached for this service, led by Col. Moorman in person. At a crossing on the Trinity River, they overtook a group of the refugees, where ensued a most bloody and tragic encounter. The two McFaddens and their brother were captured. Bledsoe refused to surrender and was killed, but not before he had left his mark upon more than one of the assailants. The party returned to Shelbyville, where a mass meeting was called, at which by a majority, they condemned to death the McFaddens and sentenced them to be hung. The sentence was immediately carried out. The two olderMcFaddens were hung on the same tree about a mile to the east of town. The younger one, on account of his tender age, and in consideration of disclosing the names of all engaged in the killing of Jackson and Lour was pardoned. Just before being executed the two McFaddensstated, they deeply regretted the death of Lour; that he was killed by accident without any malicious intent whatever; but so far as Jackson was concerned, they had no excuses to offer. They felt themselves justified in the sight of God and all unprejudiced men, in having taken his life as a common enemy of his race. They had been bad men, they said but were not afraid to died -- they believed justice would finally prevail, and the vengeance of God would at last overtake the guilty.

The search for Boatright continued and he was located on the plantation of a Mr. Ferguson in De Soto Parish, Louisiana. He was found in the field picking cotton to procure clothing, having lost his shoes and hat in his recent flight. He was arrested and conveyed back to Texas. Some wanted to kill him but not have the fortitude to do so in cold blood a plan was hacked to present a member of the Regulators to be a friend of Boatright to assist him in escaping. Mann received permission from the Colonel to speak with Boatright in private for a few moments. They walked off and Mann told Boatwright to run toward the cane brake. But he no sooner started to run when Mann lodged a load of buckshot in his back, with the rest of the party following Mann's example. Boatright fell to the earth a mangled corpse. This murder was committed in Shelby County near Watson's old ferry.

The fate of Humphreys is uncertain. It was reported about that time that the Regulators had caught and hanged him. Some said he had made good his escape, but it is most probable that he met the same end as his companions and friends. Now only Tiger Jim and Henry Strickland – rumored to be hiding in Louisiana, – remained at large from the party that had assassinated Charles Jackson.

Deputy Sheriff John Middleton wrote that about March 1842 the old troubles were revived by the return of some of the members of the old gang and their waylaying citizens upon the public roads. Middleton learned that Jim Strickland and Farrar Metcalf had been lately killed in Louisiana for negro stealing.  Tiger Jim and Henry Strickland had established a hideout in Natchitoches Parish, where they were joined by other Shelby County fugitives.

Henry Strickland fled to Hunt County in North Texas, where he acquired “a fine stud horse” and a racehorse. But Henry “could not behave himself long,” observed Daggett. In a grocery store, Henry, drunk, angry or both, ‘’was cowing the storekeeper, throwing whisky all over the house, and raving like a wild animal.” When a “Colonel Shoemaker” entered the store carrying his rifle, Henry challenged him to a fight. Henry advanced on Shoemaker, who swung his rifle in self-defense. “The lock of the gun entered the brain pan, killing one of the most ferocious men I ever saw.” But Daggett added. “Henry was the unluckiest fighter I ever saw.

With Henry Strickland dead, just one member of the Charles Jackson assassination team remained alive. Bledsoe was killed in Montgomery; Buckskin Bill and John McFadden were hanged by a mob a Shelbyville; Squire Humphreys was lynched by Regulators; Boatright was shot gunned in the back; Tiger Jim was shot in the head in Louisiana; and Henry Strickland was killed in a brawl. Only young Baily McFadden, pardoned by the Shelbyville mob because of his age, was left standing.