‘War, War on the Range…’ – Texas Range Wars

Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word—

Hold up there just a cotton-picking minute. What gave anyone that idea? “Discouraging,” my hind leg. Nineteenth-century Lone Star language could get downright inflammatory, especially on the range.

Take these four Texas quarrels, for example.

Texas Vigilantes
Texas vigilantes, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 12, 1881 (public domain)

Regulator-Moderator War, 1839-1844
Also called the Shelby County War, the first major battle to pit Texan against Texan erupted in the eastern part of the newly minted republic. The whole thing started with a land dispute between a rancher and the county sheriff. The sheriff called for help from the leader of a lynch-happy anti-rustling vigilante bunch known as the Regulators, and the rancher soon thereafter shook hands with Saint Peter. The Moderators, a group of anti-vigilante vigilantes who called the Regulators terrorists, jumped into the fray, and before anyone knew what was up, a judge, a sheriff, and a senator died and homes burned in four counties. After a gun battle between 225 Moderators and 62 Regulators near Shelbyville, Sam Houston himself rode in with the militia and suggested both groups shake hands and go on about their business before he lost his temper.

Texas cowboys, circa 1880
Texas cowboys, circa 1880 (public domain)

Hoodoo War, 1874-1876
Also called the Mason County War, this Reconstruction-Era Hill Country dust-up over dead and disappearing cattle pitted Union-supporting German immigrants against born-and-bred, former-Confederate Texans. A lynch mob of forty Germans lit the match when they dragged five Texans accused of cattle rustling from jail and executed three of them before the county sheriff, elected by the Germans, reluctantly put a stop to the proceedings. In a sterling display of what can happen when a Texas Ranger goes bad, a vigilante gang led by a former Ranger embarked upon a series of retaliatory attacks against the German community. At least a dozen men died before still-commissioned Rangers restored order. Johnny Ringo spent two years in jail for his role on the side of the Texans, only to end up on the wrong end of Wyatt Earp’s good nature five years later in Tombstone, Arizona.

"Them Three Mexicans is Eliminated," Frederic Remington, 1897 (public domain)
“Them Three Mexicans is Eliminated,” Frederic Remington, 1897 (public domain)

El Paso Salt War, 1877
The only time in history Texas Rangers surrendered happened in the tiny town of San Elizario, near El Paso. An increasingly volatile disagreement over rights to mine salt in the Guadalupe Mountains began in the 1860s and finally boiled over in September 1877. A former district attorney, intent on laying claim to the salt flats, rather flagrantly murdered his political rival, who had insisted the flats were public property and the valuable salt could be mined by anyone. The dead man’s supporters, primarily Tejano salt miners, revolted. A group of twenty hastily recruited Ranger stand-ins rushed to the rescue, only to barricade themselves inside the Catholic church in a last-ditch effort to keep the instigator alive long enough to stand trial. Five days later they admitted defeat and surrendered to the mob, who killed the accused murderer, chopped up his body, and threw the pieces down a well. Then the rioters disarmed the Ranger puppies and kicked them out of town.

Fort Bend County Courthouse where the violence took place, 1889 (public domain)
Fort Bend County Courthouse where the violence took place, 1889 (public domain)

Jaybird-Woodpecker War, 1888-1889
The last major set-to in Texas took place in Fort Bend County, near Houston. The liberal-Republican Woodpeckers, mostly former slaves, swept the county election in 1884. The conservative-Democrat Jaybirds, primarily white former Confederates, opposed such inconsiderate behavior for racist reasons. After Woodpeckers swept every office again in the 1888 election, retaliatory violence on both sides resulted in the deaths of several people. During the Battle of Richmond—a twenty-minute gunfight inside the county courthouse in August 1889—four men, including the sheriff, were killed. The Jaybirds won the fracas, and with the assistance of Governor Sul Ross’s declaration of martial law, seized control of county government. Jaybirds forcibly ousted every elected Woodpecker and proceeded to disenfranchise black voters until 1953, when the Supreme Court put a stop to the whites-only voting shenanigans. Intermittent Jaybird-Woodpecker violence lopped over into 1890, when a white Woodpecker tax assessor, accused of murdering a white Jaybird who had been his political opponent, was gunned down in Galveston before he could be tried for the alleged crime.


I hope everyone’s holidays are shaping up to be much more peaceful than some of Texas’s merriest and brightest moments. To help with that, I’ll give an e-copy of Wild Texas Christmas to one of today’s commenters. The anthology of five Christmas romances set in the Old West will bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.

Available in paperback and e-book
Available in paperback and e-book

Available in paperback and e-book
Available in paperback and e-book


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28 thoughts on “‘War, War on the Range…’ – Texas Range Wars”

  1. I wish I had paid more attention to Texas history classes when I was in school. These are interesting facts.

    • Don’t be ashamed, Sherri! I didn’t know about some of them, either, until I started researching my current WIP, which is based on the El Paso Salt War. (That’s one of the ones I didn’t know about. 😀 )

    • I know, Margaret! I was shocked! For obvious reasons, that event doesn’t get talked about often. 😉

      Actually, only one or two of the twenty men in the Ranger detail were honest-to-goodness Rangers. The new recruits — including an old Indian fighter and an outlaw — received temporary commissions from the governor for just this one job…and immediately embarrassed everybody.

  2. How fascinating! I love learning more about Texas history! Thanks so much for sharing these range wars, Kathleen.

  3. I too thought I knew about the Texas Rangers and all the various range wars. But I now know I’ve only touched the very tip of the iceberg. Good heavens, there’s so much more to learn. And I love learning about what really went on back then. It’s all so very interesting. I’ve got a lot to learn. Thanks so much for enlightening all of us. I’m almost done reading Prodigal Gun and you’ve definitely taken me back to the ol’ west and I don’t want to leave Jessie and Mason. Can’t wait to read Wild Texas Christmas. Wishing you the best.

    • Hi, Bev! Nice to see you! And thanks for your kind words about Prodigal Gun. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂

      You do lots of research, too. It’s fun, isn’t it? Aggravating sometimes, but fun. 😀

      Hope you have the merriest of holidays, full of love and good cheer.

  4. What an interesting post. I didn’t realise just how much went on in Texas. Thanks for a great post and all the information.

    • Sometimes history can be ugly, can’t it, Susan? I don’t guess I’ll ever understand what makes people act the way they do. Seriously, folks: Life is not a “last man standing wins” competition. 🙂

  5. Super details today, Kathleen! Way to go. I wonder how the HooDoo wars got their name? (One of my upcoming blog topics will be on hoo-doos LOL.) Do you know?

    Congratulations on the Christmas story. Always my favorite time period to set and read romance. I’ll be sure to cuddle up in front of the fire with another great PRP anthology. Hugs…

    • Howdy, Tanya! Actually, I do know what hoodoo means. (Was that a trick question? 😉 )

      For those who don’t know, “hoodoo” arose about 1870 as American English slang for voodoo. By 1880, it had taken on the meaning “bad luck.” The Hoodoo War seems to have occurred a bit too early for the latter definition, but that one seems to fit better than the former definition. Anybody else know what’s up with that?

      I’m looking forward to your upcoming blog!

      Thanks for the congrats on the Christmas story. The hero is… Well, he’s not the kind of man folks usually see in romance stories. I hope readers fall in love with him as much as the heroine and I did. 🙂


  6. There was discontent on the range? I have a hard time believing that. 🙂 Great information, Tex. I knew a few of these, but not all, and I always enjoy learning something new.

    • Discontent on the range? Who said anything about discontent? Them Texas boys was just lettin’ off a little steam.

      Y’all Wyomingites still got us beat on the range war front, Rustler, what with that Johnson County War thing going on up yonder. Wyoming came a little late to the party, but when y’all got there, you cleared the room.

      Since you started in October, I hope you’ve finished decorating for Christmas by now! 😉

      • Well, heck, Tex, we even invited some Texans to join the hullabaloo in Johnson County! Although, the got tied up for a bit at the TA Ranch and had to be rescued by the boys in blue. Don’t think they visited WYO again. 🙂

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