One of the bloodiest feuds in East Texas history, the Regulator-Moderator War left Harrison and Shelby counties divided. Continue reading to learn more about the conflict and its resolution.
The Regulator-Moderator War was a feud in Harrison and Shelby counties in the Redlands of East Texas from 1839 to 1844. The principal leaders of the Regulators were Charles W. Jackson and Charles (Watt) Moorman, and the leaders of the Moderators were Edward Merchant, John M. Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens.
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. Jackson then organized the Regulators to prevent “cattle rustling.” In turn, the Moderators were organized by Edward Merchant to moderate the Regulators.
The first major confrontation between the groups came on July 12, 1841, at Jackson’s trial before Judge John M. Hansford, a friend of the Moderators and Goodbread. The Regulators intimidated the court so much that the trial could not proceed. They also exacerbated the situation by burning the homes of the McFadden family and “Tiger Jim” Strickland. The hostilities escalated; Sam Houston reportedly stated, “I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out.”
Charles W. Jackson and an “innocent Dutchman named Lauer” were ambushed and killed by the Moderators, and Watt Moorman replaced Jackson as leader of the Shelby County Regulators. Moorman, who may have been wanted for forgery in Mississippi, led a party to avenge his fallen comrades.
They surprised the assassins 25 miles north of Crockett. The McFaddens were tried in Shelbyville in October 1841 for the Jackson-Lauer killing, and all were hanged with the exception of the youngest brother.
The quarrel reopened with a dispute between Henry Runnels, a Regulator, Samuel Hall, an ex-Regulator, and a man named Stanfield. Stanfield accused Hall of hog theft and shot him dead, and Hall’s friends called upon the Moderators for revenge. Although Stanfield escaped from the jail, he was pursued by a group that included Hall’s surviving family. At this point Watt Moorman’s archenemy, John M. Bradley, became leader of the Moderators. During this feud, Bradley and Moorman both went to court, where a Regulator judge nullified the charges against Moorman, and a Moderator judge dismissed murder charges against Bradley and Amos Hall, one of Samuel’s brothers.
The Moderators met at Bells Springs in the summer of 1844 and renamed themselves the Reformers. They excluded Bradley and elected James J. Cravens as their leader. They determined to occupy Shelbyville. The Regulators decided to dispose of Bradley and plotted to extend their control throughout Texas. The feuding groups signed a truce on July 24, 1844, which protected “good and unoffending citizens.” Bradley, presumably beyond the pale of such protection, was “regulated permanently” at a Baptist camp meeting near San Augustine on July 28, 1844.
Retaliation came in the form of the murder of Louis Watkins.
The struggle was again renewed in August 1844. About 225 Moderators attacked sixty-two Regulators near Shelbyville. The Regulators were reinforced by prominent citizens from Harrison County, one of whom was killed. The Moderators then occupied a log meetinghouse four miles from Hilliard’s Bridge, and Moorman and the Regulators launched a surprise attack. The skirmish was known as the Church Hill Battle to the Regulators and Helen’s Defeat to the Moderators, in reference to Helen Mar Daggett Moorman’s ride to spy on the enemy camp. There were few casualties, and the action was indecisive.
On August 15, 1844, President Houston ordered Travis G. Broocks and Alexander Horton to take the militia and make peace in East Texas. They arrested ten leaders from both sides and brought them to San Augustine. The Regulators stampeded, but the Moderators stood firm and arrested Broocks, who was soon released. A committee drafted an agreement disbanding both factions, and the document was accepted by both parties. Both Regulators and Moderators amicably joined Capt. L. H. Mabbitt’s company to serve in the Mexican War, presumably much to the relief of Sam Houston and much to the ire of Gen. Zachary Taylor.
Content Courtesy of the Handbook of Texas