Texas Military Forces Historical Sketch

1870 to 1879

It was in 1870 that the militia in Texas again began to take form through the organization of volunteer companies authorized by the Militia Bill of that year. The excitement over this bill was intense. It was a stringent law for the organization and drilling of the militia, which was divided into two classes: the State Guard, to be composed of volunteer companies, and the Reserve Military, which included all males subject to military duty not enrolled in volunteer companies.

Any person subject to this duty could avoid it by paying $15 a year. All the troops were to be under the control of the Governor. The act carried with it the power to declare martial law in any county or counties and suspend the laws therein, whenever in the opinion of the executive their enforcement was obstructed. The power was conferred to call out such portions of these forces as might be deemed necessary. The expense of maintaining such forces was to be assessed upon the people of the county or counties where the laws were suspended, at the discretion of the executive.

The law further provided that all able-bodied citizens between 18 and 45 years should be liable to military duty, excepting preachers, professors of colleges, school teachers, judges, justices of the peace and members of the police force. The Governor was constituted commander-in-chief, with power to appoint all general, field, company and staff officers. The Governor was authorized to provide for the trial and punishment of offenders, make details of officers, and prescribe all necessary regulations for the formation and government of court martial, etc.

A frontier force of 20 companies was provided for, a State Police force was to be organized in connection with the militia system, to be under the control of the Adjutant General, and a registration law was also enacted and stringent rules provided for conducting elections.

Military organization in compliance with the law was carried forward with dispatch. Many volunteer companies were organized and the militia called out and drilled.

James Davidson, who later embezzled $30,000 and fled the State, was Adjutant General, and in his report to the Governor on December 31, 1870, he stated that 14 companies of Texas Rangers had been organized and, with the exception of one company which had been mustered out, were stationed at remote points on the frontier of the State in localities most liable to incursions from hostile bands of Indians, either from the Fort Sill reservation or from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. The Federal government had withdrawn camp and garrison equipage and supplies of forage and rations.

He also reported that there were 89,478 enrolled in the militia and 3,513 in the State Guard, while 99 had paid for exemption. Fifty sheriffs of the State, though, had not turned in their reports for this period.

F. L. Britton, who succeeded Davidson as Adjutant General, Chief of State Police, Quartermaster and Commissary General, reported the embezzlement by his predecessor in his report of 1872. He also reported that the Organized State Guard and Reserve Militia at that time totaled 74,599 men, 720 companies, 102 regiments. Fifteen companies were armed as follows: seven with Remington rifles, seven with Springfield rifles and one with U.S. muskets. Only three companies were uniformed. Forty-six counties, though, had not organized and reported.

Because of expenses, the companies of the frontier forces were from time to time consolidated, until the force comprised seven companies, which were finally mustered out on May 31 and June 15, 1871. The 12th legislature passed "an act to muster into service minute men for the protection of the frontier." Under this act, approved November 25, 1871, 22 companies of minute men were mustered into service. They were highly commended by the Adjutant General.

Adjutant General Britton, in 1873, reported that there were no appropriations made for the guard and asked for legislative action. He also stated that the state guard had been merged into the militia and that on April 22, 1873, the police law, which had established the State Police, was repealed.

Under a law approved April 10, 1874, for frontier protection, a battalion of six companies was organized and put in the field to stop outlaws and Indian raids. Also contained in the Adjutant General's report of 1874 was the following:

"With the few arms we had on hand, and those recovered, several volunteer companies have been armed and are reported to be in efficient condition, viz: one at San Antonio, one at Waco, and one at Marshall. A quota of 1,000 cavalry guns and equipments having been received from the United States Government, the frontier battalion and the Rio Grande companies have been armed with them, and upon the application, accompanied with approval bond for double their value, carbines and ammunition have been issued to companies of citizens living at exposed parts of the frontier."

All in all, the 1870's were years of routine matters in the militia of Texas, with the Adjutant General attempting to weld together an efficient force of militia, minute companies and frontier units. Companies were organized and disbanded and some just lapsed into inactivity without being officially disbanded.

In 1876, William Steele, Adjutant General, reported that the military, when sent to assist civil authorities, had been used upon duties that belong to civil authorities, i.e., of arresting criminals where no emergency existed which called for military interference. Then, in 1878, he reported that "the most important duties of this office during the past two years have resulted from the power given by law to members of the frontier battalion to act as peace officers, and the organization of a special company for the 'suppression of lawlessness and crime.'"

Some revealing facts of the condition of the militia towards the end of the 1870's may be gleaned from Adjutant General John B. Jones' report to the Governor on December 31, 1880. The Adjutant General reported that some 40 volunteer company organizations had been borne upon the rolls of his office for several years, some of which were fine bodies of citizen soldiers. Many of them, however, had made no reports or returns for several years.

It was during July and August, 1879, that General F. W. James of the Texas Military Institute made a tour of inspection of the militia. He reported the total present for inspection was 612, while the number present for duty at the stations was 982 and the total on the rolls, 1,103. He inspected 36 companies. The Washington Guards, Galveston, Captain J. W. Edmunson, were reported as the first in drill and discipline, and the Houston Light Guard, Captain G. L. Price, as second. The Brenham Greys, Captain J. G. Sloan, were reported as having the best kept armory. The Negro company first in drill and discipline was the Hubbard Rifles, Captain A. M. Gregory, Waco.

The companies at that time paid their own expenses. The annual average armory rent was $15 per month and the uniforms cost $15 on an average. The annual average expense of the 36 companies each was $12,000. The uniforms of the companies were mostly grey or blue but one company had red and white uniforms.

The militia organization was reported as follows: First Regiment Infantry, seven companies; Second Regiment Infantry, seven companies; Third Regiment Infantry, seven companies; Fourth Regiment Infantry, six companies; First Regiment Cavalry, nine companies; First Regiment Colored Infantry, nine companies; Denison Artillery Company and Texas Old Guard Artillery.

The legislature at the time made an appropriation of $1,250 for the erection of an arsenal, a project which had been recommended consistently by the Adjutants General. With this sum, although it was not sufficient to pay for such a building as the State should have had for the purpose, there was erected on the northeast corner of the Capitol grounds a neat, substantial and fireproof stone building, 24x40 feet, which provided ample storage for all the ordinance and stores that were on hand. In the front of the arsenal there was erected a shed, under which were stored two old pieces of artillery which had been exposed to the weather for several years.

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