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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

JAYBIRD-WOODPECKER WAR

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

If we will include Richmond, in Fort Bend County, in East Texas, we can visit about an interesting political dispute that left debate behind and embraced violence to settle old scores.

Back a ways, when many voters were a little light on their literacy skills, symbols appearing beside the names of candidates identified their political party. In Fort Bend County, a silhouette of the jaybird symbolized the Redeemer portion of the Democratic Party and the woodpecker represented those who had flourished during Radical Republican reconstruction, who also had begun to call themselves Democrats by the 1880s.

The Jaybirds wanted to take back control of their county from the Woodpeckers, who were just as determined to remain in power. The election of 1888 witnessed altercations between representatives of the two factions, including the killing of J.M. Shamblin and the wounding of Henry Frost, both Jaybird leaders.

Although the Jaybirds constituted the overwhelming majority of white residents of the county, the Woodpeckers won the election with a heavy vote in the black community. Election day passed quietly enough, but soon afterward Woodpecker Kyle Terry killed Jaybird L.E. Gibson, and a week later Jaybird Volney Gibson shot Terry.

These deaths set the stage for the Battle of Richmond on August 16, 1889. A gunfight erupted between Woodpeckers J.W. Parker and W.T. Wade and Jaybirds Guilf and Volney Gibson in the center of town. Partisans from each side rallied to support their own, and for twenty minutes Richmond's streets and public buildings became a combat zone. When the shooting slowed, Woodpeckers holed up in the courthouse and Jaybirds controlled the rest of the town.

The Houston Light Guards arrived to enforce martial law, followed by the Brenham Light Guards led by Governor Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross himself. With order restored, and the Jaybird majority in control, the citizens reorganized their county's government to insure they remained in control; indeed, they were a potent force in county politics for many decades afterward.

Governor Ross's popularity also received a boost, not only from the image of a man of action riding at the head of a military unit, but also because the Redeemers regained control. Wonder what he would think today, with the Republican Party once more firmly in control of Fort Bend County.
Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
April 10, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.



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