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
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.
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.