Saturday, July 12, 2014

War in East Texas

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

Robert Potter 
There were more blood feuds in Texas than in any other state or territory. The first Texas blood feud was the Regulator-Moderator War, which erupted in 1840 and continued for four years, with thirty-one men killed in shootouts, ambushes, brawls, and lynchings. The climactic year of the feud was 1844, with 200 mounted Regulators and 100 Moderators facing year other in Shelby County. Republic of Texas President Sam Houston rode to the site of trouble and, backed by 600 members of the Texas Militia, abruptly halted the feud.

Although often called “The Shelby War,” the Regulator-Moderator conflict broke out in Harrison County in 1840. Harrison County was only recently created and still was a lawless wilderness. A band of “Regulators” was formed to curb the lawlessness, but when their extralegal methods became too heavy-handed, “Moderators” organized to “moderate” the Regulators. The leader of the Harrison County Regulators was a large, rugged pioneer named William Pinckney Rose. As a young man he fought at the Battle of New Orleans. By the time he reached his fifties, Rose was the patriarch of a clan of frontier families whom he led to Texas, settling on claims just west of Caddo Lake. Given to booming out profanities, the big Regulator leader was nicknamed “Hell Roarin’ Rose” and “Lion of the Lakes.” 
The monument for Captain Rose is the
tallest in the Scottsville Cemetery,
and the statement reads "HE WAS

Late in 1840, Regulator George Rembert was killed in a shootout with Moderators. Shortly afterward another Regulator, Isaac Hughes, was slain by a sheriff’s posse of Moderators. In retribution, a brother of Hughes, assisted by Captain Rose, assassinated Sheriff John B. Campbell at Port Caddo, a village beside Lake Caddo. Campbell was killed in January 1841, and further vengeance was extracted when Captain Rose and his Regulators killed Moderators Daniel Minor and D. Morris in September.

Republic of Texas Senator Robert Potter lived at Potter’s Point, overlooking Caddo Lake. Potter was a contentious individual who, throughout his life, gravitated to adventure and danger, as well as to public service. Handsome and charming, Potter was also a compulsive womanizer, and a magnet for trouble. At fifteen he joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman, but after six years he returned to North Carolina, where he became a lawyer, congressman, and state legislator. During that decade and a half Potter became embroiled in duels, adultery, and savage maimings. He had an affair with a wealthy heiress. Both were married, and when their affair was exposed Potter created a diversion by falsely accusing a middle-aged Methodist and a seventeen-year-old cousin of consorting with his wife. In separate incidents Potter attacked and castrated his cousin and the minister – which gave birth to a new North Carolina verb: “potterizing.”
Monument erected at Potter's Point
to honor Harriet, "Bravest Woman
in Texas." Potter's log home stood
a short distance to the right, and
just behind the monument is a steep
bluff 200 feet above Caddo Lake.

Expelled from the North Carolina Legislature in 1835, Potter came to Texas. Immediately he took an active role in revolutionary meetings at Nacogdoches and Washington-on-the-Brazos. Potter had more experience in government that anyone except Sam Houston, and both men signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836.With six years as a junior officer in the U.S. Navy, Potter was appointed Secretary of the Texas Navy. During the “Runaway Scrape,” Secretary Potter picked up an attractive refugee, Harriet Moore Page, and her little boy and infant daughter. Harriet’s husband, Solomon Page, was marching with General Houston’s army, but she had been forced to flee before the Mexican forces of General Santa Anna. Secretary Potter installed Harriet and her children aboard his flagship, but sadly her little girl died.

After the war Potter took a land grant adjacent to Caddo Lake. Harriet divorced Page and came to Potter’s Point. She and Potter had six children and built a cabin near a steep bluff above Caddo Lake. Potter became a Senator of the Texas Republic, and early in 1842 he persuaded President M.B. Lamar to offer a $500 reward for the murderous Rose. Arriving in Harrison County on March 1, Potter immediately raised a seventeen-man posse of Moderators and rode to the home of Rose. But Rose hid in the fields, and a disappointed Potter dispersed his posse and headed for Potter’s Point.

Meanwhile, Rose put together a band of Regulators and, during the night, surrounded Potter’s cabin. Rose attacked at dawn, but Harriet was ready to defend their home. “We had a cannon [a ship’s swivel gun] and plenty of firearms, and I reminded Robert that I could loads guns as fast as he could.”

But Robert decided to flee the cabin, probably to safeguard Harriet and the children. Despite Harriet’s entreaties to fight, Potter bolted outside and scrambled down the steep 200-foot embankment, as the Regulators fired their single-shot rifles after him. Leaving his loaded rifle leaning against a cypress tree, Potter swam away under water. But John Scott, Rose’s son-in-law, followed Potter down the embankment. Scott picked up the loaded rifle, and when Potter came up for air he was shot in the head with his own gun. Potter died six years to the day after he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Buried near his home, in 1928 Potter’s remains were reinterred in the State Cemetery in Austin.

Holding my book on the Regulator-Moderator War
Potter was a controversial and, in many ways, an unlikable figure, but he was the most prominent man killed in the Regulator-Moderator War. He left his common-law wife in straitened circumstances, and she wrote a memoir of her eventful life. A novel, Love is a Wild Assault, was penned by Elithe Hamilton Kirkland and published in 1959. I was requested by the East Texas Historical Association to write an account of the feud, and War in East Texas, Regulators vs. Moderators was released in 2006 as the first volume of the ETHA’s Bob and Doris Bowman East Texas History Series.

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