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A Texas ranger in the family!

We’ve got us a Texas ranger. A real-live (well, um, okay, so he’s been dead for 121 years1) Texas ranger. And not just in a collateral line2: this guy is my 2nd great grandfather George Washington Cottrell.

Here’s how it happened.

When the Civil War began and Texas seceded from the Union, the U.S. Army withdrew all its troops and left the Lone Star State on its own to defend its population not so much from the Yankees as from attacks by Indians. So the 1861 Texas secession convention created frontier defense districts and raised its own troops to protect its citizens.3

The troops of these frontier districts served exclusively in Texas in what came to be called the Frontier Regiment. And their service was essentially in defiance of orders from the Confederacy, which wanted all able-bodied southern men under its control and command. Even with these forces, Indian raids took a heavy toll: between 1861 and 1863, Comanche raids pushed the settlement line back 100 miles from where it had been before the war.4

The Confederacy kept up its pressure on Texas to turn these frontier troops over to Confederate control and, on 15 December 1863, the Texas Legislature acquiesced. But the law giving the Confederacy the Frontier Regiment created three frontier districts and called for more men to range the frontier guarding against Indian attacks. In particular, the statute provided:

That all persons liable to do military duty, who are at the passage of this act bona fide citizens of the following … counties, … Parker …, shall be enrolled and organized into companies, not less than twenty-five nor more than sixty-five men, rank and file. …

That each member of a company shall be required to keep himself furnished with a suitable horse, gun, and ten days provisions, and all necessary equipments, (including ammunition.)

That the companies … shall be required to keep at least one-fourth of their number in the field in actual service…5

Together all of these frontier units became the Frontier Organization. Most companies were 50-55 men divided into squads of 15 men. And most squads were out on patrol about 10 days at a time. Their main focus was frontier defense against Indian raids,6 but their duties were broader:

… drawn from a Texas tradition of minutemen companies of Rangers (the Frontier Organization) became the primary means of defending the limits of the Indian frontier from January, 1864, until the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy in May, 1865. …

From late 1863 until the end of the war frontier defenders served as police, protecting frontier Texans from other foes as deadly as Indians — that is, from each other. On the frontier massed bands of deserters, draft dodgers, and criminals came to dominate the activities of the frontier defense organizations.7

One of the units raised as the result of this 1863 statute was Company A, from Parker County, commanded by Captain Pleasant Witt, in the First Frontier District, commanded by Major William Quayle.8 Two muster rolls and one payroll survived the war and are now in the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin, where they and most other Civil War-era military and ranger records have been reduced to index cards capturing the key information, much like the Compiled Military Service Record cards in the National Archives for those who served in Union and Confederate units.

Those cards, alphabetically organized but unindexed, have recently become available on Ancestry.com,9 and, this past week, my cousin Paula managed to find time to take a quick look at key surnames in those cards. The two of us almost fell off our chairs. There he was:

G.W. Cottrell, Co. A, First Frontier District

And that’s not all. George’s wife was Martha Louisa (Baker) Cottrell, daughter of Martin and Elizabeth (Buchanan) Baker. One of the others who served in that same unit was Louisa’s brother, Josiah A. Baker:

J.A. Baker, Co. A, First Frontier District

And even that’s not all. We’ve long had some evidence that Louisa and Josiah had another brother who came to Texas around the same time and whose first name was Charles. We’re not 100% sure yet that we’ve got the right guy, but here’s yet another card:

C.C. Baker, Co. A, First Frontier District

I was thinking this might mean we’d finally proved that we had a direct ancestor with Confederate military service until I did some research into the Texas State Troops, the Frontier Organization and these companies of the Frontier Districts.

No, we still don’t qualify for the Daughters of the Confederacy — we expect we’ll eventually prove we will (a prospect this Yankee finds a bit disconcerting) but not today. Because the men of Company A weren’t Confederate troops; they were actually exempt from Confederate service and protected from Confederate conscription.

What they were, in fact, was Texas rangers. Captain Pleasant Witt is specifically included in a list of Texas Ranger Commanders compiled by Christina Stopka, Librarian/Archivist of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, with research assistance from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.10

My mother was proud, all her life, of being a third-generation Texan who could trace one side of her family back to just after the Civil War and the other side back to the Republic of Texas. I’m not sure she ever knew that the Republic of Texas side first shows up in the records when the Republic of Texas prosecuted her great grandfather for bigamy,11 but I think the fact that that same great grandfather was also a Texas ranger just might make up for that.


SOURCES

  1. G. W. Cottrell died 21 May 1891. Declaration of Claimant, Louisa Cottrell, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  2. I am also proud to have had a first cousin twice removed — Frank N. Johnson — serve as a Captain of the Texas Rangers from 1908 to 1910. See Frank W. Johnson, ed., Texas and Texans, vol. 4 (Chicago: American Historical Soc., 1914), 1883. See also “Death of Captain Frank Johnson,” Weatherford (Texas) Daily Herald, 12 Dec 1923.
  3. Timeline of Texas and the Western Frontier, 1856-1865,” Texas Beyond History, University of Texas at Austin (http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/forts/56-65.html : accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  4. Texas Ranger History: Timeline – Defending the Law,” Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum (http://www.texasranger.org : accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  5. “An Act to Provide for the Protection of the Frontier and turning over the Frontier Regiment to Confederate States Service”, Laws of 1863, Chapter XXXVI, §§ 1, 4, 6 in H.P.N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, vol. 5 (Austin: Gammel Book Co., 1898), 677-679; digital images, Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ : accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  6. See “Frontier Organization,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook: accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  7. David P. Smith, Frontier Defense in the Civil War: Texas’ Rangers and Rebels (College Station, Texas : Texas A&M Press, 1992), Kindle edition, 1%.
  8. See “Quayle, Williams,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook: accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  9. “Texas, Muster Roll Index Cards, 1838-1900: Civil War Index-Abstracts of Muster Rolls,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 Apr 2012); citing Civil War Must Rolls index Cards (both Confederate and Union), Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin.
  10. Christina Stopka, “Texas Ranger Commanders,” Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum (http://www.texasranger.org/ReCenter/commanders.htm : accessed 20 Apr 2012).
  11. Colorado County, Texas, Criminal Court Minutes Book A&B, p. 217, Republic of Texas v. G.W. Cottrell, Criminal Cause File No. 251 (1843); District Court, Columbus.
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