Kevin R. Young

RALSTON, JAMES HARVEY (1807–1864). James Harvey Ralston, lawyer, Illinois and California state legislator, and quartermaster at the Alamo from 1846 to 1848, was born on October 12, 1807, in Bourbon County, Kentucky, the son of John and Elizabeth (Neely) Ralston. In the fall of 1828 he moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he pursued a career as a lawyer and was sworn in by the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the state of Illinois on October 21, 1830, as an attorney and counselor. He served for a while as justice of the peace for Adams County. In 1832 Ralston was a private in Capt. William G. Flood's Company of Mounted Riflemen during the Black Hawk (Sauk-Fox) War. He was mustered out of service on May 28, 1832. In August 1836 he was elected to represent Adams County in the lower house of the Tenth General Illinois Assembly, a body whose members included Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. On January 14, 1837, he was elected judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit. He held this post until he resigned in August 1837 to pursue his private practice. In 1840 Ralston, a Democrat, was elected state senator for the Twelfth Illinois General Assembly. In 1841 he made an unsuccessful bid for Congress. In the Mexican War he was appointed assistant quartermaster general of Illinois Volunteers, with the rank of captain. He was ordered to join Gen. John E. Wool's column in Texas and arrived in San Antonio on October 13, 1846. After accompanying a wagon train to the Rio Grande, Ralston returned to San Antonio, where he relieved Captain Wall as quartermaster. Under Ralston's supervision, the United States Army moved into the ruins of the Alamo and began repairs so that the old mission might serve as offices and a depot for the quartermaster's department. The Long Barracks was used as offices for Ralston and his clerk, Sgt. Edward Everett. The chapel was cleared of debris but was not altered at this time. Ralston was instrumental in organizing the Alamo Masonic Lodge on December 1, 1847.

In November 1848 he was relieved of his duties at San Antonio. He traveled to Washington with Everett to close his office account books. After discharge on March 3, 1849, he returned briefly to Quincy and then moved to California. In 1852 he was elected the Democratic representative of Sacramento County to the California Senate. Ralston did not run for reelection in 1854, but in 1856 he was a candidate on the Democratic ticket for chief justice of the state supreme court. By that time, however, the Democrats no longer dominated California politics, and Ralston lost, along with most other Democratic candidates for statewide office. He subsequently moved to Virginia City, Nevada, where he continued his political and legal career. In 1863 he was a representative to the Nevada constitutional convention. The next year he moved to Austin, Lander County, Nevada, where he continued his legal practice. Ralston married Jane Alexander of Adams County, Illinois, on October 11, 1832. They had one child, a daughter. Jane Ralston died on July 3, 1847, at San Antonio, and in October 1853 Ralston married his second wife, Harriet N. Jackson of New York City. They were the parents of a son and a daughter. Ralston disappeared while traveling from Austin to his ranch in Smoky Valley during the first week in May 1864. He apparently became lost in a blinding snowstorm in the desert. His body was found by Shoshone Indians, who cremated it. A search party retrieved the remains and conveyed them back to Austin, where they were laid to rest. The area in Nevada where Ralston died was subsequently named Ralston's Desert.

Susan Prendergast Schoelwer, "The Artist's Alamo: A Reappraisal of Pictorial Evidence, 1836–1850," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91 (April 1988). J. F. Snyder, "Forgotten Statesmen of Illinois: James Harvey Ralston," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1908 (1909).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Kevin R. Young, "RALSTON, JAMES HARVEY," accessed February 29, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra55.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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