While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Gilbert M. Cuthbertson
Map of Texas-Louisiana Border
Map, Texas-Louisiana border where Harrison and Shelby counties are located. The conflict is rooted to the time when this area was once considered the Neutral Ground, and led to lawlessness. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

REGULATOR-MODERATOR WAR. The Regulator-Moderator War was a feud in Harrison and Shelby counties in the Redlands of East Texas from 1839 to 1844. The principal leaders of the Regulators were Charles W. Jackson and Charles W. Moorman, and the principal leaders of the Moderators were Edward Merchant, John M. Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens. The roots of the conflict lay in the frauds and land swindling that had been rife in the Neutral Ground, the lawless area between the American and Mexican borders. One such dispute involved Joseph Goodbread and Sheriff Alfred George, who summoned Charles W. Jackson to his assistance. Jackson, a former Mississippi riverboat captain and a fugitive from Louisiana justice, shot Goodbread at Shelbyville in 1840. Jackson then organized the Regulators to prevent "cattle rustling." In turn, the Moderators were organized by Edward Merchant to moderate the Regulators. The first major confrontation between the groups came on July 12, 1841, at Jackson's trial before Judge John M. Hansford, a friend of the Moderators and Goodbread. The Regulators intimidated the court so much that the trial could not proceed. They also exacerbated the situation by burning the homes of the McFadden family and "Tiger Jim" Strickland. The hostilities escalated; Sam Houston reportedly stated, "I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out." Jackson and an "innocent Dutchman named Lauer" were ambushed and killed by the Moderators, and Moorman replaced Jackson as leader of the Shelby County Regulators. Moorman, who may have been wanted for forgery in Mississippi, led a party to avenge Jackson and Lauer. They surprised the assassins twenty-five miles north of Crockett. The McFaddens were tried in Shelbyville in October 1841 for the Jackson-Lauer killing, and all were hanged with the exception of the youngest brother.

The quarrel reopened with a dispute between Henry Runnels, a Regulator, Samuel Hall, an ex-Regulator, and a man named Stanfield, a boarder at the Runnels house. Stanfield accused Hall of hog theft and shot him dead in Shelbyville, and Hall's friends called upon the Moderators for revenge. Although Stanfield escaped from the Shelbyville jail, he was pursued by some of Hall's surviving family members, who also ambushed Runnels. At this point Moorman's archenemy, John M. Bradley, became leader of the Moderators. Bradley and Moorman went to court, where Regulator judge John Ingram nullified charges against Moorman, and Moderator judge S. F. Lester dismissed the murder charges against Bradley and Amos Hall, a brother of Samuel Hall. Another brother, James Hall, was shot and killed while he was plowing. The Moderators met at Bells Springs in the summer of 1844 and renamed themselves the Reformers. They excluded Bradley and elected James J. Cravens as their leader. They determined to occupy Shelbyville. The Regulators decided to dispose of Bradley and plotted to extend their control throughout Texas. The feuding groups signed a truce on July 24, 1844, which protected "good and unoffending citizens." Bradley, presumably beyond the pale of such protection, was "regulated permanently" at a Baptist camp meeting near San Augustine on July 28, 1844. Retaliation came in the form of the murder of Louis Watkins. The struggle was again renewed in August 1844. About 225 Moderators attacked sixty-two Regulators near Shelbyville. The Regulators were reinforced by prominent citizens from Harrison County, one of whom was killed. The Moderators then occupied a log meetinghouse four miles from Hilliard's Bridge, and Moorman and the Regulators launched a surprise attack. The skirmish was known as the Church Hill Battle to the Regulators and Helen's Defeat to the Moderators, in reference to Helen Mar Daggett Moorman's ride to spy on the enemy camp. There were few casualties, and the action was indecisive.

Regulator-Moderator War Historical Marker
Photograph, Regulator-Moderator War historical marker. Photo courtesy of Gerald Massey Photography. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

On August 15, 1844, President Houston ordered Travis G. Broocks and Alexander Horton to take the militia and make peace in East Texas. They arrested ten leaders from both sides and brought them to San Augustine. The Regulators stampeded, but the Moderators stood firm and arrested Broocks, who was soon released. A committee consisting of Judge William B. Ochiltree, Isaac Van Zandt, and Senator David S. Kaufman, among others, drafted an agreement disbanding both factions. The document was accepted by James Truitt and John Dial for the Moderators and Middleton T. Johnson and John McNairy for the Regulators. Truitt and Dial had just defeated their cosigners in an election for the Texas Congress. Watt Moorman was later arrested by Horton and was eventually shot by Dr. Robert Burns. Both Regulators and Moderators amicably joined Capt. L. H. Mabbitt's company to serve in the Mexican War, presumably much to the relief of Sam Houston and much to the ire of Gen. Zachary Taylor.


Gilbert M. Cuthbertson, "The Regulators and Moderators: A Tale of Old Tenaha," Texana 12 (1974). John Warren Love, The Regulator-Moderator Movement in Shelby County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1936). John W. Middleton, History of the Regulators and the Moderators (Fort Worth: Loving, 1883). Bill O'Neal, War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2006). C. L. Sonnichsen, Ten Texas Feuds (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1957; rpt. 1971).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, Gilbert M. Cuthbertson, "REGULATOR-MODERATOR WAR," accessed July 03, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jcr01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 8, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...