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 »


John G. Johnson

STATE POLICE. During Radical Republican rule, Texas was lawless and chaotic. A number of studies, including one by the Committee on Lawlessness and Violence of the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69, indicated the need for a statewide organization with the ability to work in any jurisdiction. The committee stated in its first report that 939 murders had been committed between 1865 and 1868. Of these, 460 were by whites against whites, 373 were whites murdering blacks, 10 were blacks killing whites, and 57 were blacks killing blacks. A later report increased the total number of murders in the period to 1,035. These figures did not include all of Texas, however, since some counties did not file reports. Sheriffs' reports for 1865 to 1871 show 4,425 crimes with only 588 arrests and few convictions. This paucity of justice was caused by poor law enforcement, including the fact that only eighty-two counties had jails, many of which were easily escaped from. Although the resulting Police Act of July 1870 authorized a force of 257 men, the force never had as many as 200 members. The State Police were authorized to arrest offenders where local law officers failed to do so. Adjutant General James Davidson was appointed chief of the State Police but was paid no more than his men. The police came from all walks of life. They were black, Hispanic, and white, and had fought as both Union and Confederate soldiers. Some were excellent lawmen, some were criminals. Most were Republicans. In December 1869 the force numbered 196 men; by January 1872 the total had dropped to 166; it rebounded to 184 in January 1873. In the first month the force made 978 arrests, 109 for murder and 130 for attempted murder. By 1872, arrests totaled 6,820—587 for murder, 760 for attempted murder, and 1,748 for other felonies. The value of recovered stolen property was $200,000. The largest number of arrests in any one year was 3,602 in 1871.

Despite the general success of the State Police, the fact that the force employed blacks and was controlled by Governor Edmund J. Davis made it unpopular. Some members of the force certainly deserved criticism. Capt. Jack Helm, for instance, was accused of murdering prisoners; he was discharged, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Others committed crimes for which the charges were dropped as soon as headquarters was advised. Davidson embezzled $37,000 and disappeared, though his crime cannot be blamed on the police. On April 22, 1873, the law authorizing the State Police was repealed. Former policeman Leander H. McNelly and at least thirty-six other State Police members became Texas Rangers. Although in older studies the State Police have been described as politically oriented and corrupt, available evidence does not substantiate the charge. More recent studies claim that earlier Texas historians of Reconstruction allowed bias against Republican organizations to influence their work.


Ann Patton Baenziger, "The Texas State Police during Reconstruction: A Reexamination," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 72 (April 1969). William T. Field, Jr., "The Texas State Police, 1870–1873," Texas Military History 5 (Fall 1965).

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, John G. Johnson, "STATE POLICE," accessed July 02, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jls02.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on April 12, 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...