Shenanigans in Texas: Jaybird-Woodpecker War, 1888-1889

The last major Old West set-to in Texas took place in Fort Bend County, near Houston. The liberal-Republican Woodpeckers, mostly former slaves, swept the county election in 1884. The conservative-Democrat Jaybirds, primarily white former Confederates, opposed such unconscionable behavior for racist reasons. After Woodpeckers swept every office again in the 1888 election, retaliatory violence on both sides resulted in the deaths of several people.

During the Battle of Richmond—a twenty-minute gunfight inside the county courthouse in August 1889—four men, including the sheriff, were killed. The Jaybirds won the fracas, and with the assistance of Governor Sul Ross’s declaration of martial law, seized control of county government. Jaybirds forcibly ousted every elected Woodpecker and proceeded to disenfranchise black voters until 1953, when the Supreme Court put a stop to the whites-only voting shenanigans.

Intermittent Jaybird-Woodpecker violence continued until 1890, when a white Woodpecker tax assessor, accused of murdering a white Jaybird leader who was his political opponent, was gunned down in Galveston before he could be tried for the alleged crime.

(Image: Fort Bend County courthouse where the gun battle took place)

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