John Robert Baylor, Indian fighter, Civil War officer, and rancher, the son of John Walker and Sophie Marie (Wiedner) Baylor, was born at Paris, Kentucky, on July 27, 1822. When he was a small boy he moved with his family to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, where his father was an assistant surgeon in the Seventh Infantry. At an early age he was sent to Cincinnati for an education, but after the death of his father he went to live with his uncle at Rocky Creek, south of La Grange in Fayette County, Texas. In 1840 Baylor joined a Texas volunteer army under Col. John H. Moore, but he arrived too late for the battle of Plum Creek. Two years later he joined Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson to avenge the seizure of San Antonio by Mexican general Adrián Woll but was able to avoid the subsequent Dawson Massacre. In late 1842 he returned to Fort Gibson to teach school at the Creek agency. One year later he was with his brother-in-law, James Dawson, when Dawson killed an Indian trader named Seaborn Hill. Charged as an accomplice, Baylor fled across the Red River to Texas. He married Emily Hanna at Marshall in 1844. The Baylors eventually became the parents of seven sons and three daughters.
In Texas Baylor took up farming and ranching at Ross Prairie in Fayette County. In 1851 he was elected to the state legislature, and two years later he was admitted to the bar. In September 1855 he was appointed Indian agent to the Comanches on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. He was dismissed in 1857, after accusing certain of the reservation Comanches of aiding their non-reservation-bound fellow tribesmen in raids on the frontier and feuding with his supervisor, Robert S. Neighbors. In the years that followed he traveled widely in North Texas preaching hatred of the Comanches and other Indians and attempting to have Neighbors replaced with someone more to his own liking. A man of considerable vigor and magnetism, he addressed mass meetings, organized a vigilante force of some 1,000 men, and even edited an anti-Indian newspaper, the White Man, published by H. A. Hamner at Jacksboro and later at Weatherford. In June 1860 Baylor led a band of frontiersmen in the defeat of a small party of Comanches in the battle of Paint Creek, to avenge the murder and scalping of a young white boy.
With secession and the Civil War, Baylor came as lieutenant colonel to command the Second Texas Mounted Rifles, which was ordered to occupy a chain of forts protecting the overland route between Fort Clark and Fort Bliss. Baylor reached Fort Bliss in July 1861 and immediately began preparations to occupy the Mesilla valley. He seized Mesilla without opposition and, on the basis of reports of the arrival of massive reinforcements and artillery, caused a large part of the Seventh Infantry under Maj. Isaac Lynde to evacuate Fort Fillmore. After pursuing the retreating federals east into the Organ Mountains, where they were weakened by lack of water, Baylor secured their surrender at San Augustine Pass on July 27, 1861 (see MESILLA, BATTLE OF).
At Mesilla Baylor established the Confederate Territory of Arizona and proclaimed himself military governor in 1861. On December 15 of that year he was promoted to colonel. In response to a series of critical articles in the pro-Confederate Mesilla Times, he challenged the editor, Robert P. Kelley, to a fight and injured him so severely that he died a few weeks later. Preoccupied with the hostile Apaches of the region, Baylor led a raid deep into the mountains of Chihuahua and supposedly killed a large number of Apaches, although no official correspondence exists to prove this. In March 1862 he sent a letter ordering the extermination of the hostile Apaches in the area to Capt. Thomas Helm, who was guarding the Pinos Altos mines. When word of Baylor's controversial order reached Richmond, President Jefferson Davis removed him from civil and military command. In Texas Baylor fought as a private during the battle of Galveston on January 1, 1863, and beat Malcolm D. Graham in the election to the Second Confederate Congress. Two weeks before Lee's surrender Baylor was reinstated as colonel, but he did not see action.
After the war he moved to San Antonio, where in 1873 he competed unsuccessfully with Richard Coke for the Democratic nomination for governor. He dabbled in Greenback and Populist politics and in 1876, at the age of fifty-four, offered his services to the army during the Sioux War. In 1878 he moved to Montell, on the Nueces River northwest of Uvalde, and acquired a sizable ranch. He continued to be involved in violent confrontations and reputedly killed a man in a feud over livestock in the 1880s. He was not charged with murder, however, or prosecuted in any way. He died at Montell on February 6, 1894, and is buried in Ascension Episcopal Cemetery there.