Joseph Bledsoe, soldier and jurist, was born near Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky, on February 15, 1827, the son of Reverend Hiram Miller and Susan Tandy (Hughes) Bledsoe. In 1839 the family moved to Lafayette County, Missouri, where young Bledsoe attended high school at Lexington. He graduated from Bethany College in West Virginia in 1850 and was admitted to the bar. Before establishing a practice, however, he taught school for a year in Hinds County, Mississippi, and then accepted a position as chief engineer of the Texan Emigration and Land Company (see PETERS COLONY). A letter of introduction from George S. Walton dated March 13, 1854, describes Bledsoe as "a gentleman and a scholar" and asks the addressee's assistance in "furthering him along in your golden state."
After spending a year surveying the Peters Colony beyond the frontier on the upper Brazos River, Bledsoe moved to Austin, where he practiced law. On March 25, 1857, he married Miranda Sneed, the daughter of Judge Sebron Graham Sneed of Austin. The ceremony was performed by his friend Chief Justice John B. Costa of the state Supreme Court. In 1858, when Bledsoe moved his practice to Denton, he became a leader of the secession movement. He moved to McKinney in 1860 and was living there at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was elected first lieutenant in Capt. Joseph M. Bounds's company of Col. William C. Young's Eleventh Texas Cavalry regiment. He saw duty in Indian Territory and under Gen. Ben McCulloch at the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge), where he was wounded by a charge of grapeshot on March 10, 1862. After his regiment was reassigned east of the Mississippi River, he took part in the battle of Corinth before returning to Texas to recruit an artillery company, the Bledsoe Battery. As captain of the battery he saw action at the battles of Newtonia, Prairie Grove, Cave Hill, Bayou Meta, and Helena, all in Arkansas. Late in 1864 Bledsoe was reassigned to command of a company on the Rio Grande, twenty-five miles from Brownsville, with "plenty to eat and nothing to do." He wrote in December 1864, "This is a easier place to soldier than any I have been in and as I have seen a pretty rough time since war commenced I would like to stay here a while at least to rest."
With the breakup of the Confederacy, Bledsoe wrote to his friend Edward Pearsall Gregg that he was stranded in Austin "without means" and "doing nothing." "I have returned like nearly all other soldiers without a dollar," he related, and since the courts seemed unlikely to reopen in the near future he was considering going into business. He returned to McKinney, however, and reestablished his practice. On December 30, 1868, he married Florence Lavinia Davis, the niece and ward of Horace Clark and an early female instructor at Baylor University. The couple had five children. On September 1, 1869, Bledsoe joined Samuel Bell Maxey, John J. Good, and forty-seven other prominent men of the Second Congressional District in urging Capt. John C. Conner of the United States Army to run for the House of Representatives.
Bledsoe moved the family to Sherman in 1870, where he continued to practice law. His daughter Rockie Sneed Bledsoe was born in 1874. He was elected judge of the Twenty-seventh Judicial District in 1876 and reelected in November 1880. On August 9, 1884, he was elected chairman of the executive committee of the Grayson County Democratic party, and on August 18 in Houston he was elected a vice president of the state Democratic party convention. Bledsoe was still on the bench as late as 1885, and engaged in banking and agricultural projects. He passed away on October 5, 1898 in Sherman, and is buried in West Hill Cemetery.
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Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas (New York: Southern, 1880). Joseph Bledsoe Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Dallas Times Herald, March 6, 1861, June 19, 1861, September 11, 1869, February 12, 1870, August 24, 1872, August 14, 1884, August 21, 1884. Clement Anselm Evans, ed., Confederate Military History (Atlanta: Confederate Publishing, 1899; extended ed., Wilmington, North Carolina: Broadfoot, 1987–89). Buckley B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis, 1906). William S. Speer and John H. Brown, eds., Encyclopedia of the New West (Marshall, Texas: United States Biographical Publishing, 1881; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Texas State Gazette, March 28, 1857.
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 29, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
July 21, 2015