Brooks, James Abijah (1855–1944)

By: Harold J. Weiss, Jr.

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 18, 2019

James Abijah Brooks, Texas Ranger captain, state legislator, and county judge of Brooks County, son of Dr. John Strode Brooks and Mary Jane (Kerr) Brooks, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, on November 20, 1855. He is known in the annals of the Texas Rangers as one of the "Four Great Captains," the others being John R. Hughes, William J. McDonald, and John H. Rogers. Brooks had a lean frame, angular features, a mustache, a soft voice, and kindly yet determined manners. He worked as a cowboy and miner after he moved to Collin County, Texas, about 1876. He joined the service as a private at the beginning of 1883 and rose through the ranks–corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant–to become captain in 1889 of Company F in the Frontier Battalion. Of the "Four Great Captains" Brooks and Rogers received the least publicity, but they were said to be "dependable, intelligent, and wise in the ways of criminals." As the head of a ranger company in the field, Brooks had to recruit and fire personnel, order supplies, assign men to cases, and report to his superiors in Austin. From East Texas to the Rio Grande, Brooks and the rangers under his command, including Anderson Yancey Baker and Winfred Bates, tried to combat violent crime and disorder, such as the Catarino Garza troubles and the Reese-Townsend feud at Columbus. One incident, the killing of ranch owner Ramón de la Cerda by Baker in 1902, led to hostilities between political factions and ranger supporters and opponents. Brooks was commended for keeping the various factions under control. In addition, he and his rangers took part in policing oil-boom towns and stopping prizefights in El Paso in 1896 and Galveston in 1901. In his early ranger career, Brooks became involved in shootouts with fence cutters (see FENCE-CUTTING) in Brown County and with the Conner gang in the piney woods of East Texas. In the latter gunbattle one ranger was killed and three wounded, including Brooks, who lost several fingers on his left hand. He resigned his commission as head of Company A in the ranger force on November 15, 1906. After leaving the rangers and moving to Falfurrias, Brooks remained a faithful public servant. He was a Democrat. He served District 95—comprised of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Zapata counties—in the House of Representatives in the Thirty-first and Thirty-second legislatures and chaired the Counties Committee during his terms. He was instrumental in establishing the new county named in his honor. He then became engrossed in his duties as county judge of Brooks County, being first elected on September 2, 1911, and serving until February 1939. He was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia (Wilburn or Wilborn), whom he married on September 16, 1890. They had two children. Brooks died on January 15, 1944, and was buried in Falfurrias Burial Park.

William Warren Sterling, Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968). Walter Prescott Webb Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Texas Rangers
  • Thirty-first Legislature (1909-1910)
  • Thirty-second Legislature (1911)
  • House
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

Harold J. Weiss, Jr., “Brooks, James Abijah,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 18, 2019