Nathaniel Macon Burford, attorney, judge, and Civil War soldier, was born on June 24, 1824, in Smith County, Tennessee, to John Hawkins and Nancy (McAlister) Burford. He graduated from Irving College and the law school at Lebanon, Tennessee, and was admitted to the bar in 1845. He volunteered for service in the Mexican War, but by the time he got to Knoxville the state's quota had been filled. He then worked his way to Shreveport, Louisiana, and walked from there to Jefferson, Texas, in January 1847. There he became deputy clerk of the district court. He found, however, that the bar was too full for his career ambitions, so he pushed on to Dallas in October 1848, carrying five dollars and several letters of recommendation.
In Dallas he soon formed a law partnership with John H. Reagan and in 1850 and 1852 was elected district attorney. He drafted the charter for Dallas, which the legislature accepted in 1856, and in the same year became judge of the new Sixteenth Judicial District, a post he held until 1861, when he resigned to join, as a private, the First Texas Artillery under Capt. John Jay Good. In 1862 he received a commission as colonel and raised a regiment from Dallas, Kaufman, Ellis, Hill, Navarro, McLennan, and Parker counties. This regiment, designated the Nineteenth Texas Cavalry, was ordered to Arkansas, where it joined a brigade forming under Col. William Henry Parsons. The Nineteenth Texas served the entire war in the Trans-Mississippi Department, generally under the command of Lt. Col. Benjamin W. Watson or Maj. John B. Williams rather than Colonel Burford. After the Red River campaign in 1864 Burford offered his resignation, admitting that he did not possess the ability to lead troops in combat. His commanding officers agreed, commended his patriotism, and accepted the resignation.
After resuming his legal practice, he became president of the Soldiers' Home Association (1864) and was elected to the House of the Eleventh Legislature (1866), where he was chosen speaker. He was removed from his office along with others by Gen. Philip H. Sheridan as an "impediment to Reconstruction." In 1868 he endorsed the organization of a Conservative party of Dallas County that condemned "Negro supremacy" and supported President Andrew Johnson's pro-South policy. He was elected presiding justice of Dallas County in April 1875 and judge of the Eleventh District in February 1876, only to resign in April 1877 because of bad health. He was appointed United States commissioner in 1879 and served until 1881.
Burford was a charter member of Tannehill Masonic lodge No. 52 and its first master. On January 18, 1854, he married Mary Knight, daughter of a Dallas pioneer family; they had eight children. Burford was a Democrat and a vestryman in the Episcopal Church. He died in Dallas on May 10, 1898, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.