James Decatur Cocke, soldier and journalist, was born near Richmond, Virginia, about 1815. He was trained as an attorney but never practiced, taking up instead the printer's trade with the Mobile Morning Chronicle. He moved to Texas in 1837 with the ambition of starting a newspaper in Houston, and when Mirabeau B. Lamar launched his campaign for the presidency in 1837 he sought to sell his press at Velasco to Cocke, an enthusiastic Lamar supporter. Cocke declined, however, stating that the expense of moving the press to Houston would equal its value. Theodore Léger and Algernon P. Thompson took up the project instead and began publication of The People in February 1838. Cocke then considered the purchase of a new press in New Orleans or partnership with George W. Bonnell, who also wished to found a paper in Houston and who had a new press on order. Cocke went so far as to issue a prospectus of his new paper, the Banner of the Lone Star, in January 1838, but he abandoned the project before the first issue was printed, fearing that it would be a "losing concern." Nevertheless, he remained a staunch supporter of Lamar's militant policy toward Mexico and won the sobriquet "Fighting Cock" for his attacks on Sam Houston's administration. Samuel Alexander Roberts referred to him as "the Bolingbroke, the kingmaker," of Texas politics.
In the summer of 1839 Cocke was rumored to be planning a newspaper for the new capital, Austin, but he denied the report in the August 15 issue of the Houston Morning Star. That fall he ran against D. W. Babcock for the post of colonel, First Regiment of the Second Brigade, Texas Militia. Cocke fought as a private at the battle of Plum Creek. In August 1842 he was elected to a committee of correspondence to raise funds for the return of the Santa Fe prisoners (see TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION). In reaction to the invasion of Texas by Adrián Woll in 1842, Cocke raised a company of volunteers on Cypress Creek near Houston and led them, via Richmond and San Felipe, to San Antonio, where, on November 12, he enlisted as a private in Capt. Ewen Cameron's company of Col. James R. Cooke's First Regiment, South Western Army, for the Somervell expedition. A few days later Cocke transferred to the company of Capt. Gardiner Smith, perhaps because of the presence in that company of fellow editor Michael Cronican. Cocke's letter of January 12, 1843, from Matamoros is one of the principal primary documents on the battle of Mier and Texan justification for undertaking the campaign. At Salado Cocke drew the first black bean and said to his friends, "Boys, I told you so; I never failed in my life to draw a prize." To a comrade he then commented, "They only rob me of forty years." Fearing that the Mexicans would strip his body after he was dead, he removed his pants and gave them to a companion whose own clothing was in worse shape. He was shot with the sixteen others who drew black beans on March 25, 1843. His last words were reported to have been "Tell my friends I die with grace." See also BLACK BEAN EPISODE.