James Russell Cooke (Cook), soldier, was born on May 8, 1812, in Clinton, Georgia, the son of John and Mary Ellen (Hampton) Cooke. The family moved to Alabama Territory in 1817. By 1835 Cooke had moved to Washington County, Texas. On December 25, 1835, he joined Capt. Peyton S. Wyatt's company of Huntsville (Alabama) Volunteers, but was on furlough on February 29, 1836, a fact that no doubt saved him from sharing the fate of his comrades at the Goliad Massacre. He was elected first lieutenant of Capt. Henry Wax Karnes's cavalry company and participated in the battle of San Jacinto. From June 5 through November 5, 1836, he served as acting captain of the company.
On December 19, 1837, Cooke married Sarah Ann Lott. They raised two sons on Doe Run Creek near Washington, Washington County, Texas. Upon receiving a commission from Sam Houston on August 10, 1842, Cooke "cheerfully commenced recruiting volunteers" in Washington County for the Somervell expedition. With the organization of the volunteers at San Antonio, Cooke was first appointed inspector general and mustering officer of Alexander Somervell's Army of the South West and then, on November 10, was elected colonel of the First Regiment of the Second Brigade. He played a conspicuous role in the capture of Laredo and Guerrero, but when Somervell suggested that the expedition be broken up and return to San Antonio, Cooke is said to have replied, "we cannot break up this expedition, the men will mutinize, they are determined to cross the Rio Grande and fight the enemy, but my advice is to fling every impediment in its way and let it break itself up." As Somervell's authority over his men deteriorated, Cooke resigned his command. Nevertheless, he remained in a position of some authority and was largely responsible for returning the rump of Somervell's army to San Antonio intact, while the second half of the command remained on the Rio Grande under William S. Fisher preparing for the disastrous Mier expedition.
According to the Clarksville Northern Standard, Cooke was killed in the streets of Washington by a man named Adkins, "with whom he had some difficulty." The Telegraph and Texas Register elaborated, stating that "in a drunken row" on March 31, 1843, Cooke "cut his friend Adkins, who in turn shot and killed Cook." Cooke's tombstone says he died on March 30. He was the uncle of Judge Gustave Cook, a colonel of the Eighth Texas Cavalry.