John Walter Cranford, lawyer, Texas senator, and United States congressman, son of James Heflin and Caroline Nancy (Bettis) Cranford, was born near Grove Hill, Alabama, on July 28, 1859. In 1865 the family moved to Hopkins County, Texas, where both of Cranford's parents died, his mother in 1865 and his father in 1872. Thus orphaned at the age of thirteen, Cranford worked to support himself and to attend school but left without graduating when he had an opportunity to study law. After reading with Sam J. Hunter of Fort Worth and judges J. K. Milam and J. A. B. Putman of Sulphur Springs, he was admitted to the bar in 1880 and became a junior partner in the firm of Hunter, Putman, and Cranford in Sulphur Springs. He was later a partner in the firm of Cranford and Garrison and subsequently with the firm of Cranford, Garrison, and Keasler.
In November 1888 Cranford ran successfully as the Democratic nominee for the Texas Senate from the Fifth Senatorial District. He was reelected in 1892. He served in the Twenty-first, Twenty-second, and Twenty-third legislatures and was elected president pro tem of the Twenty-second Legislature. In 1896 he was elected from the Fourth Congressional District to the Fifty-fifth Congress of the United States. He easily defeated J. H. (Cyclone) Davis, the populist candidate, and M. W. Johnson, a Gold-Standard Democrat.
Cranford married Medora Ennis at Sulphur Springs in 1880. They had four children. The oldest, Walter Ennis Cranford, established the law firm of Armstrong, Cranford, Barker, and Bedford in Galveston, notable for maritime, insurance, and corporate law. During his term with the Fifty-fifth Congress, Cranford suffered from poor health, caused in part by the illness of his wife, who died in 1898. He was given an indefinite leave of absence for illness on January 17, 1899, and died on March 3 of that year in Providence Hospital, Washington, D.C. His body was accompanied by a committee of nine United States senators and eleven members of the United States House of Representatives to Sulphur Springs, where it was interred in the city cemetery.