Josiah Frazier Crosby, judge, legislator, and secessionist leader, was born on January 3, 1829, in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of William and Mary Ann (Frazier) Crosby. His father was a merchant. The family moved to Alabama a few years after Josiah's birth, and after the death of his father in 1837 the boy was adopted by his uncle Josiah J. Crosby, a lawyer, who brought him to Texas. Crosby was educated by private tutors, including Joel Ankrim, and in 1844 began reading law with another uncle, William Crosby, and James Willie, the former attorney general of Texas, in Brenham. On January 10, 1848, an act of the legislature admitted Crosby to the state bar despite his minority, and he was appointed district attorney of the Third Judicial District. In 1850 he married the daughter of Judge Thomas Johnson, but two years later she died, and Crosby was forced by illness to resign his position.
His former tutor, Ankrim, who had become district judge in El Paso County, convinced Crosby to move west to recover his health. In the spring of 1852 Crosby, Ankrim, and several others bought an ambulance and mule team in San Antonio and attached themselves to one of William T. Smith's wagon trains for the two-month journey to San Elizario.
Crosby threw himself into the civic affairs of his new home. In July 1852 he was appointed, along with James Wiley Magoffin and Hugh Stephenson, to a committee investigating Indian attacks. In 1853 Crosby was appointed to the Texas House of Representatives, where he advocated the passage of laws designed to curb Indian depredations. He also sponsored railroad legislation and campaigned for a rail link between Central Texas and the El Paso area. In 1854 he was elected district attorney of the Eleventh Judicial District, but shortly thereafter was elected to the legislature and resigned the office of district attorney. In Austin he met Josephine Bremond of Philadelphia; they were married on August 30, 1856, and eventually had eight children. Crosby was reelected to the legislature in 1856, but that same year his friend and mentor Ankrim resigned and left El Paso County. A year later Crosby was elected district judge to replace him.
Crosby also became the attorney for the freighter Smith, nicknamed Uncle Billy, who had purchased Coons' Rancho and tried with little success to promote it as a townsite. Smith wanted to sell the property and concentrate on his freighting business, but Crosby advised him to keep the property, as it would doubtless become valuable someday. Smith, however, insisted on selling, and Crosby was a member of the syndicate that bought the ranch and hired Anson Mills to survey it and lay out the townsite that became the city of El Paso. In the 1850s Crosby helped establish a local Masonic lodge and built up an extensive private library. He was also linked to the temperance movement and served as a delegate to the state Democratic convention.
In the late 1850s he became a forceful advocate of secession. He was a delegate from Texas to the Charleston convention that met on April 23, 1860, to select the Democratic presidential candidate, and on July 28, 1860, he denounced the Northern Democrats at a mass meeting in San Antonio.
At the time Crosby was suffering from lung disease, so he returned to El Paso to recover and resumed the district judgeship. He ruled that a Fort Bliss deserter had been within his rights in leaving the army, since the United States was no longer recognized as a legitimate government. Shortly thereafter, when the Civil War broke out, Crosby left to join the Confederate Army. He was acting quartermaster general on Henry H. Sibley's feckless invasion of New Mexico and later adjutant general on the staff of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. On Smith's orders he spent nine months in Europe buying arms and munitions. He returned to Texas in early 1865 and spent the remaining months of the war serving under Governor Pendleton Murrah.
In December 1865 a Union judge in New Mexico began ordering the seizure of property belonging to Confederate sympathizers, including Crosby, Magoffin, and Stephenson, in El Paso. They argued successfully before the New Mexico Supreme Court that the jurisdiction of the New Mexico courts did not extend to El Paso, and on March 28, 1868, in United States vs. Hart, the United States Supreme Court upheld the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling. A companion case, United States vs. Josiah F. Crosby, Henry S. Gillett, and James S. Gillett, confirmed the decision.
In October 1865, the war over, Crosby settled in Houston, where he practiced law and became vice president and general manager of the Texas and New Orleans Railroad and president of the Street Railroad Company of Houston. He maintained ties to El Paso, however, and in 1883 he and Anson Mills built the Grand Central Hotel there. The hotel, the largest in the state, opened on February 13, 1884, but was destroyed by fire on February 11, 1892. In 1886 Crosby returned to El Paso, from where he promoted mining and railroad activities in Chihuahua. He went to New York to open a law office in 1893 but soon returned to El Paso. He died there on January 3, 1904, and was buried in Concordia Cemetery. Crosby, a devout Episcopalian, would doubtless have been appalled when vandals desecrated his tomb, apparently for purposes of Satanic ritual, in March 1989.