Davidson, John Wynn (1825–1881)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

John Wynn Davidson, army officer and Indian fighter, the eldest of the four sons of William B. and Elizabeth Davidson, was born on August 14, 1825, in Fairfax County, Virginia. Davidson graduated from West Point in 1845 and saw frontier duty in Kansas and Wisconsin. During the Mexican War he was stationed in California and participated in the battles of San Pasqual and the San Gabriel. On June 18, 1851, he married Clara McGunnegle in St. Louis, Missouri. During the Civil War Davidson, served as a brigadier general in General McClellan's Army of the Potomac. He fought in the Peninsular Campaign and the Seven Days battles and throughout the rest of the war served in the Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi districts. In 1866 Davidson was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Tenth United States Cavalry. Since the regiment consisted of black buffalo soldiers, he soon acquired the nickname "Black Jack." With the outbreak of the Red River War, Davidson, on September 10, 1874, led six companies of the Tenth Cavalry, three of the Eleventh Infantry, a section of mountain howitzers, Lt. Richard H. Pratt's Indian scouts, and forty-six supply wagons out of Fort Sill into the Texas Panhandle in search of Indians. Marching north to the Washita River, Davidson then turned west and for over a week toiled along the breaks of the Red River tributaries. By October fifty-eight horses and mules had been lost, and forage and rations were running low. Davidson's men surprised a band of Kiowas on October 2, but the remaining animals were too worn to carry out pursuit successfully. On October 24 he received the surrender of a Comanche band his troops had defeated on Elk Creek. With the onset of northers, sleet and snow in mid-November, about twenty-four troopers suffered from severe frostbite, food and supplies ran low, and 100 animals died during the "Wrinkled-hand Chase." However, Davidson and his subordinates destroyed several Indian camps and captured nearly 400 Indians and over 2,000 of their horses before returning to Fort Sill on November 29. In March 1875 Davidson relinquished regimental command to Benjamin H. Grierson and was transferred to Fort Griffin in Shackelford County, Texas, where his duties were confined mainly to patrolling the nearby cattle trails and cow camps. In December 1876 Davidson became commander at Fort Richardson until its abandonment in 1878, then once more at Fort Sill. In January 1879 he was sent to command the garrison at Fort Elliott. There his humane policy toward transient Indians from the reservations brought him into sharp conflict with the Texas Ranger captain, George W. Arrington. Promoted to colonel of the Second Cavalry on June 25, Davidson took command of that regiment at Fort Custer, Montana. On February 8, 1881, Davidson was seriously injured during an inspection tour when his horse slipped on ice and fell on top of him. He died at St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 26, 1881. He was buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, and his remains were reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery in 1911.

Homer K. Davidson, Black Jack Davidson, a Cavalry Commander on the Western Frontier: The Life of General John W. Davidson (Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark, 1974). William H. Leckie, The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967).


  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Soldiers

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Davidson, John Wynn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/davidson-john-wynn.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995