Dillard, James Eldrage (1830–1913)

By: Randell G. Tarín

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 21, 2020

James Eldrage Dillard, lawyer and judge, the son of David and Mahala (Durden) Dillard, was born in Houston County, Georgia, on September 26, 1830. He traveled to Texas in 1848 and lived in Liberty County, where he was a farmer and stockman. In 1853 he resettled in Cherokee County and studied law with the firm of Donnelly and Anderson. He began his own law practice in Rusk. From 1853 to 1857 Dillard was active in expelling Indians from White settlements. At the outset of the Civil War he enlisted in the Confederacy as a private in Company K of the Third Texas Cavalry. He received severe wounds in the battle of Oak Hill but recovered and was promoted for his bravery. Later he served in the Fourth Texas Cavalry under Col. Walter P. Lane.

After the war Dillard resumed his law practice. He was elected county judge in Kaufman County and subsequently district judge in Ellis County. In 1870 voters elected him to the state Senate. Dillard's opposition to Reconstruction won him enemies. He was twice expelled from the Senate for making speeches against the bribery and corruption in the legislature, but his constituency sent him back each time. He served his district in the Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth legislatures. During the turbulent term of Governor Edmund J. Davis, Dillard took an active part in opposing the "Carpetbag Constitution." By the end of the Coke-Davis controversy, he was a recognized leader in the destruction of misrule and the establishment of a Democratic state government. On January 19, 1874, Dillard and two others, armed with pistols, subdued the guards, stormed into the state capitol, and broke down the door of the governor's office. They removed state officials who refused to leave voluntarily. Dillard was often mentioned as a possible candidate for governor but instead chose to return to the practice of law.

He married Sarah Rosa Fallis Prather, a widow, on June 15, 1873, in Cherokee County. They had six children. In 1878 Dillard moved his family to Kaufman County, where he opened a successful law office. In 1882 voters elected him county judge and in 1893 district judge. He retired from office in 1906 but continued to practice law until his death, on December 8, 1913. See also CONSTITUTION OF 1866, CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1868–69.

T. R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (New York: Macmillan, 1968). Edna Davis Hawkins, et al., History of Ellis County, Texas (Waco: Texian, 1972). Kaufman Sun, March 20, 27, 1884. Kaufman County Historical Commission, History of Kaufman County (Dallas: Taylor, 1978).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
  • Twelfth Legislature (1870-1871)
  • Thirteenth Legislature (1873)
  • Fourteenth Legislature (1874-1875)
  • House
  • Twenty-first Legislature (1889)
  • Senate

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

Randell G. Tarín, “Dillard, James Eldrage,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dillard-james-eldrage.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 21, 2020