Helm, John Jackson [Jack] Marshall (ca. 1830–1873)

By: C. L. Sonnichsen

Revised by: Brett J. Derbes

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 20, 2018

John Jackson [Jack] Helm (Helms) was born in Missouri between 1836 and 1839 to George Washington and Ruth Mayo (Burnett) Helm. The family relocated to Texas by October 1841, and settled on 640 acres of land in Lamar County on February 7, 1842. During the Civil War he enlisted for twelve months in Company G of the Ninth Texas Cavalry under Capt. Lorenzo D. King at Camp Reeves on October 14, 1861. In 1862 George and Jack participated in a vigilante group that tried and hanged five men for Union sympathies. He deserted on April 14 in Des Ark, Arkansas. After the war he became captain of the State Police under Edmund J. Davis, and was said to have worked for Abel Head (Shanghai) Pierce as a cowboy. In June 1869 he was appointed a special officer to assist Capt. C. S. Bell in attacking the "Taylor Party" in the Sutton-Taylor Feud. Helm went to Austin and became the leading figure in the band of special officers spoken of by nonmembers as "regulators." He married Margaret Virginia Crawford in DeWitt on December 28, 1868. Through July and August 1869 they carried on a reign of terror in Bee, San Patricio, Wilson, DeWitt, and Goliad counties. The Galveston News reported that they killed twenty-one persons in two months and turned over only ten to the civil authorities. On August 23, Bell and Helm arranged a second attack on Taylor's ranch, in which Hays Taylor was killed and Doboy Taylor was wounded. He was elected sheriff of DeWitt County on December 3, 1869, and took the oath on April 27, 1870. After the founding of the State Police on July 1, 1870, Helm was appointed one of the four captains. On August 26, 1870, his detachment arrested Henry and Will Kelly of the Taylor faction on a trivial charge and shot them. Women of the Kelly family were witnesses, and their story caused such a public outcry that Governor Davis could not ignore the outrage. Helm was suspended in October and dismissed in December. He continued to be a menace for some time because he was serving as sheriff of DeWitt County during and after his incumbency as captain of State Police. When the police force was abolished in April 1873, Helm moved to Albuquerque, Texas, where he worked to perfect a cotton-worm destroyer that he had invented. He received a patent (no. 139,062) on May 20, 1873, for a new and improved version of the device. He was shot and killed by Jim Taylor and John Wesley Hardin at his blacksmith shop on July 18, 1873, and was buried in McCracken Cemetery in Wilson County.

John Wesley Hardin, The Life of John Wesley Hardin As Written by Himself (Seguin, Texas: Smith and Moore, 1896; new ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961). W. C. Nunn, A Study of the State Police during the E. J. Davis Administration (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1931). Chuck Parsons, Captain Jack Helm: A Victim of Texas Reconstruction Violence (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2018). Chuck Parsons and Norman Wayne Brown, A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013). Charles W. Ramsdell, Reconstruction in Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1910; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). Victor Rose, The Texas Vendetta, or the Sutton-Taylor Feud (New York: Little, 1880; rpt., Houston: Frontier, 1956). San Antonio Express, July 31, 1873, July 25, 1873, August 9, 1873. C. L. Sonnichsen, I'll Die Before I'll Run-The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas (New York: Harper, 1951; 2d. ed, New York: Devin-Adair, 1962). Austin Weekly Democratic Statesman, July 31, 1873.

  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Soldiers
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Vigilante Activity/Mob Violence
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War

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

C. L. Sonnichsen Revised by Brett J. Derbes, “Helm, John Jackson [Jack] Marshall,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/helm-john-jackson-jack-marshall.

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April 20, 2018

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