Hill County Rebellion

By: Ricky Floyd Dobbs

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1995

During Reconstruction Governor E. J. Davis and the Radical Republican-dominated Twelfth Legislature of 1870 attempted to control crime in the state. In October 1870 Davis threatened Hill County with martial law for its tolerance of criminals. Conditions in the county seemed improved by late 1870, but in December a freedman and his wife were murdered in neighboring Bosque County, and State Police Lt. W. T. Pritchett moved into Hill County chasing suspects James J. Gathings, Jr., and Sollola Nicholson. Pritchett raised the ire of James J. Gathings, Sr., by seeking to arrest his son. The elder Gathings, Hill County's largest landowner, incited a mob that pushed county officials to arrest and detain the State Police troopers in Hillsboro in early January 1871. On January 11 Davis declared martial law in Hill County and dispatched adjutant general James Davidson and the State Militia to rescue the jailed police. Davidson arrived on January 15 with fifty state militia troops from Georgetown, commanded by Capt. E. H. Napier. Davidson arrested the elder Gathings, his brother Phillip, and his sons-in-law, James Denmember and Dr. A. M. Douglas, for hampering Pritchett's investigation. The adjutant general fined the four $3,000, rather than assessing the entire county as mandated by law. Martial law ended on January 17. Controversy over incidents in Hill and Walker counties led to an investigation by the state Senate committee on militia in February 1871. The committee supported Davis's actions; the senator from Hill County, G. P. Shannon, a Democrat, was the lone dissenter. In 1874, despite a strained budget and Democratic attacks upon Radical extravagance, Governor Richard Coke signed a bill that returned Gathings's money.

Ann Patton Baenziger, "The Texas State Police during Reconstruction: A Reexamination," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 72 (April 1969). Barry A. Crouch, "A Spirit of Lawlessness: White Violence, Texas Blacks, 1865–1868," Journal of Social History 18 (Winter 1984). Ricky Floyd Dobbs, `A Slow Civil War': Resistance to the Davis Administration in Hill and Walker Counties, 1871 (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1989). Hill County Historical Commission, A History of Hill County, Texas, 1853–1980 (Waco: Texian, 1980). A Memorial and Biographical History of Johnson and Hill Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1892).
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Rebellions, Raids, and Wars
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

Ricky Floyd Dobbs, “Hill County Rebellion,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hill-county-rebellion.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995