Samuel Bell Maxey, Confederate general and United States senator, son of Rice and Lucetta Pope (Bell) Maxey, was born at Tompkinsville, Monroe County, Kentucky, on March 30, 1825. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and for one year was the roommate of Thomas Jonathan (Stonewall) Jackson. He graduated as a brevet second lieutenant on July 1, 1846, and fought in the Mexican War battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Churubusco, and Molino del Rey. He was commended for valor, brevetted first lieutenant, and placed in command of one of the five select companies that formed a city police guard in Mexico City. The most valuable asset he gained from the experience at the United States Military Academy and in the Mexican War was his early friendships with men who became generals in the Civil War and high political figures afterward. In 1849 Maxey resigned from the army and began practicing law in Albany, Kentucky, with his father. On June 19, 1853, he married Marilda Cass Denton, an unschooled farm woman from Clinton County, Kentucky. For economic reasons Maxey and his father moved their families to Texas, where they arrived in October 1857 and purchased five acres of prairieland south of the settlement of Paris in Lamar County.
After the state Secession Convention, Maxey, then district attorney for Lamar County, became captain of a company called the Lamar Rifles and accompanied a military force into Indian Territory. Why he ran for the Texas Senate in 1861 is something of a puzzle, for he simultaneously began to write letters to influential Confederate friends to obtain permission to form a regiment. He won the election but sent his father to the Senate in his stead. On January 1, 1862, Maxey's newly formed Ninth Texas Infantry regiment left Camp Benjamin, near Bonham, and marched on orders toward Bowling Green, Kentucky, to join the forces of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. Maxey was promoted to brigadier general in March 1862. He fought at Port Hudson, in the Vicksburg campaign, and at Jackson, Mississippi; he often commanded as many as 3,000 men. On December 27, 1863, he was appointed commander of Indian Territory, where he served until February 21, 1865, when he was given a division of cavalry and ordered to report to Beauchamp Springs, near Houston. On May 22, 1865, discouraged at the large-scale desertion from his division, Maxey asked to be relieved of his command. After the war he learned from Texas Confederate senator H. C. Burnett that before his resignation President Jefferson Davis had approved Maxey's nomination to major general and that the Confederate Senate had confirmed it.
Maxey was elected to the United States Senate on January 28, 1874, and served two terms. He was on the post office committee and did much to develop the postal system in Texas. He also aided in establishing the stage route from Fort Worth to Yuma. He pressed for federal aid for the improvement of Texas harbors, for frontier protection for Texas, and for the extension of the Texas and Pacific Railway. He was particularly well qualified to serve Texas during the difficult years after the war, for he believed that the war ended at Appomattox and adopted reason and moderation as his guidelines. He gained friends among the Democrats, north and south and was a friend of generals William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant. After his Senate terms he enjoyed a long retirement as a respected political figure.
Maxey had no children. He and his wife adopted a daughter in 1863 and later helped to raise and educate Maxey's nephew, Sam Bell Maxey Long. Maxey died on August 16, 1895, at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he had gone for treatment for gastrointestinal disease. He was buried in Paris, Texas. The Maxey home in Paris, a two-story frame residence completed in 1868, is a combination of Greek Revival and High Victorian Italianate styling; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.