Moorman, Charles Watt (ca. 1817–1850)

By: Michael Moorman Fricke

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1995

Watt Moorman, a leader in the Regulator-Moderator War, son of Charles Hancock and Sophia (Maghee) Moorman, was born in Huntsville, Alabama, around 1817. His parents settled in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Columbus, Mississippi, before being driven to Texas by the Panic of 1837. The Moormans, including Watt's three brothers and three sisters, settled in northwest Shelby County (later a part of Panola County). In 1839 Texas was in turmoil. Most of the new arrivals were from states steeped in traditional legal recourse and its protection, but an element in Texas was engaged in producing fraudulent land certificates, slave theft, and other unlawful activities. The oldest settlers were unwilling or unable to control these activities. The new decided if the law wouldn't, they would, and banded themselves together as "Regulators" (i.e., vigilantes) dedicated to driving the lawless from Shelby County. This group was organized by Charles W. Jackson. Jackson was murdered from ambush, in retaliation for burning the homes of those the Regulators considered the worst and for killing Joe Goodbread, an alleged land pirate. Jackson was warning the world about fraudulent headright certificates (land scrip) being issued by many counties. Goodbread warned Jackson, the result being Goodbread's death. The murder of Jackson joined the issue and began the bloodiest feud in Texas history. Moorman replaced Jackson as head Regulator, and Ed Merchent organized the opposition under the name Moderators. Moorman, a natural leader, claimed the loyalty of the best citizens. Some allege he was a forger from Columbus, Mississippi, who had to come to Texas, though no record of his supposed crimes exists in the official court records of Columbus, Mississippi. When he moved to Texas in 1839 he brought his whole family, a fact that suggests he was no fugitive.

Moorman's Regulators captured the McFadden brothers, three of Jackson's killers, all Moderators. An irregular trial was held before most of the Shelbyville townspeople in October 1841. The accused confessed. Bill and Bailey McFadden were hanged, and a younger McFadden boy was released. Most of the county concurred that the victims not only killed Jackson but an innocent citizen in his company. Moorman was a hero, but not for long. The Regulators controlled Shelbyville, where he became a virtual dictator. Men were killed on both sides, mostly from ambush. Without any protection, citizens were terrified. James F. Cravens organized a group of "Reformers," which a few Moderators joined; but the worst were denied, including John M. Bradley. On July 24, 1844, a peace treaty was signed by Moorman and Cravens. Moorman married Helen Mar Daggett in early 1844, ignoring the objections of her family. Her brother, Eph. Daggett, a Regulator, described Moorman:

Watt could shoot straighter than any man I ever saw. He was a good scholar, wrote poetry that was real funny, and he had a comical laugh. He would not confine himself to any kind of business, was the ideal of his father and mother, played billiards and ten pins, bruised fellows' heads with billiard cues, rode his friends' horses, spent their money and wore their clothes. He gave away his own clothes if had more than his share, had the most respectable men for his friends, and anything he wanted that they had was at his service.

Moorman was usually armed with a Bowie knife and a pair of pistols. He carried a heavy stick to cane his minor enemies and, like Robin Hood, carried a hunting horn on his saddle. The peace treaty acknowledged that "John M. Bradley had seduced many of the respectable citizens with false allegations about the Regulators." Bradley was apparently not a party to the treaty; Moorman killed him at a revival in San Augustine. Bradley had threatened Moorman's life and evidently was involved in an ambush in which Moorman was shot in the hip. The feud immediately resumed, and eventually involved hundreds of men from Harrison County and other East Texas counties. Even Helen Mar Moorman was involved as a spy. The Regulators, in a foolish attempt to weaken the Moderators, posted the names of their best citizens, warning them to leave Shelby County or die. This highhandedness resulted in dissention, for which Moorman was blamed. The average citizen now considered him a villain. When Sam Houston's militia stopped the war in August 1844, the troops arrested Moorman and jailed him in San Augustine, but released him on his personal bond several days later. He was tried in San Augustine for the murder of Bradley, but was acquitted. A new peace treaty was signed by Regulators M. T. Johnson and John McNairy and Moderators James Truitt and John Dial.

Watt and Helen had no peace, however. The Moderators watched them continuously. Both were afraid to leave home after dark, convinced the Moderators would kill them. They had a daughter in 1845 and were eventually divorced. Moorman was shot in the back by Dr. Robert Burns in Logansport, Louisiana, on February 14, 1850. He was probably buried in the family cemetery on his father's 640 acre-headright in southwest Panola County. His father was the administrator of Watt's estate. Burns was acquitted, partly because of Moorman's reputation. Jenny, Watt's daughter, delivered the original peace treaty to Mary Daggett Lake in March 1926. It is in the Mary Daggett Lake Papers in the Fort Worth Public Library. Though some considered Moorman a villain, the Moorman family was naming people after him as recently as 1925. See also FEUDS.

George L. Crocket, Two Centuries in East Texas (Dallas: Southwest, 1932; facsimile reprod. 1962). C. L. Douglas, Famous Texas Feuds (Dallas: Turner, 1936). John Warren Love, The Regulator-Moderator Movement in Shelby County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1936). John W. Middleton, History of the Regulators and the Moderators (Fort Worth: Loving, 1883). Oran M. Roberts, "The Shelby War, or the Regulators and the Moderators," Texas Magazine, August 1897.

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

Michael Moorman Fricke, “Moorman, Charles Watt,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 03, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995