Nolan, Matthew (1834–1864)

By: Stephanie P. Niemeyer

Type: Biography

Published: May 26, 2011

Matthew Nolan, Mexican War veteran, Texas Ranger, Nueces County sheriff, and Confederate cavalry officer, was born in 1834 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the son of Irish immigrants. Some sources claim he was born in New York. His parents died when he and his older sister Mary and younger brother Tom were children, leaving them on their own. Mary married a soldier and enlisted her brothers as buglers in Zachary Taylor's Second Dragoons. She became a laundress so that she could travel with her husband and brothers to Texas on the eve of the Mexican War. They settled in Corpus Christi until Taylor moved his army to the Rio Grande valley at the beginning of the war. By this time Mary was working as a hospital matron. Matthew and Tom Nolan were at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma and traveled with the army until the end of the war in 1848 and then returned to Corpus Christi.

In 1850 Nolan joined John S. "Rip" Ford's Texas Ranger unit as a bugler where he distinguished himself in a May 26, 1850, skirmish with Comanche Indians near Fort Merrill. In Ford's memoirs he wrote that Nolan "rushed barefoot through prickly pear to get a shot at the retreating foe." Nolan stayed with Rip Ford and the Texas Rangers during the 1850s and fought minor territorial battles throughout Texas. In 1858 Nolan was elected sheriff of Nueces County, and he named his brother Tom a deputy sheriff.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Nolan raised a company of volunteers from Corpus Christi and joined the Second Texas Cavalry. He fought along the Mexican border with his former commander Ford. He returned to Corpus Christi to marry Margaret J. McMahon on May 22, 1862. Nolan rejoined his regiment to take part in the January 1, 1863, recapture of Galveston Island. His actions in the battle of Galveston led to his promotion to major.

Later in 1863 Nolan was sent back to a volatile Corpus Christi to help keep the peace in South Texas and monitor the coast. Corpus Christi was equally divided between Northern and Southerner sympathizers. Ford employed Nolan to keep watch on Cecilio Balerio, Union sympathizer and rancher. With Ford's blessing, Nolan was reelected to county sheriff on August 1, 1864. His job was to arrest, "perfidious renegades." One of these "renegades," former sheriff H. W. Barry, was a Mexican War veteran who was providing cotton to Union ships in the Gulf of Mexico. Nolan reported to Ford that he had seen Barry in action. By December 1864 Corpus Christi was suffering the effects of war, and tensions ran high. On the night of December 22, 1864, Nolan and horse trader J. C. McDonald met outside of the Nolan home, and while they talked, two of Barry's stepsons, Frank and Charles Gravis, appeared and started an argument with Nolan. In the commotion that ensued, one of the Gravis brothers shot and fatally wounded Nolan. Other sources claim that Nolan was in the process of arresting McDonald, and the two brothers, intending to kill McDonald for seducing their sister, accidentally shot Nolan instead.

Matthew Nolan is buried next to his brother Tom in the Old Bayview Cemetery in Corpus Christi.

Murphy Givens, "Corpus Christi History: The Nolans arrive in Corpus Christi," Corpus Christi Caller–Times, August 23, 2000 (, accessed March 23, 2011.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Sheriffs
  • Texas Rangers
  • Peoples
  • Irish
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Civil War

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

Stephanie P. Niemeyer, “Nolan, Matthew,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 26, 2011

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