Osterhout, John Patterson (1826–1903)

By: Walter L. Buenger

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: August 3, 2020

John Patterson Osterhout, lawyer, journalist, and politician, son of David and Sarah Osterhout, was born in Lagrange, Pennsylvania, on May 8, 1826, and educated in that area. Upon receiving his license to practice law in 1851 he moved to Austin County, Texas. After gradually building up his law practice he founded and began publishing the Bellville Countryman, on July 26, 1860. He took a hand in publicizing that summer's alleged slave rebellions in North Texas (see SLAVE INSURRECTIONS) and soon revealed that in his years in Texas he had become an ardent defender of the extreme Southern point of view. Although once skeptical of the economic benefits of slavery, by 1860 Osterhout defended it as a positive good and was a slave owner. He even began to question the loyalty of the large German population of Austin County, a group that had helped in his rise to prominence.

Osterhout became a vocal supporter of secession and the Confederate war effort. He continued to publish the Countryman throughout the war despite a shortage of paper and ink and his service in the state militia. He was an early advocate of using slaves as soldiers and kept up a constant effort to maintain the loyalty of the Germans to the southern cause. After the war he quickly accepted defeat and the end of slavery. Yet he also strove to perpetuate the legend of the Lost Cause in his Countryman. Like others of the New South, Osterhout glorified the old while turning to railroads and politics to build up the new. In 1868 he sold the Countryman and devoted his attention to his law practice and a small railroad company. Despite earlier condemnations of the Republican party, by 1870 he had become an active supporter.

Through his friend John G. Bell, a state legislator, Osterhout received an appointment as judge of the Thirty-fourth State District Court in 1870 and moved his family to Belton, in the center of the district. He served as judge until 1876 and as postmaster of Belton (1880–85 and 1889–93) during Republican presidential administrations. While in Belton he ran for Congress as a Republican three times but lost every time. Osterhout was a devout Baptist. His 1884 campaign for Congress against Roger Quarles Mills was centered on prohibition.

He was also an unusual and contradictory character in Texas politics who demonstrates the difficulty in fitting Civil War and Reconstruction Texans into neat categories. Though he was a northerner whose staunchly Unionist family had lived in the United States for several generations, Osterhout became a secessionist and ardent defender of slavery. But after the war he rapidly gave up on slavery and urged reconciliation of the North and South. By 1870 he was a Republican officeholder in a solidly Democratic state, but was well respected by his Democratic neighbors in Belton, one of whom wrote that Osterhout "had the respect and esteem of all our best citizens."

After 1893 Osterhout devoted his time to stock raising and a prosperous store. He and his wife, Junia, whom he married in Pennsylvania in March 1859, had six children. When she died in 1897 Osterhout retired from active business life. He died in early 1903 in Belton.

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). A Memorial and Biographical History of McLennan, Falls, Bell, and Coryell Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1893; rpt., St. Louis: Ingmire, 1984). Osterhout Collection, Woodson Research Center, Rice University Library, Houston. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Reunion of the Old Settlers' Association of Bell County (Belton, Texas: Journal-Reporter, 1903). Randy J. Sparks, "John P. Osterhout, Yankee, Rebel, Republican," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 90 (October 1986).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

Walter L. Buenger, “Osterhout, John Patterson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/osterhout-john-patterson.

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May 1, 1995
August 3, 2020