Pleasants, Henry Clay (1828–1899)

By: Craig H. Roell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 28, 2019

Henry Clay Pleasants, the district judge credited with ending the Sutton-Taylor feud in DeWitt County during Reconstruction, was born on March 23, 1828, in Goochland County, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia, was admitted to the bar in 1852, and practiced law in Virginia until about 1854, when he moved to Clinton, Texas, the seat of DeWitt County. He continued in private practice and in 1858 married Ann Eliza Atkinson of Gonzales, Texas, who had also come from Virginia; the couple had four children.

During Reconstruction, Pleasants was elected judge of the Twenty-third Judicial District and was serving during the period of the Sutton-Taylor feud. When Pleasants insisted on bringing the criminals to trial in the Brassel murder case in December 1876, he appealed to the governor for the help of the Texas Rangers under Jesse Lee Hall. Hall's rangers aided in arresting suspects and keeping order during the trial, though Pleasants himself held court with a double-barreled shotgun across his knee, in response to threats that he would be killed if he returned a guilty verdict. Accounts of the feud credit Pleasants more than any other single individual with ending the first phase of the lawlessness that characterized this Reconstruction episode in DeWitt County. Judge Pleasants was elected to the newly formed Court of Civil Appeals of the First District in 1892 and served until his death in Galveston on November 7, 1899. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery, Cuero. His son Robert finished his father's term and was later elected chief justice of the Court of Civil Appeals in the First Supreme Judicial District.

Jack Hays Day, The Sutton-Taylor Feud (San Antonio: Murray, 1937). C. L. Sonnichsen, I'll Die Before I Run-The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas (New York: Devin-Adair, 1962). Robert C. Sutton, Jr., The Sutton-Taylor Feud (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1974).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

Craig H. Roell, “Pleasants, Henry Clay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 28, 2019