Joseph C. Terrell, lawyer, businessman, and Civil War officer, was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, on October 28, 1831, the son of Dr. Christopher Joseph and Susan (Kennerly) Terrell, who were en route to Booneville, Missouri, from Virginia. After graduating from the local academy in 1850 he moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, to study law with his brother, Alexander W. Terrell. He received a license two years later and immediately set out for California. In 1853 Terrell opened an office in Santa Clara, but he had few clients and moved to Monterey the next year and to Oregon in 1855. While wandering about another year he occasionally practiced law, but his western years were frustrating and financially unrewarding. Terrell crossed the continent in 1856 to visit relatives in Missouri and Virginia. By January 1857 he had decided to return to the Pacific coast and stopped on the way to visit his brother Alexander, by then a judge in Austin, Texas. Joseph Terrell was in Fort Worth in February, looking for a wagon train, when he met Dabney C. Dade, an attorney and former schoolmate, who persuaded him to end his odyssey. They formed a partnership that lasted until the Civil War. Although he had opposed secession, Terrell put loyalty to his adopted state above personal conviction when the war broke out. At his own expense, he recruited a cavalry unit, which became Company F of Maj. Edwin Waller, Jr.'s Thirteenth Texas Battalion in Gen. Thomas Green's brigade. Terrell fought with distinction at Yellow Bayou, Camp Bisland, Fordoche, and other battles in Arkansas and Louisiana. To stay with his men, he repeatedly refused promotion and always remained a captain. After the war, he returned to Fort Worth, resumed the practice of law, and eventually became a wealthy landowner. He married Mary V. Lawrence of Hill County in May 1871; they had five children. After her death he married Mary Peters Young of Marshall, on March 31, 1887. In 1906 he published his memoirs, Reminiscences of the Early Days of Fort Worth. On October 15, 1909, Terrell, then almost seventy-eight, died accidentally from an overdose of strychnine that he had taken as a tonic.
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Dallas Morning News, October 16, 1909. Buckley B. Paddock, History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (4 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1922). Buckley B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis, 1906).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Irby C. Nichols, Jr.,
“Terrell, Joseph Christopher,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 30, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
July 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 28, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: