Turner, Ezekiel B. (1825–1888)

By: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 29, 2020

Ezekiel B. Turner, lawyer and judge, was born at Putney, Windham County, Vermont, on May 24, 1825. He was educated in local common schools and at Townsend Academy and read law with a brother in Michigan. He was admitted to the bar of that state in 1848. During the next several years he served as justice of the peace and prosecuting attorney of St. Joseph County. Turner moved to Texas in 1853, settling first in Williamson County and then moving to Austin in 1854. He practiced law in Austin until 1861, much of the time in partnership with Andrew J. Hamilton and F. W. Chandler. Turner was an outspoken Unionist during the secession crisis of 1860–61. At the Bullock Hotel in August 1860, he delivered a speech opposing disunion. He also drilled as a member of the "Home Guard" formed by Unionists such as Thomas H. Duval and James H. Bell. Once the Civil War began, Turner left Texas, probably in 1862. He returned with the federal forces that occupied Brownsville in November 1863 and received an appointment from Andrew J. Hamilton, Lincoln's military governor of Texas, as prosecuting attorney of the provisional court established in that city. When United States troops arrived in Austin in July 1865, Turner was one of the speakers who welcomed them to the capital. Turner's Unionism was rewarded with numerous appointments during Reconstruction. He became United States attorney for the Western District of Texas in 1866 and in November 1867 Gen. Joseph J. Reynolds appointed him attorney general of the state, a position he held until 1870. He also served from 1867 to 1870 as manager of the State Lunatic Asylum in Austin. Governor E. J. Davis made him judge of the Thirty-Second Judicial District in October 1871. He served on bench for that district until adoption of the Constitution of 1876, then won the judgeship of the Sixteenth District, which included Travis County, and was commissioned in April 1876. He ran as an independent rather than a Republican or a Democrat; nevertheless, his victory in an overwhelmingly Democratic district was a testimonial to local recognition of his abilities and integrity. In 1880 President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Turner judge of the Western Judicial District of Texas. In that position he was the first federal judge to rule that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. This act made illegal any discrimination between Whites and Blacks in places of public accommodation, entertainment, jury selection, cemeteries, and transportation; it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883. Turner was also made judge of the District Court of Travis County, when that county was separated from the Sixteenth Judicial District, and in that capacity heard many cases concerning violations of the Texas land acts of 1879 and 1881 (see LAND FRAUD BOARD). Turner remained a federal judge until his death of a heart attack at his home in Austin on June 2, 1888. He was survived by his wife, Helen Dodge Turner, whom he had married in 1850, and three sons.

Austin Weekly Statesman, June 7, 1888. Claude Elliott, "Union Sentiment in Texas, 1861–1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 50 (April 1947). James D. Lynch, The Bench and Bar of Texas (St. Louis, 1885). Alexander W. Terrell, "The City of Austin from 1839 to 1865," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 14 (October 1910).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges

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

Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, “Turner, Ezekiel B.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 03, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/turner-ezekiel-b.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 29, 2020