Young, William Cocke (1812–1862)

By: L. W. Kemp

Revised by: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 3, 2019

William Cocke Young, early settler, soldier, jurist, and official, was born in Davidson County, Tennessee, on May 7, 1812. He was the son of Daniel and Peggy (Branch) Young. He moved to Texas in 1837 and settled at a place that became known as Sherry's Prairie, near Pecan Point in the area of Red River County. Young served as first sheriff of Red River County in 1837, and on February 5, 1844, he was appointed district attorney for the Seventh Judicial District of the Republic of Texas by Sam Houston. Young was a member of Edward H. Tarrant's company on an expedition against Indians, participated in the battle of Village Creek, and helped bury John B. Denton, who was killed in that engagement. Later Young was a delegate from Red River County to the Convention of 1845. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, he and James Bourland raised a company of troops, the Third Texas Mounted Volunteers, that was mustered into service in San Antonio in August 1846. Young was appointed colonel of the unit. In 1851 Young moved to Shawneetown, Grayson County, where he practiced law for six years and served a term as United States marshal. In 1854 he and Charles S. Taylor were appointed commissioners to investigate land titles in El Paso, Presidio, Kinney, Starr, Webb, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Nueces counties. Young, however, refused the appointment. In 1856 the Texas legislature recognized Young’s public stature by naming a new county in North Texas in his honor.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Young was called to Montgomery, Alabama, to consult with Jefferson Davis. Upon his return to Texas he organized and commanded the Eleventh Texas Cavalry, which operated against the Indians in what is now Oklahoma. In May 1861 the Texans crossed Red River and captured forts Arbuckle, Wichita, and Cobb, securing Texas from any threat of invasion from that direction. Young’s health suffered in 1862, and he had to return to his home, by then in Cooke County, Texas, and there he became involved in the Great Hanging at Gainesville. When a group of Unionists formed a Union League in opposition to the Confederacy, Young and Col. James G. Bourland supervised the creation of a "citizen's court" of twelve jurors that condemned seven leading Unionists to death for treason. Following those deaths, an infuriated mob lynched fourteen more accused Unionists. Then a week later on October 16, 1862, unknown assassins murdered Young while he was hunting. Following Young’s murder, nineteen more accused Unionists were convicted and executed, completing the Great Hanging.

Young's first wife was Sophia Gleaves. They married in 1833 in Tennessee and had six children. After her death in 1849, he married Ann Hutchinson, and they had two children. With his third wife, Margaret Ann Duty Black, he also had two children. He was laid to rest in the burying ground, known as the Black Cemetery, of the John B. Black family (relatives of his third wife), near the community of Dexter in northeast Cooke County, Texas.

Sam Hanna Acheson and Julia Ann Hudson O'Connell, eds., George Washington Diamond's Account of the Great Hanging at Gainesville, 1862 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1963). Richard B. McCaslin, Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging at Gainesville, Texas, 1862 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997). Mattie D. Lucas and Mita H. Hall, A History of Grayson County (Sherman, Texas, 1936). Texas House of Representatives, Biographical Directory of the Texan Conventions and Congresses, 1832–1845 (Austin: Book Exchange, 1941).

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

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

L. W. Kemp Revised by Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell, “Young, William Cocke,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

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July 3, 2019

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