- War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators by Bill O'Neal
Life on the frontier often was marked by, to borrow from the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, "continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." This characterization generally reflected life in the infant Republic of Texas and was specifically demonstrated in conditions in the traditional boundary zone between Texas and Louisiana. The region had attracted outlaws, thieves, rogues, scoundrels, and misfits for more than a century. Serving as a refuge for all wishing to dodge French, Spanish, British, and United States authority, the land between Natchitoches, Louisiana, and Nacogdoches, Texas, remained free of controlling officials. With the birth of the Republic of Texas, much of this region came directly under a sovereign nation desiring to exercise control; however, the Lone Star republic was too weak and too penniless to address the lawlessness. To protect life and property in this law enforcement vacuum, local residents—common folk—decided to follow a well-established tradition and band together into vigilante companies or, as they were known then, "Regulators" (p. 16).
Regulators used extralegal means to bring to East Texas their brand of law and order—intimidation, beatings, shootings, and sometimes hanging. Men of less than honorable motives easily subverted the organization and turned it toward more nefarious ends. Death, intimidation, and terror became a way of life in Harrison County, Shelby County, and surrounding areas. To counter the threat, to preserve themselves, and even to exact a measure of revenge, those opposing the Regulators organized into rival companies to moderate the violence, calling themselves "Moderators" (p. 16). These two rival organizations set off a blood feud that spanned the Republic of Texas's later years (1841–1844). In the ensuing fight, more than forty individuals died due to the actions of these two groups, and dozens of others were injured or displaced. The intervention of Republic of Texas president Sam Houston and the militia [End Page 684] ultimately curtailed the worst violence; however, the anger, resentment, and bitterness lingered in the region for generations.
Bill O'Neal, in War in East Texas: Regulators vs. Moderators, weaves a masterful tale of death and violence in an oft-overlooked section and period of the republic. He provides context for the violence in Shelby and Harrison Counties, showing the historical uses of regulating and blood feuds in American and, more specifically, southern history. Utilizing archives, the few surviving primary sources, and newspapers, O'Neal constructs a narrative that neither praises nor chastises those involved. The absence of literature on this period creates a niche for this book, but the lack proves to be a weakness as well. Numerous people make their appearance in this tale with little more than a name—insufficient primary or secondary information exists to flesh these figures out and draw the reader into the narrative. O'Neal portrays many individuals, such as Watt Moorman, John Middleton, and Jeff Cravens, with great detail, though many other players in the drama are left with scant mention and limited development because the records are lost to history. Thankfully their story is not.