The violent death of Jackson County Deputy Lena Nicole Marshall was a huge tragedy, deeply felt across Jackson County. Her funeral on Nov. 15 was perhaps the largest ever held in Jackson County. A processional 16-miles long made up of hundreds of law enforcement and public safety vehicles stretched from Jefferson to Braselton with citizens lining the roads along the route; the horse-drawn caisson carrying her body to the church where she was met by hundreds of saluting law enforcement officers; and the pathos of bagpipes playing as her body was carried into the church for a final farewell.

And then there was the silence. Hundreds of people participated in the procession and service, mute, saluting the fallen officer with a respectful silence on a cool, clear fall day where only the leaves spoke as they rustled in the breeze.

It was all deeply moving.

•••

While thinking about this tragic past week, I recalled another story about a man from Jefferson who became a celebrated law enforcement official over 170 years ago and who also died violently, albeit under very different circumstances.

Capt. James H. Callahan was one of the early Texas Rangers and led a celebrated life after having left Georgia in 1835.

Born in 1814 in Jackson County, Callahan reportedly joined a group of fellow Georgians under Col. James Fannin and headed to Texas in December 1835. Earlier that year in March, the Alamo had fallen and that event may have inspired Callahan to go to Texas and join the fighting there.

Whatever the motivation, Callahan landed in Texas in late 1835 and in March 1836, a year after the fall of the Alamo, he was captured in the Battle of Refugio and Battle of Coleto Creek. Prisoners were taken by the Mexican Army to Goliad where over 350 were slaughtered by the Mexican Army, more than twice the number killed at the Alamo.

Callahan escaped being killed, however, because he was an engineer and the Mexicans needed his skills to help build a bridge. A month later, Mexican forces were defeated and Texas became an independent republic (later to become part of the United States in 1845.)

A few months after Texas Independence, Callahan escaped from Mexican captivity. Rather than return to Georgia, he settled down in Gonzales County, Texas, married, had children and began ranching. (He moved to another areas of Texas over the next 20 years.)

He also became a Texas Ranger, a loose-knit group of citizen-soldiers who would fight against area Indians to protect settlers in the area. He soon was named Captain. 

An 1856 newspaper article had this to say about him: "Capt. C. soon manifested in pursuit of the savage, that dauntless courage, untiring energy and indomitable perseverance which have been displaced since upon so many occasions."

Callahan became rather famous as an Indian fighter and Ranger, but his military activities settled down by the mid-1840s.

•••

In 1855, a group of Indians from Mexico began raiding into Texas, terrorizing the border region then fleeing back into Mexico where they couldn't be caught.

The governor of Texas finally had enough and authorized Callahan to gather Rangers and deal with the Indian problem.

But it led to a disaster.

Callahan chased a group of Indians to the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, Texas. Controversially, he decided to illegally cross the border and chase the Indians in Mexico.

About 20 miles south of the border, however, the Mexican Army ambushed the soldiers and Callahan retreated to a border town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. There, he had his men burn the town down. He and his surviving men crossed the river back into Texas.

But the expedition created an international incident and has been studied over the years by researchers. Some speculate that Callahan's men crossed the river not just to chase down marauding Indians, but to also capture escaped slaves. The burning of the border town may have also been Callahan's revenge for the deaths of his comrades at the Goliad Massacre. (Some residents of that town were later compensated for their losses by the U.S. government.)

Whatever the real story, the Callahan incident of 1855 is considered by many as a black mark on the history of the Texas Rangers, a group that is surrounded in myths and mystery. 

•••

Callahan led a rough and tumble life, escaping death along the way.

So it is ironic that a few months after his ill-fated expedition into Mexico, Callahan died at the hands of a neighbor over a personal dispute.

Callahan had heard rumors that a neighbor, Woodson Blasengame, had been spreading rumors and lies about him. Along with a group of friends, Callahan went to Blasengame's home where a shootout happened, leaving Callahan and one of his friends dead. They were reportedly ambushed, but nobody really knows who shot first.

Blasengame, his wife and a son were arrested. But this was the Wild West and the next day, around 100 armed men took the prisoners from their guards and shot Blasengame and his son, riddling their bodies with bullets.

Nobody was ever tried for their killings; Callahan's death had been avenged.

•••

In 1858, the Texas Legislature named a county in that state for Callahan.

In 1931, the state moved his body (along with his wife and a son) from unmarked graves to the state cemetery in Austin and put up a large marker noting Callahan's role in early Texas history (the marker has some info wrong, including where he was born.)

In 2017, writer Joesph Luther wrote a book about Callahan: The Odyssey of Texas Ranger James Callahan. You can order it from Amazon.

Callahan wasn't the only Jackson Countian to go West in the 1800s and at least one other Jackson County native became an Indian fighter and has a county named for him in a Western state.

That story, however, will have to wait for another day.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.