The Governor’s Hounds was the name given to the police force that existed in Texas from 1870 to 1873. It was designed, commisioned and supported by Edmund Davis, the much hated Republican Governor with the sole purpose of protecting the citizens from the jayhawkers, bushwackers and man-killers that operated freely in the state, still recovering from the destruction of the Civil War.
The Texas State Police became the model for police forces in many states, north and south, and, unlike the Texas Rangers, who were home-grown, loosely organized and focused mainly on border raids from Mexican bandits, Apaches and Comanches, they were given powers by the Texas legislature to be judge, jury and executioner in hunting down violent criminals—many times with no questions or inquiries aferwards.
The TSP over the years have been vilified in the history books for their brutality and dishonesty, and there were some policemen who blurred the line between criminal and crime fighter, but many of the attacks against the force were politically motivated; a strategy to discredit the governor who was appointed by the equally hated President Grant and his Reconstruction policies. Except for the capital of Austin, which was firmly controlled by the Republicans, Texas citizens were overwhelmingly Democrats and resentful of the number of black policemen empowered to confront and arrest white men.
In 1870, in 108 counties in Texas, there were reportedly 2,790 criminals at large. In the first month following the organization of the force in July of that year 44 murderers and other felons were apprehended; five of the arrested being killed “resisting arrest.” By the end of 1870 the force had arrested 978 dangerous felons, chasing a good many others from the state.
Leander McNelly served as an officer in the Confederate Army and was appointed as one of the first four captains in the State Police. He later went on to become one of the most famous Texas Rangers, serving as a captain of a much lauded Ranger unit. He became the model for the ideal lawman of the time, described by his contempories as a man of “consumate skill, daring gallantry and meritorious conduct.” McNelly credited his success leading his Ranger company with his earlier years of training and experiences with the TSP.
As I have worked over the year on my soon-be-completed novel about Texas during the Reconstruction era, I have come to a different perspective of this much maligned and under researched police force. With very few resources, scant pay and little or no support of their fellow Texans, the Texas State Police brought order and lawfulness back to the Republic.
One of the few comprehensive research books on the TSP is: The Governor’s Hounds, The Texas State Police, 1870-1873 by Barry A. Crouch and Donaly E. Brice