Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West

Bill McDonald


(September 28, 1852 - January 15, 1918)


William Jesse McDonald was born on a plantation in Mississippi. Here he learn to ride, shoot, fish and from the local Native American population how to survive out on in the wilderness. The Civil War erupted, Bill's father joined the Confederacy and was killed at a battle near Corinth, MS.


So at the age of ten, Bill was the oldest male and the family stayed on the plantation until 1867 when they moved to East Texas. In 1868, an east Texas neighbor was killed by two African-Americans. They were arrested, but the town became impatient, stormed the jail and hanged the prisoners. Union soldiers consisting of some African Americans were marched into the town to restore order. Bill was among the locals who protested this action, was subsequently arrested and tried in a military court. The charge of treason was dropped.


McDonald started a grocery business in Mineola, TX. He and several others were arrested for carrying concealed weapons. Bill pleaded his case successfully indicating they need these arms to put down a gang of hoodlums. During this period, he served as a deputy sheriff, deputy U. S. Marshal and special Texas Ranger being called upon in emergencies or when a posse was needed.


Selling his merchandise store, he began to ranch and found the criminal activity high. On a assignment with the Rangers, he engaged in a gun battle with the Brooken Gang. A few members followed Bill back to his house and stole some horse and his dog. As a deputy sheriff his investigation determined respectable citizens of the community were members f the gang. Ignoring their status, Bill obtained warrants and arrested these people.


Other members of the Brooken gang harassed McDonald in a saloon, but he was backed by some locals. Leaving the drinking establishment, he again faced a couple of members. Grabbing a piece of wood, Bill whacked one of the outlaws across the head. Later at another saloon ambush, he got the drop and lectured them on the law.


His appointment as special Ranger by Captain McMurray gave Bill statewide authority, He went after the rest of the Brooken Gang. The arrest of Bood Brooken and other key members dissolved the one time local threat.


In 1887, he was appointed deputy U.S. Marshal and assigned to clean up No-Man's Land, an area in Oklahoma which had no civil government, no lawmen and was a favorite hideout for outlaws. Using a buckboard and a hired driver, Bill would follow the trail of the outlaws, use an early morning surprise, smile and extend a friendly hand. When the outlaw provided the same greeting, he slapped handcuffs on the accused and secured the other cuff on the buckboard. Even when three or four outlaws were in camp, Bill managed capture one and hold off the others. Rarely did a shootout result with this quick decisive action. McDonald stated "If you wilt or falter he'll kill you, but if you go straight at him and never give him time to cover, or think, he'll weaken ninety-nine time in a hundred."


In 1891, McDonald was appointed Captain of the Texas Rangers. One of his first assignment was to break up the Fitzsimmons-Maher boxing match being held in Langtry, TX by Judge Roy Bean. Before the fight, Bill was in the crowded Jersey Lily Saloon. A patron was on the verge of throwing something at the overwhelmed waiter. Bill said "I wouldn't do that if I were you." The angry diner replied "Do you want to take it up?". Calmly McDonald rose out of his chair and stated "I done took it up." The next words to exit the mouth of the antagonist was an apology. This patron was Bat Masterson.


In 1895, McDonald had a number of confrontations with Childress County Sheriff John Matthews. Matthews had a sorted past with two known murders and other crimes. Matthews requested a peace talk in Quanah. As Bill approached, Matthews drew his gun, but his shot missed. McDonald's first two bullets were halted by chewing tobacco and a notebook in Matthew's pocket. The next roar from Matthew's gun tore into Bill's shoulder routing through a lung and lodging in his back. The wounded McDonald answered with a bullet which knocked Matthews down. Two of the sheriffs "friends" joined putting one bulled in Bill's right shoulder and the other in his left arm. Things looked bad as McDonald fell to the ground and discovered his gun hand was partially paralyzed. Bringing the gun to his teeth, he pulled back the hammer. The stunned cronies made their exit.


In 1897, ctitizens request an investigation of recent murders and crimes. A group called the San Saba Murder syndicate was responsible Originally, this group was formed as a vigilante committee for law and order, but had evolved into an organization which used it's power to settle grudges and kill enemies. Quietly, Bill gathered enough evidence to determine Bill Ogle was the leader. After Ogle was arrested and jailed, various members of syndicate tried to ambush and kill McDonald. This Ranger was too wily for them.


In 1906, a number of Buffalo Soldiers entered Brownsville and hurrahed the town killing a bartender, wounding the sheriff and smashing windows with stray bullets. Bill arrived with two Rangers and since state laws had been broken, he decided to go to the Fort Brown and make arrests. Warned he would not be allowed to enter without a pass, McDonald patted his shotgun and said this was his pass. With those two Ranger, Bill arrived at the fort and identified the three as Texas Rangers to the twenty-armed sentries. The troop fell back when McDonald yelled "Put up those guns." The circumstances became intertwined in civil and military red tape with the soldiers being tried in a military court, but being released.


In Dallas, a riot had erupted over an illegal prizefight. The local law enforcement sent for the Texas Rangers. When only Bill McDonald stepped off the train, the stunned officer asked if he was the only one. McDonald replied "You only have one riot, don't you?"


As his career winded down, he served as a bodyguard for Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting expedition and for Woodrow Wilson. In reflecting on McDonald some have said "he would charge hell with a bucket of water."


William Jesse McDonald is buried in the Quanah Memorial Park Cemetery in Quanah, TX.



Gravesite Map


Information compiled by Steve Grimm

Books About Bill McDonald


A Pair of Texas Rangers: Bill McDonald and John Hughes by Virgil E. Baugh


This book contains short biographies for two of the better known Rangers and provides a good summary of their lives.


Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger. A Story of Frontier Reform by Albert B. Paine


© Wild West History Association - a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation


© Wild West History Association - a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation