William J. McDonald

Photograph of William J. McDonald

1852 - 1918

William Jesse McDonald was born in Kemper County, Mississippi, September 28, 1852. After the Civil War, Bill, his mother and other relatives moved to Texas, settling on a farm near Henderson in Rusk County. Graduating from Soule's Commercial College in New Orleans in 1872, he taught penmanship in Henderson until starting a small store at Brown's Bluff. He later established a grocery at Mineola.

While attempting to succeed as a businessman, McDonald supplemented his living by working as a peace officer. In the 1880s he served as a deputy sheriff in Wood County. After moving to Hardeman County, he served as deputy sheriff, special Ranger, and U. S. Deputy Marshal of the Northern District of Texas and the Southern District of Kansas.

In 1891 McDonald was selected to replace S. A. McMurry as Captain of Company B, Frontier Battalion. He served as a Ranger captain until 1907. Capt. McDonald and his company took part in a number of celebrated cases including the Fitzsimmons-Maher prize fight, the Wichita Falls bank robbery, the Reese-Townsend feud, and the Brownsville Raid of 1906. His handling of the troops of the 25th U.S. Infantry during this last incident made him known as "a man who would charge hell with a bucket of water." He had a reputation as a gunman that rested upon his his marksmanship, and his ability to use his weapons to intimidate his opponents. McDonald is known as one of the "Four Great Captains." The others being John H. Rogers, John R. Hughes and John A. Brooks.

In 1905, McDonald served as bodyguard to President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1907, Governor Campbell made him a state revenue agent. He again fulfilled the role of bodyguard in 1912 for a visit by Woodrow Wilson. Later Wilson appointed him U. S. Marshal for the Northern District of Texas.

Bill McDonald died of pneumonia on January 15, 1918 at Wichita Falls. He is buried at Quanah. On his tombstone is carved the following motto: "No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."

Suggestions for further reading:

  • The New Handbook of Texas, Austin: Texas State Historical Commission, 1996, Vol. 4
  • Albert Bigelow Paine, Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger, New York: Little and Ives, 1909
  • Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers, 1935
  • W. W. Sterling, Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968
  • Frederick Wilkins, The law comes to Texas, Austin: State House Press, 1999
  • Darren L. Ivey, The Ranger Ideal Volume 2: Texas Rangers in the Hall of Fame, 1874 – 1930, Denton: UNT Press, 2018
  • Walter Prescott Webb Papers, Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • Vertical files, Texas Ranger Research Center, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas