The Ubiquitous Mr. Maddox: From Pistols to Parks

He was ten percent of the sons of William A. and Mary Mayes Maddox. He was twenty percent of the Maddox sons who became Fort Worth lawmen. And he was one hundred percent of the people who have ever held all three posts of Fort Worth police chief, fire chief, and police and fire commissioner.

In 1873 William and Mary Maddox moved their family—including son James and his nine brothers—from Louisiana to Tarrant County and settled on a farm near Village Creek.

Oldest son Walter soon opened a livery stable and hack (stage) service to Dallas. By 1876 brother James was listed as Walter’s partner.

In 1880 James was hired as a guard at the county jail. That same year Walter was elected sheriff and appointed James as a deputy. James was nineteen years old.

Fast-forward to 1884. Jim Courtright was wanted for murdering two ranchers in New Mexico. On the afternoon of October 18 three lawmen from New Mexico arrived in Fort Worth to arrest Courtright and take him back to New Mexico to stand trial.

The lawmen used a false pretense to lure Courtright to Ginocchio’s Hotel next to the train depot. Courtright was suspicious. He asked friend James Maddox to accompany him. But at the hotel the New Mexico lawmen insisted that Maddox remain in the lobby while they took Courtright upstairs to a room.

After a long wait, Maddox grew concerned and left the hotel to ask for advice.

While Maddox was gone, the out-of-towners drew their pistols and arrested Courtright. Word of his arrest spread around town, and soon a mob, fearful that Courtright would not get a fair trial in New Mexico, gathered in the street outside the window of Courtright’s room. They wanted Courtright to be freed.

After Courtright was arrested a rumor circulated in town that Maddox had assisted in the plot to capture Courtright. Courtright denied that rumor—in writing—and said Maddox was a “warm personal friend.”

The next day Courtright escaped from his captors in true wild West fashion, but that’s another story.

By 1885 Timothy Isaiah (“Jim”) Courtright had been cleared of the murder charge in New Mexico and was back in Fort Worth, where he reopened his T.I.C. detective agency, which he had shuttered during his stay in New Mexico. James Maddox took time out from his deputy duties to serve as assistant superintendent of the revived agency.

But Maddox soon pinned his deputy’s badge back on. In fact, by 1886 James was brother Walter’s chief deputy sheriff.

And the two sibling lawmen had their hands full in April of that year. Unionized railroad workers in several southwestern states, including Texas, were on strike. In Fort Worth tensions were high as strikers squared off against lawmen and nonunion workers. Many men on both sides were armed.

On April 2 Sheriff Maddox and chief deputy Maddox were among lawmen trying to protect a Missouri Pacific train as it left the railyard. Strikers rushed the train to stop it.

“Kill the engine!” strikers shouted. To “kill” an engine meant to extinguish the fire under the boiler and to empty the boiler of water and steam.

Deputy Maddox warned the strikers: “Back. I’ll kill the man who tries to touch this engine.”

But the strikers again rushed the train and uncoupled the cars.

“Sheriff Maddox for the first time drew his revolvers and ordered the trainmen to couple the cars. D. P. Blakeley, a striker, threw his hand to his hip pocket and cried, ‘Walter Maddox, don’t you use that pistol,’ and the hands of twenty other Knights [of Labor, the strikers] flew to their pistol pockets. The officers sprang upon Blakeley and arrested him.”

The next day the Missouri Pacific railroad tried to break the blockade by getting a train through the strikers. Among the men guarding the train as it moved south through Fort Worth was Jim Courtright.

South of Fort Worth the train approached a railroad switch called “Buttermilk Junction.”

The engineer saw two groups of men near the tracks, awaiting the train. The engineer also saw that the switch had been tampered with. He would have to stop the train.

As the train stopped, Courtright jumped down, approached the group of men nearer the switch, who were unarmed, and arrested them for tampering with the switch. Then Courtright approached the second group, which was five in number and was armed. With Winchester rifles. Courtright told the men to put down their weapons. The gunmen, instead of putting down their weapons, dropped to their knees and leveled their rifles at Courtright and his fellow guards.

Courtright, the Fort Worth Gazette reported, shouted at the gunmen: “For God’s sake, don’t shoot.”

They shot.

In the ensuing firefight one lawman was killed, two were wounded. The ambushers escaped. The train returned to Fort Worth bearing the casualties.

The next day Fort Worth was effectively under martial law as militia groups, Texas Rangers, and civilian posses patrolled the city. But meanwhile a train succeeded in breaking the blockade. James Maddox was among the guards on the train, along with Courtright, Bony Tucker, and William Capps.

That same day Sheriff Maddox, James Maddox, Courtright, and Tucker were members of a posse who rode out in search of the Buttermilk Junction ambushers. Their search was unsuccessful.

A week later James Maddox reported that two or more men had fired six or eight shots at him on his way home about 3 a.m. Maddox had been threatened by strikers for his role in “suppressing disorder.”

Fast-forward seven months. In November Ben H. Shipp was elected sheriff, and James Maddox remained a deputy through the administration of Shipp (1886-1888) and three years of the administration of  J. C. Richardson (1888-1892).

In 1887 Maddox, along with Bony and Rowan Tucker, was a member of Shipp’s posse searching for the gang who had held up a Texas & Pacific train at Mary’s Creek near Benbrook. The posse’s search was unsuccessful, and fourteen weeks later the Burrow gang would rob the same train at the same place.

Maddox years later recalled his days as a lawman where the West begins: “I rode a Spanish pony, and when I would run out to get on him we used to play a regular Tony and Tom Mix [Mix was an early movie cowboy. Tony was his horse]. I used to tie my lariat rope to an old two-wheeled fire cart and there we would go. I bet I’ve loped that pony a thousand miles.”

Maddox further recalled: “I never wanted to kill anybody. And I guess I took a lot of chances to keep from having to. I very seldom pulled a six-shooter, and I never hit but one man with my pistol. I wouldn’t have done that except that he was coming at me with a knife. I didn’t like knives very much. . . . Nearly everybody carried a six-shooter in those days. And you can say what you please, that was a factor in keeping down a whole lot of trouble. A man knew then if he pulled his pistol he was going to have to use it. I’ve always sort of believed that if every man had a gun to protect himself there would be less killing.”

In 1891 Maddox was elected city marshal (police chief.)

In 1894 Chief Maddox hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the city’s newsboys. The dinner was held at the White Elephant Saloon. The dinner became an annual event.

Maddox also hosted a Christmas breakfast for newsies.

Meanwhile, two other Maddox brothers had become lawmen. Peyton Maddox was a police officer in the 1890s. Seaborn Maddox was an officer in the 1890s and then a detective.

City Marshal Maddox and his deputies in the 1890s.

Eleven years after the railroad strike of 1886 Chief Maddox was called on to enforce a law against a different kind of strikes. In 1897 a local resident wrote an open letter to Maddox asking him to prevent a baseball game from being played on the coming Sunday. The writer claimed that playing baseball on Sunday was a violation of the law. Maddox replied that he would not stop the ball game as long as the players and spectators did not engage in “rowdyism.”

Four days later Maddox left the office of city marshal, having chosen not to seek re-election.

He took some time off to go hunting for game, not scofflaws. He also became a salesman for Pabst beer.

And in 1899 he became a saloon keeper.

But after two years Maddox was back in public service, elected Fort Worth fire chief.

The fire department was not yet motorized when Maddox was chief.

That suited him just fine.

He later said: “I loved the Fire Department until the horse went out. When I would drive up in front of a station all the horses would nicker for me. They knew me. Horses don’t get one-third enough credit for their sense. Why, I remember Tom Powell. He was a big black with white legs, and when he was hit by a streetcar I stopped to see him. He was dying, but I knew he recognized me.”

According to the Star-Telegram Maddox was responsible for a fire department tradition:

The newspaper later wrote: “It was during his administration that the Fort Worth fire equipment color scheme was changed from red to white and gold. The city’s department is one of the few in the country which boasts white apparatus. Here is the chief’s story of how the trucks changed their hue:

“‘Standifer Ferguson (now fire chief) called me and said they had to have a wagon painted. He asked me what color I wanted it, and I said, “Paint her white as snow with gold trimmings.” It was a good move. You could see the dirt, and they were visible at night, whereas the red color blended with the darkness.’”

(Here is a different account.)

Top photo shows the men and horses of firehouse no. 6. Note the white fenders on the wagon. Bottom photo shows the white wagon of firehouse no. 10 about 1910. Firehouse no. 10 still stands at 2804 Lipscomb Street. (Photos from Wikipedia.)

In 1905 Maddox returned to law enforcement as chief of police.

Four years later he was elected a city commissioner, and immediately he and fellow commissioner George Mulkey became caught in a game of musical chairs played by two mayors.

In the election in April 1909 in which Maddox and Mulkey were elected to the city commission—effectively a city council—W. D. Williams was elected mayor.

The voters elected the mayor and commissioners, but the mayor appointed each commissioner to one of four departments: finance and revenue; police and fire; streets and public property; and water works, sewerage, and lights.

Mulkey had previously been police and fire commissioner, and Mayor Williams reassigned him to that department. Williams appointed Maddox to streets and public property.

But Williams had been in office only a few days when he was appointed to the Texas Railroad Commission. He resigned as mayor, and a special election to replace him was held in May.

Bill Davis was elected mayor. He promptly switched the departments of Maddox and Mulkey, saying Maddox would make a better commissioner of fire and police.

But Maddox was not happy.

Nor were some preachers. They threatened to start a campaign to recall Mayor Davis because they wanted Mulkey to be police and fire commissioner because he had enforced the law in Hell’s Half Acre during his previous term in that post.

So, Mayor Davis pulled another switcheroo, putting Maddox and Mulkey back where he found them. Davis denied that he made the second switch to avoid the threat of a recall election.

(Ironically, when Mulkey had been elected to the city commission in 1907 he had wanted to be appointed streets and public property commissioner but instead was appointed police and fire commissioner.)

Thus James Maddox did not serve long as police and fire commissioner. Nonetheless, according to retired police sergeant and historian Kevin Foster, Maddox is the only person to have held all three posts of police chief, fire chief, and police and fire commissioner.

As commissioner of streets and public property in 1909 Maddox also was chairman of the newly created park board. That year he was instrumental in the city’s purchase of seventy-four acres of land to develop as a park. Tentatively called “Southwest Park,” it was renamed “Forest Park.”

Today a park on the North Side is named for Maddox.

James Maddox retired in 1913.

Seriously ill by 1937, he was honored by newsboys as they gathered for the annual Thanksgiving dinner that he had first hosted in 1894.

Maddox died in 1938.

The Star-Telegram eulogized Maddox in an editorial.

The ubiquitous James Hodge Maddox is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.


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2 Responses to The Ubiquitous Mr. Maddox: From Pistols to Parks

  1. Kevin S Foster says:

    Outstanding Mike!

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