Various members of the Baylor family have figured into Texas history over the years. John Robert Baylor was a nephew of Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, a judge and a preacher and also co-founder of Baylor University. John Robert was born in 1822 in Paris, Kentucky to John Walker Bledsoe and Sophie Marie Wiedner Baylor. John R. Baylor grew up in a military family, as his father was an Army doctor. John Robert was the brother of George Wythe Baylor, a Texas Ranger and Henry Weidner Baylor, also a surgeon and a Texas Ranger. Henry Weidner Baylor was the namesake of Baylor County in North Texas.
John Robert came to Texas at about the age of eighteen. His family had been living in Indian Territory, as his father was a surgeon, posted at Fort Gibson. Around 1840, after the death of his father, he moved to Fayette County where he had other relatives and joined the Texas Army. He participated in the battle to recapture San Antonio from Mexican Gen. Adrian Woll, serving under Capt. Nicholas Dawson. He briefly returned to Indian Territory to teach in the Indian school, but came back to Texas, apparently to avoid being involved in the trial of a brother in law who was accused of murder. He married Emily J. Hanna in 1844 and returned to Fayette County where he was a rancher and farmer.
Over the next ten to fifteen years, he briefly served as an Indian agent to the Comanche and appears to have been involved in promoting and carrying out activities against the Indian tribes living in North Texas, including publishing a newspaper called the White Man. John Robert was also known to be a Texas Ranger, so at some point, he may have been a member of the Frontier Battalion. However, his time with the Rangers is not as clearly recorded as was his later life.
An 1881 newspaper interview of Baylor told of an incident from 1856 when John Robert was serving as in Indian agent in North Texas. Baylor recounted that a boy dressed as a Comanche left a note on his desk requesting that he be removed from the Indians. Baylor interviewed him and the boy who spoke both Comanche and Spanish claimed to have been taken from his family in Tapio, Durango, Mexico. The boy said he had been taken by force from the mule-drawn pack train of his father. A Comanche “owned” the boy and Baylor sent for the Comanche who initially refused to release the boy. Baylor bartered with the local Chief named Catamase, who turned the boy over to Baylor in exchange for $100 in goods. Baylor tried to return the boy to his family in Mexico but was unable to accomplish it. The boy later went into the Confederate Army (serving in the 1st Regiment, Texas Cavalry from 1861-1865) and returned to Texas. At the last report, the article continued, the youth was now a man named Tito Rivers (Rivera) and was a cashier at Doddridge & Davis Bank in Corpus Christi, thought to have been the first bank in Corpus Christi. Tito P. Rivera was married and had a family. Baylor was later reunited with Tito and his family and when the reunion occurred, Baylor said that Tito’s daughters ran to him, hugged his neck and called him Grandpa. Tito P. Rivera’s brief obituary says that he died at age fifty-one, was a respected businessman in Corpus Christi and is buried there in Nueces County.
Baylor was almost forty years old when he entered the Confederate Army in the Civil War as a Lt. Col. in the Second Mounted Rifles, which he helped organize out of the Austin area. The operations of this unit were to occupy the former United States Army forts in far West Texas including Fort Bliss and Fort Clark. The Confederates went on to control the Mesilla Valley in New Mexico, including Fort Fillmore in what is known as the Battle of Mesilla.
Baylor was promoted to colonel in the Confederate Army. His troops operated above and below the Mexican border in actions against the Apache and on into Arizona. Baylor issued a proclamation on August 1, 1861 that stated, in part, that the territory west of Mesilla was to be organized as a military government until such time as the Confederate congress otherwise provided. His proclamation appointed himself as governor and named other officers including a secretary, attorney-general, treasurer, marshal and probate judge.
Baylor carried with him an unusually harsh attitude toward the Indians. While serving in Arizona, he issued an order that would be described by any definition as genocidal toward the Apache. When this order came to the attention of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Davis ordered that Baylor be removed from both his military and civil commands, including the post of governor of Arizona. It is not clear, but Baylor appears to have resigned from the Confederate Army at that point, since he later is said to have reenlisted as private and is known to fought in the Battle of Galveston at that rank. Baylor was ultimately restored to his prior rank as a colonel very near the end of the Civil War and won a Confederate congressional election in Texas. He is not known to have participated in any other battles, as the war in Texas was winding down. Baylor was referred to in more than one newspaper article as having the rank of brigadier general during his tenure in Arizona, but his highes rank is believed to be colonel. Like some other individuals, he may have been recommended for such a promotion and it may have been in progress for him, but it was not consummated by the end of the war.
After the war he appears to have lived for a time in Bexar County before moving to Montell in Uvalde County, where he was a rancher. In the early 1880s, he was tried for the murder of another Uvalde rancher named Gilchrist, but was acquitted. There was a long standing feud over cattle between Baylor and Gilchrist. This erupted into a fight between Baylor and his son and Gilchrist and his two sons. An 1881 newspaper account said that the Gilchrists had been arming themselves and making threats against the Baylors. At some point, they met and gunfire was initiated by the Gilchrists, the article said. The elder Gilchrist died and one of his sons died later from wounds he received in the gun battle. The son of John Robert was wounded, but John Robert himself was uninjured.
Upon his death on February 6, 1894 when he was seventy-one, the Galveston Daily News recounted his career. Baylor was called an Indian fighter, a Texas Ranger, a Confederate officer and rancher. The article stated that he had been suffering from paralysis which led to his death. He is interred at Episcopal Church of the Ascension Cemetery located at Montell in Uvalde County.
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