Edmund Jackson Davis was born in St. Augustine, Florida in 1827 to William G. and Mary Ann Channer Davis. His family moved to Galveston, Texas in 1848 and he began to study studied law. After being admitted to the Texas bar, Davis moved to Laredo where he served as a deputy customs collector until he was elected district attorney in Brownsville in 1853. He later served as a district judge in Brownsville. Davis married the former Anne Britton in 1858 and served as a state judge until the beginning of the Civil War.
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Davis was a Unionist and anti-successionist. He refused to swear allegiance to the Confederacy and was removed as a judge. In 1862, he fled the state in order to avoid conscription into the Confederate Army, and also to try and raise support to reclaim Texas for the Union. For his efforts, Davis was appointed colonel of the newly formed First Texas Cavalry. Davis is known to have commanded Union troops in Texas and Mexico and on into the southern states as the war progressed. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to Brigadier General.
Davis entered Texas politics after the war, participated in the Constitutional Conventions of 1866, 1868 and 1869 and was elected governor in 1869. The gubernatorial election was reportedly marked by controversy in which the United States military allegedly exerted influence in various ways, including support for favoring certain candidates over others. The military is also said to have interfered with with the physical voting process by intimidation, having troops stationed at the polling places. In addition, officials allegedly redrew lists of eligible voters, disqualifying formerly qualified voters. Davis is said to have won the election by about 800 votes.
This is an oversimplification, but as governor, Davis supported and promoted reconstructionist policies including efforts to try and expand the vote to include minorities, he dismissed the Texas Rangers and set up a short lived state police force, reorganized the public school system and worked to fortify the frontier area of Texas. In the balance, some of these changes were necessary and inevitable, but were unpopular with the electorate. Accordingly, Davis served one full term as governor and was defeated in his effort to be reelected. He was succeeded by Gov. Richard Coke of Waco. There was another episode of controversy when Davis intended to remain in office until April, rather than relinquish his position to Coke in January, as was traditional for outgoing governors in Texas. Ultimately, Davis had no federal (nor other significant local) support for his position, and he acquiesced. He unsuccessfully ran for governor in the 1880 election and for Congress in 1882.
Davis is also known for his support of federal policies toward the Native American tribes, including the Kiowa. Three Kiowa war chiefs (Satank, Big Tree and Satanta) had been arrested by the United States military for atrocities they had allegedly committed. Satank was killed in what was called a suicidal escape attempt en route to the trial. The other two Kiowa leaders were tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, but their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment by Davis, perhaps under pressure from federal authorities. Big Tree and Satanta were both freed after two years in Huntsville. Big Tree returned to the reservation and lived peacefully after that. Reportedly, he embraced the Christian faith and lived on until the late 1920s. Satanta was accused of violating the terms of his parole by taking part in raids and was returned to prison in 1874. He died in the Huntsville facility in 1878.
Though Davis was unsuccessful in either of his bids to be elected to public office after his one term as governor, he remained active in Texas politics until his death in early 1883 at age fifty-five. Upon his death, he was interred in the Texas state cemetery in Austin. His widow Mary Ann later remarried and relocated to the east coast.
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