Texas State Police Badge, 1870-1873

Law enforcement offered freedmen opportunity

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by Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

This rare law enforcement badge is a symbol of the first policing opportunities available to African Americans in Texas, other than the famous Buffalo Soldier regiments.

Following the Civil War, employment opportunities for newly-freed African Americans were limited in scope. Some blacks who opted to stay in Texas opened their own independent businesses. Others continued to work farm land on which they were once enslaved under a sharecropping system that continued to be unfair and financially unrewarding for them. Though freed from legal slavery, laws and existing prejudices in Texas continued to perpetuate systemic racial violence during an era of reconstruction.

By 1866, the state had acquired a reputation for lawlessness and unruliness, provoking the Constitutional Convention of 1868–69 to commission a revealing study. Although not all counties reported numbers, 939 murders had been committed statewide between 1865 and 1868, few county jails existed, and there had been few arrests and prosecutions for documented crimes.

The unchecked violence led to the creation of the Texas State Police in July 1870, operated under the control of Governor Edmund J. Davis, a former Union officer. Although a force of 257 men was authorized, the unit never had more than 200 officers employed at any given time during its short three-year history. The African American, white, and Tejano police officers were authorized to arrest criminal offenders when local law officers failed to do so, especially in cases of racially-motivated crimes. The state police unit was immediately effective. In its first month of operation, 978 arrests were made: 109 for murder and 130 for attempted murder. By 1872, arrests totaled 6,820, including 587 for murder, 760 for attempted murder, and 1,748 for other felonies.

Criticism of the force and its unpopularity on a local level was strong, however. Because of the diversity of its officers, crimes including murder and embezzlement committed by several high-profile white officers, and the unit's association with Governor Davis, the Texas State Police were disbanded by the Texas Legislature in April 1873.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Texas State Police Badge, 1870-1873 Artifact from San Antonio, Texas
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