Captain Bill McDonald

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William Jesse "Bill" McDonald​

(Legendary Texas Ranger and U.S. Marshal who was a bodyguard for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt
and Woodrow Wilson)

Captain Bill McDonald of TX.jpg

Born September 28, 1852​
Kemper County, Mississippi
Died January 15, 1918 (aged 65)
Wichita Falls, Texas

Resting place:
Quanah Memorial Cemetery in Hardeman County, Texas

Political Party Democrat
Spouse (1) Rhoda Isabel Carter McDonald (married 1876-1906, her death)[1]

(2) Pearl Wilkerson McDonald (married 1914-1918, his death)

William Jesse McDonald, known as Captain Bill McDonald (September 28, 1852 – January 15, 1918), was a Texas Ranger who served briefly as a bodyguard for U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who were opponents, along with President William Howard Taft, in the bitter presidential election of 1912.[2]


McDonald was born in Kemper County near Meridian in eastern Mississippi, but relocated with his mother, the former Eunice Durham, and other relatives, his sister Mary T. McDonald McCauley, to east Texas after the American Civil War. His father, Enoch McDonald, is believed to have been killed in 1862 in the battle of Corinth, Mississippi. The McDonalds settled on a farm near Henderson in Rusk County, Texas. At the age of sixteen, McDonald quarreled with federal officials during Reconstruction and was tried for treason but acquitted through the intervention of future U.S. Representative David B. Culberson.[3]

He graduated in 1872 from Soule Commercial College in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a young man, McDonald taught penmanship in Henderson until he opened a small store[4] at Brown's Bluff on the Sabine River in Gregg County, Texas.[5] He later established a grocery store in Mineola in Wood County, Texas.[4]

Law enforcement

Still operating his store, McDonald grew interested in law enforcement. He became a deputy sheriff in Wood County. He was friendly with future Governor James Stephen Hogg (1851-1906), then a justice of the peace in Quitman, also in Wood County. It was through Hogg that McDonald met his wife, the former Rhoda Isabel Carter, whom he married in January 1876.[3] In 1883, the couple moved to Wichita County, Texas, and thereafter to Hardeman County, where he was again a deputy sheriff and advanced to special Ranger and U.S. Deputy Marshal for the Northern District of Texas and the Southern District of Kansas.[4] His bold tactics drove the Brookins gang from Hardeman County. McDonald also apprehended cattle thieves and train robbers in "No Man's Land" and the Cherokee Strip.[3]

In 1891, Governor Hogg named McDonald to succeed Samuel A. McMurry as the captain of Texas Rangers Company B, Frontier Battalion, a position that he retained until 1907. McDonald and his company were involved in numerous matters throughout the state: the Bob Fitzsimmons-Peter Maher prizefight in El Paso, a Wichita Falls bank robbery, the murders by the San Saba County Mob (during which time Mrs. McDonald was in camp with her husband), the Reese-Townsend feud at Columbus in Colorado County, Texas, the lynching of the Humphries clan, the Conditt family murders near Edna in Jackson County in south Texas, and the a shootout with Mexican-Americans near Rio Grande City in Starr County, Texas. In all of these events, only one Ranger, T.L. Fuller, lost his life under McDonald's command.[6]

In 1893, McDonald was nearly killed in a gunfight in Quanah in Hardeman County, with Sheriff John P. Matthews of Childress County. In 1906, McDonald came to Brownsville, Texas, to restore order in what is now known as the Brownsville Affair in which 167 African-American United States Army soldiers in the 25th U.S. Infantry were falsely accused of causing a race riot. President Theodore Roosevelt gave all of the soldiers dishonorable discharges, having rashly accused them of engaging in a "conspiracy of silence" by not identifying the particular soldiers who may have fired shots that killed a white merchant. Years later, President Richard M. Nixon reversed Roosevelt's directive and cleared the lone survivor among the soldiers as well as posthumous recognition of the other 166 who had already died.[7] Because of McDonald's actions in Brownsville, he was referred to as "a man who would charge hell with a bucket of water."[4]

McDonald and three other officers, John H. Rogers, John R. Hughes, and John A. Brooks—were known as the "Four Great Captains" of the Texas Rangers. McDonald was an outstanding marksman who used his weapons to intimidate and disarm his opponents. Though he had bullets in his body from shootouts, he never killed anyone in a clash.[8]

In 1905, McDonald acted as bodyguard to President Theodore Roosevelt, who later entertained him at the White House. His wife died in 1906. There is no indication in Who Was Who in America of any children. In December 1914, McDonald married Pearl Wilkirson.[9] In 1907, McDonald relocated to the capital city of Austin to serve as state revenue agent[10] in the administration of Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell (1856-1923). In that capacity, he increased the state tax valuation by almost a billion dollars in two years.[3] He was later a bodyguard for Roosevelt's nemesis, Woodrow Wilson, who named his fellow Democrat as the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Texas.[2] McDonald had the skill to track down outlaws, to evaluate physical evidence found at the scene of a crime, and to disarm or defeat mobs.[3]


McDonald died of pneumonia in Wichita Falls, Texas.[11] He was buried at Quanah, west of Wichita Falls. His tombstone carries the motto: "No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."[4]

McDonald is an inductee of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco.

Other works mentioning him are Walter Prescott Webb's The Texas Rangers (1935) and W. W. Sterling's, Trails and Trials of a Texas Ranger (1968).​


  1. Rhoda and Bill McDonald exhibit, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Charles Bennett. Legendary Lawman Bill McDonald. Retrieved on March 9, 2010; no longer on-line.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Harold J. Weiss, Jr., and Rie Jarratt. McDonald, William Jesse. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Texas Ranger Hall of Fame (State Designated Memorial): William Jesse McDonald. Retrieved on March 8, 2010; no longer on-line.
  5. Christopher Long. Elderville, Texas. The Handbook of Texas. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  6. Harold J. Weiss, Jr. (2009). Yours to Command: The Life and Legend of Texas Ranger Captain Bill McDonald. University of North Texas Press. Retrieved on October 29, 2019.
  7. John D. Weaver, The Brownsville Raid (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 978-0-89096-528-3).
  8. Harold J. Weiss, Jr. "Bill McDonald and the Media Show," West Texas Historical Association, annual meeting in Fort Worth, February 26, 2010.
  10. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 1 (1897-1942) (New York City: A.N. Marquis Co., 1943), p. 809.
  11. Capt. 'Bill' MacDonald Dies. Bodyguard of President Wilson Was Noted Texas Ranger. New York Times (January 16, 1918). Retrieved on July 4, 2010; no longer on-line.