William Jesse McDonald was born September 28, 1852 in Kemper County, Mississippi to Enoch and Eunice. Enoch McDonald was a soldier in the Army of the Mississippi and was killed at the Battle of Corinth the week after young William turned ten years old (October 1862). About four years later, with his mother and other relatives, William "Bill Jess" McDonald moved to Texas, settling on a farm near Henderson in Rusk County (1866).
At the grand old age of 16 he was involved in an unspecified conflict with "union authorities" and tried for treason. However, David Culberson - a member of the Texas state legislature, oddly enough not a judge - acquitted him of the charges. William attended school at Soule's Commercial College in New Orleans, graduating in 1872. With that degree behind him, he taught (penmanship / writing) in Henderson until such time as he had the wherewithal to start a small store at Brown's Bluff. Some time before 1876, he opened a grocery store in Mineola. It was during that time that he became a part time lawman, associating himself with the Justice of the Peace at nearby Quitman, James S. Hogg.
Through Justice of the Peace Hogg, William met his future bride, Rhoda Isabel Carter. They were married in January 1876. It wasn't until the 1880s when he really began to make a name for himself as a man of the law. In the early 1880s William served as a deputy sheriff in Wood County, but in 1883 the McDonalds moved to Wichita County where William first focused his business attention on cattle and lumber, but, by 1886 he returned his attention to law enforcement. In turn he was a deputy sheriff, special ranger and then United States Deputy Marshal of the Northern District of Texas and the Southern District of Kansas.
Between 1886 and 1891, William McDonald became well known for his aggressive tactics against cattle thieves and train robbers. He was credited with driving the Brooken (sometimes documented as "Brookins") gang out of Hardeman. His effectiveness brought him recognition and in 1891 he was appointed by (now) Governor Hogg as Captain of Company B, part of the Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers.
Capt. McDonald and his company took part in a number of celebrated cases including the Fitzsimmons-Maher prize fight, the Wichita Falls bank robbery, the Reese-Townsend feud, and the Brownsville Raid of 1906. There's a story that surrounds the Fitzsimmons-Majer prize fight...
Before the fight, Captain McDonald was in the crowded Jersey Lily Saloon. A patron was on the verge of throwing something at an overwhelmed waiter. McDonald said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you." The angry diner replied, "Do you want to take it up?" Calmly McDonald rose out of his chair and stated, "I done took it up." The next words to exit the mouth of the antagonist were those of an apology. The patron was reportedly Bat Masterson, a legendary lawman himself and not someone easily backed down.
Captain McDonald's handling of the troops of the 25th U.S. Infantry during the Brownsville Raid of 1906 made him known as a man who would charge hell with a bucket of water. He had a reputation as a gunman that rested upon his marksmanship, and his ability to use his weapons to intimidate his opponents. McDonald is known as one of the Four Great Captains, the others being John H. Rogers, John R. Hughes and John A. Brooks.
In 1905 and again in 1912, Captain McDonald served as bodyguard for President Theodore Roosevelt. In between - and amongst his other duties - in 1907 Governor Campbell appointed McDonald as a state revenue agent.
Captain William Jesse McDonald died in Wichita Falls of pneumonia on January 15, 1918. He is buried in Quanah Memorial Park, Quanah, Texas with the following epitaph on his grave stone: