John Henninger Reagan was born in 1818 to Timothy Richard and Elizabeth Reagan in Sevier County, Tennessee. He worked at his father's tannery and on the family farm, attending school sporadically, until leaving the state in 1838.
Reagan came in 1839 to Nacogodoches, Texas, where he met with Martin Lacy, Indian agent for the Cherokee Tribe in present-day Cherokee and Smith Counties. He helped deliver a message from Texas President Mirabeau Lamar to the Cherokees, threatening force if the tribe did not move north of the Red River.
Reagan was assigned to Gen. Thomas J. Rusk's regiment of the Texas militia, which engaged the Cherokees in July 1839. The last skirmish was the Battle of the Neches, fought in today's Van Zandt County, resulting in the deaths of Chiefs Bowles and Big Mush, and the removal of the Cherokees to Indian Territory.
After his work with the militia, Reagan studied surveying, working in the Nacogdoches Land District. As part of his survey work, he petitioned the creation of Henderson, Van Zandt and Kaufman Counties, suggesting the names for each. Reagan also studied law and became a state representative and then district judge in East Texas, presiding over the court in Canton from 1853 to 1857, after which he was elected to congress.
During the Civil War, Reagan served as Postmaster General for the Confederacy. He was captured and imprisoned, as was Pres. Jefferson Davis, in 1865. After returning to Palestine, Reagan was reelected to congress in 1875 and helped frame the 1876 Texas constitution. He served as U.S. Senator, 1887-1891, then became first Texas Railroad Commissioner, a position he held until 1903. He died in 1905 and was buried in Palestine.
V.Z. Hist. Comm.