James Fleming Fagan was born in Kentucky in 1828. His family moved to Little Rock, AR in 1838, when Fagan’s father was hired as a plasterer during the construction of what is now known as the Old State House. After the death of his father and his mother’s remarriage, Fagan worked on his step father’s farm.
Fagan served in the Army during the Mexican American war (1846-1848), and when the Civil War broke out he quickly raised a company for the Confederate cause, which eventually became part of the First Arkansas Infantry Regiment. During the War, Fagan saw action at the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run), Battle of Shiloh, Battle of Prairie Grove, Battle of Helena and others. In 1862 he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, and in 1864 to Major General. At the end of the War, he was in command of the District of Arkansas for the Trans-Mississippi Department, an administrative arm of the Confederate States of America. Following the Union victory and surrender of his Department in 1865, Fagan was paroled by the U.S. government later that year.
After his parole, Fagan returned to farming. In 1875, he was appointed U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas by President Ulysses S. Grant, the same year Judge Isaac C. Parker was appointed federal judge for the district. Both Fagan and Parker were chosen by Grant to help clean up the corruption and crime that had plagued the Western District and Indian Territory for many years. Grant also allowed Fagan to hire up to 200 deputy marshals to police Indian Territory, which had become the most dangerous territory in the nation. In 1874, he issued instructions about the offenses that came under the jurisdiction of his deputies. The deputies were to:
"...serve the warrants and process in their hands. This is their first and chief duty.As officers of the United States it is also meet and proper they should make every reasonable effort to discover and bring to justice persons guilty of murder, assault with deadly weapons with intent to kill or maim, where the injured party is disabled from appearing before the commissioner in person, robbing the mail, stealing government property, resisting or obstructing the administration of justice, and substantial violation of the intercourse law. Prosecutions for offenses against the property of individuals should not be instituted by Deputies having no personal knowledge of the facts, but in such cases the injured party should be referred to the Commissioner."
Fagan served as U.S. Marshal until 1877. In 1877, Fagan became the receiver for the Land Office in Little Rock, where he served until 1890. In 1890, he was defeated in a campaign for Arkansas Railroad Commissioner.
James Fagan died in Little Rock on September 1, 1893, and was buried there in Mount Holly Cemetery.