Friday, October 3, 2014

Governor Beauford Jester of Corsicana

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Kinsloe House
On the first day of October I drove to Corsicana, my home town, to deliver a program at the Kinsloe House. For more than seven decades the Kinsloe House has been the home of several women’s organizations. The Kinsloe House also has hosted countless wedding receptions, high school reunions, banquets, and assorted other social and cultural events. I had been contacted by Margaret Thomas on behalf of Navarro County Women's Club. Margaret asked me to present a program on some aspect of Corsicana history, and I suggested Gov. Beauford Jester, a native son of Corsicana and the only Texas governor to die in office.

Nearly 100 people jammed into the Kinsloe House dining area. The crowd included many old friends, as well as my daughter, Dr. Shellie O’Neal, chair of the Drama Department at Navarro College. The event was scheduled for noon on Wednesday. I arrived early, and I had a grand time visiting with everyone. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, and Margaret provided me with a gracious introduction.
With Dr. Shellie O'Neal
With former schoolmates
Introduction by Margaret Thomas
I prefaced my remarks, as I often do, with an explanation about the office of Texas State Historian. I was proud to relate that the Selection Committee has asked me to serve a second term. I will be sworn in at a public ceremony on the campus of Panola College on Wednesday at 3 PM on October 22. I pointed out that my love of history was developed in Corsicana, with excellent school teachers and a welcoming public library staff. My great-grandparents brought their family from Mississippi to a new home in Navarro County in a covered wagon in 1881. My grandmother, who was seven years old during the wagon train trek, repeatedly told me the story of the great adventure of her childhood. Her older brother, R.R. Owen, grew up to become a Corsicana attorney and county judge.

During the 1890s the first oil field and oil refinery west of the Mississippi River was developed in Corsicana. Desperado John Wesley Hardin, hiding out with relatives near Corsicana, taught a term in a rural school. The home of Major John B. Jones, commander of the famed Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers, was a horse ranch in western Navarro County. The Corsicana Oilers won the 1902 Texas League championship, establishing records that still stand in professional baseball. Victorian homes, commercial structures, and historic churches offer tangible reminders of the past. And Corsicana was the home of a handsome and able governor.

Birthplace of Beauford Jester, no longer standing
Beauford Jester

The father of Beauford Jester was a Navarro County pioneer, George Jester, who came to Corsicana as a child in 1858. His father recently had died, and his mother brought her six children in a covered wagon to Corsicana, where her father had helped to found the town a decade earlier. Growing up in a new town and county, George was enterprising and industrious, and he prospered rapidly. He founded and served as president of the Corsicana National Bank, he acquired land, and he was active in civic affairs. George Jester was elected to the Texas State House and Senate, and he served two terms as lieutenant governor during the 1890s.

George Jester
George Jester had five children, including Beauford, born in 1893. Beauford graduated from Corsicana High School in 1911, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas, and enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1916. But with United States entry into World War I in 1917, Beauford enlisted in the U.S. Army. As an infantry captain he led his company into combat during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Following his discharge, Jester entered the University of Texas Law School, and after graduation he established a successful law practice in Corsicana. He married Mabel Buchanan of Texarkana in 1921, and they became the parents of two daughters and a son. Like his father, Beauford took a leadership role in civic and religious activities (the Jesters were Methodists). He was chairman of the U.T. Board of Regents, a director of the state bar, and a member of the powerful Railroad Commission. Elected governor as a Democrat in 1946, he was progressive and popular, and easily won re-election. But in 1949 Jester suffered a massive heart attack on a train. He is buried in Corsicana beneath an impressive grave stone.

Beauford and Mabel Jester built their family home in 1923.

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