JUDGE JOHN M. DEAN, a pioneer lawyer of El Paso, and a distinguished attorney whose knowledge of legal principles and correct application of the points in jurisprudence to the case in litigation, have made him one of the strongest lawyers connected with the bar of Western Texas, was born in Forsythe county, Georgia, May 13, 1852, a son of Dr. Y. S. and Martha (McCulloch) Dean. The father was born in Guilford county, North Carolina, but for several years resided in Forsythe county, Georgia. When his son John was in his seventh year, just prior to the Civil war, the family returned to North Carolina, settling first at Statesville in Iredell county, and afterward at Salisbury in Rowan county. The father was a physician of note, very successful in his practice and during the Civil war served as a surgeon in Lee’s army. He maintained his residence in the old North state until 1874, when he came to Texas, settling in Lee county, where he died. He was active in his profession, keeping in touch with modern methods in the practice of medicine and surgery and was the acknowledged peer of the leading representatives of the calling in Texas up to the time of his death. His wife, who was a native of Rowan county, North Carolina, was a daughter of John McCulloch, of that county, and came of a long line of distinguished Scotch ancestors. It is a well-known fact that many of the citizens of Salisbury and vicinity were of Scotch lineage and that the locality was settled by emigrants from the land of the hills and heather. The McCullochs have been living in Rowan county since about the time of the reign of James II, and there is on file at Salisbury a deed from Lord Carteret, Earl of Grenville (who had received his grant from George II), to one of the McCullochs conveying the property in Rowan county on which John McCulloch lived and died. Mrs. Dean also passed away in North Carolina. She was a lady of superior talent and education and had the distinction of attending a school taught by Marshal Ney, Napoleon’s marshal, who, though, according to French history, shot in 1815, in reality escaped to America and, taking the name of Peter Stuart Ney, lived until his death in 1846 in the vicinity of Salisbury. He was a friend and associate of Judge Dean’s maternal grandfather and a frequent visitor at his house, and during the illness which terminated his life in 1846, he was attended by Judge Dean’s cousin, Dr. Matthew Locke, to whom the patient admitted just before his death that he was Marshal Ney. This fact has been somewhat in dispute, but Judge Dean relates many interesting events and incidents concerning Ney, and has a number of books and documentary evidences which prove conclusively that the man referred to was in reality the famous marshal who served under Napoleon. These things awaken great interest in Judge Dean’s mind in the French emperor and the history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. He has a very extensive library, containing nearly everything extant on these subjects from which he quotes freely from memory, and few indeed are those who are more thoroughly versed upon history of the great Napoleon.
Judge Dean was provided with good educational privileges and after attending school in Statesville, North Carolina, took up the study of law when he was still quite young. Following his father’s removal to this state he continued his law studies in Texas, and was admitted to the bar in Giddings, Lee county. On the committee that examined him for admission was Joseph D. Sayers, afterward governor of the state, Seth Sheperd, G. Washington Jones, N. A. Rector, and A. J. Rousseau, all of whom were distinguished lawyers of Texas. In 1878 Mr. Dean came to the western part of the state, which was then an open country infested with Indians and the work of progress and development had scarcely been begun. It was his desire to enter upon the practice of law but he was without capital and the early years of a lawyer’s career do not bring in any great income, for advancement at the bar is proverbially slow. Accordingly in the months of February, March and April of that year Judge Dean drove a stage coach for the Overland Stage Company, his route being from Fort Davis, in what is now Jeff Davis county, to Van Horn in El Paso county. This was the overland mail route and formed a link in the chain connecting the Mississippi river to California, and then the longest stage route in the world. In May, 1878, however, Judge Dean entered upon the active practice of his profession and soon demonstrated his ability as a lawyer, having comprehensive grasp of judicial principles, combined with an analytical mind and keen powers of logic. In 188o he was elected county attorney of Presidio county, in which capacity he served for two years, and in 1882 he was chosen by popular suffrage to the office of district attorney of what was then the twentieth judicial district and is now included in the thirty-fourth district. It comprised several counties including El Paso. At that time the district was much larger than it is at the present time and covered all of the country west of the Pecos river, together with a section of country east of it and including Tom Green county. In 1884 Judge Dean was re-elected and again in 1886 and 1888, and in 1890 he retired from the office as he had entered it—with the confidence and trust of all concerned. The years of 1891 and 1892 were devoted to the private practice of law and in the latter year he was elected to the state senate, where he served for four years, during which period he was closely connected with important constructive legislation and served on a number of the leading committees in the upper house. In 1896 he was re-elected district attorney, once more in 1898 and the third time in 19oo, and since 1902 he has again engaged in private practice.
Judge Dean was united in marriage to Miss Louise Haggart and in social life in El Paso they are well known, while the hospitality of their own home is greatly enjoyed by many friends. Judge Dean is connected with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and also the Masonic fraternity, in which he has taken the degrees of the lodge, chapter and commandery. He has had an interesting career and as a lawyer has made a notable record, prosecuting perhaps more cases than any other prosecuting attorney of the state. He is absolutely fearless in the performance of his duty and never forgets that he owes his highest allegiance to the majesty of the law. His practice has been extensive and of an important character. His legal learning, his analytical mind and readiness with which he grasps the points in an argument all combine to make him one of the most notable lawyers in Western Texas, and the public and the profession acknowledge him the peer of its ablest members.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), pp. 260-261.