R. A. Jeffress biography

R. A. JEFFRESS, of Colorado, one of the honored pioneers of Western Texas, whose labors have been of material benefit in the improvement of this section of the state, comes of English ancestry. His father was Colonel William C. Jeffress, a native of Nottoway county, Virginia, and was born September 30, 1823. He pursued his education in Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, that state, being graduated in the class of 1843. He was a lawyer by profession but being well-to-do did not engage actively in the practice of law except for a brief period. He owned a number of plantations and had about seventy-five slaves before the war. After the inauguration of hostilities between the north and the south he raised a company of artillery in his native county and during the early part of the war was under command of General Humphrey Marshall, who later became a member of the Confederate congress and his command was transferred to General Joseph E. Johnston’s army, with which forces Mr. Jeffress remained until the close of the war. He participated in the battle of Chickamauga, one of the most noted engagements of the entire war, and although he participated in a number of hotly contested battles was never injured. He was married three times: first to Miss Bettie Clark of Prince Edward county, Virginia, in December, 1846. She died in 1852 leaving one child, R. A. Jeffress. His second marriage was to Miss Margaret Moseley of Charlotte county, Virginia, by whom he had two sons and two daughters, but one of the daughters died in infancy and the mother passed away in 1863. Colonel Jeffress[‘s] last marriage was to Miss Sally Thornton, of Milton, North Carolina, in 1866. By this marriage there were three children, two sons, and a daughter. Colonel Jeffress was a tall, fine-looking man of unusually good address, was a fluent speaker, an entertaining conversationalist and a most companionable gentleman. He continued his residence in the county of his nativity until called to his final rest on the 22nd of August, 1895.

Robert Alexander Jeffress was born in Nottoway county, Virginia, August 16, 1848, and began his education in Chestnut Hill schoolhouse near his father’s home, his first teacher being Wirt Davis, who taught him to read and write. The teacher was a remarkable man in many ways. His presence in the school-room inspired the pupils with awe, for he displayed a most determined manner. A native of Virginia, he afterward went to Mississippi, where he successfully taught school, while later he went to California, being there at the time of the outbreak of the Civil war. His sympathies were with the north and he enlisted in the Union army, was promoted to a captaincy and after the close of the war was stationed with his command at Fort Griffin, in Shackelford county, Texas. He is still in the United States army and judging the man from the standpoint of his success as a school teacher he certainly must have been a splendid soldier.

Mr. Jeffress next became a student in Union Academy, situated near the town then known as Black and Whites but now called Blackstone, Virginia. There he acquired the greater part of his education but later attended the Virginia Military Institute. He went to Lexington, where remained for several days. The war was in progress and the barracks of the school had been burned, which caused the school to open later in Richmond, being located there temporarily. Mr. Jeffress remained there for a time in 1864, but accommodations were so poor that he returned home. His father afterward gave him the choice of returning to the institute when it was again placed in good running order at Lexington or to go west, as he was then thinking of doing. Mr. Jeffress made choice of the latter course and from that time forward has been dependent upon his own resources, working his way upward through the inherent force of his character and his recognition and utilization of opportunities. He left home in May, 1869, and went to Helena, Arkansas, joining a friend, Rev. Thomas Ward White, who then had charge of the public schools in Helena and is now at New Birmingham, Texas. Mr. Jeffress assisted Rev. White in the school for a short time and afterward accepted a school thirty miles west of Helena in Phillips county, where he taught for one session. Having trouble to get his warrants cashed and secure money he became discouraged and returned to Helena, where he obtained a position in a store, selling feathers, buttons and ladies’ goods. That did not prove congenial and he made arrangements to leave Helena but with no definite point in view. He had his trunk packed and put on the cab and all the time was debating whether to return to Virginia or to go to Texas. When the cab was on the way to the depot he decided in favor of the latter place and told the cabman to drive him to the New Orleans depot, where he secured a ticket for Texas over the Morgan road to Brashear City, thence proceeding to Galveston. He was caught in a storm on the passage. This was his first experience at sea and at length he arrived safely at his destination in February, 1870. He went to LaGrange, Fayette county, traveling by stage the most of the way and in that vicinity taught school for one session. He afterward went to Bastrop and while on his way in search of a school in that county he accidentally met his old Virginia friend, Major Louis C. Wise, now of Abilene, Texas. He was very homesick and discouraged about the time and was more than delighted to meet Major Wise, who was then teaching at Hills Prairie, Texas, and who invited Mr. Jeffress to spend the night with him. The latter accepted the invitation and while seated in the school-house he saw in that class, as he afterward told Major Wise, fourteen of the prettiest girls he had ever seen in his life. The sequel of all this was that one of the girls afterward became his wife.

About that time Mr. Jeffress arranged to become teacher of a private school at the residence of Judge Lyman in Bastrop county, not far from the school in which Major Wise was employed, so that the two gentlemen saw each other frequently. While filling that position he became acquainted with R. J. Swancoat, an Episcopal minister, who occasionally visited the Lyman family and preached in the neighborhood. Mr. Swancoat then had charge of the leading school in Austin and extended to Mr. Jeffress an offer to go to Austin and take a position in his school. The offer was accepted and Mr. Jeffress remained with Mr. Swancoat until he closed his school. Later Mr. Jeffress taught school in Cedar Creek, Bastrop county, about twenty miles from Austin, and while there he became acquainted with Miss Bettie Moncure, one of the pupils formerly in the school taught by Major Wise. Her father was Captain John J. Moncure of Virginia, who had been in Texas many years, and the daughter was born and reared in this state. The marriage resulted from this meeting and was celebrated on the 1st of January, 1873. After a brief illness, however, Mrs. Jeffress died on the 13th of December, less than year after their marriage.

Mr. Jeffress in his grief went to Austin to pay a visit to his lifelong friend, Major Wise, and was there during the time of the great excitement when E. J. Davis was retaining possession of the reins of government and Richard Coke and R. B. Hubbard were inaugurated as governor and lieutenant governor of Texas. After being in Austin a few weeks Mr. Jeffress returned to his old home in Virginia, where he spent several months, returning to Texas in 1874. He then spent a shore time with his father-in-law, Captain Moncure, of Bastrop county, after which he went to Comanche county, where he again taught school for a time. He then took up the study of law and was admitted to the bar in Comanche county in the spring of 1875. Soon afterward he accompanied Judge J. P. Osterhout, the presiding judge of the district, to Shackelford county, going there to hold the first district court ever convened in that county. Among the prominent lawyers in the party were: Colonel Lowry, of Belton; Colonel W. S. J. Adams, of Comanche; H. H. Neil, now associate justice of the court of civil appeals of San Antonio; N. R. Lindsey, now district judge of the Comanche district. The party went to Fort Griffin, where court was held. During the term there were many indictments found by the grand jury and all the visiting lawyers were kept busy during the entire term of court. Mr. Jeffress was employed on some of those cases and finally decided that it would be a good place to locate, which he did, entering upon the practice of his profession at Fort Griffin. After he was there for a time he was elected prosecuting attorney for Shackelford county for judicial purposes, as they were organized.

Mr. Jeffress served as county attorney there until the 17th of January, 1877. On that day occurred the most memorable incident in his career. Fort Griffin being a frontier settlement had the reputation of being one of the roughest places in the west. One night after he and a party of his fellow lawyers and associates had returned from Albany, where the county seat had recently been removed, a message was sent to the sheriff of the county that a crowd of tough characters were drinking, carousing and shooting through the town. A party was organized including the sheriff, his deputy, organized including the sheriff, his deputy, Mr. Jeffress and others, and they went in search of the desperadoes in order to effect their arrest. They were located in one of the saloons, in the rear of which was a sort of theatre where a performance was given every night. A fight ensued between the officers of the law and ruffians in which the lights in the place were extinguished and bullets were flying in every direction. Mr. Jeffress was struck by a ball from a fifty-five caliber revolver, it passing through his body just above the heart and lodging near the shoulder blade right beneath the skin. A long and tedious illness followed and although medical and surgical aid was provided, his life was despaired of by the physicians in attendance. His father was summoned from Virginia and came to the bedside of his son, remaining with him as long as he could and then bidding him good-bye, never expecting to see him again on earth, but fate had ordained otherwise and as time wore on he began to improve and finally was able to make a journey back to his Virginia home, but his service as prosecuting attorney of the county was ended by that shot.

While Mr. Jeffress was at home the family physician, Dr. Agnew, made an examination and changed the course of treatment from that which the Texas doctors had followed. After two months Mr. Jeffress was much improved and felt quite himself again, save that the would continued to discharge. In the course of time a piece of bone came out and then the wound healed.

While in Virginia at that time, Mr. Jeffress met the lady who is now his wife and whom he married on the 17th of September, 1878. She was formerly Miss Ida Wootton and was born and reared in Virginia. In the same year he returned with his wife to Teas, reaching Albany in October, after making the trip over land from Fort Worth, as there were no railroads at the time west of Fort Worth. He continued in the active practice of law in Albany until the spring of 1881, when he removed to Colorado, Texas, where he has since remained and has occupied his present office since April, 1886. His practice of several years has largely been office practice, although he has tried some important civil and criminal cases. He was appointed agent for Senator Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, having charge of all of his property in Texas. He took charge August 16, 1881, and served as Senator Brown’s agent until his death, November 30, 1894, since which time Mr. Jeffress has represented the executors, having charge of the Texas estate. He has also represented the estate of Hon. Edmund W. Cole of Nashville, Tennessee, and of Hon. L. N. Trammell, of Georgia, who was for many years chairman of the railroad commission of that state. He is also the representative of Colonel Henry R. Duval, of New York, former president of the Florida Central and Peninsular Railway Company, and these varied interests bring to him a good financial return.

In the family of Judge Jeffress are four living children, three sons and a daughter: Emmet Calvin, Corinne, Prentiss Clark and Wooton Walton. Judge Jeffress is a refined and highly cultured gent[l]eman of the old Virginian school and displays many of the excellent traits of character that characterized his father’s life. He has a high sense of honor and justice and in all of his dealings with his fellow-men has won the unqualified confidence and esteem of those with whom he has been associated. He is one of the oldest attorneys in point of residence in Colorado, where he has built up a successful law practice. It is ever a pleasure to meet with men of this type, men who stand for advancement in all that develops character and that works for good citizenship and for high ideals in private life.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 365-368.