Successful Business Men of Texas


As strange as it may appear, nevertheless, it is a fact, that despite the rapid civilization and development of the West, and the close commercial and social relations between Texas and the rest of the world, the circulation of newspapers and books descriptive of the country and its resources; many, the majority we may say, of the people, North and East, and especially, in other countries, have but a faint conception, or none of the cattle interests and its details, in this pre-eminently cattle country. They have heard of ranches, and ranges and herds, and of "cattle kings," etc., but we dare say, few of them have an adequate idea of the possessions of a real live Texas "cattle king."
We present them, therefore, in the following pages, the details in the life of a typical cattle ranchman, a many-times-millionaire, who is "native to the manor born," and also, an outline of his father's career - a cattle king by his unaided exertions. Few, we dare say, ever dreamed in the "ould country" where O'Connor came from, of the possibilities turned into achievements, by this son of the Emerald Isle, and his sons, who aptly illustrate the typical Texas ranchmen, and "successful men of Texas."
Thomas O'Connor, father of Dennis, the subject of this sketch proper, arrived in Texas, from Waxford, Ireland, in March 1834, and located in Refugio county. He served in the Texas war for independence, and was the youngest man in the battle of San Jacinto.* After the war was over, Mr. O'Connor returned to Refugio, and engaged in raising cattle, on a small scale, and manufacturing saddle-trees. He invested all his earnings in cattle, while the country was still open, and range free and unlimited.
In 1873, to the great astonishment of his neighbors, O'Connor suddenly sold his cattle, and at a low price, and invested the proceeds in land! Land was so plentiful and so cheap, and range free, that is was a matter of surprise that he should think of buying, much less of making a sacrifice to so; but the sequel proved the sagacity of his foresight, and justified the step; he foresaw that those broad rolling prairies could not always afford free grass, that the country would fill up, and such lands have a value. All the money he could get, then, he invested in stocking his possession; and as his capital permitted, he invested in more land, and more stock. Then he began fencing. He fenced the first ranch ever enclosed in Refugio county, comprising about ten thousand acres, though he owned much more at the time. He continued to build fences, -- and let it be remembered, it was before the fence problem was solved, and that commodity made cheap by the introduction of the barbed wire, -- until he had more than five hundred thousand acres enclosed. Think of over half a million acres of land under a rail, or any other fence, with upwards of one hundred thousand head of horned cattle dotting its emerald surface, and sufficient grass to feed and fatten them! This fine body of land, and his other pastures, lay in the counties of Refugio, Aransas, Goliad, San Patricio, McMullen and LaSalle, and is unsurpassed for grazing purposes, by any under the sun, not even excepting the broad savannahs of Brazil and Bolivia. Its estimated value was approaching four and a half million dollars, at the time of Mr. Thomas O'Connor's death, October 16, 1887. He was 68 years old, and this, and his other property, descended to his sons, Dennis, the subject of the following biography, and Thomas O'Connor, Jr. Besides this, he left $50,000 to Mrs. Mary Patterson. The business is still carried on by the two brothers, who have added several thousand acres of land. Mrs. O'Connor, wife of Thomas O'Connor, and mother of the two sons just mentioned, came from New York with her parents - the Fagans - in 1829, and settled in Refugio, where she married Thomas O'Connor, ten years later, in 1839, she having to ride to San Antonio on horse-back for the purpose. She died November 17, 1843, in Refugio, leaving two sons.
Coming now to the subject proper of this sketch - Mr. Dennis Martin O'Connor. He was, as we have said, eldest son of Thomas O'Connor of Ireland, and Mary Fagan; was born in Refugio, Texas, October 9, 1840. He was early placed at school, the best the country afforded, at Ingleside, in San Patricio county, where he received a fair English education. He also studied Latin, but the war coming on, his studies were interrupted, and his education left incomplete. In 1867-8-9, he essayed the life of a merchant, selling goods, with indifferent success, for two years or more. Not finding this business to his taste, he abandoned it, and engaged with his father in stock-raising, and the management of his vast monied interests. When the war came on, Mr. O'Connor promptly enlisted as a private soldier, in 21st Texas Cavalry, and participated with that command in several smaller battles in Missouri and Arkansas. At present he is a member of the banking firm of O'Connor & Sullivan, of San Antonio, where, and in his cattle and land interests, he has, invested two millions of dollars, and as he is yet in the prime of life, there is no telling what he may be worth in the course of time.
Mr. O'Connor married in Montgomery, Ala. His wife's maiden name was Mary Virginia Drake, and they have had seven children; three of whom died young, to-wit: Thomas, Josephine and Virginia; and Thomas, being the revered name of the father and founder of the family, a second son was named for him; and there are now living Thomas, Mary, Martin and Joseph. In religion, Mr. O'Connor is a devout Catholic, and like many of that faith, he gives liberally and abundantly of his substance to the church, and to the support of indigent widows, the education of orphan children, and other benevolent purposes. Being, politically, a Republican, though never taking an active part in politics, or desiring any political honors, he has nevertheless contributed liberally to the campaign funds of his party when called upon to do so. He is at present Deputy United States Marshal of that district.
In point of physique Mr. O'Connor is not above the average size of men, being five feet, nine inches in height; he has a pleasing and prepossessing appearance, and in any assembly of citizens would be observed as no ordinary man. He is a man of decided character, strong in his attachments, and devoted to his friends, amongst whom he is noted for benevolence, and kindness of heart. He has dark hair and beard, not yet frosted by time, though he is at the present writing, entering his fifteeth year; and his clear, blue eyes denote vigorous intellect, and a gentle and sympathetic nature, never deaf to the cry of distress, nor blind to the merits of the deserving, who stand in need of a friend. There is no man in Texas, who more strikingly exemplifies and illustrates this work as a "type" of his class than Dennis Martin O'Connor.
The State of Texas, Victoria County
W.L. Davidson being duly sworn, says, that he was long and intimately associated with the late Capt. R.J. Calder, and that just before his death he gave affiant the foregoing as a complete copy of the last muster roll of his company, and requested him to give it to the late Thomas O'Connor, stating at the time that the list of his company had lately been published, in which the name of J. O'Connor appeared instead of T. O'Connor. He also stated that Mr. O'Connor was the youngest boy in his company, and did his duty faithfully and well.
[Signed] W.L. Davidson
Sworn to and subscribed before E.A. Perrenot, county clerk, Victoria county, Texas, 1888.


If Mr. Jester is not, like the Hon. Elijah Pogram, -- "one of the most remarkable men this country ever produced" his career certainly is a very remarkable one; but an impartial history of this time, and of this remarkable State, would furnish many similar to it, all illustrative of what a clear head, on a strong young body, and guided by strong will and perseverance, any achieve; illustrative of the trite saying that "the battle is not always to the strong, but to the active, the vigilant, and the brave." History, and especially that of the new West, teems with instances where such men have, taking their lives in their hands, and subjected to every species of privation and danger, carved out fortunes, colossal in their proportions, but comparatively few are the instances in more recent times, and amidst an advanced civilization, in which a poor boy, coming, a stranger to a strange land, without any advantage, whatever, except that afforded within himself, and especially cumbered, as was the subject of this sketch, has overcome mountain-like obstacles, achieving in the brief period of twenty years, both fortune and fame!
George Taylor Jester was born on a farm in Macoupin county, Illinois, August 23, 1847. He is a son of Levi and Diadema Jester. His father died in 1851, leaving the mother and six children, the oldest, ten years of age, and the youngest, an infant in arms, of only a few months. He left but little property, and this little served to support the family, and keep away the wolf from the door, until the oldest son and George, the subject of this biography, were old enough, and able to do something toward the family support. This begun when George was only ten years of age.
His grandfather, Hampton McKinney, had, in the year in which this grandson - George - was born, (1847), removed from Illinois to Texas, and had settled at Corsicana; he built the first house - a log cabin - in that now city. On the death of Mr. Jester, in '58, his wife gathered up her six little children, and made her way - somehow - to her father's cabin in Corsicana; since which time - 31 years - the family have continually resided in that part of the State - at Corsicana. Mr. Jester, in speaking of that time and of the trip and his subsequent trials, says:
"This was before the days of railroads in Texas, and we came, all of us, and all we possessed, loaded in a two-horse wagon. I think, when we landed, I had the soil of every state between my toes, from Illinois to Texas. At that time Corsicana contained but few inhabitants. Soon after we arrived, the county commenced building a brick court-house, the first brick house ever erected in that section of the country, and I secured employment in bearing off brick, and hauling, at fifty cents a day. My brother and myself supported the family, and I attended a day school occasionally. All the education I received at school, was in Corsicana. I was 14 years old when the war of 1861 commenced, and during the war the schools were poor, and irregular. At 17 years of age I read law, when not at work, and at night, but abandoned it before I was prepared to receive license, on account of not being able to educate myself, and support my mother and sisters. AT 18 years of age, I joined Hood's 4th Texas Regiment. That was the last year of the war, and before we reached Richmond, Lee had surrendered. During a part of the war, I worked on a farm for wages, receiving twelve dollars per month, and part of my duty was herding cattle. At the close of the war I worked hard, and made enough money to buy a wagon and two horses; and for two years I followed wagoning, and trading in horses and hides, on a small scale. At about 20 years of age, I concluded I had some ability which fitted me for better things, and accordingly, I sold my wagon and horses, and obtained a "situation" in a dry goods store in Corsicana, at $20 per month to begin with, and boarded myself. I clerked three years, my salary being increased, until it reached $125 per month; when I abandoned the place to commence business on my own account."
"I commenced merchandising in 1870, and continued until 1880, with success; during the time, for five years, I was engaged in buying cotton of the farmers, and shipping it direct to the spinners. Up to 1875, the spinners purchased their cotton only at the ports; not coming nearer the interior than Houston. I conceived the idea of buying direct from the producer, and shipping direct to the spinner, in New England. I visited the mills, and showed the owners how they could buy cotton cheap; and at the same time the farmers would get a better price for their cotton, as it would save the expense of the commission merchant, freight, etc. at the ports. I succeeded admirably, and introduced the system of buying direct from the planter, which, today is general; in fact the spinners buy most of their cotton from interior towns."
"In 1881 I retired from merchandising and cotton buying, and engaged in the banking business, -- under the firm-name of Jester Bros., the firm consisting of myself and my two brothers, C.W. and L.L. Jester. In 1887 our bank was converted into the Corsicana National Bank, with a capital surplus of $125,000.00. Of this Company I am president and manager. The business is steadily increasing."
Here is a remarkable record of success from the smallest beginnings. It is the result of hard, unceasing labor, directed by a shrewd mind and an indomitable will. Mr. Jester is at the present time, December, 1889, only forty-two years of age, and yet has amassed a large fortune, by his own unaided exertion, in twenty years. The example is a noble one, well worthy of study and emulation; a lesson to young men, and a terrible rebuke to that class who whine over their misfortunes. It reads like a fairy tale.
In addition to his banking business, Mr. Jester is engaged in farming and in raising "Shorthorn" and Jersey cattle. He owns three thousand acres in farms and pasture lands. Amongst them is the Valley Hill Stock Farm, near Corsicana, which embraces 1,100 acres, and is stocked with "Shorthorn" and Jersey cattle. The breeding of fine stock is a passion with him, and his leisure hours are spent at his rural home, surrounded by all that makes a country life pleasant. In 1882, Mr. Jester purchased some thoroughbreds in Kentucky, and established this farm. He has now a large herd of fine blooded cattle, second to none anywhere; and it is a matter of pardonable pride, and of which the State should be proud, that Mr. Jester has demonstrated the fact that Texas can grow other than the "longhorn" steers of ante-bellum days, and as cheaply. To him is due the credit of having improved the cattle of that section of the State to a wonderful degree, and more than any other man.
His whole life having been passed at Corsicana, and his career, of course, known to all the people, it may well be supposed they readily accord to Mr. Jester high social and business position, and value him as a citizen. He is a leading man among them, taking an active part in all public enterprises. Evidence of this appreciation is afforded in the fact that he is a Director and Treasurer of the Navarro County Bible Society; of the Corsicana Relief Association; of the Navarro County Fair Association; of the Corsicana Board of Trade; a stockholder in the Corsicana Street Railway Company, and in the Corsicana Manufacturing Company.
He is a member of the Methodist Church, and was lay-delegate to the General Conference that met in Richmond, Virginia, May, 1886, at which Conference Bishop Duncan, Calloway, Hendricks and Key were elected.
In politics, Mr. Jester is a staunch Democrat, as might be expected, but seems to have no political aspirations; for though repeatedly urged to become a candidate for the Legislature, as Representative or Senator, he has never permitted his name to be used, and has never held political office. He has, however, been chosen a delegate to some four or five State Democratic Nominating Conventions, always without solicitation, and has participated with interest, if not zeal, in their deliberations.
Mr. Jester has been twice married. In 1871, he was united in marriage to Miss Alice Bates, who died in 1875, leaving him two children, a son, Claude Jr., and a daughter - named for her mother - Alice Bates. In 1880, five years after the death of his first wife, Mr. Jester married again, this time to Miss Fannie P. Gordon, and another son, Charles J. Jester, has been born to them. Both these ladies were beautiful and accomplished; and it is due to Mr. Jester to say that his present handsome fortune is the result of his individual and unaided labors, and that not a dollar of it was either inherited, or came through his marriage contracts.
In the natural course of things, it is reasonable to hope and believe that the subject of this sketch, who has done so much for the community in which he lives, and as for that, for the State of Texas, building up such a career and a fortune, will live many more years; and if the past be taken as presaging the future, he will be one of the money princes of Texas, and will go down to posterity thoroughly identified with the progress and development of the State.

{Source: Types of Successful Men of Texas, by Daniell, Publ. 1890. Transcribed by Kim Mohler}

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