The Commerce Journal

November 27, 2013

Book portrays early county leaders

By Dr. Jim Conrad
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — Dixon Latham of Greenville, has in his possession a valuable old book, “Who’s Who in Central, North and East Texas, 1912.”

The full title leaves no doubt as to the contents of the 196-page volume: “Past History and Present Stage of Development of Texas; Memorial and Biographical History Matter of the Lone Star State – Also Biographical Mention of Many of the Best Citizens of the Important Sections of the State Known as Central, North and East Texas – Portraits.”

The author of the book was I.G. Forrister, a transplanted Tennessean. In 1911 Forrister traveled throughout North Texas, collecting biographical data on prominent physicians, judges, lawyers, ministers, newspaper editors, educators, politicians, merchants and farmers.

These early 20th century who’s who lists, also known as “mug books,” have an unsavory reputation among historians because of the glorified chamber of commerce “write-ups” of the biographies.

Forrister’s book is an exception. He flays several individuals in the book, such as Senator Charles A. Culberson.

“Contrary to being a leader of men, Senator Culberson belongs to that school of politicians who carefully sound the roadbed of public sentiment in advance of jumping the ditch, and this antiquated custom once styled shrewd politics has lost him much ground of late in progressive Texas.”

Hunt County is well represented in the book with 12 entries, including the mayor of Greenville, the county attorney, the county tax assessor, the county treasurer, two justices of the peace, a physician, a college president, several lawyers, a farmer and a merchant.

Among the gallery of Hunt County notables, Powhatan Leftridge Moore is one of the more interesting biographies.  A Confederate veteran, Moore came to Texas in 1875 from Pike County, Mo. He lived in Harrison, Lamar and Delta counties before moving to Hunt.

In 1911 he was living in Commerce with his wife. One son operated a steam laundry and another son ran an insurance and real estate business in the city.

Moore told Forrister that when he came to Texas, “he was one of the richest men in Texas (because) he had a wife, two sons and $1.50 in money.”

Forrister devoted three pages to W.L. Mayo, president of East Texas Normal College.

“The school brings to Commerce an annual $150,000 to $175,000, drawing students from every part of Texas and adjoining states,” wrote Forrister.

Forrister also included biographical information on Albert E. Mason and his ancestors. Born in Greenville in 1884, he was elected Justice of the Peace in 1910 for Precinct 1, Greenville.

His grandfather, a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, served as sheriff of Hopkins and Hunt counties, and Albert’s father, S.J. Mason, had been police chief of Greenville and sheriff of Hunt County.

Another favorite of mine is Henry Byron Mock. Born at Alliance near Celeste, he began practicing law in Hunt County at the age of 19 after graduating from the University of Texas Law School.

“It is said of him that he is at home anywhere, from a hovel to a palace, in postprandial felicitations, joint debates or baccalaureate addresses, loves a fight and is game to the core as his extremely red hair and general though polished appearance indicates.”

Mock’s father and grandfather played a prominent role in developing ranching in Hunt County.

Forrister’s book is a rare and wonderful source for Hunt County historians and genealogists.

Dr. Conrad has retired from Texas A&M University – Commerce, as Head Archivist in the Special Collections Department.  He resides in Commerce. This article is a reprint.