where future Texans can learn about the career of this
remarkable man and emulate his example, especially in the preservation
and publication of Texas history..--Malcolm
CAPITALIST, lumber king, oil man, publisher, cowman, were some of the titles conferred upon the late J. M. West, Houston, 16th president of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. West would have liked the simple title of "cowman" because he was a quiet, unassuming person despite his great wealth.
He always loved cattle and from his earliest business days in East
Texas had invested his savings in Longhorns and let them run on the great
free range in the piney woods. On Sundays he would ride out and look
them over and brand a few calves with the Bar M, his original brand.
As his business increased he invested in ranch lands and better cattle.
When he died his wealth in livestock and ranches was measured in seven
West liked to visit his ranches. There he could relax and enjoy the great outdoors which he loved. One of the first ranches he bought was the 48,000 acre Fort Terrett Ranch in Sutton County, named for the old stone fort that stood near the head of the Llano River and served as ranch headquarters. Later ranch purchases included the Chupadero Ranch of 155,000 acres with twenty-five miles of frontage on the Rio Grande River between Laredo and Eagle Pass; the Longfellow Ranch of 203,000 acres near Sanderson in Pecos County and the Figure 2 Ranch of 175,000 acres near Van Horn in Hudspeth and Culberson Counties. These ranches were stocked with Hereford cattle.
Besides sources of income the ranches were places of retreat for West from the busy life. Often when besieged or badgered he would slip away to one of the ranches and forget his problems. Contemporaries say that he always kept a packed bag in his office and when he became bored at a conference would pick up the bag and rush out, pretending that he was to leave on a trip. At one time he was being propositioned by parties in a deal involving several million dollars, but the deal, as presented, did not interest him. He excused himself from the conference, picked up his bag and left for his ranch, spending two relaxing weeks there.
West never had much to say, even to those who knew him well. He usually wore his hat in the office, pulled low over the eyes to shade them from the light. If interested in a subject he would discuss it, if uninterested he sat and listened. Maybe he would say a half dozen words during the interview. He was well informed and would sense a coming depression in the financial world. He always arranged to have himself in good cash position when such times arrived.
He was a tall big man over six feet, with a mop of black hair that turned iron gray in his older years. He was the typical two-fisted business man and knew well the value of the dollar. His business career reads like fiction -- a typical Horatio Alger story. He was a poor boy who rose to great wealth. He started with absolutely nothing, worked hard, saved his money. He was constantly busy, planning, developing. As a result his financial success was meteoric and unequaled by few men. He made a fortune in the East Texas lumber business and the cattle business before he entered the oil business, where he amassed still more wealth.
Yet he was a lovable person, reserved by nature, the true pioneer type.
Perhaps he had a timidity about him. He was not an educated man as
far as schooling was concerned. His education had been in the
school of experience, and he saw with realistic eyes. He wore
no rose colored glasses ever. He weighed and measured every step
that he took in the business world.
As a result he was crowned with success in many fields of finance
before his life was done.
Most presidents of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association hold office two years, but not West. He appreciated the honor bestowed upon him at the 55th annual convention held in Houston in 1931, when elected president. At the end of one year he resigned, refusing to serve longer. He said that he was not a speech maker, and that many of the cattlemen present knew and understood ranch problems much better than he did. He was instrumental in electing Dolph Briscoe, popular and successful young cowman from Uvalde to the presidency.
When West retired from the office in April 1932 he told members: "As we pass into a new calendar year the thought in the minds of the people is the big change that the depression has wrought throughout the world. The bottom has fallen out of the livestock industry as well as other businesses, and mankind stands bewildered and perplexed. We feel that we are having a hard time and sit wishing and hoping for conditions to get better. Perhaps they will if we bestir ourselves and ponder this--that industry coupled with economy and common sense will oil the wheels of success while wishing is easy but doesn't get us very far.
This was a philosophy that Mr. West could ably preach since he had always been a worker and had never had time for idle dreaming.
He was born in Mississippi in 1871 and came to Texas in 1880, with his
parents, Mr. and Mrs. Silas M. West, in a covered wagon pulled by oxen.
He often remarked that he knew every stop of the road from Mississippi
to Texas since he had walked most of the distance. The nine-year-old
boy walked ahead of the oxen hunting squirrels and other game for the
family to eat along the way.
His parents settled on a farm in Trinity County. Young West could
not continue in school very long; he had to go to work. He found
a job as water boy in the Trinity County Lumber Company in Groveton when
thirteen years of age.
He saved money from his small wages. When he had accumulated several hundred dollars he bought a drug store in Groveton and sold patent medicine when his day's work at the sawmill was done. The drug store burned without insurance, but his taste of proprietorship had been a pleasant one and young West began to dream. Yet his dreams were not idle ones. He planned to go into the retail lumber business. He heard of a lumber yard for sale at Pearsall and made a business trip to that town to look it over. He did not buy the yard, instead he returned home and told his employer, Mr. Peter Josserand, owner of the mill where he was then employed, that he was going into the lumber manufacturing business for himself.
Josserand suggested that they become partners in a new mill which they would establish at Westville, Texas, a town named for the West family. Josserand furnished some of the equipment and West used his savings, something in the neighborhood of $1,200 and a new "peckerwood saw mill" was soon under way. The business was called Josserand-West Lumber Company. The partnership could buy all the lumber they could cut at fifty cents a thousand feet. This mill was a money maker from the beginning. At that time many mining timbers were needed in the Western United States. Josserand and West kept busy cutting 4 x 4's and 6 x 6's, mine stulls, which were shipped to New Mexico and Arizona.
Later, West bought Josserand's interest in the lumber company and called the business "West Lumber Company." He agreed to pay Josserand forty thousand dollars for Josserand's share in the business, represented by forty notes of one thousand dollars, one coming due each month. Josserand sold these notes to a Houston bank. Miraculously every note was paid before it matured and West's credit was thereby established in the growing town of Houston. He bought other lumber mills during the ensuing years until he had eight of them. Needing an added outlet for his sawmills he moved to Houston in 1906 and in 1910 bought the South Texas Lumber Company from Jesse Jones. He built up this business until he had twenty-eight retail yards in Texas.
There was a pretty young school teacher, Miss Jessie Dudley, in the town of Josserand at this time teaching the children of the sawmill workers. She was tall, charming and intelligent The young sawmill owner fell in love with her and sought her hand in marriage. Jessie was not too hard to persuade, because this tall, handsome, blue-eyed "go-getter" with his black curly hair, was someone outstanding in the small town. If she found any fault with him at all it was his eye for business. On most Sundays he spent his time working on the machinery in the mill.
If he wasn't doing that he rode horseback into the piney woods to check up on his Longhorn cattle which he laughingly told her were "more tick than cow."
Yet naturally enough the young man did have some time for romance and persuaded the fair young teacher to see things his way. They were married in the Groveton Methodist church in 1895. Both were twenty-four years of age. Jessie bought her wedding dress in old San Antonio and it was a lovely gown. It was a satin finish silk with puff sleeves lined with crinoline.
Their first home was a two room house with a shed, built of green lumber.
As the lumber dried out the daylight showed brighter and brighter through
the cracks until the young husband complained that a cat could jump through
Mrs. West who survives her husband, lives in a gracious colonial-type house in the River Oaks district of Houston. Her children and other relatives live near by. Although 80 years of age she refuses to live in the past. Her greatest interest is her family, a new great-granddaughter, taking the limelight. She is interested in many worthwhile charities and is a generous patron of the Methodist Home in Waco. She is a loyal member of St. Paul's Methodist Church.
She was born in Georgia and came to Texas when five years of age. She is the quiet, motherly type whose family and home always came first. West always knew that his home was in truth his castle. There he could find the peace and understanding that it often took to solve his many business problems. In Jessie he always had the true and loving help-mate.
The West home in Houston was on Main Street in those earlier years. Mrs. West recalls that the street was paved with Bois de Arc blocks and when it came a hard rain, which it often did, some of the blocks would buckle up and float in the street. Despite the roughness of Houston's early day streets, the Wests were among the first citizens of that city to own a "horseless carriage." Not a pretentious man, West stored this car when the big panic gripped the nation, saying that he did not wish to be seen in "a lavish contraption." If he liked a car he kept it a long time. Many old friends still recall the Pierce-Arrow that he used for so many years in his lumber business.
West clung to other things that he liked. During his early years
in East Texas in the lumber business he was on the outside most of the
time. Square-toed boots became his trademark, and after moving to
Houston he continued to wear them for many years.
During World War I lumber was at a premium and the West fortune was vastly increased. It was at this time that he began to invest some of his profits in Texas ranches and cattle.
After most of his timber lands had been cut over he disposed of his
remaining timber and saw mills and devoted himself to the retail lumber
business and cattle business and other new interests, including oil production.
Naturally, a wealthy Houstonian of this period would become interested in oil. Like many prospectors he lost money in many dry holes before his luck turned. He formed the West Production Co. in 1917, and, with his associates, discovered in 1931 the Thompson Field in Fort Bend county which they later sold to Humble Oil and Refining Company.
In 1924 he took his family abroad and Mrs. West smilingly recalled what a happy family vacation this turned out to be. She had her husband and two sons "water bound" on the boat, and for once they could not get too far away from her.
The hunting preserves of England and Scotland intrigued West on this trip and they no doubt gave him the yen to own a similar place near Houston. When he came home from Europe he lost little time in planning and building a palatial country home for his family at Clear Lake. When finished this Italian renaissance style mansion was the showplace of the country. It was the most pretentious home in Harris County. It cost a half million dollars and had forty rooms. It was a far cry indeed from the green lumber frame home which the Wests first occupied after their marriage in an East Texas saw mill town.
It had rare Dresden work over some of the mantels. It had delicate
boudoirs with inlaid walls and murals. It had handmade tiles on the
roof, marble floors, Italian marble walls in various bedrooms, and rooms
paved with mosaic imported from Tunis. There was an illuminated
swimming pool, cloisters, summer houses, and a hunting lodge paneled with
knotty white pine. On Sundays motorists would drive slowly by the
grounds to catch a glimpse of its splendor. His friends began
to call West "The Baron of Clear Lake."
In 1937 West discovered oil on this Clear Creek property. The next year he sold the land and the castle-like ranch home to Humble Oil and refining Company for a consideration of eight and one-half million dollars, not to mention the millions that would accrue from royalties.
In 1939 West became a publisher. He bought the Dallas Dispatch-Journal and changed the name to the Journal. He also bought the Austin Tribune.
He was always a busy man, yet friends who knew him best said he derived more pleasure from his ranching business than from any other. He always had a high regard for cowmen and often said that when he dealt with them he did not need any written agreement--he could count on their verbal agreements.
West was civic minded and keenly interested in the growth of Houston. He gladly served as chairman of Houston's City Planning Commission for many years, resigning only a few months before his death. He was a loyal member of St. Paul's Methodist Church and many times came to the church's assistance when it was in financial difficulties. When he died his funeral was conducted from that church.
He and Mrs. West established the West Foundation for charitable, religious, educational and scientific purposes. He was generous and did much good with his great wealth, yet he did not like to discuss these matters. He especially liked to remember old friends of earlier days who had done him a favor in the past. He often helped deserving young men to get started in their own businesses, remembering the struggling days which he experienced in his own youth.
He was a director of the Southwestern University of Georgetown, chairman of the board of regents of Texas Technological College, Lubbock, a director of the Federal Reserve Bank, Dallas, a trustee of the Methodist Hospital, Houston, and a steward of St. Paul's Methodist Church..
West was 70 when he died in Kansas City, August 24, 1941. He had been in poor health several months and had entered a hospital there after catching a severe cold on a business trip. His son Wesley was with him when he passed away. His body was flown home for burial. Interment was made at Forest Park Cemetery, Houston.
He is survived by his wife, two sons J. M. and Wesley West of
Houston, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild. J. M. and Wesley
West, his sons, are carrying on and enlarging the lumber, cattle, oil and
other interests established by their father.
One writer said, "The shadow of influence that Jim West cast on the business affairs of Houston and Texas for a quarter of a century was out of all proportion to the times he took his place in the sun for indeed he had rarely been there at all."