(Image credit: lrl.texas.gov, the Legislative Reference Library)
Governor Beauford Halbert Jester was born in Corsicana, Texas on January 12, 1893. His parents were George Taylor and Francis Paine Gordon Jester. His father George Jester had served as Lieutenant Governor of Texas under Governor Charles Allen Culberson. Beauford was also descended from the Hampton McKinney family, thought to be the earliest settlers in Corsicana in the 1840s, as his great grandfather was Hampton McKinney and his grandmother was Diadema McKinney, the daughter of Hampton McKinney. Beauford graduated from Corsicana High School in 1911 and University of Texas in Austin in 1916. He had attended Harvard Law School for around two years but enlisted in the United States Army when the U. S. entered World War I in 1917. He was only a month or so from being eligible to graduate when he enlisted.
Jester was assigned to Officers’ Training Camp at Leon Springs in May, 1917. A Texas historical marker states that after the United States declared war in April, 1917, the U. S. Army quickly created eight officers’ training camps around the country, with the Leon Springs facility being the first such camp in Texas. Now believed to be located on or near the Camp Bullis military reservation. Jester entered the Army as a private but was commissioned at the rank of captain in the infantry upon completing officer candidate school. Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to Company D, 357th Infantry, 90th Division. His outfit sailed for France on June 20, 1918. His unit participated in the battle of St. Mihiel and the Argonne campaign, two of the harshest battles of the war. During the latter action, he was exposed to mustard gas but remained in place with his troops rather than receive treatment.
Mustard gas was one of a number of chemical weapons used by the forces in World War I. The French were known to use tear gas and the Germans were known to use other chemical weapons. It is estimated that less than one percent of the deaths in World War I were caused by chemical warfare. Such weapons were prohibited by the Geneva Convention of 1925. The compound known as mustard gas in its pure form is colorless, but the impure form had a mustard-like color and a smell like garlic or horseradish. It resulted in chemical burns to the skin on contact and caused respiratory problems if the individual survived the initial exposure. Those exposed to it were also thought to have a higher incidence of cancer later in life.
Jester served with the occupational forces after the German surrender until 1919 after which he returned the United States aboard a hospital ship on June 7, 1919. He received his discharge June 30, 1919.
After the war ended, Jester returned to University of Texas where he completed his law degree and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1920. He married Mabel Buchanan the following year and the couple had three children. Beauford practiced law in Corsicana from around 1929 to 1946. He also was appointed to the Board of Regents of University of Texas in 1929 and served as chairman from 1935 to 1937, being the youngest person ever to so serve as chairman. In addition to his law practice, Jester was appointed and then later elected to the Texas railroad commission where he served in the early 1940s.
He ran for Governor of Texas in 1946 and was elected as a Democrat, leading the primary and soundly winning the runoff election against his opponent Homer Rainey and about a dozen other candidates. Succeeding outgoing Governor Coke Stephenson, Jester was inaugurated as Governor on January 21, 1947 and began serving his first term. Jester was reelected for a second term in 1948 and was six months into his term when he was found dead of a suspected heart attack while sleeping on a Pullman car in Houston on July 11, 1949. The Governor had been on his way to make a speaking engagement in Galveston when he suffered the apparent heart attack, believed to be a complication of or, at the very least, related to his wartime exposure to mustard gas. Governor Jester had reportedly also been suffering from food poisoning in the weeks prior, but was thought to have fully recovered from it. Someone (reportedly, a newspaper columnist) tried to start the equivalent of an urban legend that Governor Jester had instead died in the arms of a woman other than his wife, but this is believed to have no basis in fact.
During his service as Governor, Jester presided over the longest legislative session in Texas history, almost five months, up to that time. This session passed the first state improvements bill to exceed one billion dollars. He was considered to be a states rights proponent and is known to have opposed national civil rights legislation favored by President Truman but supported state civil rights legislation which included an anti-lynching law and a repeal of the poll tax. At the same time, he supported the establishment of a separate African-American university, perhaps connected to the formation of the same institution that would become known as Texas Southern University. Jester also supported a right to work law that abolished the union shop along with several other similar items of legislation that were against organized labor. He was succeeded by Alan Shivers who completed his term and went on to serve two more terms as Governor.
Upon Jester’s death, the flag of Texas was lowered to half staff at the Capitol. Following a funeral procession in Houston, his casket was transported in a National Guard C-47 named the “Blue Bonnet” to Austin where it lay in state, before being transported to Corsicana for burial. Governor Jester is interred in the old Oakwood Cemetery in Corsicana.
Gov. Jester’s WikiTree listing.
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