George Washington Littlefield is the namesake of Littlefield, Texas. He was born on June 21, 1842 in Como, Mississippi to Fleming Littlefield and Mildred Terrell Satterwhite Littlefield, a widow with five children and whose husband John Henry White had died in 1839. Fleming and Mildred had married in 1841 and first lived in Mississippi but conflicts are said to have developed between Fleming and the family of Mildred. Around 1850, Fleming and Mildred moved to Gonzales County, Texas where they operated a plantation. Their union produced more children who lived to adulthood, G. W., Martha Mildred and William Phillip. However, their family as then configured was not to last, as Fleming died in 1853. Matilda continued to run the plantation with the help of her sons and others until her own death in 1880. Both Matilda and Fleming are buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Gonzales.
George lived near Gonzales and worked as a plantation owner in his early years. He received a basic education there in Gonzales and attended Baylor University in Independence for about one year. He was around nineteen years old when the Civil War began and he enlisted in Company I of the 8th Texas Cavalry, known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. Its members were mostly drawn from Gonzales County.
The 8th Texas Cavalry served throughout the entire war and participated in major battles including Shiloh, Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain. He is said to have been in command of his company at Shiloh in the absence of his two senior officers. One officer did not return and the other was killed in battle shortly after his return, again leaving Littlefield in command. Littlefield was elected Captain despite his age of twenty. He advanced in rank to Major.
He served in this unit until December 9, 1863 when he was wounded at a place called Mossy Creek in East Tennessee. A shell from a Union cannon exploded near him. Little more is written about his wartime injury other than his wounds were considered severe, requiring that he use crutches to walk for at least the next four or five years. After his injury in late 1863, he resigned his commission early the next year and returned to Texas. There he operated his and his brother’s plantations while continuing to recover from his wounds. He had married the former Alice Payne Tillar a few months earlier in 1863. The couple had two children, neither of which lived to adulthood.
In 1871, after farming for a number of years and operating a mercantile store on his property, he and a partner, J. C. Dilworth, participated in a cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas. This operation produced a profit and seems to have been his entry into the cattle business. He made several other cattle drives after that time. By the 1880s, he is said to have owned or leased some four million acres of ranch land in New Mexico and West Texas, with the largest holdings at that time being in the New Mexico territory in what is now Lea County and Chaves County. To those familiar with that general area, there his holdings included the ranches known as the LIT, Bosque Grande, Four Lakes and Yellow House properties.
He began to sell farm land to settlers with a business called Littlefield Lands Company that was headquartered in what became the town of Littlefield in Texas. It was laid out along the old Santa Fe Railroad line. George and Alice had no children of their own, but they were well known for involving the extended family, including descendants of Littlefield’s siblings and half siblings, in the various ventures. They worked on the ranches and were involved in the management of his other businesses.
In 1883, the couple moved to Austin where he became established in business. He founded the American National Bank in Austin. His real estate interests included the Littlefield Building which he built and the Driskill Hotel which he is said to have owned for a time. The two buildings are within an easy walking distance of one another. Littlefield also served as director of other companies including Southwestern Life Insurance Company and was an active member in local organizations and the Masonic Lodge.
The attractive Littlefield Building still stands in downtown Austin at the corner of 6th Street and Congress Avenue. The architect was C. H. Page, Jr. and it is designed in the Beaux Arts style. It is a Texas Historic Landmark and opened in 1912. It is considered to be the first high rise office building in Austin. The interior has since been modernized but the exterior still looks much the same as when it was completed.
The Littlefields built this Victorian residence in 1894 and the University of Texas grew up around it. Located at 302 W. 24th Street in Austin, it was the personal home of Mr. and Mrs. Littlefield for many years. Littlefield left the home to the University in his will and over the years it has seen many uses. It has been part of the university since Mrs. Littlefield’s death. (Image credit: University of Texas at Austin.)
George Littlefield had a strong interest in preserving history and was an early and generous benefactor of the University of Texas. He was named as a regent of the University in 1911 by Texas Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt. In 1915, Texas Governor Jim Ferguson succeeded Governor Colquitt. Two years later in 1917, Ferguson vetoed the state appropriation for funding the University of Texas over a dispute with the university president regarding certain faculty members. Ferguson wanted them fired and the University president refused to do it. George Littlefield and George Brackenridge, known to be personal rivals while at the same time supporters of the University, offered to fund the shortfall from their own private assets. Later that year, Ferguson was impeached, thus ending the school’s financial crisis. Charges had been made against Ferguson alleging various improprieties. Ferguson resigned as Governor the day he was to be convicted.
Over the years, the Littlefields donated funds to the University for many projects, including a memorial fountain, a residence hall (Littlefield Hall), other buildings and libraries. George Littlefield died at his home in Austin on November 10, 1920. Several days after George Littlefield’s death, the Austin American carried a summary of the provisions of his will, naming the numerous parties having an interest in his estate. Many of the document’s terms were to take effect after the death of Mrs. Littlefield. His wife Alice survived him another fifteen years, passing away on January 9, 1935. Both are buried in the historic Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.
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