George Berham Parr

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George Berham Parr
Born(1901-03-01)March 1, 1901
DiedApril 1, 1975(1975-04-01) (aged 74)
Julian Windmill, 14 miles S.E. of Benavides, Duval County, Texas
Resting placeBenavides cemetery
27°35′32″N 98°24′44″W / 27.59221°N 98.41209°W / 27.59221; -98.41209
MonumentsDuval County Museum displays some artifacts from his life[1]
Other names
  • Duke of Duval
  • El Patrón
  • Tacuacha (sly possum)
OccupationLawyer, rancher, politician
Known forLyndon Johnson's 1948 benefactor
Political party
Opponent(s)Freedom Party
Spouse(s)Thelma Duckworth (m. 1923-divorce, remarried late 1930s, div. 1949) Eva
Childrentwo daughters one son
Elizabeth Parr (née Allen)

Archie Parr b. Dec. 25, 1860 d. Oct. 18, 1942

County Judge of Duval County, Texas
In office
1926 – ?
Preceded byGivens Parr
Sheriff of Duval County, Texas
In office
1954 – ?

George Berham Parr (March 1, 1901 – April 1, 1975) was a member of the Parr political family, which controlled a Democratic political machine that dominated Duval County and, to a lesser extent, Jim Wells County, Texas. He was known as "The Duke of Duval," like his father before him.

Personal life[edit]

Young George was a legislative page in the Texas capitol during one of his father's terms, and spent four years at the West Texas Military Academy. He was graduated from Corpus Christi High School in 1921, where he played end on the football team that won the South Texas championship. He attended a variety of post-secondary educational institutions, each briefly, and without completing a degree. He entered the University of Texas Law School in 1923 as a special student, but left without taking a degree. In 1926, he passed the bar examination and was admitted to practice. Also in 1926, his father Archer Parr appointed him to complete the term of his brother, Givens Parr, as county judge in Duval County.[2][5]

In 1923, he married his high school sweetheart, Thelma Duckworth of Corpus Christi. They divorced and remarried, and divorced again in 1949. He subsequently married Eva Perez. He had two daughters.[2][6][7]

For a time, Parr and his friends were enthusiastic and accomplished polo players, albeit on cow ponies with western saddles.[1][8]

Parr family machine[edit]

The Parr Machine functioned on bribery, graft, and illegal donations.[citation needed] Political support came from the southernmost counties in Texas. The machine could produce large numbers of votes, both legal and illegal, from the impoverished and uneducated working-class Mexican-Americans. As a result, the county saw its largely marginalized but large numbers of native Texan yeoman farmers slowly disappear[citation needed] leaving the county commission to be controlled by the Parr family and its cronies. While the Parr Machine had always asserted undue influence over the county's affairs, it was not until Archer Parr that its leadership felt safely secure to overwhelm the remaining independent white farmers by appealing directly to county's new Mexican-American majority by offering them jobs (and in some cases cash directly from the county coffers) in exchange for political support.[citation needed]

The alliance between the Parr-controlled commission and the Hispanic populace made the county a bastion of Democratic strength.[9] By 1940, the white educated population had been reduced[citation needed] to a tiny minority amongst a large Mexican-American population. Parr garnered popular support with his charisma, his fluency in Spanish, and Robin Hood tendencies with sharing the Duval County and Benavides Independent School District coffers. After Archer's death, George inherited the Parr political machine, and the populace passed on the name, "El Patrón", to him as they did his father.[9]

When George attended the 1928 Democratic National Convention in Houston along with his father, people already understood him to be heir apparent, not merely his father's driver. There they plotted with Texas State senator Alvin J. Wirtz, Texas state representative Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr., and the Bexar County machine to defeat four term Republican Congressman Harry M. Wurzbach in the upcoming election. (Johnson's college student son, Lyndon, also attended.) Wurzbach apparently lost the 1928 election, but was eventually seated in the House because of election fraud.[8]

The discovery of oil in Duval County also created ample opportunities for patronage, allowing Parr to amass a small fortune. To this day, the family's network has limited influence in Texas politics giving its patronage to both Democratic and Republican beneficiaries. James Albon Mattox, successfully relied on the old Parr network in his run as the Democratic Party nominee for Texas Attorney General, garnering a majority of the vote in the county despite running against a Mexican-American.

Parr political crimes[edit]

Parr engaged in the graft, bribery and fraud that are often associated with political machines. Along with other large landowners and managers of landed estates owned by prominent Eastern businessmen, Parr helped develop the practice of working illegal aliens and later using them for advancing political interests.[citation needed] More importantly, his own political career included serving as both the Duval County Judge and Sheriff. He also owned the San Diego State Bank, and the famous Dobie Ranch, including the Parr's Horcones Ranch. He was also a partner and silent partner of dozens of businesses in South Texas.

He was convicted of tax evasion in 1932, and eventually served nine months in Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno after violating his parole. He applied for a presidential pardon in July 1943; U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle blocked it in part because Congressman Richard Kleberg opposed the pardon. (In 1934 Archie's reelection to the Texas State senate was in doubt and he hoped that building a road to Corpus Christi across the King Ranch would save his political career. When their heretofore political ally Robert Kleberg, Jr. refused, George replied in anger. "You're crucifying my father... I'll get you. I'll gut you if it's the last thing I do.") Such a pardon would demonstrate Parr's power to the other political jefes in the Rio Grande valley. But after Tom Clark replaced Biddle, Johnson helped secure a pardon from U.S. President Harry S. Truman granted a pardon restoring his civil rights February 20, 1946.[10][11]

He accomplished this through political maneuvering by ousting his congressional obstacle,[citation needed] U.S. Congressman Richard M. Kleberg of the famous King Ranch, with Major John E. Lyle, Jr. while Lyle was serving in the European Theater during World War II. By this time Parr had total control of the county, soon acquiring the nickname "Duke of Duval County."

1948 U.S. Senate election[edit]

In 1948 Coke R. Stevenson, Lyndon B. Johnson and others ran in Democratic primary election for U.S. Senate. Stevenson and Johnson advanced to a runoff election. For five days after the runoff, Stevenson appeared to hold a 112-vote lead. Then Jim Wells County amended its return, adding 202 additional votes, 200 of which were for Johnson. Johnson won the nomination by 87 votes, tantamount to election in an era when Republicans were not competitive in the South, and prompting the sobriquet "landslide Lyndon."[7]

Most contemporary observers accept that Parr used his influence to affect the Jim Wells County vote totals in Johnson's favor. One probable motivation was that Parr felt obligated to Johnson, who had helped him obtain the 1946 presidential pardon.[11]

Another likely motivation to oppose Stevenson was that in 1944, Parr and Judge Raymond of Webb County had asked Stevenson, then the Governor, to appoint E. James Kazen (a Raymond relative) Laredo district attorney. The commander at Laredo Army Air Force Base argued to the Governor that half his men suffered from venereal disease and that a district attorney connected to the local political machine meant lax enforcement of laws against prostitution, which would adversely affect his force. For the sake of the war effort, Stevenson appointed a different candidate.[11]

Struggles and demise of political machine[edit]

In 1950, Parr had become a thorn in the side of Governor Allan Shivers and Attorney General John Ben Shepperd. Federal officials began to investigate the machine. Some 650 indictments were brought forth against machine members, 300 of them at the state level. Parr, however, eluded indictment, and his conviction for fraud was later dismissed. Under the protection of Lyndon Johnson,[citation needed] Parr eluded all attempts to investigate and convict him for fraud, bribery, corruption, racketeering, and murder. Shepperd was a political advisor to Johnson even as he attempted to bring indictments against Parr. The Parr Machine was challenged by the Freedom Party in Alice, Texas, led by Jake Floyd. The Parrs lost control of that district court, an important office the Parr Machine was used to controlling all over South Texas. The botched assassination of Buddy Floyd, Jake's son, mistakenly shot and killed by Mario Sapet, on September 8, 1952, also signaled turbulent times for the Parr Machine.

However, political candidates would from time to time make him an object of their reforming campaigns. In 1954 Governor Allen Shivers declared war on the Parr Faction and sent down a team of Texas Rangers and state investigators. He was charged with embezzlement but beat the case. The Parr Machine maintained control of Jim Wells and Duval counties despite the legal and political backlash.

With the end of the Johnson administration in 1968, Parr lost his primary political protector. Under advice from Johnson and other prominent figures, he relinquished control of his machine to his nephew Archer III, by the early 1970s. The law finally caught up with Parr in 1974 when he was convicted of income tax evasion and given a ten-year prison term.[12] He was found dead at his ranch on April 1, 1975, the apparent victim of suicide. When Parr's machine collapsed soon after his death, Duval County's small white large landowning minority attempted to retain control of the county politically but was unable to halt the take-over of the county Democratic party by the now overwhelmingly large Mexican-American population. Nonetheless, the family and its network remains influential so that although the county has remained one of the strongest and most consistently Democratic localities in Texas, frequently giving both national and local candidates margins greater than 70 percent.[citation needed]

George's father Archie Parr founded the Dynasty of Duval County. Archer Parr III (1925–2000), né Archer Weller, Archie's grandson and adopted son, was the third Duke of the Duval County Dynasty. Archer Weller Parr was the county judge from 1959 to 1975; he died November 2, 2000 in Alice, Texas.[8][13]


  1. ^ a b Grant, Mary Lee (March 23, 1998). "Duval County Museum reveals little-known tales through anecdotes. Visitors can explore rooms devoted to medical history, famed political boss". Corpus Christi Caller Times. Archived from the original on 2004-10-25. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  2. ^ a b c Anders, Evan. "PARR, GEORGE BERHAM [1901-1975]". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 2013-04-12.
  3. ^ "TEXAS: Death of a Duke". TIME. April 14, 1975. Retrieved 2012-04-12. (subscription required)
  4. ^ Lynch, p. 35
  5. ^ Givens, Murphy (August 31, 2011). "Cowboy from Matagorda founded political dynasty". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Retrieved 2013-09-24.
  6. ^ Lynch p.25
  7. ^ a b Givens, Murphy (September 7, 2011). "George Parr inherited his father's political dynasty". Corpus Christi Caller Times. Retrieved 2013-04-13.
  8. ^ a b c Lynch, Dudley M. (January 1, 1976). The Duke of Duval: The Life and Times of George B. Parr. Waco: Texian Press. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-87244-044-3. LCCN 76-54438. Retrieved 2013-09-09.
  9. ^ a b Burka, Paul (June 1984). "The Man in the Black Hat, Part One". Texas Monthly. pp. 215–216. Retrieved 2013-04-13. The Parrs rarely had to resort to stealing elections. For the most part, they produced majorities that would have made Richard Daley envious. The Mexicano underclass, its poll taxes paid by the Parrs, provided the votes, and the Parrs provided for the Mexican underclass. The Parrs ran Duval County the way Robin Hood ran Sherwood Forest. As public officials, they took from the rich — the oil companies and the absentee landowners — through high taxes; as political bosses, they tapped the public treasury to give to the poor. Whenever a Mexicano family needed a little extra money — for a wedding, a funeral, an illness — el patrón was there with a handout. The support the Parrs received on election day was won not by intimidation but by friendship, and the affinity of the Mexicanos for the Parrs went all the way back to the time when Archie was the only Anglo in the county who deigned to learn Spanish. Of course, while the Parrs were dipping into the treasury, they managed to keep something for themselves.
  10. ^ Lynch, pp. 39-40, 42-47, 51-52
  11. ^ a b c Caro, Robert A. (1990). "Head Start". Means of Ascent. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. pp. 190–191. ISBN 0-394-52835-2.
  12. ^ "Texas Politician Dead". The New York Times. April 2, 1975. Retrieved April 14, 2017. Mr. Parr was considered a fugitive after he failed to appear for a hearing yesterday on revocation of his $25,000 appeal bond. He was convicted of tax evasion in March, 1974, for failing to list $287,000 in income between 1966 and 1969. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was free on bond pending appeal.
  13. ^ Neely, Chris; Schwartz, Jeremy (November 3, 2000). "Ex-political boss Archer Parr is dead". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Archived from the original on 2005-04-21. Retrieved 2013-09-09.

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