Preston Rose Austin, cotton grower and land promoter, was born near Marshall, Texas, on November 11, 1872, the son of Hiram G. and Ann Elizabeth (Rose) Austin. His maternal grandfather was Preston Robinson Rose, and his maternal great-grandfather was William Pinckney Rose. His family moved in 1875 to Victoria, where he was raised. He attended college in Virginia but returned to Victoria to engage in the cattle business. Ruined by the "Big Freeze" of February 12, 1899, an infamous norther that killed 40,000 cattle overnight, Austin borrowed money from a friend and started afresh.
Over the next few years Austin accumulated extensive farm and ranch interests. With business partner Jesse McDowell he owned some 20,000 acres, primarily in Refugio and Calhoun counties. After considerable experimentation with rice and alfalfa, which proved susceptible to the area's salt water, Austin successfully produced cotton on his plantations. He and McDowell platted the townsite of Tivoli in 1907 and that of Austwell in 1912. Austin built hotels, lumberyards, mercantile companies, and cotton gins, in which he maintained strong financial interests. He donated school and church facilities to communities and in 1912 granted the right-of-way as well as station grounds in Austwell and $20,000 in bonus money to induce the Frisco system to extend its lines from Tivoli and Austwell to Victoria. As president of the Black Land and Improvement Company and as a principal stockholder in the Refugio Land and Irrigation Company, he sold improved farms to buyers in the Tivoli and Austwell areas. He was largely responsible for the development of the cotton industry on the lower Guadalupe River. In 1910 he became a founding director of the Levi Bank and Trust Company, later the Victoria Bank and Trust Company; he directed the bank until his death.
Austin married Mary Jane Traylor Morris on January 12, 1905. They had two daughters. Austin's death has been characterized as "the most baffling mystery in Victoria's history." On his annual vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on September 27, 1929, he was strangled to death in his hotel room-apparently by three men and a woman seen leaving his floor at the approximate time of his death. A nationwide search and the offer of a $6,000 reward failed to turn up the killer or killers. Austin is buried beneath an imposing granite marker in Evergreen Cemetery, Victoria.
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Sid Feder, Longhorns and Short Tales of Old Victoria and the Gulf Coast (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1958). Lawrence S. Johnson, Century of Service: The Concise History of Victoria Bank and Trust Company (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Bank and Trust, 1979). Booth Mooney, 75 Years in Victoria (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Bank and Trust, 1950). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt., Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961).
Ranching and Cowboys
Landowners and Land Developers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
“Austin, Preston Rose,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 22, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 16, 2020