Richard Fenner Burges, legislator and conservationist, the son of Bettie (Rust) and William H. Burges, was born in Seguin, Texas, on January 7, 1873. He attended the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) for one year, read law in the offices of his father in El Paso and J. D. Guinn in New Braunfels, and was admitted to the bar in 1894. He made his home at El Paso after 1892. In 1898 he married Ethel Petrie Shelton; they had a daughter. Burges took part in a so-called "clean up" of El Paso in 1904, was city attorney, and in 1907 wrote the charter for the establishment of commission city government in El Paso. In 1908 he represented Texas at President Theodore Roosevelt's conference of governors. As a member of the House in the Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth legislatures, 1913–15, he wrote or influenced the passing of the Texas Irrigation Code, the royalty mining act, a forestry act, a married women's property act, and a compulsory-education act.
In June 1917 Burges organized Company B, Texas National Guard, which was incorporated into the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division as Company A, 141st Infantry. He commanded his battalion in the battle of the Argonne and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for distinguished service.
He was associate counsel for the United States in the arbitration on the Chamizal Dispute with Mexico in 1910–11. He was president of the International Irrigation Congress, 1915–16, and was general counsel for the El Paso County Water Improvement District. In 1923 he was attorney for Texas interests in negotiation with New Mexico on the division of waters of the Pecos River. Burges was also special counsel for the Texas-Rio Grande Compact Commission and from 1935 to 1940 was a special attorney for the United States Department of Justice in the negotiations with Mexico for the Rio Grande rectification project. From 1921 to 1923 he was president of the Texas Forestry Association. He belonged to the American Forestry Association and helped promote the development of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico as a national park. A member of the board of the El Paso Public Library, of the Texas State Historical Association, and of the Texas History and Library Commission, he was a noted bibliophile of the Southwest and had a Texas history collection of 5,000 items. Burges died at El Paso on January 13, 1945.
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Richard Fenner Burges Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Buckley B. Paddock, History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (4 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1922). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas Collection, April 1945. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Owen P. White, Out of the Desert: The Historical Romance of El Paso (El Paso: McMath, 1924). Who's Who in America, 1944–45.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Burges, Richard Fenner,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 1, 1994