Edwards, Ross (1884–1978)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Ross Edwards, West Texas merchant, inventor, musician, and mayor, was born on December 17, 1884, near Granbury, in Hood County. His father, a former buffalo hunter then farmer and small rancher, moved his growing family to Foard County in 1891 but by the following year severe winter weather had nearly wiped out the herd. Seven-year-old Ross received his first practical training as a cowboy during that move, and throughout his youth he attended school and worked part time at various ranching and farming tasks. He especially became adept at hunting and training wild game, an ability which often enabled him to earn extra income. Ross had four younger sisters, but was the only boy. Smitten with the wanderlust during his late teens, Ross Edwards worked as a cattle drover, camp cook, wheat harvester, railroad newsboy, and hotel clerk. In 1904, while accompanying a cattle shipment to St. Louis, Missouri, he attended the World's Fair. Afterward he worked as a teamster freighting supplies from El Paso south to Madera, Mexico, where he did carpentry work for the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad crews and prospected for a time in the Sierra Madre. On returning to Texas, Edwards became involved in the land rush to the Oklahoma Panhandle and worked briefly as an editor for the Texhoma Weekly. His various jobs, in addition to a tailor shop of which he became part-owner in Crowell, enabled him to attend Add-Ran College in Fort Worth. In addition to his hunting and trapping abilities, Edwards also came to be in demand throughout the West Texas ranches as a square dance fiddler. Inspired by his uncle, James Knox Polk Harris, he had taught himself to play the instrument as a boy. In 1907 he and a partner established a tailor shop in Lubbock. Two years later Edwards went to Spur, in Dickens County, and bought half-interest in a cleaning and pressing shop there; shortly afterward he and two other partners expanded the enterprise into a clothing goods store with merchandise from Sanger's in Dallas. Edwards also trapped and eradicated skunks, wolves, and other fur-bearing animals for the SMS ranches, shipping the pelts to St. Louis. After a few years he sold out his interest in the Spur store and moved to Post, in Garza County, where he established another tailor shop and sold men's furnishings, complete with his own delivery service. In 1913 he married Birta Wilson of Snyder; they had two daughters. Shortly thereafter they moved permanently to Lubbock, where he and various partners prospered in the dry goods business, owning at one time or another several downtown stores on Broadway, and later on College Avenue. He and his wife also opened a beauty salon, but she and their daughter Dorris Jeanne, died from the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.

Edwards became involved in Lubbock's civic affairs. He helped organize the Lubbock Country Club and later started the city's first Sportsman Club, serving as its first president. In the summer of 1934 he and Charles A. Guy accompanied the anthropological expedition led by Dr. William Curry Holden to the Yaqui Indian villages in northern Mexico. Also that year Edwards ran for and was elected mayor of Lubbock, serving in that capacity for two terms. At the height of the Great Depression, his administration oversaw such projects as a massive street-paving operation funded by the Work Projects Administration to provide local men with jobs. In addition, his administration was responsible for adding 450 acres to the then seventy-five-acre Mackenzie Park and supported K. N. Clapp's unsuccessful efforts to establish that park's famous Prairie Dog Town. Toward the end of his second term in 1938, Edwards met and fell in love with Lula Barnett Simmons, a widow who had a daughter from her first marriage. They married in Seattle, Washington, and spent their honeymoon in Alaska, where he hunted and fished in its wilds. After returning to Lubbock he organized the "Ross Edwards Orchestra," a Western swing band that played at hotels and dances throughout much of Texas and neighboring states. Among the musicians who played in that organization during its twenty-year existence was Bill Harrod, who later started the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra. Edwards's fiddle-playing days ended when he lost two fingers in an accident with a table saw. In addition to his reputation as a sportsman and musician, Edwards was known for his inventiveness. During his earlier hunting days, he had perfected a device to trap, without injury, entire coveys of quail. Following his political career he bought a farm near New Deal, where in 1941 he and a partner, Jack Brogden, developed a new type of plow for the South Plains agricultural market. Known as the go-devils or "crustbuster," this plow contained a row of rotary hoes used to break the tough crust formed over seeds by heavy rains. The four-row device was patented in 1951 and subsequently manufactured and marketed under contract by H. V. Bigham and Sons. Throughout his multi-faceted career, Edwards often wrote cowboy poetry, which appeared on occasion in area newspapers. After moving permanently to Lubbock he was a member of its First Christian Church. In 1965 he published an autobiography, Fiddle Dust, which contains examples of his poetry and is laced with "down-home" humor. Plagued with ill health for the last two of his ninety-three years, Edwards died at Methodist Hospital on February 14, 1978, and was buried in the City of Lubbock cemetery.

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, February 15, 1978.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Edwards, Ross,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/edwards-ross.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995