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Elkins, James Anderson (1879–1972)

Irvin May Biography Entry

James Anderson (Judge) Elkins, attorney and banker, son of J. J. and Sarah (Sims) Elkins, was born at Huntsville, Texas, on September 25, 1879. His father, former sheriff of Walker County, died while Elkins was a youth, and his mother later operated a boardinghouse. Elkins attended the Huntsville public schools and Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) before transferring to the University of Texas. He received his LL.B. in 1901 and returned to Huntsville. From December 1903 until January 1905 he served as county judge of Walker County and practiced law.

Realizing the potential for growth of Houston, Elkins accepted the invitation of William Ashton Vinson to come to Houston. On September 1, 1917, the two formed Vinson and Elkins for the practice of general civil law. Due largely to Elkins's leadership, the firm grew from three attorneys in 1917 to 158 attorneys in 1972. Elkins's interest in banking led in 1924 to his founding the Guaranty Trust Company. Although the company started with little capital and no significant deposits, by 1972 it had become Houston's largest banking firm, First City National Bank.

Elkins's activities extended to business, educational, political and charitable endeavors. He served as a director of American General Insurance Company, Great Southern Life Insurance Company, the National Bank of Commerce, the District Federal Reserve Bank, Pure Oil Pipe Line Company, Humphreys' Carbon Company, Texas Gulf Producing Company, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, R. G. LeTourneau, Incorporated, and Longhorn Portland Cement Company. He was a member of the board of regents of the state normal schools, a regent of the University of Houston, and a member of the University of Texas Development Board. In 1962 Elkins received the University of Texas Distinguished Alumni Award.

He was a conservative Democrat who supported Lieutenant Governor Lynch Davidson, served on the legal-defense committee of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, and chaired fund-raising drives for the University of Houston and St. Anthony's Home for the Aged. He was a member of the Texas Centennial Commission in 1936 and actively participated in the Houston Chamber of Commerce, as well as other civic organizations. He belonged to several lodges and service organizations. He attended St. Paul Methodist Church of Houston. Professionally, Elkins was a member of the American Bar Association, the Harris County Bar Association, and the State Bar of Texas.

He died in Houston on May 7, 1972, at the age of ninety-two. He was predeceased by his wife, Isabel (Mitchell) Elkins, to whom he was married on December 18, 1905, and survived by his two sons.

Dana Blankenhorn, "James A. Elkins, Sr.: For Half a Century `The Judge' Held Reigns of Houston Power," Houston Business Journal, March 12, 1979. Houston Chronicle, June 24, 1969, May 8, 1972.


  • Education
  • School Trustees and Regents
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

Irvin May, “Elkins, James Anderson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 24, 2021,

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January 1, 1995
February 1, 2017

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