Evans, Ira Hobart (1844–1922)

By: H. Leslie Evans

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 10, 2020

Ira Hobart Evans, soldier, legislator, and businessman, son of Ira and Emeline (Hobart) Evans, was born in Piermont, New Hampshire, on April 11, 1844. He attended public schools in Barre, Vermont, enlisted in the Vermont Volunteer Infantry in July 1862, and was commissioned first lieutenant in 1863 and captain in 1865. In March 1865 he attained the rank of brevet major and was appointed acting assistant adjutant general of the Twenty-fifth Army Corps, Army of the James. After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Evans was sent to Texas as a member of the occupation force of Maj. Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan. He held various administrative positions in the Brownsville area until he was transferred to New Orleans in September 1866. He received his discharge on January 31, 1867. In 1867 he settled in Texas north of Corpus Christi and began raising stock. He lost his investment there through the dishonesty of a partner.

Evans then joined the Freedmen's Bureau at Wharton but resigned on January 31, 1868, angered by his superiors in the bureau, whom he considered incompetent. He subsequently worked for the Internal Revenue Service, first in Eagle Pass and then in Corpus Christi. At the urging of Republican gubernatorial candidate Edmund Jackson Davis, in 1869 Evans ran for and won a seat in the Texas House, representing the Western District of Texas. He was elected speaker of the House in 1870; at age twenty-five he was the youngest person ever to hold this office. He took an active interest in all legislation, especially that relating to a railroad system.

In August 1870 an election law was passed that violated the Constitution of 1869 by postponing the date of the next election by one year to 1872. Evans strongly opposed this measure and was supported by all Democrats in both houses and by a few Republicans. He and his Republican supporters were called before a caucus of the Republican party and denounced, and afterward the caucus voted to remove Evans from the office of speaker. The next morning the office was declared vacant. Evans completed his extended term as representative, but when the Twelfth Legislature adjourned on December 2, 1871, he left political life.

He then pursued a business career. He was elected general manager of the Texas Land Company of Houston on January 16, 1872, and secretary of the Houston and Great Northern Railroad Company in 1873. After the merger of the International Railroad with the Houston and Great Northern, he was elected secretary of the consolidated International-Great Northern Railroad Company in 1874. He was director of this railroad from 1875 to 1908 and president of the New York and Texas Land Company, Limited, from 1880 to 1906. He was a cofounder of the Austin National Bank in 1890 and director of the bank from 1890 to 1922. He was appointed receiver of the Austin Rapid Transit Railway Company in 1897 and held that position for five years. He was president and director of the Austin Electric Railway Company in 1902–03.

Evans's lifelong interest in the advancement of southern Blacks was manifest in his support for Tillotson College in Austin (see HUSTON-TILLOTSON COLLEGE). He was a member of the board of trustees of that college from 1881 to 1920 and president of the board from 1909 to 1920. He donated $10,000 to the college for use in training students in construction skills; as a result of this gift the college was able to construct a building that bears his name. Evans bequeathed an additional $10,000 to be used to build a residence for the president of the college.

He served as president of the American Missionary Society and the Sunday School Association. He was one of the organizers of the First Congregational Church in Palestine in 1881 and served that church prominently for many years. He was a member of the board of trustees of the First Presbyterian Church in Austin for twenty-two years and president of the board of trustees of the First Congregational Church of Austin for five years. He was also a member of numerous military, historical, scientific, and political organizations. His Austin home served as a meetingplace for a group that later became the Texas State Historical Association. Among the many honors conferred upon him was the Medal of Honor, which he was awarded for distinguished bravery at Hatcher's Run, Virginia, on April 2, 1865. He was selected as one of the officers of the honor guard to march in President Abraham Lincoln's funeral cortège.

Evans married Frances Abi Hurlbut of Upper Alton, Illinois, on July 13, 1871, and they had three sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1917. He was married again, to Jessie M. Stewart, on October 14, 1920. He moved to San Diego, California, in 1921 and died on April 19, 1922. He was buried in the family plot in Montpelier, Vermont.

Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (5 vols., ed. E. C. Barker and E. W. Winkler [Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, 1914; rpt. 1916]). San Diego Union, April 24, 1922. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 4.

Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

H. Leslie Evans, “Evans, Ira Hobart,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/evans-ira-hobart.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 10, 2020