Justus Wesley Ferris, lawyer and judge, the son of Rev. Philo Ferris, was born in Hudson, New York, on March 23 or 26, 1823. He lived there through early childhood and the first years of his public schooling, then in Cazenovia, where he attended high school and the Oneida Conference Seminary. After his graduation he taught school at Christiansburg, Shelby County, Kentucky. He graduated from Transylvania University in 1845 and left Kentucky in 1846 to study law with a Judge Brent at Alexandria, Louisiana. Brent, however, suddenly died. On the advice of friends Ferris left Alexandria for Jefferson, Texas, now in Marion County, in 1847. He was admitted to the bar in 1847 and began a law practice with M. D. Rogers of Jefferson. The partners practiced both civil and criminal law. In 1850 Ferris married Mattie J. Crow of Floydsburg, Kentucky. The couple had two sons.
Ferris, a Democrat, commented on the political activities of Texans in 1852 as editor of the Jefferson Herald. That same year he was elected to represent Titus and Cass counties in the Fifth State Legislature. Although he served only one term, he made a lasting contribution to Texas as the author of the common school law. Ill health forced him to retire from politics. In 1854 he moved to Waxahachie, where he opened a law office with E. P. Nicholson of Dallas in 1858. The men also established exchange offices in the two cities.
Improved health allowed Ferris to return to politics. In 1861 he was selected judge of the Sixteenth Judicial District. He served in this capacity until the end of the Civil War, when he returned to private practice. He established partnerships with W. H. Getzendaner and Anson Rainey. With Getzendaner, Ferris opened a bank at Waxahachie that later became the Citizens National Bank. As a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1875, Ferris served as chairman of the Committee on Railroads. He also was one of five commissioners appointed by Governor Richard Coke to revise the statutes of Texas. The governor enlisted his legal services in 1876, when he asked Ferris to serve as a special judge on the Texas Supreme Court to hear the case of International Railroad Company vs. A. Bledsoe, Comptroller.
For the next ten years Ferris concentrated his efforts on his private law practice and conducted the affairs of the Citizens National Bank, of which he was president for two years. His interest in politics remained, however, and in 1884 he attended the Democratic national convention as a delegate from Texas. He also contributed political commentary in a number of articles published in a variety of newspapers in North Texas.
On April 26, 1899, Ferris died at his home in Waxahachie. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was buried in the Methodist Cemetery at Waxahachie. The town of Ferris was named in his honor. His papers are housed at the Dallas Historical Society.
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John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Justus Wesley Ferris Papers, Dallas Historical Society, Dallas. Memorial and Biographical History of Ellis County (Chicago: Lewis, 1892; rpt., as Ellis County History, Fort Worth: Historical Publishers, 1972).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
Criminal Law and District Attorneys
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Ferris, Justus Wesley,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 22, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
January 1, 1995