Gibbs, Barnett (1851–1904)

By: Worth Robert Miller

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 29, 2019

Barnett (Barney) Gibbs, lieutenant governor, lawyer and Populist spokesman, the son of Quesney Dibrelle and Sallie (Dorsey) Gibbs, was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, on May 19, 1851. He graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, in 1868, the University of Virginia in 1870, and Cumberland University law school in 1873. Gibbs moved to Dallas and established a law practice in August 1873. He married Sallie Haynes, the daughter of a prominent Dallas merchant, in July 1876. They had two daughters and two sons. Gibbs served three terms (1876–82) as city attorney of Dallas before his election to the Texas Senate to represent Dallas, Kaufman, and Rockwall counties in 1882. Although he was the youngest member of the legislature, his debating and oratorical skills quickly brought him to prominence. He championed farmers' interests, and the farm bloc secured him the Democratic party nomination for lieutenant governor in 1884. He was easily elected. While Governor John Ireland attended the New Orleans World's Fair during the summer of 1885 Gibbs served as acting governor.

Gibbs provided free legal services to railroad laborers during the Great Southwest Strike and challenged incumbent Olin Wellborn, a railroad attorney, for his seat in Congress in 1886. Gibbs received the warm support of the Farmers' Alliance and the Knights of Labor (see LABOR ORGANIZATIONS) in the deadlocked Democratic convention and threw his support to the eventual winner, Jo Abbott, on the 172nd ballot. After 1886 he practiced law and speculated in real estate, sponsored conventions to promote a deepwater harbor for Texas City, and served as president of the Dallas Commercial Club. In 1887 he worked to defeat a proposed prohibition amendment to the state Constitution.

In the spring of 1891 he began organizing Democratic clubs to discuss farm problems. Several of the proposals that emanated from these clubs resembled the subtreasury plan of the Farmers' Alliance. Although Gibbs remained loyal to the Democratic party when subtreasury advocates were expelled in late 1891, he was finally converted to Populism in early 1896. In a series of newspaper articles he arraigned the old party's conduct in office and established his reputation as a Populist spokesman. At the People's party national convention in 1896 Gibbs served as a floor leader for the moderate faction of the antifusion group, which opposed nominating William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic presidential candidate, to head the Populist ticket also. Gibbs proposed reversing the order of nominations and choosing the party's vice-presidential candidate first. This action precipitated the rejection of Bryan's Democratic running mate, Arthur M. Sewall, and the nomination of Populist Thomas Watson.

Gibbs ran unsuccessfully for the United States Congress in 1896 on the People's party ticket. In 1898 he was the party's gubernatorial candidate and campaigned primarily on the issue of building a state owned and operated "relief railroad" from the Red River to the Gulf of Mexico. Because the People's party had rapidly declined after 1896 Gibbs secured only 28 percent of the vote. He returned to the Democratic party in 1899 and campaigned for William Jennings Bryan's second bid for the presidency in 1900. Gibbs then retired from politics to devote time to his real estate and mining interests. He died in Dallas on October 4, 1904, and was buried there in Oakland Cemetery. He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Presiding Officers of the Texas Legislature, 1846–1982 (Austin: Texas Legislative Council, 1982).

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

Worth Robert Miller, “Gibbs, Barnett,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 19, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 29, 2019

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