The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today.

Font size: A / A reset

Support Texas History Now

Join TSHA to support quality Texas history programs and receive exclusive benefits.

Become a TSHA Member Today »

Givens, John Slye (1836–1887)

Alfredo E. Cardenas Biography Entry

John Slye Givens, pioneer Texas attorney, son of Samuel S. and Ann Mary (Sutton) Givens, was born at Morganfield, Kentucky, on May 2, 1836. By 1847 the Givens family had moved to Texas. Samuel was one of the original landowners of Saluria, Texas. Records show that he owned 19 acres of land valued at $430 in Calhoun County and town lots in Saluria. He had merchandise valued at $700 and owned seven head of cattle as well as three slaves valued at $1,200. According to the 1850 census, John was living with the Vandiver family and worked as a clerk. Samuel was active in Saluria, serving as election judge in 1855. Two years later, in 1857, Samuel and Ann Mary perished in a boating accident.

John, who had earned a law degree from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, moved to Live Oak County. In 1858 he was serving as deputy (interim) county clerk. In 1859 he joined a party oganized by Live Oak county stockman John Donaldson to help the Texas Rangers fight Juan Cortina near Brownsville. In 1861 John Givens was elected district attorney for the Fourteenth Judicial District. He was quickly becoming a leading citizen of Live Oak County, having accumulated 1,500 acres valued at $750. Givens was reelected district attorney in 1863 and 1866. In 1863 he prosecuted Chipita Rodriguez who gained notoriety as the first woman legally hanged in Texas. During this time John Givens also joined the Confederate service and was a major in the quartermaster corps under General W. W. Dunlap.

John Givens' rise in Live Oak County politics and society took a downturn in 1867 when his brother-in-law George Parr was knifed to death in a late night incident. Parr had married Sarah Pamelia Givens in 1857 and had been named administrator of the Samuel and Ann Mary Givens estate. Parr was elected Live Oak county clerk shortly after he followed John Givens to Oakville. After Parr's death, John Givens took over support of his sister and her three children, George, Archie and Lillian, one of whom, Archer Parr, would go on to become a state senator and political boss of South Texas. John Givens would be an important influence throughout Archie Parr's young life.

Givens moved to Goliad and then to Indianola with the Parr offspring. In 1871 Givens was a vestryman at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Indianola. Later that year he married Sallie Lyle Torian in St. Mary's Parish, Louisiana. The two met in Goliad while he was in the Confederate service; this couple had three children. In October 1871 Givens received a commission from Gov. Edmund J. Davis to serve as district attorney for the Sixteenth Judicial District. Givens replaced Osceola Archer who was removed from office by Davis. The following year, in 1872, Givens announced as an independent candidate for district attorney. He was practicing law in Indianola in the courts of the Sixteenth district and in the supreme and federal courts at Galveston. After an unsuccessful race, Givens moved to Corpus Christi in 1874. In Corpus Christi Givens set up a law practice and soon went into partnership with John S. McCampbell. One of Givens' clients was the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company so it was no surprise that young Archie Parr secured a job as a cow hand with the outfit. Givens enjoyed an active practice in Nueces and Duval counties. In 1882 he bought three tracts of land near the Sweden Ranch in Duval County. That same year Archie Parr came to Duval County to run the Lott and Nelson Pasture Company operation near Sweden.

In 1884 Givens, whose home was next to that of Capt. Mifflin Kennedy in Corpus Christi, was a delegate from Nueces County to the state Democratic convention in Houston where he served on the credentials committee. His younger brother Royal Givens had become a successful businessman in Corpus Christi and was a delegate to the Democratic congressional convention in Victoria, and his nephew Delmas also practiced law in the coastal city and was an unsuccessful candidate for Nueces county judge.

After several years of ill health, Givens died January 20, 1887, in Corpus Christi of apoplexy. The district court session at San Diego was adjourned in his memory, and a special train brought his partner and other members of the bar to his funeral, "the longest procession that ever winded its way" to the Corpus Christi cemetery.

Ervin L. Sparkman, The People's History of Live Oak County (Mesquite, Texas: Ide House, 1981). Corpus Christi Caller, January 22, 1887.


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Criminal Law and District Attorneys

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

Alfredo E. Cardenas, “Givens, John Slye,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 19, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 9, 2009
November 29, 2019