Harris, Jack (ca. 1834–1882)

By: Alice Calkins Evett

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Jack Harris, San Antonio businessman and political leader, was born in Connecticut. He went to sea at age twelve and ten years later was a member of the Nicaragua expedition of filibuster William Walker. He traveled to Texas, joined a scouting party for the army, then made his way to San Antonio about 1860 and joined the police force. When the Civil War started he enlisted in the Second Texas Cavalry.

After the war he returned to San Antonio and the police force. In 1872 he leased a saloon at the corner of Soledad and West Commerce on Main Plaza and named it Jack Harris Vaudeville Theater and Saloon. In 1882 he became the first subscriber to the new San Antonio Electric Company, and he was also becoming one of the most politically powerful men in the city. His saloon became the most popular gathering place in town-the bar; the stage, which presented plays in addition to the usual vaudeville acts; and the adjoining 101 Club, a gambling place. In 1880 Ben Thompson, noted gunslinger, gambler, and Austin saloonkeeper (and a former army buddy of Harris), spent an evening at the theater, gambling at a table with Joe Foster as dealer. Thompson lost heavily and left in a bad mood, voicing loud threats of revenge even after his return to Austin. Though Harris had not been present, Foster was his close friend and employee, and he let it be known that Thompson was no longer welcome at his saloon. On July 11, 1882, Thompson, now city marshal of Austin, returned to San Antonio, proclaiming that he was going to close down the Harris's theater. Harris had been warned, and he was waiting inside the slatted doors of the saloon. As Thompson paused on the sidewalk to let two ladies pass, he spied Harris in the lighted interior. Heated remarks were exchanged, and before Harris could raise his shotgun Thompson pulled his six-shooter and fired through the swinging door. The bullet cut along the wall and hit Harris near his heart. He lived only a few hours. Harris's obituaries in the local papers commended "his liberality, shrewdness, and tact," which "made him the real leader of the democratic party," and stated that "There is no city officer, and hardly a county officer, that does not owe his office to this man's influence and sagacity, from the mayor of the city down, and from county judge to the court bailiffs."

Elton R. Cude, The Wild and Free Dukedom of Bexar (San Antonio: Munguia Printers, 1978). Alice Evett, "Fatal Corner," San Antonio Monthly, July 1982. San Antonio Light, July 12, 1882. W. M. Walton, The Life and Adventures of Ben Thompson (Austin, 1884; facsimile, Austin: Steck, 1956).
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas

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

Alice Calkins Evett, “Harris, Jack,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/harris-jack.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995