John Holmes Jenkins III, historian, publisher, and bookseller, the son of John Holmes and Sue (Chalmers) Jenkins, Jr., was born in Beaumont, Texas, on March 22, 1940. He graduated from Beaumont High School in 1958 and was honored as Dick Dowling Valedictorian and Outstanding Young Man of Beaumont. A sixth-generation Texan, he identified strongly with his family heritage. During his high school years he spent his summers editing the memoirs of his great-great-grandfather, John Holland Jenkins, an early Bastrop pioneer. The resulting book, Recollections of Early Texas, was published by the University of Texas Press in 1958, on the day Jenkins graduated from high school, and has gone through several printings. The foreword was written by J. Frank Dobie.
Jenkins attended the University of Texas on a General Motors Fellowship and a Rotary Fellowship and became a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity. After a year of studies at the University of Texas Law School he began a career as a publisher and bookseller in Austin. Between 1963 and 1990 the Jenkins Publishing Company, including the Pemberton Press for trade publishing and the San Felipe Press for private publishing, produced more than 300 titles, several of which Jenkins wrote or edited. In 1965 he compiled and published Cracker Barrel Chronicles: A Bibliography of Texas Town and County Histories, a comprehensive listing of 5,000 titles, which won the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. His ten-volume Papers of the Texas Revolution, winner of the Summerfield G. Roberts Award from the Sons of the Republic of Texas as the outstanding publication on early Texas history for 1973, is a massive compilation of primary sources. An equally important work by Jenkins, Basic Texas Books, published in 1983, is a descriptive bibliographical guide to the most important books on Texas history. It was reissued in a revised edition by the Texas State Historical Association in 1988.
In recognition for his scholarly achievements, Jenkins was elected a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association in 1967. He was a founding director of the Collector's Institute and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Philosophical Society. Along with writing and publishing, he dealt successfully in rare books as owner of the Jenkins Company, which specialized in Texana. In 1975 he became one of the most substantial booksellers in the country when he acquired the stock of Edward Eberstadt and Sons, a major rare-book firm in New York City. Rich in important books, pamphlets, maps, and documents from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Eberstadt collection was particularly strong on the Trans-Mississippi West, Texas and the Southwest, the South, and Latin America. By 1990 the Jenkins Company had produced more than 200 catalogues offering Eberstadt items and other rare collectibles for sale. In 1971 Jenkins was instrumental in helping the FBI recover an extremely valuable portfolio of original colored engravings, John James Audubon's Birds of America, stolen from Union College in Schenectady, New York. Jenkins's accounts of this experience, the purchase of the Eberstadt collection, and other lively reminiscences appear in his book Audubon and Other Capers, published in 1976. That same year he received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Union College for his role in recovering the Audubon portfolio and for his contributions to historical scholarship and the book trade. In 1980 Jenkins was elected president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. In this capacity he worked as principal organizer of a national system for identifying and publicizing the theft or loss of rare books and other valuable materials from libraries, booksellers, and private collections, and for seeing that the thieves are arrested and prosecuted.
Jenkins married Maureen Vera Mooney of Dallas in 1962. A son, John Holmes Jenkins IV, was born in 1968. In 1965 Jenkins served in the United Sates Army Reserve (Army Intelligence), and subsequently in the Texas National Guard. He served as an alternate delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1976. Jenkins was killed on April 16, 1989, by a shot in the back of his head, near Bastrop, while doing field research as part of his work on a biography of Edward Burleson. Jenkins Publishing Company published Edward Burleson: Texas Frontier Leader, coauthored and completed by Kenneth Kesselus, a Texas historian and first cousin of Jenkins, in 1990. Friends and family of Jenkins established the John H. Jenkins Research Fellowship in Texas History with the Texas State Historical Association in 1994 to honor Jenkins for his accomplishments on behalf of Texas history. Income from the fellowship funds an award made annually for the best research proposal having to do with Texas history.