Jerome Claiborne Kearby, lawyer and politician, the son of Dr. Edward P. and Mary (Peyton) Kearby, was born on May 22, 1847, in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. In 1854 or 1855 Edward Kearby moved to Denton, Texas, where he began a medical practice that soon established him as a prominent member of the community. During the Civil War his son, fifteen-year-old Jerome, enlisted in Capt. O. G. Welch's company of Col. Charles DeMorse's Twenty-ninth Texas Cavalry. Though he was nicknamed the "boy soldier" because he was reputedly the youngest enlisted man in the Confederate Army, Kearby saw action in a number of battles and ended his military career in 1865 as a major. Afterward, he studied law in McKinney, where he began his legal career in 1869. After practicing in Kaufman and Canton, he became district attorney in Palestine in 1872. Two years later he moved to Dallas, where he worked as a criminal lawyer until 1903.
He was originally a Democrat, but because of a growing dissatisfaction with the party's economic policy he quit the Democrats in the early 1880s. After working in the Greenback, Union Labor, and Anti-Monopoly parties, he became a member of the People's party in 1890. In 1892 he was the Populist candidate for the Sixth Congressional District seat. He lost to his Democratic opponent, Jo Abbott, whom he faced again two years later. Although the second time the vote was so close that Kearby contested the election, Abbott again won. In 1896 Kearby was the Populist candidate for governor but lost by fewer than 60,000 votes to Democrat Charles A. Culberson. By 1900 the People's party had split into two factions. Kearby was at first on the ticket as the gubernatorial candidate of the "mid-road" faction of the Populists, but after the state convention the party's state executive committee removed his name and substituted that of T. J. McMinn of Bexar County.
Subsequently, Kearby severed his relationship with the party and moved his legal practice from Dallas to Denton. In part this decision was a result of his belief that a third political party should influence, not necessarily win, elections. This could be accomplished, he believed, only if political infighting did not occur. His emphasis on intraparty harmony may have been influenced by the attacks on his drinking habits and religion by some Populists and most Democrats, who called him a drunk and an infidel. By 1900 Kearby's name no longer carried the respect and popularity it once had. He also suffered from Bright's disease, which forced him to retire from his law practice in 1903. For the next two years he was mostly bedridden, and was cared for by his family. He had married Lula A. Robinson in 1868; they had two daughters and two sons. Kearby was a member of the Elks, the Knights of Pythias, the United Confederate Veterans, and the Congregational Church. He died at the age of fifty-eight on July 24, 1905, and was buried in Denton.