King, John Jefferson (1863–1940)

By: Cecil Harper, Jr.

Revised by: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 8, 2021

John Jefferson King, lawyer and politician, the son of John and Virginia (Ship) King, was born in Franklin Parish, Louisiana, on July 26, 1863. His father was a former member of the governor's staff, and his mother was descended from early settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, but his family was devastated by the Civil War and late in 1863 moved to Bowie County, Texas, where King was educated in the public schools.

King served as deputy district and county clerk in 1883-84 and then began to study law on his own. He was admitted to the bar on December 10, 1885, and elected county attorney in 1886 and 1888. In 1890 he was elected as a Democrat as representative from Bowie, Cass, Marion, and Morris counties to the Twenty-second Legislature. On January 13, 1891, King was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from District 17, and appointed as chairman of the House Committee on Engrossed Bills, a high honor for a first-term representative. He was reelected on January 19, 1893. Concurrently, in 1892 he was elected county judge of Bowie County. During the late spring and early summer of 1893, William J. Allen, the editor of the Texarkana Daily Interstate News, printed a number of editorial comments disparaging King’s rulings from the bench, and the judge had Allen arrested and fined for contempt of court. When the two men met on the corner of Broad and State Streets in downtown Texarkana on the evening of August 4, 1893, Judge King, claiming to believe that Allen was reaching for a pistol, drew his own .45 caliber revolver and shot the editor in the side, the bullet passing through his body below the lungs. Allen, the father of a two-week-old infant, died two days later on August 7. King was arrested and tried for murder, but after a lengthy and acrimonious trial, was acquitted and was reelected as county judge in 1894.

King retired from politics in 1897 and began to practice law in Texarkana. In 1899, with Hiram Glass and William Lee Estes, he formed the law firm of Glass, Estes, and King. The firm, later named Glass, Estes, King, and Burford (with the addition to the partnership of A. L. Burford), was one of the most prominent corporate law firms in Texas, serving as general attorney for some of the largest railroad companies in the state. The firm was dissolved in the 1920s after Glass died, Estes was appointed to a United States judgeship, and Burford became general attorney for the Louisiana and Arkansas Railroad. King then became senior member of the firm of King, Mehaffey, and Wheeler.

He was also a director of the Texarkana National Bank, first vice president and director of the Texarkana and Fort Smith Railway Company, vice president of the Port Arthur Canal and Dock Company, trustee of the William Buchanan Foundation, and a member of the boards of the local chapters of the chamber of commerce, United Charities, and Community Chest. He was a Mason, a Democrat, and a Presbyterian. On March 18, 1894, he married Caroline A. Wise of Barton, Texas. The couple had two children. At the time of the 1900 federal census, he and his family were living in a rented house at 418 Maple Street in Texarkana. King died of pneumonia on February 6, 1940 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Arkadelphia Daily Standard, August 11, 1893. Encyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 12 (New York: American Historical Society, 1941). L. E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas Government with Sketches of Representative Men of Texas (San Antonio: Maverick Printing House, 1892). Clarence Wharton, History of Texas (Dallas, Turner Company, 1935). Clarence R. Wharton, ed., Texas under Many Flags (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1930). Texas Bar Journal, Volume III, Issue 4 (April 1940).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Commercial and Corporate Law

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

Cecil Harper, Jr. Revised by Thomas W. Cutrer, “King, John Jefferson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

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February 8, 2021