James Edwin Pearce, anthropology professor, was born on October 7, 1868, in Roxboro, North Carolina, the son of John Wiley and Lucy Jane (Drumwright) Pearce. The family moved to Hunt County, Texas, in 1871. Pearce graduated from Campbell High School in 1886 and taught there for two years. He received his B.Litt. in 1894 and his M.A. in 1895 from the University of Texas. From 1895 to 1917 he was principal of Austin High School; during that time he used leaves of absence to study anthropology and archeology at the University of Chicago and the École d'Anthropologie of Paris. In 1917 Pearce became chairman of the Department of Institutional History at the University of Texas; he had the department's name changed to Department of Anthropology in 1919. This was one of the earliest such departments in the United States. Pearce was responsible for establishing Texas archeology as a major research field. He had advocated the establishment of a state museum and became the director of the Texas Memorial Museum when it was approved in 1938, though he died before it opened in 1939. He was coauthor with A. T. Jackson of A Prehistoric Rock Shelter in Val Verde County, Texas (1933). His other publications included articles on Texas archeology and Tales That Dead Men Tell (1935), a discussion of the relevance of archeology and anthropology to everyday life.
Pearce married Mignonette Carrington on June 2, 1900, and they had one daughter. After his wife's death in 1902, he married Belinda Doppelmayer on September 1, 1909. They also had a daughter. Pearce was a Unitarian, an independent Democrat, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He died in Austin on October 22, 1938; his body was taken to San Antonio for cremation. Pearce Junior High School in Austin was named for him.