Ross, Lawrence Sullivan [Sul] (1838–1898)

By: Judith Ann Benner

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: February 21, 2021

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ROSS, LAWRENCE SULLIVAN [SUL] (1838–1898). Lawrence Sullivan (Sul) Ross, soldier, statesman, and university president, second son and fourth child of Catherine (Fulkerson) and Shapley Prince Ross, was born at Bentonsport, Iowa Territory, on September 27, 1838. His parents had moved from Missouri to Iowa in 1834; the family immigrated to Texas in 1839 and settled initially in Milam County, where young Sul had his first encounter with hostile Indians, then for a period at Austin, where the older children attended school, and finally in 1849 at Waco, where Shapley Ross became a pioneer settler, entrepreneur, and landowner. Sul's love for action and horses involved him in his first Indian fight while he was still a boy. Although his early ambition was to be an Indian fighter like his father, he recognized the value of education and enrolled at Baylor University in Independence, Texas, and then at the Wesleyan University in Florence, Alabama, where he obtained his A.B. degree in 1859. He apparently trained for no profession but desired instead a military career in state service. His opportunity came the summer of his junior year; while at home on vacation, the youth signed on with the United States Army as leader of a band of Indian auxiliaries from the Brazos Indian Reservation, which was then located in Young County. During the ensuing campaign against the Comanches in Indian Territory in September and October of 1858, Ross won the praise of regular army officers for his skill and courage, but nearly lost his life from a serious wound received in a battle at the Wichita Village near the site of present-day Rush Springs, Oklahoma. He recovered enough to return to college and graduated the next summer. About this same time he became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

Back in Texas, Ross joined the Texas Rangers and took part in the unsuccessful campaign of Middleton Tate Johnson against hostile tribes in the spring and summer of 1860, initially as a first lieutenant and later as captain of the Waco Company. Despite the general public contempt for the results of the Johnson expedition, Ross won the approval and trust of Governor Sam Houston, who empowered him to raise a company of his own for service in the area of Young and surrounding counties. In his defense of the frontier, Ross had the cooperation of regular troops, and his aggressive boldness in pursuing a Comanche raiding party in December 1860 resulted in the battle at the Pease River in which Cynthia Ann Parker was recovered, an exploit that gained him much popularity in Texas. With the coming of the Civil War he resigned from the rangers. He subsequently joined the Masonic order. He married Elizabeth Dorothy Tinsley, daughter of a Waco planter, on May 28, 1861. After acting as state peace commissioner to various Indian tribes, he enlisted in mid–1861 in the Confederate Army as a member of the Waco company raised by his older brother, Peter F. Ross, which was incorporated into the Sixth Texas Cavalry. First as major and then as colonel of his regiment, Ross took part in numerous western campaigns, including those of Pea Ridge, Corinth, and Van Dorn’s Tennessee. He was promoted to brigadier general in December 1863 and commanded the Texas Cavalry Brigade (see ROSS'S BRIGADE, C.S.A.), made up of his former regiment, the Third Texas Cavalry, the Ninth Texas Cavalry, and the Twenty-seventh Texas Cavalry or First Texas Legion, for the remainder of the war. Under his able leadership, his brigade saw action in the Atlanta and Franklin-Nashville campaigns, although Ross was in Texas on furlough when his men surrendered at Jackson, Mississippi, in May 1865.

The wartime period undermined Ross's health, and he spent the eight years of Reconstruction farming near Waco with his wife and growing family. Eventually nine children were born to the Rosses, although only six lived to maturity. In 1873 the citizens of McLennan County elected Ross sheriff. In his two years in office he ended a reign of terror and helped form the Sheriffs' Association of Texas. He urged needed reforms and helped write the document that governs Texas today, the Constitution of 1876. Service as a constitutional delegate gave him experience in public office and a reputation for honesty and ability. During the next four years Ross did not seek political office on his own, despite the willingness of his comrades to support him in a bid for the office of governor on the Democratic ticket. He did agree, however, to become a compromise candidate for the state Senate from the Twenty-second District in the election of 1880. As senator, Ross made a record of solid achievement, but a reapportionment bill reduced his four-year term and he declined to run for reelection. Nevertheless, from the Senate it was an easy step to the governorship; by 1886 Ross's friends and supporters had persuaded him to enter politics on the state level, and he won easily on his first attempt. During his two terms (he was reelected in 1888 and served until 1891) the new Capitol was completed, the state attained new heights of industrial, agricultural, and commercial growth, and state eleemosynary and educational institutions flourished. Even more important, Ross's time in office was later considered one of exceptional good will and harmony. When he left the statehouse, he stepped immediately into the presidency of the seriously troubled Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), a position in which he rendered his greatest public services. Under his presidency the number of students grew, many new buildings were built, and public faith in the institution returned. In 1893 he was elected commander of the Texas Division of the United Confederate Veterans, and two years later he turned down an appointment to the Railroad Commission that would have taken him away from A&M. It was a blow to the university when President Ross died suddenly at his home in College Station on January 3, 1898. As an editorial written after his death stated, "It has been the lot of few men to be of such great service to Texas as Sul Ross." Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, is named in his honor.

Judith Ann Benner, Sul Ross: Soldier, Statesman, Educator (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1983). Ross Family Papers, Texas Collection, Baylor University.

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

Judith Ann Benner, “Ross, Lawrence Sullivan [Sul],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

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February 21, 2021

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