Rudder, James Earl (1910–1970)

By: William N. Todd IV and Gerald Knape

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: June 1, 1995

James Earl Rudder, soldier, land commissioner, and president of Texas A&M, was born on May 6, 1910, at Eden, Texas, the son of Dee Forest and Annie (Powell) Rudder. He attended John Tarleton Agricultural College in 1928–29. He went to Texas A&M in 1930 and graduated in 1932 with a degree in industrial education. After graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in the United States Army Reserves. In 1933 Rudder worked as a football coach and teacher at Brady High School. He married Margaret E. Williamson on June 12, 1937. They had five children. In 1938 he worked as a football coach and teacher at Tarleton Agricultural College. He was called into active duty in 1941 and had a celebrated military career during World War II. In 1943, as a lieutenant colonel, he became commander and trainer of the Second Ranger Battalion, which had a major role in the D-Day invasion. Rudder's Rangers stormed the beach at Pointe du Hoc and, under constant enemy fire, scaled 100-foot cliffs to reach and destroy German gun batteries. The perilous mission resulted in a higher than 50 percent casualty rate in the battalion. Rudder himself was wounded twice during the course of the fighting. In spite of this, he and his men successfully helped establish a beachhead for the Allied forces. Six months later he was assigned to command the 109th Infantry Regiment, which saw key service in the Battle of the Bulge. By the end of the war he was a full colonel and was promoted to brigadier general of the United States Army Reserves in 1954 and major general in 1957. Rudder was one of the most decorated soldiers of the war, with honors that included the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Silver Star, French Legion of Honor with croix de guerre and palm, and others.

He was mayor of Brady from 1946 to 1952 and was vice president of Brady Aviation Company in 1953. On January 1, 1955, he assumed the office of land commissioner after the abandonment of the position by James Bascom Giles. At that time the Veterans Land Program was under scrutiny for mismanagement and corruption. Rudder undertook the task of reforming policies, expediting land applications, and closely supervising proper accounting procedures. He also oversaw the proper leasing of state lands by employing more field inspectors for oil and gas sites and adding a seismic exploration staff. In addition, he improved working conditions for his staff and instigated a program to preserve the many deteriorating General Land Office documents. On the strength of his many reforms, Rudder won the election for land commissioner in 1956 and served until February 1, 1958. That year, he became vice president of Texas A&M University. He became president in 1959 and president of the entire A&M system in 1965. In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson presented Rudder the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest peacetime service award. Throughout his life Rudder was involved in numerous civic activities. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Baylor in 1960. He was a Methodist and a Mason. He died in Houston on March 23, 1970.

Austin History Center Files. Ronald L. Lane, Rudder's Rangers (Manassas, Virginia: Ranger Associates, 1979). Garry Mauro, Land Commissioners of Texas (Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1986). Who's Who in America, 1960–61.


  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II
  • World War II

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

William N. Todd IV and Gerald Knape, “Rudder, James Earl,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 28, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995