Shettles, Elijah LeRoy (1852–1940)

By: Archie P. McDonald

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: June 13, 2020

Elijah LeRoy Shettles, Methodist minister, magazine editor, publisher, and bibliographer, was born in 1852 in the Flatwoods country of Mississippi near Pontotoc, the son of Abner and Caroline (Browning) Shettles. His maternal grandfather, the family patriarch, was a Baptist minister and had a lifelong influence on Shettles. During his eighty-eight years Shettles worked as a teacher, a farm-implement salesman, a law student, a pressman for a newspaper, a freight agent, a public weigher, a coal supplier, a gambler, a saloonkeeper, an insurance solicitor, a preacher, a church administrator, an editor, a book collector and dealer, and a representative of several university and public libraries. He was also a friend of the governors of two states, companion to men of prominence in business and letters, chaplain of the Texas Senate, publisher of books, and humanitarian. Shettles was over 6' 5" tall and had the unlikely nickname of Shorty.

From 1881 to 1891 he traveled the Southwest as a hard-drinking, cheating, itinerate gambler, who frequently stopped long enough in a town to operate a gambling hall and saloon; most of these years he spent in Texas. He responded to a revival preacher on April 27, 1891, and soon thereafter felt a calling to the Methodist ministry. Shettles's ministerial career, all of it in Texas, spanned over thirty years. Always a devoted bibliophile, he revealed much of his secular reading in his early sermons. Eventually he became an accomplished preacher, and in 1908 was made assistant editor of the Texas Methodist Historical Quarterly. Shettles married Mrs. Elizabeth Letts, a widow, on December 11, 1894. They had no children but raised several foster children. She died on July 22, 1934. Shettles retired in 1921 and moved to Austin, where he devoted himself to book collecting. He had previously met Cadwell W. Raines. Shettles often traded at Hans P. N. Gammel's bookstore. He made significant contributions to the development of the libraries at Rice Institute, Sam Houston State Teachers College, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Texas. SMU received Shettles's collection of Wesleyana, and the University of Texas and the Texas State Library received his personal papers.

In the 1930s Shettles wrote his autobiography, which was published in several forms. Part of it appeared as articles in the Southwestern Advocate, and some of it was published in the Pontotoc (Mississippi) Progress. It appeared as a book, Recollections of a Long Life, in 1973. Shettles also published articles in the Arkansas Methodist, as well as several books, including William S. Red's The Texas Colonists and Religion (1924) and Don Biggers's Our Sacred Monkeys (1933). Shettles died on May 30, 1940, in Austin and was buried there.

J. Frank Dobie, "E. L. Shettles, Man, Bookman, and Friend," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 44 (January 1941). Elijah L. Shettles Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Elijah L. Shettles Papers, Texas State Archives, Austin.


  • Journalism
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Publications, Journals, and Magazines
  • Journals and Publications
  • Religion
  • Methodist

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

Archie P. McDonald, “Shettles, Elijah LeRoy,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 13, 2020