Shuffler, Ralph Henderson (1908–1975)

By: John L. Davis

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: March 2, 2019

Henderson Shuffler, Texas historian, essayist, newspaperman, and administrator, the son of Ralph Sumner and Carrie (Henderson) Shuffler, was born in Plainview, Texas, on November 8, 1908. He grew up on the rolling prairies of Young County and graduated from Olney High School in 1925. He attended the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) and received a B.A. in English in 1929. Shuffler married Elnora Roach in Olney the next year and went to work as a newsman in Odessa. In 1940 he founded and began publishing the Odessa American. While the newspaper grew from a weekly to a daily, Shuffler gained a reputation as a crusader. In one editorial campaign, he openly opposed gambling interests in the oil-boom town. In the frontier tradition, the opposition retaliated violently to Shuffler's words by burning his printing plant to the ground. Shuffler, however, without missing an issue, won the electoral battle, for at the polls Odessa citizens followed his editorial lead. His newspapering developed an integrity and a devotion to excellence that stayed with him the rest of his life. In 1945 Shuffler returned to Texas A&M to be director of the College Development Fund. He founded the Opportunity Awards Scholarship Program, which has enabled thousands of students to attend the university. In 1947 he took charge of the office of information and publication for the Texas A&M College System. He also became a regular contributor of articles to the Southwest Review, Historical Quarterly, Ford Times, Texas Bar Journal, and Texana Magazine, among a host of other magazines, periodicals, and newspapers.

Shuffler became respected as a fine writer and was also known as a teller of a good story. While a newsman, he produced poetry "to earn whiskey money." His record as an experienced administrator with obvious expertise in writing, his knowledge of Texas history, and his knowledge of books influenced the administration of the University of Texas at Austin to invite him to become director of the Texana Program in 1962. Shuffler accepted the job of discovering books and materials relating to Texas history, evaluating them in terms of instructional and informational quality, recommending their acquisition, and outlining their use by the university. During these years he edited D. U. Barziza's Adventures of a Prisoner of War, 1863–1864 (1964), wrote The Houstons at Independence (1966), and contributed numerous essays to the Texas Magazine of the Houston Chronicle, Texas Parade, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, and Texas Quarterly. This activity led to his subsequent appointment as founding director of the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures. In 1966 aides to Governor John B. Connally met with Shuffler to discuss ideas for the state's participation in HemisFair '68, the first world's fair to be held in Texas. Shuffler recommended an institute that would be "a place of ideas, not things," a center that would tell the true Texas story in terms of people. Subsequent discussions defined not only an exhibit hall for the world's fair, but also a permanent communications and research center. In April of 1967 Governor Connally appointed Shuffler director of the institute. The University of Texas at Austin gave him an indefinite leave for the project. A year later the institute formally opened, a reflection of Shuffler's ideas for a center showing the histories of the ethnic and cultural groups that compose Texas. At the conclusion of the fair, the institute remained as a permanent center, now a component of the University of Texas System.

Shuffler also became the instigator of the Texas Folklife Festival when he accepted an invitation in 1968 from the Smithsonian Institution for the Institute of Texan Cultures to cosponsor a Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. He organized a group of more than 100 Texans who demonstrated folk crafts and skills, food, and music. The idea took root to establish a similar festival in Texas, and three years later such an annual event was a reality. Shuffler was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Philosophical Society of Texas, the Texas Institute of Letters, Torch Club International, and an honorary member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. He was scheduled for retirement in 1974, but he was asked by the University of Texas Board of Regents to continue for an additional two years. He died of cancer on July 20, 1975, and was survived by his wife and two children.

Marion Travis, "In Memory of R. Henderson Shuffler," People, September-October 1975. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Publishers and Executives

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

John L. Davis, “Shuffler, Ralph Henderson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 25, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
March 2, 2019