Sumpter, Jesse (1827–1910)

By: Ben E. Pingenot

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 1, 1995

Jesse Sumpter, soldier, settler, and memoirist, son of Isom and Susanna (Loving) Sumpter, was born in Owen County, Indiana, on February 21, 1827. He worked as a farm boy in Indiana until 1844, when he moved to Illinois. He enlisted for service in the Mexican War in 1847 and was assigned to Company D, First Infantry regiment, commanded by Capt. Seth Eastman. Sumpter landed with his unit at Port Lavaca, Texas, in October 1848 and marched to Salado Creek, near San Antonio, where the government provided horses and made mounted infantry of three companies. After performing routine scouting duties near Fredericksburg, the troops were ordered back to San Antonio and then to the Leona River (near present Uvalde) and the Rio Grande to establish outposts. Sumpter's company, led by Eastman, arrived at the "Post on the Leona" (Fort Inge) in late March 1849. The next month Capt. Sidney Burbank led three companies of the first infantry, including Sumpter, to the Rio Grande, where a camp at Eagle Pass (later Fort Duncan) was established. Sumpter's company then returned to the Leona and joined Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston's party of topographical engineers, who were directing the march of the Third Infantry to El Paso. After his return, Sumpter's company was stationed at Fort Duncan, where they scouted for Indians and acted as escorts for provision trains between San Antonio and El Paso.

After his discharge as a sergeant on April 27, 1852, Sumpter decided to settle at Eagle Pass, which was then a fledgling frontier village adjoining Fort Duncan and the jumping-off place for California-bound gold seekers traveling the Mexico route. He tended bar for Henry Matson until 1854, when he opened a saloon of his own and then went into the cattle business. In 1859 he married Refugia Ramírez; they had two children. In 1872 he married Virginia Ramírez (no relation to his first wife). Sumpter frequently acted as a deputy sheriff, and since the county was unorganized he had to accompany prisoners under perilous conditions nearly 150 miles to San Antonio in Bexar County. During the Civil War Sumpter became a merchant and was appointed by Lorenzo Castro as customs inspector for the Confederacy. When Maverick County was organized in 1871 he was elected the first county sheriff, an office he held until 1876. After leaving office he moved to Uvalde, where he lived for a time. He returned to Eagle Pass in the early 1880s as commissary manager for a railroad-construction company, which was extending a line from Piedras Negras (across from Eagle Pass) into Mexico. After following the path of the railroad as far as Monclova, Sumpter returned to Eagle Pass, where he purchased and operated King Fisher's Sunset Saloon. Sumpter was appointed United States customs inspector at Eagle Pass in 1894 and held the position until his death on November 20, 1910. During his later years he was celebrated as the oldest citizen of Eagle Pass. He was aware that he had been a witness to and a participant in portentous events and became interested in recording history. He was one of the first life members of the Texas State Historical Association, and in 1906–07 he dictated his reminiscences to schoolteacher Harry Warren. A typescript copy was deposited in the University of Texas archives, but Sumpter's memoirs remained unpublished until 1969.

Ben E. Pingenot, ed., Paso del Águila . . . Memoirs of Jesse Sumpter (Austin: Encino, 1969). A Twentieth Century History of Southwest Texas (2 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1907).

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

Ben E. Pingenot, “Sumpter, Jesse,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 1, 1995