West, DuVal (1861–1949)

By: Roy L. Swift

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1996

DuVal West, judge, was born in Austin on November 13, 1861, the son of Florence (Duval) and Charles Shannon West. He was the grandson of Judge Thomas Howard Duval. In the winter of 1879–80 West rode out of San Antonio as the youngest member of an expedition organized by several railroad companies to explore for silver in the Chinati Mountains of the Big Bend region. He was sponsored by his uncle, Burr G. Duval, who represented the International and Great Northern Railroad and who knew that as a non-salaried member of the expedition, West would more than pay his way bringing game to the table. The next year West joined Tom Green, Jr., in a 200-mile cattle drive. After trying in 1882 to settle down in an insurance office in Austin, he joined Green in the management of a ranch in Coahuila, Mexico. Camp Robards, clerk of the United States Court in San Antonio, gave West a job in March 1884 as a deputy clerk. West progressed from deputy clerk to deputy United States marshal and then to chief deputy marshal of the Western District. In the latter capacity West fought J. S. McNeel in the "Great Harwood Train Robbery" in 1888. Thomas S. Maxey advised West to study law, and West subsequently enrolled at Cumberland Law School in Tennessee. He graduated in January 1890. He and his fellow Cumberland graduate, Robert B. Green, opened offices in the Kampmann Building in San Antonio in February 1890. As Maxey predicted, West's practice prospered from the beginning. West married Isabella Clerc Terry in New Orleans on April 7, 1891. On February 25, 1894, West was appointed assistant United States attorney under Robert U. Culberson. His most dramatic assignment during that period was to present the government's case in the prosecution of William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) for alleged embezzlement. West resigned in May 1898 to accept a commission as first lieutenant, adjutant to the United States Volunteer Infantry, Texas, in the brief war with Spain. His division spent some four or five months encamped near Miami, Florida. In October 1898 West returned to San Antonio.

In 1904 he became assistant counsel and then general counsel to the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway, while Benjamin F. Yoakum was pushing that railroad south from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. From 1909 until about 1915 West was counsel on the project to build the Medina Dam west of San Antonio. Early in 1915 President Woodrow Wilson called West to be his personal emissary to Mexico. West was charged with interviewing all the potential leaders in Mexico, including Venustiano Carranza, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Gen. Felipe Ángeles. West sent reports to Washington from the field and met with the president after he reached Washington. As soon as his final interview with the president ended, West, exhausted and ill, checked into Johns Hopkins Hospital in nearby Baltimore. He spent most of the summer there. In the fall of 1915 West returned to Texas and his private law practice. In December 1916 President Wilson named West to succeed Thomas Maxey as United States Judge for the Western District of Texas. He was sworn in on January 3, 1917. West championed the Constitution through prohibition and attempted to stop federal infiltration into states' matters. His wife, Bell, died of cancer on December 4, 1930. West reached mandatory retirement age in November 1931 and spent the next ten years serving occasionally on the bench, traveling, and hunting in the Hill Country. After eight years of declining health, West died at his home in San Antonio on May 3, 1949. He was buried in Mission Burial Park in San Antonio.

Roy L. Swift, Civilizers: The DuVals of Texas from Virginia through Kentucky and Florida (Austin: Eakin Press, 1992).
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges

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

Roy L. Swift, “West, DuVal,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/west-duval.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996