White, Thomas Bruce (1881–1971)

By: Verdon R. Adams

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: March 8, 2019

Thomas Bruce White, law officer, son of Robert Emmet and Margaret (Campbell) White, was born at Oak Hill, Texas, on March 6, 1881. He attended public schools and, for two years, Southwestern University in Georgetown. He began his career with Company A of the Texas Rangers at Colorado City and married Bessie Patterson on October 17, 1909. From 1909 to 1917 he worked as special agent for the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads at Amarillo, San Antonio, and El Paso. While in El Paso he became an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he was soon promoted and placed in charge of the Houston office. He was one of the first FBI inspectors, with responsibility for inspecting the bureau's offices in all southern and western states. When crimes against Oklahoma's Osage Indians kept increasing, White was moved to Oklahoma City, where he solved the difficult case "of the Osage Indian murders." Afterward, the officials of the United States Bureau of Prisons persuaded him to transfer to that organization. The Whites and their two sons moved into the warden's residence of Leavenworth prison on October 1, 1926. For five years he ran the prison. In 1931 he was seriously wounded by gunfire in an escape attempt. When he recovered, officials of the bureau decided he should be given a less demanding assignment and transferred him to La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution, near El Paso, Texas. This institution was opened under his wardenship on April 29, 1932. White inaugurated programs that made La Tuna very well known, including, for instance, the growing and harvesting of food crops by inmates. On March 6, 1951, when White reached the mandatory civil service retirement age of seventy, he accepted a six-year appointment to the Board of Pardons and Paroles. In tendering the appointment, Chief Justice John E. Hickman said he had never seen better recommendations than those presented on White's behalf. Shortly before his death White stated, "I began by catching criminals and sending them to prison. Then I spent twenty-five years taking care of them while they were serving their time. Finally, I spent the last six years of my career deciding when they should be released. I had come the full circle." White was a devout Baptist. He died in El Paso on December 21, 1971.

Verdon R. Adams, Tom White: The Life of a Lawman (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1972).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Officers

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

Verdon R. Adams, “White, Thomas Bruce,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 28, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/white-thomas-bruce.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
March 8, 2019