Texas Day by Day

On this day in Texas history…

Colorful lawman Jess Sweeten dies in Athens

November 16th, 1980

On this day in 1980, Jess Sweeten, colorful county sheriff and mayor of Athens, Texas, died. He was born in Stigler, Indian Territory, in 1905. He moved to Dallas in 1926 and worked there for several years before becoming a deputy sheriff. In 1932 his election as sheriff of Henderson County made him the youngest sheriff in Texas. He served for twenty-two years. The six-foot-four, 225-pound Sweeten gained a reputation as a hard-nosed investigator and a crack shot. During his tenure he shot nine men, killing three, including Gerald Johnson, the so-called "Dallas Kid," whom Sweeten gunned down after a high-speed car chase through Athens. Sweeten conducted shooting exhibitions for schools and civic clubs throughout his career, shooting cigars and other objects held up by his one-armed assistant, Gus Sowells. On one occasion, he reportedly fired 3,700 rounds in seven hours, shooting up some 600 pounds of potatoes. He was elected mayor of Athens in 1969.

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