Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 
John Edward Hickman -
Chief Justice
Historical Marker
Georgetown, Texas

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Associate Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1945-1948
Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court, 1948-1961
Justice, 11th Civil Appeals Court 1928-1935

 

the marker is on the Courthouse lawn
700 block of S. Austin ave

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GPS Coordinates
North 30.63725 - West -97.677900

UTM 14 R - east 626696 - north 3390146

 

Marker Text

(1883-1962) A distinguished chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, and a native of Williamson County. Descendant of 1849 settlers from Alabama, he was a son of Nathaniel Franklin and Mary J. Porterfield Hickman. He attended the Liberty Hill Normal and Commercial College, and (with interruptions to teach school) earned a law degree at the University of Texas in 1910. For 16 years he was an attorney in Dublin (Erath County) and Breckenridge (Stephens County). Oil was discovered in both areas, and with boom conditions his practice included some historic cases. Elected Associate Justice (1926), he became in 1928 Chief Justice, Court of Civil Appeals, Eastland. He was appointed to the Supreme Court Commission of Appeals in 1935; became an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1945; and on Jan. 7, 1948, was appointed Chief Justice -- a post he filled until 1961. He is credited with 433 opinions of the Texas Supreme Court. A devout Christian, he taught a Bible class about 50 years, and served 1921-62 as a trustee of Southern Methodist University. He married (1) Ethel Markward (d. 1921) and (2) Lena Pettit, who survived him. (1971)





   
 

TRIBUTE TO RETIRING CHIEF JUSTICE

JOHN E. HICKMAN - - NARRATIVE  - By D. B. Wood

 

My Fellow Judges:

The one outstanding thing that casts a shadow upon this Conference and is the subject of many conversations is "judge Hickman is retiring and this is his last Conference as an active Judge". All of his fellow judges view his retirement with mixed feelings of sadness, pride, satisfaction and hope: Sadness, the most natural reaction, because of his departure from an active and dedicated participation in the judiciary of this State; Pride, because we served contemporaneously with him; Satisfaction, because we know he goes into retirement of his own free will and choice, with the plaudits of the Bench and Bar, and the Public in general, extending those good words "well done thy good and faithful servant"; and lastly, Hope, in that' we do pray that a Divine Providence will permit him to remain with us for many years yet to pass and that through it all he will enjoy in full measure the happy rewards which he so richly deserves.

 

When Judge Hickman retires at the end of 1960 he will have served 34 years on the Appellate Bench of Texas, which period is embraced within a span of more than 50 years as a Texas lawyer.

 

A native Texan, he was born in 1883 on a farm near the village of Liberty Hill in the Western portion of Williamson County, where he attended a rural school and small private College. He taught a one teacher rural school in Bell County for two years and also served two years as principal of Lam­pasas High School, having, meanwhile, attended Southwestern University, at Georgetown, one summer session and the Literary Department of the University of Texas for two years. When Judge Hickman graduated from the Law Department of the University of Texas in 1910, he had completed the regular three year course in two years and part of one summer, and was a top ranking member of his class. He served a year in the Law School as quizmaster.

 

After his admission to the Bar in 1910, Judge Hickman practiced law for 16 years at Dublin in Erath County and at Breckenridge in Stephens County.

 

He was elected an Associate Justice of the Eastland Court of Civil Appeals in 1926 and qualified as such on January 4, 1927. His first opinion was delivered on February 11, 1927, and appears at page 835 of Volume 290 (old series) of Southwestern Reporter. It is interesting to note that in this case Judge Hickman reversed the District Court because the trial judge should have sustained a general demurrer - that old vehicle upon which so many smart lawyers were able to ambush the trial judge, and which Judge Hickman, after reaching the Supreme Court, had a decisive role in eliminating.

 

He served as Associate Justice of the Eastland Court for 13 months and on the resignation of Chief Justice William Pannill was on February 4, 1928 appointed by Governor Dan Moody as such Chief Justice.

 

Judge Hickman continued in that capacity until on May 27, 1935, when he was appointed by the Supreme Court to Section "A" of its Commission of Appeals. He succeeded Judge Richard Critz who had been elevated to the Supreme Court by Governor Jas. V. Allred to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Associate Justice William Pierson. His first opinion was delivered on June 12, 1935, and appears 125 T 563 in 83 Southwestern Reporter, Second Series, at page 307 - just 16 days after qualifying. In fact, before the Court recessed for the summer Judge Hickman had prepared and delivered five opinions, all of which had been expressly approved by the Supreme Court. They appear in 125 T. 563, 614, and 126 T. 69, 73 & 99 and in Vols. 83 and 84 (Second Series) of Southwestern Reporter.

 

He became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1945 following adoption of a Constitutional Amendment which increased the Court to Nine Members, and with the other five Commissioners took the Oath as such on September 21, 1945. The proceedings incident to that ceremony appear at the beginning of Volume 144 of Official Texas Reports, and the opinions of the Nine Member Court begin at page 281. While not significant except in a review of the Judicial history of Judge Hickman it is interesting to note that the first opinion was prepared and delivered by him. It is also reported in 190 Southwestern Reporter, Second

Series, at page 67 - exactly 200 volumes after his first opinion as an Associate Justice of the Eastland Court.

 

Upon the death of the lamented Chief Justice James P. Alexander, Judge Hickman was appointed as Chief Justice by Governor Beauford Jester, and qualified on January 7, 1948. The first opinion delivered by him in that capacity was on January 14, 1948, and is reported in 146 Texas Reports at page 397, but in harmony with his uniform humility and fairness he stated at the conclusion: "The foregoing opinion was dictated, though not put in final form, by the late lamented Chief Justice James P. Alexander .a few days prior to his untimely death on January 1, 1948. Since his passing the opinion has been considered and approved and is adopted by the Court as its Opinion."

 

Our beloved Chief Justice was reelected in 1948 and in 1954, having no opponent and no semblance of opposition, and is now voluntarily retiring.

 

But these are the dry statistics of a judicial life full of service to the jurisprudence of this State. My prime purpose in these remarks is not to praise Mr. Justice Hickman as a judge. He has erected his own monument, and needs no words of commendation from me. It is as a man that I wish to speak of him, and to record the early life, in true American tradition, that afforded the basis of a great life.

 

Judge Hickman's forebears came to Texas by wagon train when our State was in its infancy. His paternal grandparents, Charles C. and Susan A. Hickman, emigrated from Alabama to Texas, with six children in 1849. They settled on Berry Creek in western Williamson County, where there was an abundance of wood and water, so necessary in that day. Among the children was a son, Nathaniel Franklin Hickman, then 10 years of age, who later intermarried with Mary J. Porterfield and who were the parents of our beloved Judge. The Grandfather was a Primitive Baptist preacher on Sundays but tilled the soil for a living during the week days. While yet in Alabama he served a time as justice of the peace. Perhaps from this combination - an innate love of practical justice by man to man mingled with a rigorous and unbending pious personal conduct required by a strict religious faith - there was implanted in the boy, and which grew and developed that indispensable ingredient which God uses to make useful men. It is significant to note that as far back as the oldest residents of that community has knowledge, a Primitive Baptist Church there flourished and to this day there are numerous members of that faith in the area. Judge Hickman's maternal ancestors lived in Georgia and emigrated by wagon train from that State to Texas. His mother, Mary J. Porterfield, was born on the trip near the town of Nacogdoches. The elder Hickman, like most Americans, had an ambition to own his own "vine and fig tree", and by deed dated May 26, 1853, recorded in. Vol. 4 at page 314 of the Williamson County Deed Records, acquired by purchase 4191/2 acres of land for the sum of $379.00. Thereafter he added by purchase at one dollar per acre an adjoining tract of 2641/2 acres, that deed being dated October 3, 1855, and was promptly recorded in Volume 8, at page 483. This made a total of 684 acres thus owned. This land remained in the Hickman family throughout the life times of the grandparents and father of Judge Hickman and in 1897 was partitioned, among the Hickman heirs, in Cause No. 3363 of the Williamson County District Court. There was set aside to Judge Hickman and his brother Charlie and their five sisters 1941/2 acres valued by the Commissioners at $600.00.  There after on December 4, 1900, they sold this land for $800.00. It is signif­icant that although Judge Hickman was then only 17 years of age, the purchaser required no more than his execution of the deed and promise to confirm after reaching his majority, which promise was faithfully kept.

 

Frank Hickman, the father of Judge Hickman, was a Confederate soldier in the War Between the States. Sometime after that ordeal he was engaged as manager of a Farmers Grange store in the little town of Liberty Hill. Subse­quently he purchased the store and operated it as a country merchant, handling and selling everything needed by his customers, who were primarily farmers. His business was almost entirely on credit - payable in the fall at harvest time. He never took a note or a mortgage but sold entirely on open account. He died on August 29th just when his customers owed the most for the year; leaving a widow and seven children. The widow was greatly concerned as to whether enough could be collected to pay the debts owing to the wholesale companies. Young John Edward was then only eight years old and his brother Charlie only ten years of age. The widow sought no compromise of her deceased husband's debts, but pulled the family together and depended only upon them­selves and what they had. She put the boy, John Edward, on a horse and sent him throughout the community collecting such store debts as he could, taking what he could get. In one instance he got a yearling from one farmer and a barrel of sorghum molasses from another. Each of the family had his assigned task. In the end victory was theirs. They realized enough from collections and sale of the store to pay all debts and redeem the good name of Frank Hickman.

 

But then, with little left, what would the family do to survive? There was then no aid to Dependent Children nor in fact any governmental welfare assistance. Jobs were nonexistent except on the farms and that paid little with cotton, the only money crop, selling for an average of five cents per pound. The family did own a little home in Liberty Hill and a 1/7 interest in the land on Berry creek and a small place near Liberty Hill, but only a small portion was in cultivation and the rental returns meager. The following little verse, however, typifies the family's conduct:


 

"It's not what you'd do with a million,

if riches should e'er be your lot,

But what are you doing at present

with the dollar and a quarter you've got?"

 

And survive they did with what they had and under the leadership of the brave and resourceful mother. She sold the little farm near their village and bought another near the town of Bertram that she thought would yield more. The purchase price - some $1300.00, and all in silver - was carried by the boy, John Edward, whom they called "Ed", in a sack and by buggy from Liberty Hill to Bertram, - a distance of about 12 miles. He was then about fourteen years of age.

 

During those days the school in Liberty Hill was a combination public grade school and small private College. They called it Liberty Hill Normal and Business College. It's reputation extended beyond the County Line and for some years attracted students from distant points over the State. They boarded in the private homes of the local families. At one time they boasted of 100 out of town students. They paid tuition for the entire five months which_ public funds supported, but were compelled to pay tuition for the other four months. The school authorities directed, however, that the five free months were those in the middle of the term and that the resident children should pay tuition for the first two months and the last two months of such term. Judge Hickman attended this school from the first grade to graduation in. June of 1902, but except for the last year was able to attend only the five months of free school each year.

 

Upon graduation in 1902 he procured a county wide teacher's certificate. He was then 19 years of age. He was elected to teach a rural school at Hog Mountain in Bell County but on condition that his eligibility be extended to that county, which he somehow accomplished. His pay the first year was $40.00 per month for five months. He was the sole teaching staff and taught all grades, including one of high school rank. The number of pupils ranged from 30 to 40, and not too regular in attendance. During the summer of 1903 he attended South­western University at Georgetown and thereby enlarged his teaching qualifications to a state wide first grade certificate, and this caused the trustees at Hog Mountain to raise his pay to $45.00 per month for the next year.

 

A significant news dispatch appeared in the Georgetown weekly newspaper from its Florence reporter in 1903 and which was repeated in 1949 under its "46 Years Ago" column, in substance as follows:

 

"Professor Ed Hickman who teaches at Hog Mountain attended prayer meeting at Florence Baptist Church last Wednesday night,"

 

I happened to see this item in 1949 and recall it vividly. It was also noticed by Governor Dan Moody and he mailed a clipping thereof to Judge Hickman. I say this incident is significant because it reveals the conduct of a young man that was repeated over and over in mature manhood.

 

Having saved some money from teaching at Hog Mountain School and borrowing a little more, and desiring to further his teaching education, Judge Hickman entered the University of Texas in the fall of 1904 and pursued the study of literary courses for two full years. Then, out of money again, he applied for and was elected as principal of Lampasas High School, taking up his duties there in the fall of 19065 and continuing for two years. His pay the first year was $75.00 per month and as was the case at Hog Mountain he was awarded a raise by the trustees and received $85.00 per month the second year.

 

By this time he had again saved some money, and in June of 1908 entered University of Texas Law School for a summer course of six weeks. He then spent the next six weeks in the law office of Judge W. H. Nunn at George­town and continued his study of law. Judge Nunn is now 87 years of age, is in retirement at Georgetown, in reasonably good health and vividly remembers this early association. In a recent interview he detailed to me some of the events in the early life of Judge Hickman and his family. He said this: "Ed was a good boy, studious, hungry for knowledge of the law, and I knew he would make a good lawyer". That fall he returned to the University and with the aid of a little more borrowed money was able to graduate in June of 1910 with his Law degree.

 

Reared in a pious home he early attached himself to that great denomination - the Methodist Church, and has been an active and consistent member of that Church throughout his life. Long prominent in the affairs of his Church, Judge Hickman is one of the State's most popular Bible teachers. For more than a generation he has Sunday after Sunday taught a large men's class at University Methodist Church in Austin. He has been a member of the Board of Trustees of Southern Methodist University since 1921.

 

Such a life is an inspiration to those familiar with it, and is proof again that hardships need not be stumbling blocks but can be stepping stones. Some would say that success was attained in spite of such hardships, while others proclaim the good old American doctrine that by hard work and determination and reliance on self, that such hardships became the instruments of success, and can be so over and over again even in these modern times.

 

This, then, is a brief sketch, recorded in clumsy fashion of the life of our beloved Chief Justice - progeny of hardy pioneers, fatherless in early youth, bearing man size responsibilities in boyhood, poverty stricken throughout youth and young manhood, curious about and hungry for the learning .contained in books, and determined regardless of many road blocks to acquire knowledge. Now, having reached the highest judicial office in his state is entitled to retire and enjoy a well earned rest. He has added much to the jurisprudence of this State, and subtracted not an iota from fundamental principles, and never for a moment lowered the high level of judicial poise.

                               

Hard cases did not make him shipwreck the law to save individual justice. He ever sought to make the Administration of Justice "as strong as the law, no stronger; as weak as the law, no weaker".

 

In the charmed circle of home, around friendships shrine, in the temple of justice, in the Sanctuary of the living God, Justice Hickman has always been the same open, wholesome model of uplifting human character - a Christian gentlemen.

 

Finally, paraphrasing the closing words of a tribute paid to another Supreme Court Justice upon his retirement from 36 years service in another State, I close with this: When the Case of Time versus Hickman is called, and nature renders her final decree in equity, a great storehouse of information will pass into eclipse, but when the eyes of future generations range down the record and trace the names of those that the history of this State will never let die, they will find the name of John Edward Hickman.

 

Judge Hickman, we honor you for the life you have lived and for the work you have done; we sincerely hope retirement; and in' the long evening of life, you may find happiness, rest and repose.

 

 



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