Tuesday, October 4, 2011

From Sam Houston to Howard Lay Burris

The purpose in this research is to help gain a clearer picture of who this district attorney-- struggling to clean up the judicial district that encompassed not only Alice, Texas, but the territory controlled by the Parr machine in the 1950s and 1960s--really was. Since his mother's family was shown in a previous post, we will complete the picture by revealing the members of his father's family.

Children of Sam Houston Burris (1867-1936) - Grandfather of the District Attorney of Alice (Jim Wells County), Texas

It will be recalled that D.A. Sam Houston Burris' father, Jean Holland Burris, had been engaged in farming along with his younger brother Carlos near Pleasanton in Atascosa County in 1920. Both were sons of another Sam Houston Burris, who lived in the Stockdale community in Wilson County, Texas, the area where he died in 1936--Sutherland Springs.

Born in Gonzales County to Charles M. and Charlotte Gandy Burris (both immigrants to Texas from Mississippi before the civil war), they named Sam after the noted hero of the battle of San Jacinto. His wife, Nina A. Barrington Burris, died before 1920, leaving him to rear their children alone. Sam farmed in Wilson County and later classified himself as a merchant. By the year his wife died, he had moved his family to San Antonio to manage a general store in that city, living in the same block with his eldest son, Howard. Sam and Nina Burris had four sons and four daughters, who will be listed below, with the facts that have been found about them from genealogical and newspaper sources.

  • Jean Holland Burris (born 1894)
Jean worked as a loan officer while his family lived in San Antonio for a time. He died in Alice in 1952.  Jean's name had been erroneously listed in the 1910 census as "Eugene." Perhaps, for that reason his youngest son Jean Jr., decided to spell his name as John--to avoid confusion. John H. Burris, too young to serve as a pilot during WWII, joined the Alamo Wing in 1960, where he was assigned to the 433rd Air Police Squadron, and received an outstanding officer award in 1962, only a month after serving alongside his brother and several cousins as pallbearers at the funeral of their uncle, Howard Barrington Burris.

During World War II, Sam Burris joined the Army Air Force, and was a sergeant by 1944, when he returned from Europe after completing his required missions. He gained some attention when he went to Washington, D.C. in 1948 with other veterans lobbying for educational assistance for veterans of the war.

Burris was acquainted with (but not necessarily close to) members of an elite clique in San Antonio, as evidenced by the fact that he was asked to serve as a fellow usher with Frates Slick Seeligson (graduate of Phillips Exeter and Yale) in the wedding of William Harmon Darden, Jr. to Lucita Thornton. The social circle in which the Seeligson brothers--Frates and Arthur, Jr.--ran, in the late 1940s, included Tom Slick, James W. Nixon, Jr., George and Ike Kampmann, and Alfred W. Negley (son-in-law of George R. Brown of Brown and Root). 

Darden was from Archer County in north Texas (where his father was a bookkeeper for an oil company in 1930), and the younger Darden attended the University of Texas Law School at the same time as Burris, his education having been interrupted by the war. (See photos in UT Cactus, 1948.) He was also an associate of noted liberal Texan Ronnie Dugger in the debate society and in Silver Spurs, a service organization. After their marriage, the young Dardens moved to Corpus Christi, where he practiced law. In one case he lost an appeal against the Murchisons' Delhi-Taylor Oil Co. in 1960.

Lucita Thornton Darden was a descendant of one of the oldest families in Texas--the Curbelo family. Her grandmother was the former Lucy Elizabeth Tobin, a daughter of Captain William Gerard Tobin and granddaughter of Josephine Augusta Smith, one of the six daughters of María de Jesús Delgado Curbelo. The grandmother's brother was John Wallace Tobin, Bexar County Sheriff from 1900 through 1923, when he then became the first mayor of the city of San Antonio. Apparently, the Thornton branch of the Tobin family was not deemed significant enough to mention in Hugh Best's Debrett's Texas Peerage:

Sammy Burris Grows Up

Still referred to by his childhood name of Sammy Burris, he ran for District Attorney in Jim Wells County with the help from the anti-Parr ticket known as the Freedom Party. After winning the Democrat Primary against the Parr machine in 1954 (at that time a virtual guarantee of success in the general election), Sammy faced an "independent" candidate in November in the form of Gerald Weatherly of Rio Grande City, an attorney who "read the law" under his father and had never attended college or law school, who claimed in a large political ad:
When Sammy prosecuted George Parr for allegedly carrying a pistol — and surely that case should have been important to Sammy as County Attorney —- George's experienced and able lawyers, Mr. E.J. Lloyd, and Mr. Luther Jones, had in their file, ready to use if necessary, a motion to overturn the verdict on the whole case — and a solid line of Texas Court decisions backed the motion up, so that it would have been a lead-pipe cinch — because in the information that Sammy filed in the case, the paper that is the formal foundation and backbone of the case, there was a stenographer's error that Sammy had carelessly overlooked, so that the formal
charge against George was that he carried the pistol in the year "A. D. 194_," nearly 1800 years ago. George's able and experienced lawyers didn't disclose Sammy's careless oversight....
Not surprisingly, this zinger of a campaign attack did not win Weatherly the election.

  • Bessie Belle Burris Donaho (born in 1893) 
Bessie married M. T. Donaho in late 1927 in San Antonio. Like the Burris children, M.T.  grew up in Wilson County and worked on his father's farm. M.T. and Bessie Donaho owned and operated a grocery store in Alice, Texas for many years, but she and her sisters managed to visit each other frequently between Alice and their homes in San Antonio. An advertisement was placed to sell the store in November 1, 1953 as follows: "doing better than quarter-million volume. Also jewelry store and gift shop. Will give good lease on building. Will sell one or both stores. In best town in South Texas." In 1930 her brother Carlos was living in Alice at the home of the Donahos and working in their store. 
  • Norine Burris (born 1901)
married Walter Duncker, who reached manhood in Wilson County, where the Burris family lived. After their marriage Walter worked as a salesman for a bakery company in San Antonio. Noreen brought her younger siblings, Travis and Virginia Burris, to live with the young couple, with Travis employed for a mercantile company as a collector of accounts by 1930. She married W.A. , whose family owned a wholesale hardware and sporting goods business. On April 8, 1946 the following announcement appeared in the San Antonio Light:
The Laurel Heights Methodist church was the scene of the wedding of Mrs. Norine B. Duncker and William A. Van Hoogenhuyze which took place Saturday afternoon with the Rev. Richard L. Spann officiating. The couple was attended by
Mr. and Mrs. Travis L. Burris. The bride wore a navy blue dressmaker suit with matching accessories and an orchid corsage. Following a honeymoon trip
through the southern states, the couple will make their home at 134 West Mulberry avenue.
Four years after this marriage, Norine's daughter would be married in Randolph Field Post Chapel, to Lt. Edwin Charles Luczak from Pennsylvania. Burris relatives, "Capt. H. Dan Boone of Shreveport, La., was best man to the bridegroom and Sam Burris, of Alice, was a groomsman." Sam's parents were there, as well as most of his father's siblings, although Howard B. Burris and brother Carlos were not mentioned; perhaps they were present but did not participate or travel from out of town.
  • Annie Burris Boone (born 1897)
married a young man from Louisiana named William Herbert Boone. They had only one son, Herbert Dan Boone, who also served in the Air Force. In 1944 he was described as one of three P-47 pilots of one Saipan squadron who went up together for a strafing "missionette" over Tinian under heavy Japanese fire. All three were hit but returned safely, "Lieut. Herbert D. Boone, 25, of 411East Park avenue, San Antonio, landed with an 18-inch hole in his horizontal stabilizer," according to a story carried by the San Antonio Light. By 1951 Dan Boone was a major, stationed at Ellington in Houston. In 1953 he was in Lake Charles, La. after he completed training at the B-47 school in Wichita, Kan. By 1958 he had returned to duty at Bergstrom in Austin after an assignment in Miami. When Annie's husband died in 1962, their son Dan was then a lieutenant colonel, according to this obituary:

  • Carlos Bee Burris (1899-1960)
Carlos, the third son, born in 1899, had been named for either a son or grandson of the famous Colonel Barnard E. Bee--Texian Minister to the Mexican Government--for whom Bee County and Beeville had been named. Carlos had a very short marriage in 1932 to Ann Dunlaphy Dorbandt, daughter of Dr. Thomas Moore Dorbandt (president of Bexar County Tuberculosis Association and chairman of the city health board), that began with an impressive ceremony held that year in San Antonio in November. The bride's attendants included  Ruth Darby as maid of honor and two Dornberger girls, Ann's nieces, as her bridesmaids; local debutantes, Ella Jane Wurzbach and Marianna Engelking, were hostesses. Carlos chose his younger brother Travis for his best man.  Carlos took his bride on a honeymoon for ten days to Monterey, Mexico. Whatever happened in Monterrey, however, stayed in Monterrey. The bride returned home to her family, and was quickly awarded a divorce in August 1933; her maiden name reappeared in the society pages in which it had appeared so frequently before the wedding. The following year she married Joe M. Clark, a newspaper editor and moved to Santa Fe. Carlos joined the Army at Fort Sam Houston in 1942 and died in 1960.

  • Travis L. Burris (1906-1968) married Pauline Brennan in 1936. His sisters gave the couple a shower of gifts. Not much else is know about him.
  • Virginia Burris Stewart (born 1908) married John C. Stewart and lived in San Antonio.
  • Howard Barrington Burris (1890-1962)
The first of eight children, Howard married Virginia Lee Lay, daughter of Wilson County farmer, Daniel Bryan and Lillie Mae (McKay) Lay. The couple's first child was born in 1917, and they next door to his father in San Antonio, while Howard also worked as a manager of a general store. 
Their son, Howard Lay Burris, by the time the Korean War broke out, was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, serving under Air Force Secretary Thomas K. Finletter, sponsor of a $32,000,000 aeromedical center at Brooke Hospital in San Antonio. Lt. Col. Burris' sister, Virginia Harker, also lived in San Antonio at 350 Rose Mary Ave. She married George Sherwood Harker, son of Col. and Mrs. Thomas R. Harker of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, who had served in a high post in Washington, D.C. during WWI in the quartermaster corps of the Infantry and thereafter in several national guard postings.

In September 1946, after returning from duty in Europe with the Ninth Air Force, he married the daughter of governor-elect Beauford Jester in Corsicana.

Son-in-law George Harker served in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade and was part of the seventh wave to land on Omaha Beach just before high tide on D-Day June 1944, according to an article in Altoona (Pa.) Mirror June 24, 1999. In June 1973 the following notice appeared in the business section of the San Antonio Express and News:
George S. Harker has been from export division manager to group vice president of the U.S. Carta Blanca Breweries in Monterrey, Mexico. Associated with Carta Blanca Bohemia for 22 years, Harker will represent eight breweries in addition to subsidiaries as well as expedite business for these companies between the U.S. and Mexico.
Three years after Howard Lay Burris married the daughter of Gov. Jester, the governor was found dead while alone on a train. The New York Times carried the following article:


Dentist San Antonio said...

Great article, you must have done a lot of research.

Anonymous said...


lzambeni said...

Great website and research. I was looking for more info about Colonel Howard Burris, (Howard Lay Burris) LBJ's military aide and the author of the "Burris Memorandum" outlining details about SIOP62 - the plan for a first strike nuclear attack on the USSR in late '63 which was presented to JFK (and which he immediately rebuked). I was also looking for a photo of him which I've not been able to find via google images anywhere. This is how I came upon your article.

Could you please expand upon your excellent detailed research and include information about him and the Burris Memo/SIOP62? According to this article it was not declassified until June of 1993, and the following article states, it had not previously received any public attention until written about in that article.

Thanks, Linda!


Linda Minor said...

Regretfully, I am just now reading the above comments. Thanks so much for your kind words and questions. I should check this mailbox more often. Thank you, Izambeni, for the link you shared. I will definitely check it out.

rodohu13 said...

You might find it eye-opening to look deeper into this linkage:

Alfred Walter Negley
b. 19 Nov 1925, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas
d. 12 Aug 1980, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas
bur. Mission Burial Park South, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas
& Nancy Nelson Brown
b. 3 Oct 1927, Houston, Harris County, Texas

Alice Pratt Negley
b. 20 Apr 1951, Bexar County, Texas
& John Forster Dorn
b. 10 Jan 1950, Bexar County, Texas
m. 21 Aug 1971, Bexar County, Texas

Nancy Negley Dorn
b. 22 Jun 1976
& George Herbert (Chip) Walker IV
b. 30 Apr 1969, St. Louis, Missouri
m. Jun 2008, New York, New York


Linda Minor said...

Dr. John Newman is coming out with a new book that goes into more detail about the role of Howard Burris. See Armageddon.