SIMPSON, ETHAN ALBION

Woodene S. Simpson
Ethan Albion Simpson
Ethan Albion Simpson. Courtesy of Col. Pat. W. Simpson.

SIMPSON, ETHAN ALBION (1888–1959). Ethan Albion Simpson, military veteran and lawyer, was born to William Randolph Simpson and Alice Sherwood Wright Simpson on October 28, 1888, in Farmersville, Collin County, Texas. By 1891 the family moved to Clay County. Simpson attended school in Bellevue, where he played baseball and graduated high school in 1906. From 1907 to 1908 Simpson taught school in Jeannette, and from 1908 to 1909 he taught in Bowie, where the family then lived.

In 1908 Simpson enlisted in Company H, Fourth Texas Infantry, and was stationed in Bowie. He mustered in as first sergeant and received a promotion to second lieutenant in 1909. Simpson served with Company H as military guard in October 1909, when President William Howard Taft delivered a speech at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. Simpson saved his earnings to pay for Cumberland University Law School in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he received his LLB in June 1911. Simpson returned to Texas, passed the Texas Bar exam, and established a law practice in Bowie.

On June 21, 1911, Simpson and Marybelle Brown married in Bowie. The couple soon moved to Clarendon. Simpson served as county attorney for Donley County from 1911 to 1912. In 1913 he was elected city attorney of Clarendon; he held this position from 1913 to 1915. Simpson  began a general law practice and  developed a Panhandle-wide reputation as a successful lawyer. 

On April 6, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a joint war resolution, mobilizing state national guard units along with regular U. S. Army troops. One week earlier, on March 31, the Texas adjutant general sent to guardsmen across the state a Western Union Telegram that declared, “PRESIDENT HAS ORDERED MOBILIZATION TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD PERIOD HOLD YOURSELF IN READINESS TO REPORT AT MOBILIZATION POINT ON ORDERS.”

Simpson attended officer training school at Leon Springs. On June 6, 1917, Governor James Ferguson commissioned Simpson a captain in the Texas National Guard. Gen. John A. Hulen selected 417 young officers, including Simpson, to recruit a company of national guardsmen from their communities. In only two weeks, Simpson recruited Company B of the Seventh Texas Infantry, which became Company H of the 142nd Infantry Regiment, Thirty-sixth Infantry Division. Throughout the summer, Company B drilled and trained in preparation for their departure to Camp Bowie in Fort Worth. On September 4 Simpson and Company B boarded a special troop train at Clarendon bound for Camp Bowie. 

On October 15, 1917, the First Oklahoma Infantry and the Seventh Texas Infantry officially merged as the 142nd Infantry Regiment. This merger of units from different states concerned members of both the Seventh Texas and the First Oklahoma, who believed they might lose their state identity. Col. Alfred W. Bloor of Texas, commander of the new 142nd Infantry Regiment, effectively united his regiment through the camaraderie promoted by the game of football. The 142nd Infantry Regiment developed into a cohesive unit.

Some 30,000 troops of the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division endured strenuous military training at Camp Bowie. Additionally, the troops encountered other tribulations and tragedies. A trench mortar explosion killed fifteen men during training, and epidemics of measles, mumps, and flu in the winter killed hundreds.

In July 1918 the Thirty-sixth Division departed Camp Bowie for New York City, where the troops embarked for France and arrived at Brest on July 30. Simpson served overseas from July 18, 1918, until May 31, 1919, and participated in the Meuse-Argonne and Champagne-Marne campaigns.  Near Saint-Étienne-à-Arnes, France, on October 8, 1918, Colonel Bloor designated Simpson’s Company H, and Capt. Thomas Barton’s Company G to be the 142nd Regiment’s assault companies in a planned attack on German troops. On October 18, machine gun fire wounded Simpson in the left hip and the left side, and he endured blisters from Germany’s use of mustard gas. The U.S. Army awarded Simpson the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart, and France awarded Simpson the French Croix de Guerre. The Thirty-sixth Division returned to the United States and officially demobilized on June 18, 1919.  Simpson was appointed to the Army Officers Reserve Corps on August 4 and promoted to major.

Following World War I, the transition from federal to state service brought new organizational challenges to the Texas National Guard. On March 12, 1920, nearly 1,600 dockworkers joined the longshoremen's strike as part of a nationwide walkout (see GALVESTON LONGSHOREMEN’S STRIKE OF 1920). As the interruption of shipping goods began affecting state commerce, Governor William Hobby proclaimed martial law. On June 7, Texas National Guard cavalry units organized in Galveston, where they remained until October 8. The Thirty-sixth Texas Legislature assembled in a special session from September to October and passed an “open-port” law. Two years later, Simpson found himself at the forefront of the labor issue after Governor Pat Neff began prosecuting violators of the law.

In December 1920 the Texas National Guard received authorization to organize an infantry division. The reorganization of the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division as a Texas National Guard division began in 1921. Simpson promptly returned to the 142nd Infantry Regiment after the regiment received federal recognition in 1922. On July 22, 1922, the Dallas Morning News reported Simpson as commander of the Second Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment. 

In an effort to suppress violence in Texas during a nationwide Railway Shopmen’s Strike in 1922, Governor Pat Neff declared martial law after numerous violent incidents occurred at Denison, Grayson County, where 544 officers and men of the 142nd Infantry Regiment settled in at Camp Ellis and Camp Leeper. Simpson served as legal advisor to the military authorities. Governor Neff directed Simpson to represent the governor and state in the cases of six men indicted by a Grayson County grand jury. The jury returned verdicts of two acquittals and two cases deadlocked with votes of six to six. Governor Neff, Adjutant General Barton, Colonel Nimon, and Simpson met on November 14 to consider prosecuting future cases subject to the Open Port Law. The Open Port law was considered by many as a forerunner of the right-to-work law, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the Open Port Law unconstitutional in 1926.

Simpson represented the Texas National Guard as legal advisor regarding the implemenatation of martial law at Borger. In the mid-1920s, oil and gas discoveries in Hutchinson and surrounding counties heralded a sudden influx of thousands of people. In 1928 Governor Dan Moody appointed district attorney John A. Holmes to restore respect for the law, but he was shot and killed on September 18, 1929. Texas Rangers Francis A. Hamer and Thomas R. Hickman investigated the murder, while Governor Moody sent Clem Calhoun, district attorney of Abilene, to assist as a special prosecutor. Gen. Jacob Wolters, special representative of the Texas National Guard, met with the Texas Rangers and Calhoun. Based on General Wolter’s report, Governor Moody declared martial law for Borger and all of Hutchison County on September 29. Investigations revealed the involvement of city officials and law enforcement with a crime ring.

Within a few days, guardsmen and Texas Rangers carried out almost fifty raids with more than 100 arrests. The Hutchinson County grand jury convened at Stinnett on October 14, 1929. A conference gathered General Wolters, District Attorney Calhoun, Simpson, County Judge Hood, Texas National Guard officers, Mayor Glen Pace, Sheriff Joe Ownbey, and their attorneys. General Wolters insisted that for martial law to end, the mayor and the sheriff must resign. Two days later, the mayor and the sheriff resigned.

Simpson remained in the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division, Texas National Guard, and served in various capacities—as commander of the Second Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, and as commander of the Third Battalion, 111th Engineers. He retired from the Texas National Guard in September 1940, after serving as judge advocate general on the adjutant general’s state staff.

Alongside a demanding law practice, Simpson found time for community service. His son, Everett Selden Simpson, answered the call to duty when President Franklin D. Roosevelt federalized the Texas Thirty-sixth Infantry Division in 1940. Simpson diligently supported World War II on the home front by leading drives for war bonds and making patriotic speeches to encourage folks throughout the Panhandle region to support the war effort.

As a prominent Amarillo civic leader, Simpson served two consecutive terms as president of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce and two consecutive terms as commander of the Hanson Post of the American Legion. He influenced the establishment of military installations to the Amarillo area, including the Pantex Ordnance Plant and the Amarillo Army Air Field (renamed Amarillo Air Force Base). Additionally, he served as campaign manager for Lyndon Johnson’s 1941 senatorial campaign.

Simpson and Marybelle had two children—a daughter, Sue Alice, born in 1912, and a son, Everett Selden, born in 1915. Maj. Gen. Everett Selden Simpson later commanded the Texas Thirty-sixth Infantry Division from 1961 to 1968. Simpson’s first wife Marybelle passed away on March 19, 1952. On May 24, 1953, Ethan married Mrs. Elizabeth Wray. Ethan Albion Simpson died on June 17, 1959, and he was buried at the Llano Cemetery in Amarillo. His pallbearers included A. K. Baracat, John Boyce, Herb Budke, Allen Reville, W. T. Gilstrap, Sam Dyer, R. E. Hayes, and W. M. Stidham, as well as members of the Amarillo Bar Association.  

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Amarillo Globe-Times, June 18, 1959. Amarillo Daily News, September 1, 1939; June 7, 1941; June 18, 1959. Gregory W. Ball, They Called Them Soldier Boys: A Texas Infantry Regiment in World War I (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2013). Col. A. W. Bloor to Capt. E. A. Simpson, June 17, 1919, Simpson Papers (author’s possession). Clarendon News, September 3, 1917. Dallas Morning News, September 16, 1922, Galveston Daily News, September 12, 17, 1922. The History of Donley County, Texas, 1879–1990 (Dallas: Curtis Media Corporation, 1990). Harry Hurt III, “The Last of the Great Ladies,” Texas Monthly, October 1978. William E. Jary, Jr., ed., with B. B. Maxfield, Camp Bowie, Fort Worth, 1917–18: An Illustrated History of the 36th Division in World War I (Fort Worth: Bernice B. Maxfield Foundation, 1975). Harry Krenek, The Power Vested: The Use of Martial Law and the National Guard in Texas Domestic Crisis…1919–1932 (Austin: Presidial Press, 1980). Col. C. W. Nimon to Maj. E. A. Simpson, October 21, 1922, Simpson Papers (author’s possession). E. A. Simpson to Joe Warren, October 28, 1918, Simpson Papers (author’s possession). United States, Adjutant General’s Office, Official List of Officers of the Officers’ Reserve Corps of the Army of the United States: Supplemental to Volume I, September 1, 1919, to December 31, 1919 (Washingon D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1920). 

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Citation

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

Handbook of Texas Online, Woodene S. Simpson, "SIMPSON, ETHAN ALBION," accessed October 20, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fsi67.

Uploaded on November 17, 2015. Modified on November 23, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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