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STERETT, WILLIAM GREENE

STERETT, WILLIAM GREENE (1847–1924). William Greene (Colonel Bill) Sterett, journalist, was born in Hawesville, Kentucky, on January 13, 1847, to William Greene and Elizabeth (Holt) Sterett. He attended Notre Dame University, but after posting uncomplimentary comments about his teachers he left before graduation rather than facing punishment. His father sent him to Port Lavaca, Texas, where he studied law with his uncle, Judge James Holt, until the judge's death on January 31, 1868. Sterett remained in Port Lavaca and became associated with the law practice of George P. Finlay. He married Fannie Louisa Forbes on December 21, 1869. In 1872 Sterett moved his family to Dallas, where he helped to secure the right-of-way through the city for the Texas and Pacific Railway and served a term as an alderman in 1873. He joined William C. Holland's law practice but was not licensed by the Texas Supreme Court until May 10, 1876. After a few years with Holland, Sterett quit to run for county attorney and was, in his words, "ingloriously defeated." He subsequently abandoned the law and turned to a newspaper career. On May 16, 1880, he purchased E. C. McClure's Dallas Evening Times. Under Sterett's management, the paper's tone was often sensational and stood strongly against the temperance movement, thus embroiling Sterett in an editorial battle with the prohibitionist editor of the Dallas Evening Herald, Charles E. Gilbert. With this issue settled in an 1887 state prohibition election, however, and with both newspapers in financial trouble, Gilbert and Sterett merged their papers on January 1, 1888, amid much speculation regarding the combination of the "Christian" gentleman and his "wicked partner." Sterett, who was never interested in the business end of journalism and was a Democrat, returned to his "specialty of baiting politicians," particularly those who did not adhere to the Democratic view. The new partnership ended that summer. Sterett sold out to Gilbert and returned to the reporter job he had acquired with the Dallas News when it began operation on October 1, 1885.

In 1889 the News sent Sterett to Washington, where he was the first special correspondent to represent any Texas newspaper in the nation's capital. There his colorful personality, quotable stories, and shrewd reporting made him a celebrated member of the Washington press corps. His close friends there included Grover Cleveland, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt (who once delayed a meeting with some Texans until Sterett was sent for to "complete" the delegation), the cartoonist Homer Davenport, and Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Sterett returned to Texas in 1899, revived the old "State Press" column of the News, and ran it until 1904, when he returned once again to Washington. Finding the scene greatly changed and old friends gone, he stayed only three months before returning to Dallas and resuming his charge of the "State Press" column. He resigned on January 1, 1908, to run for Congress against Jack A. Beallqv in the Dallas district. He was defeated and returned to the News, where he worked until his death except for appointments (1910–14, 1919–20) as game, fish, and oyster commissioner by governors Oscar B. Colquitt and William P. Hobby. Sterett's personality brought him the friends and contacts that made information available to him, and his extensive reading in history and biography brought a depth to his political writings that informed and interested the reader. Though he was careless in his dress, uncouth and ungrammatical in his speech, Sterett was unequalled in his storytelling ability, and for years after his death a favorite introduction to a tale in Washington was "This is one of Bill Sterett's." Sterett was the father of three children and an avid outdoorsman. He died of a heart attack at his home in Dallas on October 7, 1924.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 
Dallas Morning News, October 8, 1924. Ted Dealey, "Colonel Bill": One of the Last of the Old-Time Personal Journalists (Dallas, 1939). Samuel P. Maranto, A History of Dallas Newspapers (M.A. thesis, North Texas State College, 1952). John William Rogers, The Lusty Texans of Dallas (New York: Dutton, 1951; enlarged ed. 1960; expanded ed., Dallas: Cokesbury Book Store, 1965).
Joan Jenkins Perez

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Handbook of Texas Online, Joan Jenkins Perez, "Sterett, William Greene," accessed May 29, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fst41.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.