TARKINGTON, EDWARD (1839–1915). Edward “Ed” Tarkington, state legislator, Confederate veteran, and farmer, was born on October 3, 1839, in North Carolina as the youngest of seven children of Harmon Tarkington and Hester (Christofer) Tarkington of North Carolina. Leaving North Carolina in the early 1840s, the family relocated to New Madrid, Missouri, where Edward’s brother Franklin ran the family farm—with an apparent modicum of prosperity, as the property was valued at $1,200 on the 1850 census.
Edward Tarkington arrived in South Texas around 1858 and settled near the community of Hallettsville in Lavaca County, the region he would call home for the remainder of his life. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Tarkington enlisted with the Confederate Army as a private in Company D of the Second Regiment Texas Cavalry (Texas Mounted Rifles) under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley and spent time at Fort Bliss and participated in the battle of Glorieta Pass. Tarkington was captured by Union forces along with other members of his unit in the New Mexico campaign and spent time at the Confederate hospital in Albuquerque in May 1862, when he was granted parole. He received his release in September of that year. Tarkington was classified as “absent without leave” for a period beginning in August 1863, but was listed as “present” in February 1864—only to be recaptured at an undetermined time in 1864 or 1865. He received his final parole on July 17, 1865, at Columbus.
Returning to farming in South Texas after the war, Tarkington wed Mary Jane Clark of Texas on March 11, 1874, in Lavaca County, and the couple had four sons: Dean, Harmon, Sam, and Thomas. After Mary’s death in 1884, Tarkington married Marguerite Strode (sometimes reported as “Margrett”) of Iowa in 1886. They had five children: Kate, Wilson, Edward “Ted,” John Brady, and Marguerite.
Tarkington became an advocate of the Populist movement by 1896 and was chosen to represent Lavaca County at that year’s People’s Party national convention. He accepted a spot on the Populist ticket to run for the seat representing Lavaca County in the Texas House of Representatives for the 1898 cycle after initial party nominee J. W. Beard bowed out of the state race to accept the People’s Party nod for Congress. Tarkington defeated the three-term incumbent Democrat Joseph M. Kirk. The freshly-elected Tarkington was sworn in as one of six Populists when the Twenty-sixth Legislature convened on January 10, 1899. Speaker James S. Sherrill appointed the freshman representative to influential committees overseeing agricultural affairs; finance; labor; and roads, bridges, and ferries; as well as the special committee tasked with examining the administration and condition of the Texas Confederate Home for disabled and indigent CSA veterans in Austin. Tarkington authored six bills during the regular session, yet only one, H.B. 316, which would have allowed “certain exemptions” relating to landlords and tenant farmers, survived out of committee—and it was killed on the House floor.
Tarkington fell in his 1900 reelection bid to Democrat Oliver C. Searcy but triumphantly returned to his old House seat by defeating Searcy in the general election of November 1902, again as a Populist. He was sworn in for the Twenty-eighth Legislature on January 13, 1903, and Speaker Pat Morris Neff appointed Tarkington to committees overseeing county government and county finances; labor; and public debt. The seventy-nine-day regular session (one of the briefest legislatures on record) saw Tarkington introduce legislation at a clip almost equal to his activity in the Twenty-sixth convention of the House. He authored five bills—introducing legislation to prevent gambling in agricultural products, advocating regulations on “persons, etc., doing a rating business” in the state, offering protection for families of small farmers and tenants, and calling to “erect a monument to the memory of Lieutenant R. E. Mays and others”—all of which either died in committee or on the speaker’s table. However, he was successfully able to work in service of his constituents with the passage of H.B. 315, an act to create a more efficient road system for Lavaca and Wharton counties, and empower county commissioners as “ex-officio road commissioners.” Governor S. W. T. Lanham signed the bill into law.
The Populist movement was virtually dead by Tarkington’s second term, but he continued his political activism as the 1904 election cycle approached, gaining the Republican Party endorsement to run for a third term representing Lavaca County in the legislature.
Defeated in his reelection bid, Tarkington retired from politics following the conclusion of the Twenty-eighth Legislature and returned to life on his Lavaca County farm along with his second wife, three of their children, and two adult sons from his first marriage. He died at age seventy-five on July 9, 1915, “after an illness of several weeks” at his home near Hallettsville, and was interred in Mossy Grove Cemetery in Ezzell.
Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Texas, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C. Galveston Daily News, August 6, 1896; August 16, 1898; November 10, 1898. Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Edward Tarkington (http://www.lrl.state.tx.us/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=3304&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=tarkington~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed December 17, 2013.