BIOGRAPHY OF LT. GOV. JAMES NATHAN BROWNING
This biographical sketch of James Nathan Browning
appeared in A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record
of North and West Texas (1906).* Bracketed matter has been added.
HON. JAMES NATHAN BROWNING, prominent lawyer, ex-lieutenant governor of Texas, man of affairs and a dominating force in the politics of Northwest Texas, has spent most of his active life in Texas, and in the Panhandle country has not only worked out his own career to a most successful culmination of prosperity and influence, but has also done as much as any other man for the development and progress of that really fertile and rich section of the state. Typical Texan enterprise and industry have ruled the career of Mr. Browning, and he has been an avant courier of the hosts of civilization which for the past twenty-five years have been advancing from the more populous eastern centers and taking possession of the last wilderness fastnesses [sic] of the broad Lone Star commonwealth. Mr. Browning is a man of self-achievement, and while engaged in the difficult task of attaining his own high goal of endeavor, he has likewise wrought well and usefully for many others. Born in Clark county, Arkansas, March 13, 1850, a son of William F. and Mary L. (Burke) Browning; his father a native of Alabama, whence he moved to Arkansas soon after it became a state, and was a farmer in Clark county until his death in 1854; according to tradition, the paternal ancestry traced to three Browning brothers who came from England and served in the American Revolution under General Washington, from which worthy patriots many distinguished men have descended,—the brother from whom Mr. Browning descended having settled in North Carolina. Mr. Browning’s mother was born in North Carolina, was taken to Alabama in childhood, later went to Arkansas, where she married William F. Browning, and after his death married J. H. Stegall, and in 1866 the family moved to Cooke county, Texas. Mr. Browning, thus circumstanced as to birth and family connections, passed his young days on an Arkansas farm, and between the ages of seven and eleven had the opportunity of attending school for a few months, but the ravages of the Civil War in Clark county ended further school advantages. His ambition and eager mind did not, on this account, fail of its desired nutriment, and night after night, when the day’s work, in the field was ended, he read and studied by the light of a pine knot, his studies being especially along historical lines. He came with the family to Cooke county in 1866, and remained with them there for one year, working for daily wages. He then set out for the “west,” as it was then considered, to the range country, and he and his brother Joe settled at Fort Griffin in Shackelford county, a place of historic interest in the annals of West Texas during the period of Indian warfare. Mr. Browning began his career in this part of the country as a cowboy, and later went into the cattle business on his own account, for some years being in partnership with his brothers, who are still remembered in this section for their prominence in the live-stock industry. During his nine years as a cattleman Mr. Browning had his headquarters near Fort Griffin, and although he was In the saddle almost constantly and was a typical trail follower, he still retained his love for books and his old ambitions for professional usefulness. He accordingly took up the study of law at Fort Griffin, and in April, 1876, was admitted to the bar at Albany, Texas, the county seat. Since that year he has been engaged in active practice except when busied with public office, which has absorbed no small part of his subsequent career. He practiced at Fort Griffin for some years, and for three years held the office of county attorney of Shackelford county. He resigned that position in 1881 and came to the Panhandle, locating at Mobeetie, in Wheeler county. The Panhandle was in those days a frontier country and sparsely settled, and in order to attend court at some distant county seat Mr. Browning has driven for hundreds of miles through great lonely range and pasture lands, where now are supported thousands of thrifty farmers. When the Fort Worth and Denver road was completed as far as Clarendon Mr. Browning moved to that place from Mobeetie, and made his residence there until 1896, since which year he has been located in Amarillo. In 1882 Mr. Browning was chosen to represent the forty-third legislative district, which was at that time composed of sixty-nine counties, and he was re-elected in 1884 and again in 1886. He refused to run in 1888, but in 1890 made the race and was again elected. During the session of 1890 he was candidate for speaker of the house, and was defeated by just three votes, that being his only defeat for a public office which he sought. As a leader in the house of representatives he made his influence especially felt as part of the so-called “free grass” element, which put up a consistent fight against the leasing of the school lands of Northwest Texas in large bodies to the big stock-raisers. Mr. Browning constantly contended that the Panhandle country, inasmuch as it possessed rich agricultural resources, was worthy of development and should be opened to settlement by actual settlers whose aim would be to make permanent stock farms. When he began his agitation the Panhandle had but three county organizations, and it is due to his efforts that the entire country has been opened to settlement and made an attractive place for large and small farmers alike. In 1898 Mr. Browning received the nomination for lieutenant governor of the Lone Star state, was elected, and after a term of two years was renominated without opposition and was re-elected, Governor Sayers heading the ticket both times. Since leaving the lieutenant governorship Governor Lanham appointed him a member of the board of regents, U. of T. [University of Texas], a position for which his own educational ambitions and experience have well qualified him, and which he fills at the present writing. Mr. Browning has taken a leading part in Democratic politics for a number of years, attending all the state and lesser conventions. He is a popular orator, having a clear, powerful and penetrating voice, and for this reason is one of the few men of his state who can make themselves heard in a party convention, and wields a proportionately large influence among his fellow partisans. Mr. Browning was a member of the law firm of Browning and Madden, at Amarillo, for sixteen years, but now is in business alone, and has a large and successful practice. Mr. Browning is a member of the Methodist church, and in Masonry is a Knight Templar and a Shriner. His first wife was Miss Cornelia Beckham, to whom he was married at Fort Griffin and who dies two years later. In 1879 he was married at Fort Griffin to Miss Virginia Bozeman. Mr. Browning has eight living children, as follows: Mrs. Mittie Stevenson, James E., Joseph B. Mary, Morris E., Robert, Viola, and Florence.
*Capt. B. B. Paddock, ed., A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Pub. Co., 1906), pp. 272-73.