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George W. Finger    

GEORGE W. FINGER, TARRANT COUNTY. The death of Hon. Geo. W. Finger a few months after he entered upon the discharge of his duties as Commissioner of the General Land Office of Texas, removed from public life one of its purest and brightest ornaments in this State, from the citizenship of Texas, a factor powerful for good, from the social circle a genial companion and steadfast friend, whose presence ever dispelled shadows of sadness and gloom, and from his home a devoted husband and father. The loss sustained by the public in his death is irreparable. While the work of the world will go forward, conducted by other hands, the place he occupied in the circle of his immediate fellow laborers of this generation and in the affections of those who were closely associated with him can never be filled.

A kind friend sent the following consolatory lines to his widow in the first sad hours of her bereavement. They contain nearly all that could have been said to soothe into the peace of Christian resignation the grief of the members of his household, where, like Burns’ good cottager, he was recognized as “sage, priest, and king”:

“Only a little while of brave endeavor,
Only a little while of care and strife,
And then—the perfect peace of God for ever
And the pure glories of the fadeless life.

Only a little while of patient yearning
For vanished smiles, and voices hushed of yore,
And then—our loved ones with their Lord returning,
And hands, now severed, clasped to part no more.

Oblissful day! O glorious consummation!
Lo, o’er the hills the dawn is breaking fast!
Come, Light of Life, display Thy full salvation,
And speed the lonely pilgrim home at last.”

He was born in Tarrant County, Texas, June 21, 1857, on his parents’ farm (a headright of 640 acres), upon part of which was later built and now stands the thriving town of Arlington.
His father, Louis Finger, and mother, Mrs. Christena Finger (daughter of Joseph Pless), married in Lawrence county, Indiana, in 1836; lived on their farm in that State until 1846, and then moved to Tarrant county, Texas, and established themselves on the home place, where Mrs. Christena Finger still lives and where her husband died January 21, 1887. Their parents moved from North Carolina to Indiana at an early day, traveling overland together and settling in the latter State upon neighboring farms.
Louis Finger and Miss Christena Pless were playmates in childhood and early formed the attachment that ripened into love and marriage, and was ever afterward exemplified in happy wedded life. They joined the Methodist church about the time of their marriage, and in their daily walk and conversation came up fully to the highest standard of Christian excellence.

Louis Finger rendered valuable service upon the frontier in early days in sometimes preventing and in others repelling Indian raids. He went to California during the gold fever, but soon returned to Texas. In the great war between the States (1861-5), although he was past the age when military service could be exacted of him, he enlisted in the Confederate army, was assigned to duty in Texas, and for some time helped guard Federal prisoners at Tyler. After the war he devoted himself to his farm. He was for a number of years justice of the peace at Arlington. His wife was born July 19, 1818, and is now 85 years of age—a venerable and beloved mother in Israel.

The following children were born to them: Mary J., wife of W. M. Harrison, a wealthy farmer at Arlington; Peter, who died in the Confederate army; Susan, widow of R. C. Ford, now living at the old home with her mother; Rachel, wife of Joseph C. Tolliver, a prominent farmer in Tarrant county; John F., a cattleman in Hall county; Francis, who died at nine years of age; Joseph, who resides with his mother and conducts the farm, and Geo. W.
Geo. W. Finger’s experience until 17 years of age was that of most boys on the farm—working in the fields part of the year and during the remaining months attending school. He then entered Mansfield College in the same county and had for classmates present Congressman

J.W. Stephens, Hon. James Taylor, now County Attorney of Dallas County; J. H. Walker, now Assistant Financial Agent of the State Penitentiaries; Hon. John T. Craddock, and a number of other men at this writing occupying prominent positions in Texas and who were then and in all later years his devoted friends. He was an apt student; graduated with honor at the age of 20; went to Fort Worth; read law in the office of Smith & Jarvis, and later in the office of Hon. John P. Templeton (subsequently Attorney-General of Texas), and was admitted to the bar in 1878.

December 19, 1880, he was united in marriage at Arlington to Miss Jessie L. Butler, daughter of Jesse S. and Mrs. Mary E. (Lott) Butler and granddaughter of Col. Everett E. Lott. The children of this marriage, now living, are: Olin W., who will be 21 years of age November 26, 1903, is recording clerk in the General Land Office, and is a young man of the brightest intellectual and moral promise; Grace, 14 years of age, now attending St. Mary’s Academy in Austin, and Geo. W. Jr., 8 years of age.

Mrs. Finger was born and reared in Smith County; graduated from the college at Omen, in that county; moved to Arlington with her widowed mother (who is now dead), in 1878; resides in Austin with her family; holds a desk in the department of the Comptroller of Public Accounts; is a most estimable Christian lady, and has a wide circle of admiring friends, not only at the capital, but throughout the State.

Her grandfather, Colonel Lott, was one of the most distinguished men in Texas during his day; was never defeated for public office, and would probably have been elected Governor of Texas had he not sacrificed political ambition upon the altar of duty by accepting the lieutenant colonelcy of Col. R. B. Hubbard’s regiment and gone to the front to help defend the Southland during the war between the States. He was born in Mississippi, February 24, 1820; came to Texas in 1840, and located in Harrison county; represented in the Texas Congress from 1842 to the end of the Republic in 1845 the district composed of Harrison, Panola, and Upshur counties; figured as a leader in that body in the passage of the “Cherokee Land Bill,” in 1844, which opened to white settlement a large territory, the central portion of which is now Smith county; moved to these newly opened lands in 1845, and was a member of the board of commissioners who established the county lines of Smith county and located and platted the town of Tyler; favored annexation and helped accomplish that measure; was elected, from the old Nacogdoches district, to the Second Texas Legislature; served continuously thereafter as a member of the Legislature (part of the time in the House and part of the time in the Senate), until 1861, and died on his farm near Starrville, Smith county, January 17, 1864. He was a wealthy planter, a man of superb presence, a fine orator, and a statesman worthy of the name. He had five children, four sons and a daughter, Mary E., who was Mrs. Finger’s mother.

Three children were born to Mrs. Finger’s parents: Mrs. Finger, Fannie L., wife of L. C. Harrison, a merchant at Pryor Creek, I. T., and William Everett (“Sam”) Butler, from 1898 to 1902 (when he declined to further be a candidate), County Clerk of Tarrant county.

Mr. and Mrs. Geo. W. Finger lived at Arlington for four or five years, after their marriage, during which time he was elected and served as the first mayor of the town, and then moved to Fort Worth, where he was appointed Assistant County Attorney, and served as such for four years with County Attorney B. P. Ayres. He afterwards, until 1891, practiced law as a member of the law firm of Stedman, Ayres & Finger, his partners being Judge N. A. Stedman and Hon. B. P. Ayres.

Mr. Finger was reading clerk of the House of Representatives of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-second Legislatures, chief clerk of the Twenty-third Legislature, and, in the absence of the Secretary of State, presided over the House of the Twenty-fourth Legislature until the election of a Speaker. The capacity he displayed in these positions and. the friends he gained, may be judged by the following, copied from the journals of the Nineteenth Legislature:

“Representative Cravens being recognized, spoke as follows: ‘Mr. Finger, I have been deputized by my fellow Representatives to present to you this cane as a slight testimonial of the high esteem in which you are held by all the members of this retiring body.
“‘In the discharge of your arduous and trying duties as reading clerk, during’ a long and laborious session, you have ever been prompt, diligent, and faithful, and in your official capacity have always manifested. a courteous resignation and noble self-sacrifice even in the midst of a shower of ‘roll calls,’ ‘amendments,’ ‘substitutes,’ ‘second readings,’ etc., such as would have vanquished the Christian fortitude of a Job.

“‘The facility with which you have ever managed to discover a quorum upon all occasions where a vote was had by division, has endeared you to all who dread the dismal experience of a call of the ayes and noes, and that appreciation finds expression and culminates in this token of their avowed friendship.

“May your pathway through life be gilded with the most beauteous hues of a bright prosperity, and may a long career of usefulness and unalloyed happiness dawn upon you ‘ere declining nature bids you use this gold-capped staff to stay and support the tottering steps of a ripe and honored old age.” Mr. Finger replied in a speech equally felicitous.

He served also as Secretary of State Democratic conventions, and other conventions of the party, and widened the circle of his acquaintances, all of whom speedily became his fast friends, as he was one of those rare men who are better liked the longer and more intimately they are known.

In 1894 he accepted the position of legal examiner in the General Land Office and served as such during the closing year of Hon. W. L. McGaughey’s administration as Commissioner. During the succeeding administration of Commissioner A. J. Baker he was chief corresponding clerk. His modest and solid worth and eminent fitness to discharge the duties of any public trust had now become fully known, and the rank and file of the dominant political party, whose victories he had so often helped achieve, felt that he should be honored with preferment commensurate with his merits, and that might,’ perchance, prove a stepping stone to still greater honors and usefulness. This feeling found expression in the following address issued by a mass meeting held at Arlington, February 10, 1898:

“To the Democrats of Texas:

“We, the Democrats of Arlington precinct, in Tarrant county, consisting of five hundred Democratic voters, in mass meeting assembled, through a committee appointed for the purpose of passing resolutions as to the fitness of Hon. Geo. W. Finger, of Tarrant county, for Land Commissioner of Texas, do take pleasure in submitting the following:

“We most earnestly support him and recommend him as a man every way worthy to fill the position to which he aspires.

“He was born and reared to manhood in this community, where he has lived the greater part of his life. He has always been a citizen of this county, removing to Fort Worth in 1886, where he continued to reside until 1894, when he accepted a position in the General Land Office, voluntarily resigning that position on the 1st inst. to make his canvass for this position. Tarrant county has never before had one of her native born sons a candidate for a State office, and feels that she deserves, at this time, the nomination and election of Geo. W. Finger to the position of Land Commissioner.

“Having known him all these years, we know his capabilities. He is sober, industrious and a thorough Christian gentleman, a man well equipped by nature, by education and by four years practical experience in the workings of the Land Office to fill acceptably the position which he seeks.

“Born and reared on a farm, his every impulse is in touch with the common people. By his energy, industry and exemplary character, he has attained the position in the esteem of the people which he now holds.

“His Democracy can not be questioned, and his fidelity to his friends can not be excelled. He stands squarely upon the Chicago platform and the last Democratic State platform and has never scratched a. Democratic ticket.

“For the above reasons and many others, which space forbids us to mention, we most earnestly and loyally support the candidacy of Mr. Finger and urge his nomination, asking your support in his behalf, knowing if nominated and elected, which we believe will come to pass, he will so conduct the affairs of the Land Office that the whole State will be pleased and you will be fully compensated for any efforts that you may make in his behalf. Respectfully submitted, Frank McKnight, J. W. Ditto, B. B. Bryan, J. H. Watson, S. Yates, Joe W. Burney, W. F. Elliott, T. B. Collins, W. M. Dugan, G. F. Thomas, C. P. King, Thos. Spruanee, J. S. Hill, W. C. Weeks, M. J. Brinson, B. W. Collins, J. P. Rose, B. A. Mathers, M. T. Brinson, J. P. Cooper, R. H. Bordin, committee.”
He was nominated on the first ballot at the State Democratic convention held at Galveston, August, 1898. The chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee sent for him, told him that Democratic nominees would meet with opposition in certain counties, and requested him to speak over those counties first and then make a general canvass of the State for the good of the party. He readily agreed to comply with this request, and in redeeming his promise delivered telling addresses throughout South Texas, in parts of Southwest Texas, and over the Panhandle country, joining forces and traveling from place to place in the latter section with his long-time friend Congressman Stephens. Having to frequently travel in open conveyances in inclement weather, he contracted rheumatism that in a few months superinduced the paralytic strokes that resulted in his death. He spent November and part of December, 1898, at Wooten Wells and returned to his home in Austin shortly before Christmas, apparently much relieved.

He qualified as Land Commissioner January 16, 1899, and, with the assistance of Mr. John J. Terrell, whom he appointed his chief clerk, perfected organization of the office force and the establishment of such system in the dispatch of the business of the department as he desired. Suffering another attack of rheumatism, he went to the Bethesda sanitarium at Marlin, February 1, was benefited, and in about ten days returned to his work, which he prosecuted vigorously until the middle of April. Then a still more violent attack threatening, he again went to Marlin. At 12 o’clock, May 1, he rolled Mr. McGinnis (formerly an employe in the General Land Office) in an invalid’s chair to a bath room to take a bath and after Mr. McGinnis had been carried inside by the attendants, sat down in a chair in the hallway. While thus seated he suffered a slight stroke of paralysis of the brain and became unconscious. Drs. Cook and Torbett (the former an old school friend), physicians at the Bethesda, shortly thereafter found him in this condition, did all that medical skill could to relieve him, had him conveyed to his apartment and made comfortable, and then telegraphed for his wife.

A newspaper account of his death contains the following: “During the night he rallied and next morning was able to sit up. Mrs. Finger arrived at 1 o’clock p. in., Tuesday, May 2, and gave him every attention a devoted wife could. At about 11 o’clock Tuesday night Mr. Finger was prostrated by another paralytic stroke. Death occurred at 8 :30 o’clock Thursday night, May 4.
“Of his relatives there were present Mrs. Finger and her brother, Mr. W. E. Butler, of Fort Worth. Drs. Cook and Torbett and Dr. Denton (the family physician from Austin), were in attendance. Rev. Weems Wootton and many other friends residing in Marlin and the guests at the Bethesda vied with one another in the bestowal of kind attentions; the ladies, especially, were zealous in their efforts to alleviate the anguish of the grief-stricken wife. Telegrams containing words of sympathy were sent to her there, at Fort Worth, at Arlington, and at Austin from hundreds of friends all over Texas, and are still preserved by her as treasured mementoes. The remains were embalmed and shipped to Arlington, by way of Dallas, at 1 p. m. Friday. Religious services were conducted at the Bethesda by Rev. Wootton before departure.

“The casket was followed to the train by a large number of citizens, including members of the bar and county and city officials. Judge Hunnicutt, Maj. J. J. Swann, Marshal Coleman, Alderman Samuels and Mayor Kennedy acted as an escort as far as Bremond.”

A special press dispatch from Fort Worth, May 6, was as follows:
“A large delegation composed of citizens and county officials, left here this morning to attend the obsequies of George W. Finger, late State Land Commissioner, which took place at 1 p. m. to-day, in Arlington, the former home of the deceased. Among those who went over to be present at the funeral were the following gentlemen, who came from Austin last night, representing both branches of the Texas Legislature:

The committee from the Senate were composed of Messrs. Potter, Hanger, and Odell; from the House, Messrs. Smith of Grayson, Adams of Lavaca, Grubbs of Hunt, Ayres of Tarrant, and Rountree, chief clerk of the House. Others from Austin were John W. Bobbins of Wilbarger, State Treasurer; R. W. Finley, Comptroller, and the following attaches of the Land Office: Messrs. A. Ragland of McLennan, Chief Clerk John J. Terrell of Wise, E. J. Roberts of Grayson, and J. A. Yancey of Tarrant. These State officials were joined here by nearly all the county officials of Tarrant county and a large concourse of citizens.

“Out of respect to the dead man, all branches of the District Court were closed last evening.

“The remains of the late Land Commissioner arrived in Arlington last night and were conveyed to the home of his mother, from which place the interment occurred. The funeral services were held in the Methodist church, which was filled with members of the family and intimate friends of deceased. The casket was bedecked with a profusion of floral wreaths, unique and pretty in design, the most conspicuous of which was sent by the clerks in the office of the late Land Commissioner. The design consisted of a pillow of white and pink flowers and green smilax from which extended an arch of white flowers; in the center was suspended a heart of red flowers, across which was a ribbon bearing the name ‘G. W. Finger.’ Surmounting the arch was a reproduction of the seal of Texas, the wreath in white flowers and the inclosed star in pink carnations. The funeral was the largest that has occurred in North Texas for many years, for no citizen of the State was more widely known and respected than was George W. Finger. The State officials returned to the city this afternoon and departed for Austin on the ‘Katy’ to-night.”

The flag over the State capitol was kept at half mast from the time of Mr. Finger’s death until May 7, and on the day of the funeral all the State departments remained closed, in compliance with a request of Gov. Sayers and established custom. The Governor sent a message to the Legislature on the 5th, announcing the death of Mr. Finger. In the Senate the following resolution was immediately presented by Senator Hanger and unanimously adopted by a rising vote:

“Whereas, The Senate has learned with profound regret of the death of the Hon. George W. Finger, Land Commissioner of Texas, and,

“Whereas, Mr. Finger has endeared himself to the people of this State by his many noble traits of character; therefore, be it
“Resolved, That when the Senate adjourns to-day it do so out of respect to his memory, and that the secretary of this body be instructed ‘to convey to the family of the deceased the sincere sympathy of the Senate.”

In the House on the same day similar resolutions were presented by Mr. Ayres of Tarrant, and Henderson of Lamar, and unanimously adopted. The House, as a further mark of respect to his memory, adjourned until the following Monday.

The City Council of Arlington adopted the following May 12, 1899:
“Whereas, It has pleased the great Law Giver to take from among us our distinguished fellow citizen Geo. W. Finger, and remembering with gratitude the valuable services rendered our city by him, as its first mayor, in establishing our municipal government; therefore,

“Resolved, First, that the City Council of the city of Arlington deeply regrets the loss of one so capable’ of being of great service not alone to our town, but the State at large, and that in his death we lose a kind friend and a useful and distinguished citizen whose place can never be filled.

“Resolved, Second, that we humbly submit to the will of him that doeth all things well.

“Resolved, Third, that we extend to the bereaved, family our heartfelt sympathy in their great loss.

“Resolved, Fourth, that a copy of these resolutions be spread on our minutes and also a copy sent to the family and to our home paper and the Tarrant County Citizen.”

A copy was sent to Mrs. Finger by Aldermen Thos. Spruane and J. W. Litton, a committee acting for the council.

The employes in the General Land Office held a meeting and passed resolutions expressing their sense of loss. The resolutions are too lengthy to be reproduced here. It may be said, however, they were excelled in depth of feeling by none adopted in the State. The daily and country newspapers throughout Texas of one accord expressed regret at the death of Mr. Finger and eulogized without qualification his services and character.

Mr. Terrell continued chief clerk under Judge Chas. Rogan, Mr. Finger’s successor as Commissioner of the General’ Land Office, and was himself elected Commissioner in 1902. He manifests the interest and regard of a father for his departed friend’s son, who appreciates and reciprocates his kind sentiments. Consequently the young man has in the struggle of life a clear headed, able, and resourceful ally, the weight of whose influence thrown into the scale of destiny will come as near depressing it in his favor as that of any other man living in the State could.

Mr. Finger joined the M. E. Church, South, in his boyhood and from his earliest years to his death was an earnest Christian, who believed that “faith without works is dead.” He was for a time one of the stewards of the Tenth Street M. E. Church, South, and later of the Twenty-fourth Street M. E. Church, South, at Austin, and was one of the Sunday School teachers.

Rev. E. W. Solomon says of him: “My acquaintance with him began in 1895, when as pastor of the Tenth Street Church in Austin, I met him and began to know and love and appreciate him. * * * I have known no man tenderer or more devoted in his family life. * * * He was true to the church of Christ in his private and public life * * * I found him ready always for every good word and work and unhesitating in every duty that was presented to him.”
What is long earthly life and continuance of the enjoyment of worldly honors, to such a man? Death, whenever it comes, is to him but a summons home! His numerous deeds of mercy, justice, and charity were seeds sown unwittingly in heaven, where they bore amaranthine flowers that angels’ fingers wove for him into a beautiful crown of immortal life.

Year Book for Texas: party conventions, election returns, inauguration of Governor Lanham and Lieutenant-Governor Neal, legislative work, public officials and current reports of departments and state institutions, important events, obituaries of distinguished dead, industrial development, statistics, biographical sketches, and historical manuscripts never before published. Raines, Cadwell Walton, Austin, Tex.: Gammel-Statesman Pub. Co., 1903, pages 151-156. View image of this page on line.  Search Hundreds of 1880s-1920s Texas History Books for biographies and historical information on your ancestors.  View the book page images on line and print them out for your genealogy file!  Try the family history collection for free for 14 days!

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