John Ben Shepperd (October
19, 1915—March 8, 1990) was a reform-oriented Texas Democratic politician who, as his state’s attorney general from 1953-1957, fought
corruption in high places. A versatile lawyer
and businessman, Shepperd maintained
residences in his native Gladewater in East Texas and also in Odessa, the center
of Permian Basin petroleum in West
In 1950, Governor Allan Shivers
named Shepperd as secretary of
state, an appointed position in Texas. In 1952, Sheppard was
elected to the first of two then two-year terms as attorney
general. He did not seek further office in 1956 or thereafter.
attorney general, Shepperd spearheaded an investigaton of
longstanding corruption in Duval County, a political
machine province of George Parr
(also known as “The Duke of Duval”), located in the barren dusty
area east of Laredo in south
Shepperd’s work produced some three hundred
indictments of county and school officials. After his tenure as
attorney general ended, Shepperd moved to Odessa, where he was
active not only in law but also in insurance
petrochemicals, public relations, and historical preservation
. He was a
political adviser and personal friend of U.S. President
Lyndon B. Johnson
. In the middle 1960s, Shepperd was named
trustee for the acquisition of land for the creation of Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic
Site along the Pedernales
River in Gillespie County in the Texas Hill
was born in Gladewater, a small town in Gregg
County near the more populous county seat of Longview to Alfred
Fulton Shepperd and the former Berthal Phillips.
graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of
Arts degree in 1938 and an LL.B. in
He was made a partner in the law firm of Kenley,
Sharp, and Shepperd in Longview. During World War II
, Shepperd served for two years in
the United States Army
. In 1946,
on his release from the military, Shepperd was appointed to
complete the term of his father, who had resigned, on the Gregg
County Commissioners Court. In Texas, such appointments are made by
the county judge.
Shepperd rose to the top ranks of the Jaycess
, or Junior Chamber of Commerce,
having served as both state and national presidents of the
organization. On three occasions, he was named one of the
“Outstanding Young Men in Texas”. In 1949, he was named among the
“Outstanding Young Men in America”, along with future U.S.
President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., of Michigan and later U.S.
Senator Charles H. Percy of
Shepperd was allied with Governor Shivers
and the conservative
his state’s then dominant Democratic Party which clashed with the
wing headed by later U.S.
Senator Ralph W. Yarborough of Austin.
1949, he served briefly under appointment from Governor Shivers on
the elected Texas State Board of Education. As secretary of state,
Shepperd organized an elections law task force and promoted
measures to insure economy in government.
As attorney general
As his state’s chief legal officer, Shepperd struggled with the
ramifications from the Brown v. Board of Education
case. He was involved in
the investigation of communist
infiltration of organized labor
in jurisdictional disputes between state and national governments.
In addition to his work against the Parr regime in Duval County,
which had rallied on behalf of Lyndon Johnson in the 1948 U.S. Senate primary runoff
, Shepperd exposed a scheme to defraud
his state of tobacco taxes
. He also
defended Texas from questions raised by other states regarding the
1953 congressional act, signed by Texas-born President Dwight D. Eisenhower
. which allocated revenues
from the tidelands
in Texas up to a
ten-mile limit to state ownership. In 1956, Shepperd was elected by
his forty-seven peers as president of the National Association of
In 1954, the Veterans' Land
shook the Shivers administration when it was
revealed that certain corrupt land speculators tried to enrich
themselves at public expense. Bascom Giles, the elected state land
commissioner, was indicted, convicted, and served a prison term for
his role in the scandal. Neither Shivers nor Shepperd was
implicated in the wrongdoing, but both as ex officio
members of the land board had
missed meetings where the abuses had occurred. Another scandal
involved insurance companies accused of fraudulent activities.
Shepperd had been expected to seek the gubernatorial nomination in
1956, but he left elected politics to become general counsel of
Odessa Natural Gasoline Company, later El Paso Products Company,
and to establish a new law firm there called Shepperd and Rodman.
The governorship went to U.S. Senator Price
, who secured a narrow runoff victory over Ralph
Yarborough. Yarborough in 1958 was elected to the first of two
terms in the Senate, holding the seat that Daniel had vacated to
become governor. Ironically, Daniel had also been Shepperd's
predecessor as attorney general.
From 1963-1967, Shepperd headed the renamed Texas Historical Commission
supported the placement of more markers along highways to promote
historical preservation. He served too on the Texas State Library
and Archives Commission. He pushed for the establishment in the late
1960s of the University of Texas of the Permian
In 1989, a thoroughfare near the UTPB
campus was named the John Ben Shepperd Parkway. One of his later
accomplishments was the creation of the John Ben Shepperd
Leadership Forum at UTPB, which assists students in developing the
techniques to become effective leaders.
He was also involved in the planning and expansion of the Presidential Museum
and Leadership Library
, an institution on the UTPB campus
dedicated to the office of the presidency, rather than individual
chief executives. The "Library of Presidents" at the museum is
named in Shepperd’s honor.In 1984, Shepperd was named “Texan of the
Year” by the state Chamber of Commerce, and three years later, the
West Texas chamber named him “Outstanding West Texan”.
October 6, 1938, Shepperd married the former Mamie Strieber of
Yorktown in DeWitt County in southeastern Texas.
The couple had two
sons and twin daughters, including John Ben, Jr. (November 13,
1942—June 17, 1970). Shepperd was a member of the Christian Church
. He died of cancer
at the age of seventy-four at his ranch
in Gladewater. Shepperd and his son are interred
at his private family cemetery near Gladewater.In 1992, the Texas
Historical Commission placed historical markers on Shepperd's
gravesite and also in Gladewater. Another historical marker was
erected in his honor in Odessa in 1991.