Stephen F. Austin State University

Felix McCord was a public servant (September 2019)

Felix McCord was a public servant

By Van Craddock

Felix J. McCord was a distinguished East Texas public servant for half a century.

The Longview lawyer was a four-term state legislator, district attorney, and assistant Texas attorney general. He also represented the state of Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Standard Oil antitrust suit.

But it was his time as district judge and justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals of which he was most proud.

McCord, you see, was no "activist" judge. Upon his retirement he reflected on his time sitting on the bench:

"As a judge, I have tried to decide the law as it is and not what public opinion wanted it to be. To follow public clamor is not the office of the judge. Its favors are fickle." "Today we despise what yesterday we praised; today we place a crown of thorns where yesterday sat a wreath of flowers."

Born in Mississippi in 1848, Felix Johnson McCord arrived in East Texas in 1867. He reportedly had left his home state with a saddle and $5 in his pocket.

He worked in a Gilmer sawmill and then earned his law degree. By 1872 McCord opened a law office in the new town of Longview and the following year married Gabriella Fuller. Their marriage produced seven children.

In 1879 Texas Gov. Oran Roberts appointed McCord district attorney for the Seventh District, which was made up of Gregg, Henderson, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood counties.

McCord was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, representing Gregg County and serving from 1881 to 1883. He then became a state district judge for the Seventh Judicial District, sitting on the bench 1884-1896.

As judge he presided over a number of high-profile cases. However, not all the fireworks came in the courtroom.

On Oct. 21, 1891, Judge McCord got into an argument with William S. Herndon, a former U.S. congressman, on a downtown street.

"A street fight occurred this evening between Hon. Felix J. McCord, judge of the Seventh Judicial District, and Hon. W. S. Herndon … but the men were separated without doing each other much damage," a Texas newspaper reported. "The altercation was the outcome of personal feelings engendered by the controversy over the International and Great Northern [railroad] receivership case."

Three years later, on May 23, 1894, McCord was presiding over a case in the Gregg County Courthouse when he heard gunfire in Longview's central business district. It turned out Bill Dalton and his outlaw gang were robbing the town's only bank two blocks away.

After leaving the bench in 1896, McCord returned to his law practice. In 1908 he became an assistant state attorney general, successfully representing Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Standard Oil antitrust suit.

In 1910 McCord was appointed as judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Making the appointment was Gov. Thomas M. Campbell, a long-time friend and one-time Longview lawyer.

The Tyler Courier-Times was pleased by Campbell's appointment:

"To deserve this high honor and to win it by hard work and a conscientious discharge of duty was the laudable ambition of Judge McCord. The high regard in which Judge McCord is held … is a flattering and consoling offset to the utterances of his critics, who do not know him."

McCord left the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals only a year later. He eventually returned to the Texas Legislature, again representing the residents of Gregg County for three terms (1918-1922).

McCord died April 28, 1922, at age 74. He was buried in Longview's Greenwood Cemetery.

A Texas Legislature resolution said, "His death is a great loss to the State of Texas … (McCord) was a distinguished and useful citizen of the State and a conspicuous figure in its public affairs for 50 years."