Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857-1941

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857-1941

Article excerpt

Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857-1941. By Kate Sayen Kirkland. Foreword by James A. Baker III. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. Pp. [xvi], 435. $30.00, ISBN 978-1-60344-800-0.)

Readers of the Journal of Southern History will be familiar with James A. Baker III (born 1930), a cabinet member during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. This biography, by Kate Sayen Kirkland, describes the long and fruitful life of Secretary Baker's less well known grandfather Captain James A. Baker (1857-1941). It focuses on three topics: Captain Baker's law practice in Houston; his leadership in Houston's emergence as an important city; and his role in the development of Rice University.

The book's greatest appeal rests in its sweeping presentation of more than one hundred years of Baker family and Texas history. The family and the state grew up together. Captain Baker's father, James Addison Baker (1821-1897), emigrated in 1852 from Alabama to Huntsville in East Texas. He practiced law, became a state court judge, and moved to Houston in 1872, then a frontier backwater. His son, the future Captain Baker, graduated from Austin's Texas Military Institute in 1877 and joined his father's law firm two years later.

Kirkland demonstrates that the young attorney absorbed his parents' Victorian values: Protestant Christianity; a commitment to hard work; devotion to family; and an interest in community institutions, especially those connected to business and education. Unfortunately, Captain Baker did not leave his biographer extensive personal reflections on why these principles stuck. As a consequence, the biography captures Captain Baker's essence by showing how his actions expressed deeply held values.

This is partly accomplished through attention to Captain Baker's law practice. Baker became a partner in Baker, Botts and Baker in 1881. He received his last partnership profits check sixty years later. In the intervening decades the organization evolved as the archetypal American corporate law firm. It represented the railroad, oil, and banking interests that fueled Houston's economic growth. …

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