Any follower of Duval County or Texas politics is familiar with the name of George B. Parr, the patron and political kingmaker. Not so well known is the Duke of Duval’s grandfather and the first George Berham Parr.
The progenitor of Texas’s most notorious machine politicians, the elder George Parr, was born in 1829 in Virginia. In December 1846, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the United States Army at Petersburg, Virginia, in the 1st Virginia Volunteers. Capt. Larkin Smith of Company E mustered the young private into service in Richmond, Virginia, on December 15, 1846.
Parr left for the Mexican War from Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in January 1847 and reached Mexico about February 21. He served until the end of the war and was with his company at the battles of Camargo, Monterey, Buena Vista, Saltillo, and the capture of Mexico City by Gen. Winfield Scott. At the end of the war Parr returned to Fortress Monroe where he was honorably discharged in July 1848.
After the war Parr returned to Texas, making his way to the newly platted town of Saluria on Matagorda Island in Calhoun County. Parr married Sarah Pamela Givens on January 20, 1857, at the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Indianola. She was the third of eight children born to Samuel S. Givens and Ann Mary Sutton, prominent citizens in Saluria.
Parr was thirty-one, ten years Sarah’s senior. The couple had three children, George, Archer, and Lillian. Archie Parr went on to become a state senator and founder of the Duchy of Duval, a South Texas political dynasty that influenced state and national politics throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
George Parr began to make his own mark in Calhoun County, and in 1859 when political unrest resulted in lawlessness in Calhoun County, the commissioners court approved the creation of citizen patrols in each of the county precincts and named Parr to serve in Precinct Four under the command of Captain J. B. Baker.
With Saluria in turmoil during the Civil War, Parr moved to Live Oak County, Texas, and joined Sarah’s older brother John Slye Givens in the political arena. In February 1864 Parr was named deputy county clerk, and in August of that year he ran unopposed for county clerk. Two years later on June 25, 1866, Parr was re-elected county clerk.
Parr’s political career came to an abrupt end on the night of November 25, 1867, when he was stabbed to death with a Bowie knife in a late night fray in the wild and woolly town of Oakville, then the county seat. In its early years, Oakville was well-known for its lawlessness.
A warrant was issued in Parr’s death for the arrest of J. M. Watkins, but Watkins absconded from Live Oak County and was not located and brought to trial until six years later. His trial in 1874 resulted in an acquittal.
Some accounts say the elder Parr liked his liquor. The nature of the affair that claimed his life is not known, except that it was late at night; could have been at a saloon in town, a gambling location, perhaps an illicit romantic engagement. Whatever it was, it was serious enough to cause his brother-in-law John to give up a successful and promising political career and leave town for good.
More than 100 years later his grandson and namesake, also died a violent death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.