My assistant and I have been working for three years to archive the family letters of the Pannills (my father’s family) and the Goodrums, Hunts, and Donaldsons (my mother’s).  People communicated by letter in those days.

We thought we had archived between 5,000 and 6,000 letters. She now believes the current total nears 10,000. And we have several boxes to go. This collection will produce a portrait of life in Texas in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Ensign F. H. Pannill
U. S. Navy 1944

A letter from Hastings Pannill, my father, to my brother Fitz (Fitzhugh Hastings Jr.) outlined the legal career of Dad’s own father, Judge William Pannill.

Fitz graduated from the University of Texas and entered law school Austin. As Fitz was about to take the bar exam, Dad wrote him about our Pannill grandfather’s legal career – much of which I had not known.  Dad wrote:

Sunday July 23 [1967]

Fitz –-

I have plenty of time to mull and from time to time think over your situation and the letters I have written. . . I would really like to have a session with you but the way things are don’t know whether or when (or where). So I thought I would take this chance to write down some of the highlights of the careers of some of the members of our family in the legal profession. . .

Prviate Pannill, F.H. Jr.

Pvt. F. H. Pannill, Jr.
Platoon 334
MCRD Parris Island

Your grandfather [Judge William Pannill] was born in Chatfield, Navarro County, Texas, in June 1876. He studied law in a lawyer’s office while working as a night clerk in Corsicana [the county seat] and was admitted to the bar on examination in 1898 shortly after he had married Mattie Porter Cherry.

I believe Judge Pannill attended Corsicana High School. My cousin Rob Jones, who lives in Chatfield, Navarro County, says Texas high schools only offered ten grades in the 19th century. Formal study does not make the great lawyer, however. Abraham Lincoln himself completed only one year of formal schooling and also “read” law with a lawyer before becoming a sucessful lawyer.

They moved to Stephenville soon after and resided with her father — Col. William Cherry.

“Colonel” Cherry had enlisted in 1861 as a private soldier, joined the 4th Georgia Regiment, and became an officer by election to lieutenant after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Captured at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, he never held the rank of colonel. Apparently, former soldiers were called Colonel.

Papa opened a law office in Stephenville and attracted virtually no clients. For all practical purposes he and Mama and the three girls (born in rapid succession) were living on and with her father.

The three girls were Carrie Witherspoon Pannill, 1899, Louise Pannill Davis, 1901, and Martha Pannill Camp, 1903. Oral history gleaned from Dad’s late sister Hoolie (Adeline Pannill Aycock) holds that one day  in the 1890s Papa was walking from Chatfield to Corsicana when a buckboard driven by Colonel Cherry passed him. Next to the driver sat his daughters Mattie and Lulu. Papa thought Mattie the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, so he followed the wagon and introduced himself.

[Papa] ran for County Attorney in 1900 and was defeated and ran again in 1902 and was elected and reelected in 1904. At that time the county attorney’s office was a good training ground and jumping off place for a lawyer.

After leaving this office he formed [Chandler & Pannill,] a partnership with Fred Chandler – and later E. T. (Van) Chandler, Fred’s younger brother, joined the firm.

This continued until 1915 at which time he was appointed District Attorney by Governor James E. [“Pa”] Ferguson both as a reward for efforts in the governor’s campaign and in recognition of his ability; he was reelected in 1916 and left office in 1919 to re-join the firm [of Chandler & Pannill].

Papa was reputed to have tried a hundred murder cases. Papa was a Fergusonian: he supported and gave speeches for “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson. The Texas Legislature impeached Pa as governor and removed him from office.

In 1925 [Papa] was appointed chief justice of the newly created Court of Civil Appeals at Eastland – the appointment being made by Governor Miriam A. [“Ma”] Ferguson.

Pa Ferguson’s wife ran to succeed him after his impeachment and she was elected governor. This brought on a fascinating case in which the plaintiffs argued that a woman could not serve as governor of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court rejected that claim. 1927 [Judge Pannill] left the Court of Civil Appeals to form the firm of Hiner and Pannill in Ft. Worth. This was purely on ability.

[John] Hiner had accumulated a substantial law practice among large independent oil operators during his association with a law firm in Fort Worth. He had been D[istrict] A[ttorney] in Granbury and vicinity at the same time Papa held that [same] office in Stephenville and environs. [Hiner] had been reading and was impressed by Papa‘s [judicial] opinions.

On Hiner’s death in 1937 most of these companies left {Hiner & Pannill] with their business but the then Transcontinental Oil Company was so deeply committed to and involved with Papa because of the then pending Yates [Oil Field] boundary litigation that they offered him a place as staff attorney in a new division office in Houston with the right to name his own assistant.

The Yates Field in West Texas was fought over in litigation for many years. According to Wikipedia, the field is one of the largest in Texas and so far has produced one billion barrels of oil – with another billion remaining.

He named [as his assistant John L.] Camp [husband of Papa’s daughter Martha Pannill Camp, “Littly”)], because he had encouraged Johnny to study law in the hope that he could take him into the [Hiner] firm but had been unable to get Hiner to agree to it.

Judge Pannill and his pastor

Judge William Pannilll and the Rev. Leslie Finnell

[Papa] stayed in Houston with the now Ohio Oil Company until retired under their compulsory program in 1943 then moved back to Ft. Worth and shared an office with Ercel [Aycock, husband of his daughter Hoolie (Adeline) Pannill] until Papa died in 1948.

The base of [Papa’s] estate which is now being administered [was the income from] fees arising from the Pecos boundary litigation, which were phenomenal for those years. You could say that the basis of [Papa’s] success was exceptional ability given notoriety by politics.

The letter concluded:

This should be enough for now, If the spirit moves me I will give you a rundown on others later.