Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" Ross (1838-1898), soldier, statesman, and university president, was born at Bentonsport, Iowa Territory, on Sept. 27, 1838. Sul's love for action and horses involved him in his first Indian fight while he was still a boy, after his family moved to Texas. Although his early ambition was to be an Indian fighter like his father, he recognized the value of education and enrolled at Baylor University in Independence, Texas, and then at the Wesleyan University in Florence, Alabama, where he obtained his A.B. degree in 1859.
After graduating from college, Ross built an illustrious career with the U.S. Army and Texas Rangers. After leaving the Rangers, he married Elizabeth Dorothy Tinsley, daughter of a Waco planter, on May 28, 1861. After acting as state peace commissioner to various Indian tribes, he enlisted in mid-1861 in the Confederate Army as a member of the Waco company raised by his older brother, Peter F. Ross. First as Major and then as Colonel of his regiment, Ross took part in numerous western campaigns, including those of Pea Ridge, Corinth, and Vicksburg. He was promoted to Brigadier General in early 1864 and commanded the Texas Cavalry Brigade.
The wartime period undermined Ross's health, and he spent the eight years of Reconstruction farming near Waco with his wife and growing family. In 1873 the citizens of McLennan County elected Ross sheriff. In his two years in office he ended a reign of terror and helped form the Sheriffs' Association of Texas. He urged needed reforms and helped write the document that governs Texas today, the Constitution of 1876.
He was elected to the state Senate in 1880, and then Governor in 1886, 1888 and 1891. During his two terms as Governor, the new Capitol was completed, the state attained new heights of industrial, agricultural, and commercial growth, and state eleemosynary and educational institutions flourished. Even more important, Ross's time in office was later considered one of exceptional good will and harmony.
When he left the statehouse, he stepped immediately into the presidency of the seriously troubled Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M University). Under his presidency the number of students grew, many new buildings were built, and public faith in the institution returned. In 1893 he was elected commander of the Texas Division of the United Confederate Veterans, and two years later he turned down an appointment to the Railroad Commission that would have taken him away from A&M. It was a blow to the university when President Ross died suddenly at his home in College Station on Jan. 3, 1898. As an editorial written after his death stated, "It has been the lot of few men to be of such great service to Texas as Sul Ross." Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, also is named in his honor.
Judith Ann Benner, "Lawrence Sullivan Ross," in Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2009.