Unraveling the Origins of John Tarleton College: Setting the Record Straight

As the milestone centennial celebrations of Tarleton State University loomed in 1999, there arose a contentious debate about its founding date. Historian Dr. C. Richard King stirred the pot by contending that the institution’s centennial should have been marked in 1996 rather than 1999, based on the original opening of John Tarleton College in 1896. However, this assertion prompted a detailed investigation to uncover the truth behind the institution’s establishment.

The narrative of John Tarleton’s bequest to establish a college in Stephenville, following his passing in September 1895, is well-known. The subsequent formation of a local board and the acquisition of the Stephenville College campus culminated in the birth of John Tarleton College. Yet, the precise commencement date of the college remained shrouded in uncertainty.

Dr. King’s argument hinges on an announcement in the Stephenville Empire dating back to September 4, 1896, supposedly heralding the imminent opening of the college. However, this singular announcement lacked substantial follow-up in subsequent editions of the newspaper. This casts doubt on the veracity of the claim, suggesting that it might have been a strategic move by County Judge Thomas King to assert local control over the college’s governance and leadership.

The ensuing power struggle between Judge King and Governor Culberson further delayed the college’s opening, ultimately leading to a three-year political and legal battle. It was not until September 4, 1899, that the college finally commenced its operations under the presidency of Dr. W.H. Bruce, as per Governor Culberson’s insistence.

Therefore, the evidence suggests that the rightful celebration of Tarleton State University’s centennial in 1999 was indeed accurate, putting to rest the lingering doubts about the institution’s founding date.

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