James B. Likens
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James B. Likens

Pioneer East Texas Lawyer and Military Hero

By W. T. Block and J. E. Williams

{The writer is indebted to Bruce S. Allardice and James E. Williams for research material}

James B. Likens, early East Texas lawyer and veteran of two wars, was born in Morgan County, GA, in 1829. His parents were Thomas M. Likens (born 1800 in Tennessee) and Hester F. Likens (born 1795 in Maryland). The latter may well have been his stepmother since Thomas M. Likens married Mrs. Hettie Irving in Georgia on May 7, 1830. He also had an older brother, John T., who was born in Tennessee in 1827.1

The Thomas M. Likens family is believed to have moved to Henderson, Rusk County, Texas between 1840-1842. George Alford, born in 1836, moved with his family to Nacogdoches, TX, as a child, and he reported attending a school with—“the Honorable James B. Likens, the illustrious lawyer...”2 At age 17, young James  enlisted in 1846 in Capt. Samuel Highsmith’s Co. K, of Col. W. R. Young’s 3rd Texas Regiment during the Mexican War.3 According to Highsmith’s biography, his company participated in the Battles of Monterrey, Palo Alto, and Buena Vista as part of Gen. Zachary Taylor’s command. Young Likens’ father, Thomas M. Likens, was a first lieutenant, and his older brother, John T. Likens, was a second sergeant in the same company.4 After returning home from battle in 1847, young J. B. Likens studied and read law in the law office of Likens and Estill (Thomas M. Likens and W. H. Estill) in Henderson.5

The Likens family fortune multiplied greatly during the decade of the 1850s. On July 19, 1853 James B. Likens married Salina A. Cameron in Henderson;6 and by the time of the 1860 census, 2 children had been born into the household, Mary E., born in 1855, and Benjamin O., born in 1856.  In 1853 Thomas M. Likens was still an attorney, but no longer practicing, and he had given up his position in the firm of Likens and Estill to his son James, in order to become a farmer and merchant.

In 1860 T. M. Likens was living at census residence No. 1 with his wife Hester. His financial status was greatly improved during that decade, from $1,000 in 1850 to $2,500 in real estate and $5,165 in personal property in 1860. In 1855, T. M. Likens sold 5 acres of land which became the Henderson City Cemetery. He also classified himself as a farmer in the 1860 census, and owned probably a section or more of land in that year. He also owned 2 slaves in 1850 and 5 slaves in 186o. His older son, John T. Likens, died on May 11, 1859, having lost his wife and son a few years earlier.7

It was the terrible Henderson business district fire of Aug. 5, 1860 that provided the catalyst for James B. Likens to move away. In fact, when he was enumerated in the 1860 Rusk County census on Aug. 12th, he was living at residence No. 1602 in the town of Alma. J. B. Likens personal estate in that census included $4,000 of real property and $7,500 in personal property.

In two hours’ time, fire swept through the business district—“from McDonaugh’s Hotel to Smither’s office, from Redwine’s Store to Likens’ Corner” —with a loss of 48 buildings and store stock equal to $250,000.8

And no one lost more heavily than the Likens family members. The law office of Likens and Estill suffered $5,000 damage to the buildings, furniture, and law books; Thomas M. Likens’ store suffered $12,000 damage to the building, fixtures, and stock of merchandise; and the estate of John T. Likens suffered $2,000 loss to building and fixtures. Heavily stricken in his pocket book, James B. Likens moved his family to Sabine Pass about Oct. 1860, and opened his new law office there.9

Likens had already built up a new practice in the thriving seaport town by April, 1861, when Fort Sumter fell to the Confederates and the Civil War began. On April 20, 1861, Sabine Pass organized a 102-man militia company designated as the “Sabine Pass Guard,” and Likens was enlisted as a private.  Following a 90-day enlistment period, the company was reorganized and enrolled, and Likens was elected captain, most probably because of his active combat experience during the Mexican War.10

In Sept. 1861, Capt. Likens visited Gen. Paul O. Hebert’s Confederate headquarters in Galveston with a request to organize the 6th Battalion at Sabine Pass. Gen. Hebert not only granted his request, but also promoted him to Major of battalion, at the same time inducting Likens’ troops into the Confederate Army. Soon Likens Battalion had 6 companies assigned to it, 2 from Sabine Pass, and others from several Southeast Texas counties.11 In June 1862, Likens resigned in order to enroll a battalion of cavalry; and Capt. Ashley Spaight of Company F, was promoted to lieutenant colonel of Spaight’s 11th Battalion of Texas Volunteers.12

Later Major Likens moved into several Central Texas counties to enlist a battalion of cavalry known as Likens Cavalry Battalion. On Oct. 23, 1863, his unit was merged with Burns Cavalry Battalion to form the new 35th Texas Cavalry Regiment, and Likens was promoted to Colonel.

In January, 1864, the 35th Texas Cavalry Regiment was patrolling in the San Bernard-Matagorda-Brazos River district. In March, 1864 Col. Likens and his unit were transferred to Gen. Richard Taylor’s Army in Western Louisiana, where it soon engaged in a dozen battles and skirmishes along the Red River, beginning with the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864 and ending with the Battle of Yellow Bayou in May, 1864, and the Battle of Morganza in Sept. 1864. In Feb., 1865 the regiment was ordered back to Beaumont, where it was soon dismounted. The regiment was mustered out of service  on May 27, 1865 at Harrisburg.13 And Col. Likens was paroled at Sabine Pass on July 12, 1865.14

According to the 1870 Jefferson County, TX census (page 545, res. 143), J. B. Likens was living in Beaumont as an attorney-at-law, with assets of $5,000 in real estate and $500 in personal property. His wife Salina was age 39; daughter Mary E. was age 15; and son Benjamin T. was age 13, the latter two attending school. A second son, Donald James Likens, was born in Beaumont on Dec. 18, 1868.15

Click for larger image

Colonel J. B. Likens,
Glenwood Cemetery, Houston, Texas

While a soldier in Sabine Pass, Likens had become acquainted with Capt. George W. O’Brien of Co. E, Likens Battalion, and each had come to respect one another at lawyers. O’Brien had also led his company of infantrymen at the Battles of Fordoche Bayou, Calcasieu Pass and other battles. In 1866 Likens and O’Brien formed a legal and realty partnership, which lasted until at least 1872. Many legal ads of their firm appeared in both Neches Valley News and Beaumont News-Beacon. Certainly one of the last of those ads appeared in the News-Beacon of Jan. 6, 1872, and reads in part:  “...For sale, a plantation of 165 acres in Duncan Woods, the garden spot of Orange County... Cash preferred, but terms for one-half on short term can be arranged.—Likens, O’Brien and Co., Land Agents...” At least one ad of 1871 indicated that Likens was already living in Galveston.16

While still living in Beaumont, Likens served one term in the Texas House of Representatives in 1870. Likens was also a longtime member of the Masonic Lodge. Records from the Grand Lodge indicate that he was Grandmaster of the Henderson district lodges during the 1850s, and his death was reported to the Grand Lodge by Houston’s Holland Lodge No. 1.17

Apparently fear of hurricanes (2 hurricanes struck Sabine Pass in June, Sept., 1871), and perhaps yellow fever epidemics as well, drove the Likens family to Houston in Ca. 1871. During that year the last of the family’s three sons, Robinson Likens, was born. During the family’s residence in Houston, daughter Mary married Edward W. Bryant in Harris County on Dec. 13, 1875. Also while living in Houston, Likens formed his third and last legal partnership with Charles Stewart, and they became joint attorneys in several appellate cases.18

James B. Likens died in Houston on Sept. 18, 1878, and he was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Sec. E, Lot 007, where a Veterans Administration stone marks his grave. A brief obituary appeared in the Houston Daily Telegraph of Sept. 19, 1878, and his probate file was reported in the Houston Post of July 21, 1880. His widow and 3 children were enumerated in the 1880 Harris County census. Truly, James B. Likens was a hero of the State of Texas, and he deserves a biography that adequately portrays his contributions to his adopted state.19

Endnotes

1 7th Census of the United States, 1850, Rusk County, Texas, pp. 553-554.

2 Sid S. Johnson, Texans Who Wore the Gray, p. 145.

3  Inscription on Likens’ tombstone in Glenwood Cemetery, Houston.

4 Biography of Capt. Samuel Highsmith in Handbook of Texas Online; also Charles Spurlin, Texas Veterans in the Mexican War  (1984), p. 123.

5 Rusk County, Texas, census, 1850, pp. 553-554.

6 Rusk County Marriage Book, Vol. A, p. 13.

7  1860 Rusk County census, Sch. I, p. 315b; also 1850, 1860 Rusk County, Schedule II, Slave Census; Book E, p. 79, Rusk County Deed Records; M. W. Lambert, “A List of Lawyers in Texas in 1853,” online. 

8 Gloria Mayfield, “The Great Fire of 1860,” online; the 1860 Rusk County census, p. 311, res. 1602.

9 New York Times, Aug. 27, 1860, p. 8.

10 W. T. Block, A History of Jefferson County from Wilderness to Reconstruction (Nederland: 1976), p. 99.

11 “Memoirs of Capt. K. D. Keith,” Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, X (Nov. 1974), 55; W. T. Block, “The Swamp Angels: History of Spaight’s 11th Texas Battalion,” East Texas Historical Journal, XXX (1992), 45; Block, “Sabine Pass in the Civil War,” East Texas Historical Journal, IX (1971), 129-139.

12 See FN10, p. 100.

13 William Bozic, “History of the 35th Texas Cavalry Regiment;” also information furnished by Lars Gjertveit.

14 Information furnished by Bruce S. Allardice.

15 1870 Jefferson County, TX census, p. 545, res. 143-123.

16 Beaumont New-Beacon, Jan. 6, 1872, at Tyrrell Historical Library; also various other issues of Neches Valley News and Beaumont News-Beacon, 1869-1873; also W. T. Block, Emerald of the Neches: The Chronicles of Beaumont, Texas from Reconstruction to Spindletop (Nederland, 576-page unpublished typescript), p. 54.

17 Information furnished by James E. Williams and Bruce S. Allardice.

18 Harris County Marriage Record for Dec. 13, 1875; information furnished by J. E. Williams and Bruce S. Allardice.

19 Information furnished in Footnote 18 as well as Glenwood Cemetery.

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