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George Washington Finger: Arlington Mayor, Lawyer, and a Texas Land Commissioner

Updated: Jul 2

George Washington Finger: Arlington Mayor, Lawyer, and a Texas Land Commissioner

His story began similar to many. He grew up with his siblings and parents on a farm (which happened to be 640 acres), he went to school, and ultimately he made a name for himself. George W. Finger was born June 21, 1857 in Tarrant County, Texas. He was one of eight children born to Lewis M. and Christina Pless Finger. Little is known about his early life aside from hailing from a rather religious upbringing, his family having belonged to the Methodist Church.[1]


Figure 1: George Washington Finger. Image courtesy of May 6, 1899 issue of The Houston Post.[2]


Finger’s parents were childhood neighbors, playmates, and sweethearts. They married in 1836 in Lawrence County, Indiana centering their life and love around “Christian excellence”.[3] Ten years later, in 1846, they found themselves in Texas. In 1851, they relocated to Navarro County, now Tarrant County and settled in their lifetime home which was situated on 640 acres.[4] Lewis went to California during the gold fever and worked in the mining industry, but returned to Texas two and a half years later. At the time of the Civil War (1861-1865), he enlisted in the Confederate Army and was assigned to serve in Texas.[5] For a while, he helped in guarding Federal prisoners in Tyler, Texas. Following his service, he focused on his farm and also served as Justice of the Peace at Arlington.[6] Christina was a strong willed, busy working woman to say the least. She did weaving, washing, and any type of work she could to make ends meet in the absence of her husband while he was mining for gold. With the aid of her children, she worked the farm, she cut down trees and split wood. She built a fence and upon the return of her husband from California she was prepared to do some farming.[7]


Figure 2: A part of Lewis’ land grant application. Note the use of the term “colonist” above. Image courtesy of the General Land Office in Austin.[8]

Figure 3: Lewis’ Land Grant. This is the land Finger and his siblings grew up on. Land Grant Number: 534 volume 1. Image courtesy of the General Land Office in Austin.[9]

Figure 4: Survey of Lewis Finger’s property performed in 1851. Image courtesy of the General Land Office in Austin.[10]

According to the 1870 Census, thirteen-year-old Finger resided with his parents and fifteen-year-old brother Joseph.[11] Finger attended Mansfield College around 1874 at the age of seventeen and graduated three years later by the age of twenty. He went on to study law in Fort Worth, Texas at a variety of law offices and was admitted to the bar in 1878.[12]


According to the 1880 Census, twenty-two-year-old Finger worked as a lawyer and lived with his parents.[13] On December 19, 1880, at the age of twenty-three, Finger married Jessie L. Butler. The couple had three children Olin Welborn, Grace, and George Washington Jr. Their eldest child, Olin was born in 1882 when Finger was twenty-five years old. Grace, the only daughter and middle child was born in 1889, and George Jr. the youngest, was born in 1892.


In between the birth of the last two children, Finger lost his father when he was twenty-nine years old in 1887. Lewis passed away at his home in Arlington at the age of seventy. Many attributed him as one of the “oldest and most highly respected citizens of the county”.[14]


Finger had an interest in state and local politics. He was elected Arlington’s first mayor on March 9, 1886 and served until December 10, 1889.[15] Following the end of his term, he moved to Fort Worth and practiced law at Stedman, Ayres, and Finger until 1891. Fingerserved as reading clerk for the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-second legislatures. He was chief clerk in the Twenty-third Legislature and temporarily presided over the House of the Twenty-fourth Legislature.[16] He became the legal examiner for the General Land Office in 1894. On January 16, 1899 he began his role as land commissioner after a successful campaign managed by J.H. Walker.[17] Unfortunately, he met his demise four months later, so his service as land commissioner was brief with not many changes to the land office. C.H. Rogan of Brownwood filled the vacancy of land commissioner after Finger’s death.[18] George W. Finger died May 4, 1899 after a battle with Paralysis in Marlin, Texas.[19]


In the years following Finger’s demise were the death(s) of his mother, wife, and daughter. Finger’s mother, Christina, died from dialysis on March 7, 1907 in Arlington, after having lived until the age of eighty-eight. Finger’s wife, Jessie, died a widow at the age of sixty-four on February 19, 1926 at an Austin Hospital. According to her obituary, she lived in Austin for the last thirty-five years of her life. She was survived by two sons, Olin W, clerk of the court of criminal appeals, and George Jr. both of Austin, one daughter, Mrs. J. Turner Vance of Refugio, one brother, W.E. Butler, and one sister, Mrs. L.C. Harrison of Oklahoma.[20] Finger’s daughter, Grace, suffered from anemia due to hypertensive cardio-vascular disease which ultimately led to her death on September 15, 1946.[21] She was a divorced fifty-seven-year-old at the time of her death in Refugio, Texas. Finger, his wife, his parents, his brother Joseph, and his sister-in-law Elizabeth are all buried in the Old Arlington Cemetery Complex in Arlington.


Figure 5: G.W. Finger’s obituary as it appears in the May 7, 1899 issue of the Austin American Statesman.[22]

This piece ends with words from George Washington Finger’s obituary as published in the Austin American Statesman (which truthfully reads more like a Shakesperian sonnet). It was a feeling of affectionate sorrow and tender regret to learn of the passing of George W. Finger. Dead: This is the saddest word ever written by human pen or uttered by mortal tongue.[23]


Bibliography

Primary Sources

“Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” FamilySearch, Accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GY1Z-

The Texas General Land Office https://s3.glo.texas.gov/glo/history/archives/land-grants/index.cfm

“U.S., Texas Death Certificates, 1903-1982,” Ancestry.com, Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2013, https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2272/33154_B06184300728/30114835?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/167206224/person/142170341758/facts/citation/582238215026/edit/record.

Census Records

Ninth Census of the United States (1870), Arlington, Tarrant, Texas, Schedule 1.

Tenth Census of the United States (1880), Arlington, Tarrant, Texas, Schedule 1.


Newspapers

“Lewis Finger”. Galveston Daily News. January 23, 1887. https://www.newspapers.com/image/23091222/.

“Finger For Commissioner.” Austin American Statesman. January 29, 1898. https://www.newspapers.com/image/366603678/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger.

“George W. Finger. Dead.” The Houston Post. May 6, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/83556578.

“Happening’s in the World of Society.” Austin American Statesman. May 7, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/359095946/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger

“To One We All Loved.” Austin American Statesman. May 7, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/359095946/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger

Secondary Sources

George W. Finger. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi09

“Hall of Mayors,” City of Arlington, City of Arlington, Accessed June 16, 2020, https://www.arlingtontx.gov/residents/about_arlington/history_of_arlington/hall_of_mayors.

“Christina Pless Finger,” FindaGrave. Accessed June 20, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598678/christina-finger

“Lewis M. Finger,” FindaGrave, Accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598682/lewis-m-finger

[1]“Lewis M. Finger,” FindaGrave, Accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598682/lewis-m-finger [2]Austin American Statesman Newspaper 1898 “George W. Finger. Dead.” The Houston Post. May 6, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/83556578. [3]“Lewis M. Finger,” FindaGrave, Accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598682/lewis-m-finger [4]It is important to note that Tarrant County was founded in 1849 and that is where they settled, however the primary source has marked their relocation in 1851 as Navarro County not Tarrant County. [5]At the time of enlistment, he was past the age in which service could be exacted from him, yet he still chose to join and serve. [6]“Lewis M. Finger,” FindaGrave, Accessed June 17, 2020, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598682/lewis-m-finger Much of the information in this paragraph came from his father Lewis’ FindaGrave page [7]“Christina Pless Finger,” FindaGrave. Accessed June 20, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/33598678/christina-finger The information regarding Finger’s mother in the above paragraph comes from her FindaGrave page which was originally published on page 374 of Biographical History of Tarrant and Parker Counties [8]The Texas General Land Office https://s3.glo.texas.gov/glo/history/archives/land-grants/index.cfm [9]The Texas General Land Office https://s3.glo.texas.gov/glo/history/archives/land-grants/index.cfm [10]The Texas General Land Office https://s3.glo.texas.gov/glo/history/archives/land-grants/index.cfm [11]Ninth Census of the United States (1870), Arlington, Tarrant, Texas, Schedule 1. [12]“Hall of Mayors,” City of Arlington, City of Arlington, Accessed June 16, 2020, https://www.arlingtontx.gov/residents/about_arlington/history_of_arlington/hall_of_mayors. [13]Tenth Census of the United States (1880), Arlington, Tarrant, Texas, Schedule 1. [14]“Lewis Finger”. Galveston Daily News. January 23, 1887. https://www.newspapers.com/image/23091222/. [15]“Hall of Mayors,” City of Arlington, City of Arlington, Accessed June 16, 2020, https://www.arlingtontx.gov/residents/about_arlington/history_of_arlington/hall_of_mayors. [16]This information comes directly from the TSHA Handbook and page on George W. Finger (1857-1899) https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi09 [17]“Finger For Commissioner.” Austin American Statesman. January 29, 1898. https://www.newspapers.com/image/366603678/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger. [18] “Finger For Commissioner.” Austin American Statesman. January 29, 1898. https://www.newspapers.com/image/366603678/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger. “George W. Finger. Dead.” The Houston Post. May 6, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/83556578. [19]“Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” FamilySearch, Accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GY1Z- [20]“To One We All Loved.” Austin American Statesman. May 7, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/359095946/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger This information comes directly from the obituary in the Austin American Statesman [21]“U.S., Texas Death Certificates, 1903-1982,” Ancestry.com, Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2013, https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2272/33154_B06184300728/30114835?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/167206224/person/142170341758/facts/citation/582238215026/edit/record. [22]The above image may be difficult to read, if you would like to read it in its entirety please check out my sources at the end of this piece and follow the link to newspapers.com. [23]“To One We All Loved.” Austin American Statesman. May 7, 1899. https://www.newspapers.com/image/359095946/?terms=George%2BW.%2BFinger

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