1903 the Texas Conference of the Methodist Church sent 28-year-old
Jesse Lee to Trinity
County as pastor of the Groveton Methodist church.
Licensed to preach in 1897, and coming from peaceful communities
like Malakoff and Beaver
Valley, Lee was appalled at the lack of law enforcement and the
rampant sales of liquor in Trinity County despite prohibition elections.
Men openly defied the law and operated their saloons in renegade
towns like Tight Eye, Battle Axe and Last Chance.
On his first morning in Groveton
Lee presided at the funeral of a young church member who had been
murdered. He soon named criminals from his pulpit and where they
Threats against Lee became so commonplace that he started carrying
a pistol when Sheriff John Stanley made him deputy, allowing him
to enforce the law.
After a particularly heated Sunday night church service, Reverend
Lee was called to Crockett
by his superior, Reverend J.B. Sears, who had concluded Lee should
be moved from Trinity
While in Crockett,
Lee learned that his church and parsonage in Groveton
had burned and, in the words of the messenger, "all you have are
three shoes, four books and a typewriter." Sears changed his mind
about relocating Lee and told him, "Go back and clean them (the
Lee's courage instilled enthusiasm among Trinity County's honest
citizens, who employed a detective to gather evidence against the
illegal saloons. But as the lawbreakers were being tried, a key
witness and County Attorney Howard Robb were murdered.
Lee called together Groveton's
businessmen and asked each of them to help him smash every illicit
saloon in Groveton
and board up the buildings.
Each of the ten men in the room signed a pact and used sledge hammers
to break open whiskey barrels and bottles. The doors of the saloons
were nailed shut. By the time the last saloon was destroyed, the
ten men organized by Lee had been joined by nearly 200 more.
to historian Flora Bowles, then organized the Groveton Law and Order
League. "A reign of lawlessness was outlawed by a band of law-abiding
citizens in an unlawful manner...and from that day to the present,
never been the lawless community that it was before," she wrote.
During the latter years of his life, Jesse Lee lost much the robustness
that served him well in Trinity County. He sustained a stroke, which
left him bedridden fourteen years, and passed away at New
London on September 12, 1964, at the age of eighty-nine.
One of the reminders of Lee's courageous ministry in Trinity
County the typewriter salvaged from the fire that destroyed
his church and parsonage at Groveton
is owned today by his grandson, Rev. Clifford Lee.