Krivin Kade Legett

Judge, Attorney, Civic Leader, Founder and Charter HSU Trustee

Kirvin Kade Legett, judge, attorney, civic leader, rancher, and farmer, was born in Monticello, Arkansas, on November 6, 1857, to Kirvin Kade and Mintie (Berry) Legett. He studied law in a Cleburne, Texas, attorney’s office, and in 1879, moved to the frontier town of Buffalo Gap, Texas. When the railroad tracks that were expected to go through Buffalo Gap passed 15 miles to the north, Legett joined those who followed the tracks to found Abilene in 1881. He participated in the first auction of town lots, quickly evolved as a community leader, and became known as the most promising young lawyer in West Texas.

In 1884, at age 26, Legett was the youngest of the 14 Democratic presidential electors representing Texas. He later led a crusade in West Texas for statewide prohibition, and he personally persuaded the state legislature to mark off a new congressional district in West Texas.

In 1886, he married a rancher’s daughter, Lora Bryan, and together they had three children: Julia, Kade, and Ruth.

Legett was a charter member of Abilene Baptist Church (now First Baptist) and the city’s “Progressive Committee.” He continually supported publicly, and financially when possible, Abilene projects that attracted an additional railroad, improved the town’s water supply, and added permanent sidewalks and electric lights in the downtown area.

Though he lacked formal education, Legett was one of the founders in 1891 of Simmons College, now Hardin-Simmons University. He wrote the school’s first charter and served as a member of its first Board of Trustees. Legett was a familiar figure on campus and a favorite guest speaker, delivering the school’s first commencement address.

By the age of 35, Legett had gained notoriety as an inspirational speaker and was often asked to address local service clubs, political rallies, Baptist conventions, civic and professional banquets, and literary societies. Legett was also seen as a levelheaded, astute lawyer with polished oratorical skills and thoroughly prepared cases, and was later elected first president of the Taylor County Bar Association.

In 1894, his colleagues unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to accept the Democratic nomination to the Texas Senate. But Legett explained that because the rewards of public office are uncertain, he would not subject the welfare of his family to voters. In 1898, however, he accepted an appointment as first referee in bankruptcy for the Abilene district, an office he regarded as a civic duty. When Judge Legett retired from that assignment, his 22-year tenure exceeded that of any other referee in bankruptcy in the United States.

In 1902, in a financial and leadership crisis, the board of Simmons College unanimously elected Legett as their chairman. His labors for the school included making speeches, traveling to conferences, seeking financial assistance for students, responding to requests for advice from parents, and requesting donations from potential benefactors.

Legett also served, by gubernatorial appointment, on the board of directors at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M) for eight years, four as its president. The demands on his time grew such that he attempted to resign from the Simmons College Board in 1910, but local church leaders dissuaded him. A week after promising Mrs. Legett to reduce his civic responsibilities, he agreed to serve on three local committees, working toward a new high school, a new state normal school, and a new Baptist sanitarium. He finally resigned from the A&M board shortly thereafter and also from the Simmons College board in 1911, after nearly 20 years of service. He later accepted reappointment in 1914 to the HSU board, and throughout 1915, campaigned for a new women’s dormitory.

The Legett home, located at 602 Meander Street, served as meeting place for countless gatherings of the leadership of Simmons College, First Baptist Church, the Abilene Bar Association, Democratic Party organizations, and a stream of educators, clergy, cattlemen, and farmers from around the state and nation.

In March 1926, Judge Legett joined friends of Simmons University to develop a campus beautification program, which included planting 50 pecan trees along the south side of the campus. Today, the campus is adorned with a bridge named in his honor, dedicated by the Senior Class of 2002 and the HSU Student Congress.

On June 3, 1926, Legett attended Simmons commencement exercises at First Baptist Church, where he observed the awarding of the first Master of Arts degree. The next evening during dinner, Judge Legett suddenly dropped his dessert spoon, and, despite his physician son-in-law’s efforts to assist him, died instantly and silently of a cerebral hemorrhage. The Dallas Morning News described his death as “the passing of a political power in West Texas.”

His legacy of community involvement did not die with his passing, however. The influence he had on his children continues on today in the expansive philanthropic and civic efforts of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It is the high honor of Hardin-Simmons University to recognize one of its most revered founders and to formally induct Kirvin Kade Legett into the HSU Hall of Leaders.