Hon. James R. Tolbert. The career of the Hon. James R. Tolbert, ex-district judge of Kiowa County, a leading attorney of the Oklahoma bar and the author of legislation of a sound, practical and helpful character, illustrates most forcibly the possibilities that are open to the young man who possesses ambition and determination. It proves that neither wealth nor the assistance of influential friends at the outset of his career are at all necessary to place the young man upon the road to success. It also proves that ambitious perseverance, steadfastness of purpose, and indefatigable industry will be rewarded, and that true success follows individual efforts only.
Judge Tolbert was born in Jackson County, Tennessee, May 14, 1862, and is a son of Maj. James R. and Ann Margaret (Richmond) Tolbert. The family were pioneers of North Carolina, from whence they removed to Tennessee, and Maj. James R. Tolbert was born there, at Gainesboro, Jackson County, in 1836. He was educated for the law and in 1858 removed to Marshfield, Missouri, where he was engaged in practice until the outbreak of the war between the states, at which time he returned to Tennessee and entered the Confederate service, being subsequently elected major of the Twenty-eighth Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. He served gallantly as a soldier, and met his death on the bloody field of Shiloh, April 6, 1862. Major Tolbert was a democrat, and was fast becoming one of the influential men of his party. He married Ann Margaret Richmond, who was born in Jackson County, Tennessee, in 1840, and died while on a visit to the home of her son, Judge Tolbert, at Hobart, in December, 1906.
After attending the common schools of Jackson County, Tennessee, James R. Tolbert attended an old fashioned academy of the South, in Smith County, Tennessee, where he received the equivalent of what is now a high school education. Following this he was engaged in teaching school for two terms in Tennessee, and in 1882 removed to Grayson County, Texas, where he clerked in a store for six months at Farmington. His next vocation was that of salesman, a capacity in which he traveled for six months, then returning to his labors as an educator, which he followed at Van Alstyne, Texas, as principal for six months, as principal of schools at Weston, Collin County, Texas, for two years, and as superintendent of schools at Vernon, Texas, two years. In the spring of 1888 he entered the real estate business, and in the spring of 1889 was elected the first mayor of Vernon, Texas. His real estate ventures proving eminently successful, for the first time in his life he found himself on a solid financial basis.
Judge Tolbert had inherited his father’s predilection for the law and from early youth had been desirous of engaging therein as a profession. Accordingly, in the summer of 1890, he entered the University of Texas, at Austin, where he completed a two years’ law course within one year, and established an excellent record, leading the junior class and having an average of 90 per cent for his senior year’s work. He was admitted to the bar in May, 1891, and returned to Vernon, where he engaged in the practice of his calling in association with Judge R. W. Hall, who is now associate judge of the Court of Civil Appeals, at Amarillo, Texas. This partnership continued until Judge Tolbert was elected, in 1894, county judge of Willbarger County, an office in which he continued six years. In 1900 he formed a partnership with W. D. Berry, under the firm style of Tolbert & Berry, his partner, a resident of Vernon, being one of the foremost legists in the Lone Star State. In the summer of 1903, Judge Tolbert moved to Hobart, Oklahoma, and the combination was not dissolved until 1905 when he became associated with Mr. John T. Hays under the firm style of Tolbert & Hays, which association continued until January, 1908, from which time Judge Tolbert practiced alone, with constantly increasing general civil and criminal practice, until January, 1915, when his son became associated with him under the firm style of Tolbert & Tolbert, their offices being in the Abstract Building.
Judge Tolbert is a democrat, and for many years has been prominent in the councils of his party. He was elected as judge of the Seventeenth Judicial District of Oklahoma, comprising Kiowa, Washita, Custer and Blaine counties, November 6, 1907, at the beginning of statehood, and continued to serve with dignity and ability until his retirement, January 11, 1915. Judge Tolbert was chairman of the platform committee at the Democratic State Convention in 1912 and has also been a member of the committee on several occasions. In 1914 he was a candidate before the democratic primaries for the nomination for Congress from the Seventh Oklahoma District which had just been created and which had no representative in Congress. In a hotly contested campaign, he was defeated by about 400 votes out of almost 20,000 cast.
He has been identified with movements which have served to elevate the standards of legislation in Oklahoma, having several times served as chairman of the committee on Remedial Legislation and Judicial Reform of the Oklahoma State Bar Association. He is the author of the law which provides for summoning jurors and witnesses by the United States mail, and by telephone and telegraph. He prepared this bill and wrote to each member of the Oklahoma Legislature, and the bill was promptly passed, in January, 1910. Judge Tolbert was instrumental in securing the passage of the law for providing adjourned terms of the district courts, thereby enabling the district judge to adjourn regular terms from time to time, thus keeping the court in each county open at all times. He served on the school board while a resident of Vernon, Texas, and held a like position at Hobart for many years, having always taken a deep interest in educational matters. In the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of which he is a member, he is serving as lay leader.
Judge Tolbert is a member of the Hobart Lodge No. 198, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Chapter No. 37, Royal Arch Masons; Commandery No. 10, Knights Templar; Hobart Council, Royal and Select Masters and Indian Temple, Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Oklahoma City. He belongs to the Kiowa County Bar Association, the Oklahoma State Bar Association and the American Bar Association, to the latter of which he was a delegate in the convention held at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1910. Hobart and its industries and interests have always secured his unwavering support, and at the present time, in addition to being a stirring member of the Chamber of Commerce, he is president of the Hobart Industrial Company, an organization of 110 active business men of the city, founded to look after the welfare of the town. It was through Judge Tolbert ’a efforts that the Carnegie Library was secured for Hobart and he was president of the first board of trustees of this institution and remained as a member of the board until the library was completed.
At Farmington, Texas, in 1886, Judge Tolbert was united in marriage with Miss Emma Gilbert, a daughter of Miles G. Gilbert, a Kentuckian by birth who now resides at Vernon, Texas, and is engaged extensively in farming and stock raising. The mother of Mrs. Tolbert was a Williams of Virginia and a direct descendant of George Washington. Five children have been born to Judge and Mrs. Tolbert: Raymond A., Virginia Gilbert, Ruth Ann, James R., Jr., and Miles G. Raymond A. Tolbert was born March 17, 1890, at Vernon, Texas, and there attended the public schools. During 1907-10 he attended the Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, and from 1910 to 1913, the University of Oklahoma, at Norman, Oklahoma, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1912 and that of Bachelor of Laws in 1913. He belongs to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a Greek letter fraternity, the Phi Delta Phi, an honorary legal fraternity, and the Sigma Delta Chi, a journalistic fraternity, and while at college was a member of the student committee that secured a $125,000 law building for the university from the Legislature. When he was admitted to the bar, in 1912, he became associated in practice with his father and has continued as his partner to the present time, being known as one of the promising young members of the Oklahoma bar. He is also president of the Hobart Public Library Board.
Virginia Gilbert Tolbert was born August 17, 1892, at Vernon, Texas, and is a graduate of Hobart High School and of the University of Oklahoma, in 1914, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. She was president of the Young Women’s Christian Association at the university, as well as being president of the Women’s Council in the students’ self-governing committee. During the past two years she has been instructor of science at the Hobart High School, and is a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta and the Owl and Triangle, a women’s honor society, consisting of the six best all-round women students at the University of Oklahoma.
Ruth Ann Tolbert was born March 4, 1894, and graduated from Hobart High School in the class of 1912, following which she took a two-year course at the University of Oklahoma, and in 1914 became a teacher in the public schools of Geary, Oklahoma. She subsequently began attending summer courses at the state university, from which she will be graduated with the class of 1917. She is a popular member of the Kappa Alpha Theta, and a member of the Women’s Council at the university.
James R. Tolbert, Jr., was born December 7, 1897, at Vernon, Texas, and graduated from Hobart High School in the class of 1915. In the fall of the same year he entered the University of Oklahoma, where he is now a student. Miles G. Tolbert, born in July, 1899, is a senior in the Hobart High School.