William P. Hancock
from This Was Ellis County
A publication of the Junior Historians,
Waxahachie High School, 1979
This article is an excerpt of The Hancock Building and Lawyer Hancock by Steve Wallace dealing specifically with William P. Hancock.
William P. Hancock
The first attorney bearing the Hancock name was William P. Hancock who was a descendant of two pioneer Ellis County families. Hancock's father, William L., came to Waxahachie in the early 1860's and entered the Confederate service with Company I of the 18th Texas Cavalry. He returned to the area as a disabled veteran. In 1864 he married Jane A. Stout of the Palmer area, where he became engaged in farming and cattle raising. During his residence in that area, Hancock served the public as a tax collector, Justice of the Peace, and as a deputy sheriff. Three children, William, Lee and Sarah, were born to the Hancocks. W. L.'s wife died and he remarried. During later years, the elder Hancock moved back to Waxahachie and bought a home at the corner of East Marvin and East Ross Streets. During his residence in Waxahachie he was semi-retired but was engaged in the real estate business on a limited scale. He died at the Bedford home on East Marvin.
William Pitt Hancock, son of W. L., was born in Palmer on August 27, 1872. His early schooling took place in Palmer but in the early 1890's he attended Park School (now Marvin Elementary) in Waxahachie. After graduating from the Waxahachie High School, Will enrolled at the University of Texas to begin his study of law. While attending the University, Hancock made some lifetime friends who were to become leading political figures in Texas and the nation. His university classmates, with whom he maintained a lifelong relationship, were Governor Pat Neff, Senator Earl B. Mayfield and Senator Tom Connally. Hancock was a member of the second law class (1897) that graduated from the University of Texas. He returned to Waxahachie after receiving his license to practice law and opened his office in the building locally known as the old Cheeves Brothers Department Store. On the ground floor of the building was the Spalding and McCartney Furniture Company. The top floor was the Odd Fellows Lodge and Will Hancock's office, among others, was located on the second floor.
Records show that in 1905 Hancock's office was located in the Vickery Building. Early in his law career Hancock represented a brewer in Dallas and he could be seen each Saturday making his rounds collecting from every saloon in Waxahachie.
Early in his career he entered an International Declamation contest, which was held in Washington, D.C. He was judged the winner of the contest and as a result won a week visit in the quarters of President William H. Taft.
One of the stories told involving Hancock was his part in breaking up the mob that intended to hang Joe Larkin, an accused murderer. The mob was following law officers who were taking Larkin to the jail, but officers were beginning to lose control of the situation when Hancock and a few others rode into the mob on horseback and convinced the group that Larkin should have a trial. The effort was successful and officers continued with Larkin to the jail.
In addition to his legal work, Hancock maintained an interest in cotton farming. He also had interests in banking and a mercantile business in Palmer. Before World War I he could be seen almost every morning driving to Palmer in his one-cylinder Brush automobile to check on the farm. He would return home, bathe and be in his office by 9 a.m. Throughout his lifetime, Hancock made these morning trips to his farm.
Governor Pat Neff offered Hancock membership on the Court of Criminal Appeals and he was called to Austin to confer with Neff. Hancock turned down the appointment but he recommended to Neff the Ellis County District Judge, Frank L. Hawkins. Neff followed Hancock's recommendation and Hawkins served in the position for over twenty years.
During his legal career, Hancock defended many cases over the state. His son related that he defended between two and three hundred clients for murder charges, but was proud of the record that no client, which he defended for murder, was electrocuted or hanged.
He also defended Agriculture Commissioner J .E. McDonald before the Texas House of Representatives in Austin.
In his career, he had three or four legal secretaries, but the one who worked the longest, from 1917-1955, was Nancybelle Ross, who quit Trinity University to work for Hancock. She and Judge Gammon's secretary earned their law degrees by correspondence from LaSalle Institute. Miss Ross did not take the state bar exam, but Judge Gammon's secretary took it. She worked for local attorney Richard Chapman until her retirement.
Hancock had no partners during his legal career but on occasions he associated himself with others in trials. He engaged at times as co-counsel with Tom P. Whipple and Judge J .C. Lumpkins. He was a Democrat but did not seek public office. He did serve as Ellis County Democratic Party Chairman after his name was written in on the ballot without his opposition.
Forrester, W. P.'s son, related that his father was a workhorse and that he always had a job. He had little free time away from his profession. He was a great storyteller and loved to collect books. He was also a great declaimer and his speeches were much in demand at various types of public meetings. Hancock was an emotional, industrious and legally ambitious man.
After the end of his first marriage in 1921, the elder Hancock moved his residence to the Rogers Hotel for a period of time until he became weary of the public exposure at the hotel. He then arranged an apartment in the Hancock Law Office Building. He resided there until he married his second wife, Jewel Thompson. The couple purchased the Vickery Place on East Marvin Avenue and Hancock resided there until his death.
In August of 1954 Hancock became bedridden. He had been treated at Scott and White in Temple and at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, but the doctors told his son Forrester that he was "an old Model T that was worn out and there were no parts to fix him." William P. Hancock died in February of 1955 of a heart attack at the age of 83 years.