by Mignon LeTulle Matthews and Frances V. Parker
Victor Lawrence LeTulle, Bay City businessman, farmer, rancher and philanthropist, was born in Columbus, Texas, on July 5, 1864. His surname was derived from the family's place of origin, Tulle, France.
He was the son of Victor D. LeTulle (November 25, 1832 - November 5, 1914), who was born in Guyandotte, Cabell County, West Virginia, and was buried in Cedarvale Cemetery in Bay City, and his first wife, Helen Maria Webb (February 28, 1832 - September 3, 1970), daughter of Henry L. Webb and granddaughter of Samuel Blanchley Webb of Revolutionary War fame. She was born in Caledonia, Illinois, and died in Oakland, Texas.
Victor Lawrence "V. L." LeTulle was educated in the public schools of Colorado County and was engaged in farming there until 1890, when he came to Matagorda County. Here he acquired land and began his farming and ranching activities. His recorded brands were the 7VL and the circle "O," which originally belonged to Norman Savage and in 1986 was run by the Gilmore Cattle Company.
In Colorado County, on January 29, 1890, V. L. married first Sarah "Sallie" West Bell (February 16, 1868 - May 24, 1933), daughter of Nathan Edward Bell (December 29, 1836 - August 29, 1899) and Sarah Catherine Green. Sallie was one of twelve Bell children. N. E. Bell was a farmer in Colorado County, who had also served in the Confederate Army in defense of Galveston and a member of Hood's Brigade. On July 19, 1935, LeTulle married second Estelle "Essie" Bell Fate (January 1, 1883 - May 24, 1962), who was a sister of his deceased wife. The marriage was dissolved the following year. There were no children born to either marriage.
LeTulle moved to Matagorda County in 1890 and to the town of Bay City in 1900. He began accumulating extensive land holdings in both Matagorda and Brazoria counties, and began farming rice in 1901. Subsequently he developed a canal system totaling 334 miles of waterways which was known as the Gulf Coast Irrigation System. The canals were sold to the Gulf Coast Water Company in 1931, and eventually were owned and operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority.
V. L. entered the banking business in 1920, when he bought a substantial interest in the First National Bank of Bay City, becoming its president in 1923. James C. Lewis became his vice-president and Esker L. McDonald was made cashier. LeTulle resigned the presidency of the bank in 1944.
As a philanthropist, V. L. LeTulle was known throughout the State for his benevolent contributions. He donated his LeTulle River Farm plantation of over 8,000 acres to the Buckner Orphans Home and continued farming operation on the land in behalf of that institution. He made other charitable gifts to the Buckner Home, including the Sallie LeTulle Memorial Dormitory and the hospital. In the early 1940s he gave $200,000 to Memorial Hospital in Houston for the construction of a crippled children's wing. V. L. was always interested in cripple children, an interest prompted by his own handicap. As a young man of twenty-three, he was in a cotton gin when a flywheel came loose from its shaft and struck him in the shin. His broken leg was improperly set, which left him with a lifelong limp.
Believing that charity begins at home, in 1938 LeTulle donated a 25-acre tract of land west of the Colorado River for the purpose of creating a public park, He supplied additional land when the Ellis M. Hamill Memorial Golf Course needed to expand its facilities. The park bearing LeTulle's name is one of the beauty spots of Bay City.
In 1938 he made a gift to the citizens of Bay City--a municipally-owned gas company. In August of that year, he purchased the distribution system from Texas Natural Gas Utilities Company. He immediately turned the deed from the $90,000-plus company over to the City of Bay City. The note he took for the purchase was to bear him six percent interest until the time of his death, which would then cancel the note. This occurred six years later. For decades the revenue from this utility helped Bay City to keep its tax rate among the lowest in the state and nation for cities its size.
V. L. was also a major donor to the Matagorda General hospital, giving the tract of land on which the hospital was built. He also made considerable contributions to local organizations, such as the Girl Scouts. He was equally generous with financial aid to needy women and children. Many Bay Citians owe their college education to his financial assistance.
During World War II, LeTulle was one of the largest purchasers of savings bonds in the county; he bought the first $50,000 bond to build the Battleship Texas. He also played a major role in the construction of the U. S. O. building, which was later the Community Service Center. Realizing that the standard U. S. O. plans called for a frame building that would remain in the community after the war's end, it was felt that a brick structure would be more lasting and attractive, so at the request of Richard C. Gusman, LeTulle and members of the gas company board donated $8,000 to purchase bricks for the building. LeTulle then purchased the fans and cots for the building out of his own pocket. The former U. S. O. is now the Community Service Center, scene of hundreds of organization meetings annually.
As a local memorial to his beloved wife, Sallie, he built the sanctuary for the First Baptist Church, which was dedicated in 1940. V. L.'s favorite hobby was fishing, and in order to have his own private fishing hole, he dammed up a one and one-half mile branch of the Colorado River which flowed through the plantation and stocked it with fish. When the time came to paint the background of the church's baptistery, a suitable picture of the Jordan River could not be readily found. Thus the baptistery scene in the sanctuary is not a replica of the River Jordan in Israel, but a copy of a photograph which hung in V. L.'s den--of Lake LeTulle in Matagorda County.
V. L. LeTulle was jovial, outspoken and almost bombastic in his manner. He made keen and accurate analysis of a problem, and arrived at a decision so rapidly that he could out-bargain almost anyone. There is no doubt he enjoyed making money, but he was always thinking where it should be used to do good.
V. L. LeTulle was a long-time member of the Masonic Order and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
"Uncle Vickie' as he was known to Bay Citians, died in Memorial Hospital in Houston, Texas, on May 1, 1944, and was buried beside his Sallie in Cedarvale Cemetery. He had willed his estate to his great-nephew, Lawrence Everett Brewer LeTulle (grandson of brother Harry L.), who was serving with the United States Navy in the South Pacific at the time. The will stipulated that, should his nephew not survive the war, V. L.'s nieces, Elizabeth Everett and Louisa Westfall, and his niece-in-law, Onella Vaughn, would be his heirs. Seven months later, on December 12, 1944, Lieutenant (j. g.) Larry LeTulle died in a shipboard accident in the Palaus.
V. L. LeTulle claimed to have come to Matagorda County "with a horse and buggy, a new wife, 'Old Dave' (a servant), and $50." At the time of his wife's death in 1933, his assets were valued at two and one-half million. His philosophy of generosity can best be summed up in the last lines of his favorite poem, which he carried in his pocket: "All you can hold in your cold dead hand is what you have given away."
Historic Matagorda County, Volume II,
Death was due to pneumonia and other complications. He contacted
pneumonia Tuesday, April 25, Sunday, April 23 a lady came to his
home in need of a bit of gasoline and wished to get her car home. He
not only wished to see that she got the gasoline but he insisted
that he get it for her himself. In so doing he inhaled fumes from
the fuel and became ill. He was taken to the Matagorda County
General Hospital where medical assistance was ministered and the
following Monday was allowed to go home. But when his condition
became worse the following day he was taken to Houston to the
Memorial Hospital. He contracted pneumonia and then uremic
poisoning. Hope for his recovery was slight.
A multimillionaire, Mr. V. L. LeTulle had given to the many
charitable organizations, hospitals, churches and city, hundreds of
thousands of dollars. To Buckner’s Orphans Home he had given over
half million dollars in buildings, cash and a few years ago, he
deeded them an 8,000 acre farm here in Matagorda county which he
continued to operate for them. The farm in 1943 brought to the
Orphans Home $65,000. In memory of his wife he built the beautiful
Baptist Church [sanctuary] here in Bay City. He gave $200,000 to the
Memorial Hospital in Houston. He bought and gave to the city the Bay
City Gas Company. The LeTulle Park is a gift to the city from him.
Smaller gifts were numerous. He had on many occasions financially
assisted individuals and concerns. He had schooled many young men
and women. Often he had stated that his pleasure in life was to help
A stern and clever businessman, V. L. LeTulle came to Matagorda
county in the infant days of the city of Bay City. He was a cotton
farmer but he often said he would some day erect a monument to the
bollweevil, the pest that turned him from cotton to rice and
eventually into a millionaire. He became a large property owner,
cattle man, banker, owner of the irrigation system in the county and
at that time probably the largest individually owned irrigation
system in the world. He sold the system to the Gulf Coast Water
Company which now operates it. For years he was president of the
First National Bank of Bay City, a position he resigned this year in
favor of his business associate, Mr. J. C. Lewis. In his latter
years he gave away and disposed of much of his property. He was the
largest war bond purchaser in the county, helping the county in each
of its drives to make the quotas set.
He is survived by two brothers, J. J. LeTulle, Louis LeTulle and one
sister, Mrs. Henry Rugeley. Several nieces and nephews and other
relatives also surviving.
Funeral services, for which the entire city will close to observe,
will be held from the Baptist Church at 4 o’clock, Tuesday
afternoon. Reverend James Draper will officiate. Matchett-Newman are
in charge of the arrangements. The body will lie in state at the
church from 2 to 4 o’clock. Burial will be in Cedarvale Cemetery.
Daily Tribune, May 1, 1944
Copyright 2013 -
Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
Apr. 6, 2013
Apr. 6, 2013