Jack Dempsey Comes To Jefferson (with a Johnny Manziel connection)

In June of 1959, former world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey came to Jefferson in Marion County—but it wasn’t for fun or promotion, he was there for litigation.

For about 25 years as of 1959, Dempsey actually had interest in oil properties in Marion County. He acquired the properties through his connection with Bobby Manziel, a longtime close friend of his “who was one of the most colorful of the current generation of oil men.”

Jack Dempsey shown in Jefferson in a June 11, 1959 photo from the Marshall News Messenger.

Manziel, who had also been a heavyweight boxer, was born in Lebanon and became friends with Dempsey. When he retired from boxing, he moved to East Texas. He was nearly broke.

He asked Dempsey for $400 to drill for oil on the grounds of what was then the Negro New Hope Baptist Church in Gladewater. Dempsey later said it was the smartest investment he ever made.

From the articles in the Marshall News Messenger in 1959, it isn’t clear if Dempsey was in town for litigation relating to the Gladewater well, which would not have been in Marion County, or for separate properties he later acquired with Manziel’s help.

Bobby Joe Manziel is the great-grandfather of Johnny Manziel, also known as “Johnny Football,” who was quarterback of Texas A&M for several years before going pro and playing for the Cleveland Browns. Legal troubles later kept him from the NFL, although he has recently played football in Canada and for other American, non-NFL teams.



San Antonio Express News; Marshall News Messenger, June 11, 1959, p1.

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Vince Leibowitz

Publisher & Editor at Contemporary Texas History
Vince Leibowitz is a journalist, author, and historian. He is the Publisher and Editor of Contemporary Texas History.

He lives in Colorado County, Texas with his two dogs, Lyndon "Puppy" and Senfronia.

He serves on the Colorado County Historical Commission and as Managing Editor of The Colorado County Citizen.

He recently secured a Texas Historical Marker for Etta Moten Barnett. the first black woman to sing solo in the White House. In April, 2019, he was named South Texas Press Association Journalist of the Year for Division I.
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