Lawrence Sullivan Ross was a larger-than-life character who escaped death on many occasions during the early and chaotic days of Texas history. As a young man he led a unit of native Americans in combat against other tribes, many of whom he knew personally. He was severely wounded but survived. He and his wife adopted one child that had been captured but whose parentage could not be determined. He later became a Texas Ranger and commanded Ranger units in the battles against various tribes in the shifting alliances of the times. In addition to his own 8 children, he adopted a nine-year-old Mexican boy freed in one battle. He was once asked to resign as a Ranger due to the perception that his close relationship with some of the tribes might make him less effective.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined confederate forces and became one of its youngest generals. Following the war, he was pardoned by President Johnson. He was a mere 26 years old.
Ross returned to Texas and farming. His leadership skills however were in high demand and he became a highly respected two term Governor. He turned down a third request to run and became the President of The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. Over the seven- and one-half years he saved the school from being disbanded, obtained funding, expanded the campus, professionalized the faculty, and increased student numbers and quality. Even after leaving A&M he remained exceedingly popular in the State and at the school. When he died A&M performed Silver Taps for the first time.
The State erected a statue of “Sully” on the campus. Students leave a penny at the statue for good luck when they take their exams.
Sul Ross was both a man of his times and ahead of his times. As Governor he obtained funding for deaf, mute, and blind black children and as the President of A&M thought women should attend. Nevertheless, his military service to the Confederacy is controversial. Efforts to place his service to his state and Texas A&M in context are ongoing as is an effort to acknowledge the contributions of Matthew Gaines the African American Politician who played a significant role in free public education in Texas as well as legislation to fund Texas A&M.
No individual had a greater impact on what Teas A&M would become than Sul Ross.