Jess Sweeten (1905–1980). Jess Sweeten, colorful Henderson County sheriff and mayor of Athens, was born on May 7, 1905, in Enterprise, near Stigler, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), the son of John and Nelle (Davis) Sweeten. He was educated in Oklahoma in the public schools of Johnson and Wapanucka counties before joining his father on a cattle ranch in Cole County, Oklahoma. In 1922 Sweeten moved to Kansas City, Kansas, to work for the Otis Elevator Company. He was transferred in 1926 to Dallas, where he lived and worked for the next several years.
In 1930 Sweeten was appointed deputy constable at Trinidad, Texas, and the following year was promoted to deputy sheriff. In 1932 he ran successfully for the Henderson County sheriff’s office, becoming the youngest sheriff in Texas, and served for the next twenty-two years. The six-foot-four, 225-pound Sweeten gained a reputation as a hard-nosed investigator and a crack shot.
In 1954 Sweeten stepped down from the sheriff’s office to work for Mobil Oil Company in Right of Way and Claims and as special investigator. An expert marksman, he conducted shooting exhibitions for schools and civic clubs throughout his career, shooting at cigars and other objects held up by his one-armed assistant Gus Sowells. On one occasion, Sweeten reportedly fired 3,700 rounds in seven hours, shooting up some 600 pounds of potatoes.
In 1969 Sweeten was elected mayor of Athens, serving until June 1970, when he resigned due to business commitments. During the 1970s he served as a special investigator for the local district attorney’s office. Sweeten married Hazel Potter, a native of Goldthwaite, in Athens on April 2, 1933; the couple had two daughters. He died in Athens on November 16, 1980, and was buried in Oaklawn Memorial Park there.