FROM earliest time the valley of the Rio Grande has been a natural pathway for men traversing the Southwest. It was an ancient trail before Europeans set foot on the Western World; and when the Spanish in their widening conquests advanced up the central pla- teau of Mexico, they found the river course the easiest route into the unknown North.  Where the Rio Grande issued from the southernmost spurs of the Rocky Mountains, its valley narrowed sharply through a Pass, immediately recognized by the Spanish as of great strategic value, their doorway to the North. They named this place El Paso del Norte.  For almost four centuries history has been made by the procession of strong men who have filed through that pass.  Various, not only in character but in accomplishment, these early travelers through the Pass each unfold a picturesque legend of the land. Their portraits might each be considered as characteristic symbols of early chapters in the history of the West, episodes in the conquest of that Pass of the North where a modern city now stands.”

Tom Lea, Calendar of Twelve Travelers Through the Pass of the North, 1946.
Designed and published by Carl Hertzog.

Established by the Tom Lea Institute in 2011 through the leadership of founding member, J.P. Bryan, the Society of XII Travelers is comprised of the first twelve $100,000 donors to the Tom Lea Institute. The $1.25 million dollar endowment will provide a percentage of the annual operating costs of the TLI, to be matched by entrepreneurial income from tours, prints, books and Tom Lea Month activities. While Tom Lea’s Calendar of Twelve Travelers Through the Pass of the North commemorates notable characters who left their imprints upon history, the Society of XII Travelers honors the Distinguished Founding Donors of the Tom Lea Institute.


XII Travelers

Major Donors to the Tom Lea Institute


The first twelve $100,000 donors are designated The XII Travelers, named after the 1946 Calendar of Twelve Travelers Through the Pass of the North written and illustrated by Tom Lea and published by Carl Hertzog. While the book commemorates notable characters who left their imprints upon history, The XII Travelers honors the Distinguished Founding Donors of the Tom Lea Institute.


J.P. Bryan was told early in life to serve those things that serve your interest and not your self-interest. This sixth-generation Texan's interests range wider than Texas—from art history (his undergraduate major at UT-Austin, where he started a rare-book store and The Pemberton Press) to UT-Austin Law School ("I couldn't see how I'd support my family with an art history degree!") to banking with J.P. Morgan and, later, E.F. Hutton, with a specialty in oil and gas financing, and finally to his 1981 formation and eventual ownership of Torch Energy, which has bought over $3 billion in producing oil and gas properties, sponsored six public companies and numerous private enterprises. That got him named 1995 Entrepreneur of the Year.

In 1995, he took over the reins of Gulf Canada's sagging fortunes and transformed them over a period of three years, earning him Canadian Oil and Gas Producer of the Year in 1996.

Early on, he dedicated himself to balance in life—of building successful business enterprises and using his time and resources for historical preservation and restoration.

He and Mary Jon, his wife, purchased the Gage Hotel (a Henry Trost design, as was Tom Lea's boyhood home) and began its restoration, as well as ongoing restorations of structures on their ranches and of original grasslands, the latter resulting in awards for grassland improvement. They'd also initiated the Torch Collection, now the largest private collection of Texana—over 10,000 items, mostly housed in Houston, that offer visitors a rare view into the history of the West.

J.P. and Mary Jon are the Tom Lea Endowment's first Cabeza de Vaca ($100,000) member/donors, and J.P. is chairman-elect of the Tom Lea Institute board of directors. J.P.'s father, as president of the Texas State Historical Association, knew and corresponded with Tom Lea. Now his son's passionate service to wide-ranging interests continues and expands that connection.


Betty Ruth's mother, Lillie Adair Staten, attended El Paso High School with Tom. When she married John D. Williams, the couple remained friends with Tom and Sarah Lea.

Betty Ruth, who survived two husbands, founded The Wakefield Family Foundation when her first husband C.W. "Wake" Wakefield died. The Foundation helps support many El Paso not-for-profit groups. It presented the El Paso Museum of Art with the EPHS yearbook in which her mother and Tom Lea appear, and where young Tom honed his drawing skills as its illustrator.

"Caring about the community is a family tradition," says Betty Ruth.