DEADLIEST FEUD IN TEXAS

It’s called the Sutton-Taylor Feud, but William Sutton was the only Sutton involved in this fight. He had a lot of friends, including some members of Governor E. J. Davis’ State Police. The Taylor faction consisted of the sons, nephews, in-laws, and friends of two

brothers––Creed and Pitkin Taylor. The tale gets more complicated: Creed Taylor, who had fought in every major Texas battle from the “Come and Take It” skirmish at Gonzales through the Mexican-American War, did not join the feud. His brother Pitkin was an old man in 1872 when the feud was well underway. Sutton supporters lured him out of his house one night by ringing a cowbell in his cornfield. Shot and severely wounded, he lived only six months. At his funeral, his son and several relatives vowed to avenge the killing. “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall” became their mantra.

Lawlessness ran rampant in Texas after the Civil War and resentments flared with the arrival of black Union soldiers assigned to keep order and Carpetbaggers—Northerners, some of whom took advantage of the impoverished conditions by paying back taxes on land to acquire farms belonging to Confederate soldiers.

Evidence of the building tensions appeared in 1866 when Buck Taylor shot a black sergeant who came to a dance at the home of Taylor’s uncle. Then Hays Taylor killed a black soldier in an Indianola saloon. The following year, Hays Taylor and his brother Doby killed two Yankee soldiers in Mason. No arrests were made in any of the cases.

William Sutton’s first foray into the “troubles,” began in 1868 while he served as Clinton deputy sheriff. In an attempt to arrest horse thieves, Sutton killed Charley Taylor and arrested James Sharp. When Sharp “tried to escape,” a recurrent problem with prisoners during that period, Sutton shot Sharp in the back.

A few months later, Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm accused Sutton of dishonesty over the sale of some horses. They settled the matter with guns, which resulted in the death of both Taylor and Chisholm.

Then William Sutton did the unthinkable by joining the hated State Police force under Captain Jack Helm. Historians believe not all of the State Police were corrupt or politically motivated, however, the faction working under Jack Helm apparently used “Reconstruction,” as an excuse to terrorize large sections of South Central Texas. For example, Helm’s men arrested sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor on a trivial charge, took them a short distance from home, and killed them while one of their wives watched from hiding.

After several incidents came to light regarding Jack Helm’s misconduct, the State Police dismissed him. To the chagrin of many in the area, Helm continued serving as DeWitt County Sheriff. It was not long before Jim Taylor and John Wesley Hardin, the notorious murderer, killed Jack Helm.

With Helm gone, William Sutton became the leader of the group. After old Pitkin Taylor, mentioned above, was lured out and killed, his son Jim and several relatives caught William Sutton in a saloon; they fired through the saloon door, but only wounded him. After a second unsuccessful attempt to kill Sutton, they settled for killing a member of Sutton’s group.

The murders continued to terrify the countryside. Residents of the region were forced to take sides and lived in constant fear of being pursued or ensnared in a trap. No one felt safe from the rampage. Finally, William Sutton moved to Victoria and got married. When his wife was expecting a child, he decided they should leave the country.  Gabriel Slaughter accompanied them on the train to Indianola. On March 11, 1874, Sutton, his wife, and Slaughter were boarding a ship when Jim and Bill Taylor shot and killed both men.

In retaliation, the Sutton faction arrested three Taylors on charges of “cattle theft,” and put them in the Clinton jail. Despite probable innocence, they were taken out of jail on the night of June 20, 1874, and hanged.

In September 1875, Bill Taylor went on trial in Indianola for murdering Sutton and Slaughter. Huge crowds from all over the state––eager to witness the trial of a member of the notorious feud––converged on Indianola. Instead of a trial, they witnessed a devastating hurricane with winds of 110 miles an hour. When water began filling the jail, Bill Taylor and the other prisoners were released.

The murders continued when John Wesley Hardin killed the new leader of the Suttons. A gunfight the following month, left Jim Taylor and two of his friends, dead. When masked men executed four prominent citizens, the Texas Rangers finally stepped in and arrested eight suspects. No one dared testify. The trial ended with only one conviction and that man, after twenty years of legal maneuvering, received a pardon.

The Sutton-Taylor Feud ground to an exhausted halt. Known as the longest and bloodiest feud in Texas history, the confirmed death toll in the Taylor faction reached twenty-two. The Sutton group lost about thirteen.

 

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BORDER CRISIS

As this country wrestles with the devastating turmoil that has been created by our confused and cruel immigration policies, I have looked at Texas history in search of past leaders who have made hard choices in the face of serious challenges. This post recounts three leaders who had the courage to step forward when our country needed people with strength and character. As you will see, not all of them got what they worked to achieve. But they tried.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston, the hero of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto became the first president of the Republic of Texas. He worked tirelessly to get Texas into the Union, and when it happened in 1846, Houston was appointed to the U.S. Senate. (Those were the days before senators were elected. They were appointed by legislators.) Despite being a slave-owner, Houston voted in the U.S. Senate against the expansion of slavery. As secession talk reached fever pitch, his political views brought defeat in his 1857 bid for governor. Two years later, he won the governorship despite traveling the state to warn that a war of secession would bring devastation to the South. Houston was a not an Abolitionist who wanted to end slavery. He was a Unionist, one who was opposed to secession.

After Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America, Houston refused to swear allegiance to the new government. The legislature removed him from the governorship.  He returned to his home in Huntsville and died there in 1863 before the end of the Civil War proved his warnings to be correct.

Another politician who stood up to power––Daniel James Moody, Jr.––was a twenty-nine-year-old district attorney in Williamson County when the Ku Klux Klan made its resurgence across the country. Preaching white supremacy and hatred

Dan Moody

of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law, the Klan at its peak reached a membership in Texas in the tens of thousands. Klansmen became very powerful by winning the election of a U.S. Senator from Texas, legislators, sheriffs, and judges. It also gained control of city governments in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls.

Lulu Belle Madison White

In 1923, the Klan sent a letter to a traveling salesman warning him to stop staying at the home of a young widow when he came through Williamson County. When he ignored their demand, Klansmen waylaid his car, wrapped a trace chain around his neck, tied him naked to a tree and flogged him fifty lashes with a leather strap. After dark, they hooked his chain to a tree on the Taylor City Hall lawn, poured tar or creosote over his head and body and left him. Since the Klan had been getting away with floggings all over the country, it was assumed that they would continue to exert their power. At the trial, the constable testified that it was the worst beating he had ever seen––“raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places, the skin had been split and the flesh was gaping open.”

Klans across the state collected funds to retain the best legal team, including a Texas state senator and his brother. Reporters and spectators filled the Williamson County Courthouse. When the trial ended, five men had been sentenced to prison and District Attorney Dan Moody became the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan.

Lulu Belle Madison White was not a politician, but she influenced them. She graduated in 1928 from Prairie View College (present Prairie View A &M University) with a degree in English. As a member of the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), she taught school for nine years and then quit to devote her life to bringing justice to the black community. She organized chapters of NAACP all over Texas and even before 1944 when the Supreme Court found that the white primary was unconstitutional, White had started organizing a “Pay your poll tax and get out to vote” campaign. She was a strong advocate for using the black vote to force social change. She argued, “We cannot sit idly by and expect things to come to us. We must go out and get them.”

She led voter registration seminars, urged black churches to speak up about public issues without endorsing specific candidates. She pressed white businesses to hire blacks, using boycotts, protest demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to influence change.

In 1946, the University of Texas was segregated. Prairie View A&M was the only state-support black college in Texas, and it did not offer training for professional degrees. White not only persuaded Herman Marion Sweatt, a black mail carrier, to act as the plaintiff against the University of Texas to demand integration, she raised money to pay his legal expenses. Years later Sweatt claimed that it was White’s encouragement that helped him maintain his resolve.

The victory of Sweatt v. Painter before the Supreme Court in June 1951 opened the door for Brown v. Board of Education and the march toward dissolving the color line in education.

Texas and the United States have had bold leaders. It is time once again to remember that we are a decent people who care for our young––all our young. And we are going to stand up to power when it tries to change who we are.

Even though he was not a Texan, John Denver’s song says it well:

“There’s a man who is my brother,
I just don’t know his name,
But I know his home and family,
Because I know we feel the same,
And it hurts me when he’s hungry,
Or when his children cry,
I too am a father,
That little one is mine

It’s about time we begin it,
To turn the world around,
It’s about time we start to make it,
The dream we’ve always known,
It’s about time we start to live it,
The family of man,
It’s about time,
It’s about changes,
And it’s about time,

It’s about you and me together,
And it’s about time”

Yes, it’s about time. Let’s stand tall and demand that our elected officials do the same.

The Man Who Beat “Ma” (Miriam) Ferguson

Dan Moody

Daniel James Moody, Jr. set records for being the youngest, at age twenty-seven, elected as Williamson County Attorney; the youngest district attorney elected at twenty-nine; the youngest attorney general of Texas at thirty-two; and the youngest governor of Texas at thirty-four. He won the governorship by beating “Ma” (Miriam A.) Ferguson, Texas’ first female chief executive. Ma had won election after her husband Governor James Ferguson had been impeached and removed from office for corruption.

Dan Moody was a tall, redheaded young man in a hurry. He entered the University of Texas at age seventeen and began taking law courses two years later. He passed the state bar without graduating law school and served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army during WWI. When he returned to his home in Taylor after the war, his political career got underway. The circumstances that propelled him into state and national attention occurred while he served as district attorney of Williamson and Travis counties at the peak in 1923 of the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence.

The national KKK preached white supremacy and hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law. In Williamson County the Klan targeted a young salesman, R. W. Burleson, whose route through the area included staying at the home of a young widow. A Baptist preacher and anti-Catholic lecturer sent a note to Burleson that bore the seal of the Georgetown KKK No. 178. The note warned Burleson to end his relationship with the young woman. Burleson burned the note and threatened to kill any Klan member who bothered him.

On Easter Sunday in 1923, Burleson, the widow, and another couple were stopped on a country road by two cars bearing eight or ten men wearing robes and hoods. The men dragged Burleson from his car, hit him with a pistol, threw him in one of their cars, and took off with his feet still hanging out the door. They placed a heavy trace chain around his neck and tied him to a tree. Holding a pistol to his head as warning not to cry out, the KKK members removed his clothing, and used a four-foot long, three-inch wide leather strap to lash Burleson’s naked back with about fifty licks. Throughout the beating Burleson was questioned and threatened. Finally, he was loaded into a pickup, driven to the lawn of the Taylor City Hall and fastened by the chain to a tree. They poured tar or creosote over his head and body, and left him there in the darkness of early evening.

Burleson freed himself, and with the chain still around his neck, he walked toward a light in a nearby boarding house. The law officers who were called testified that Burleson had cuts and bruises all over his body, that his back was raw. He had creosote or tar in his hair, ears, face, shoulders, and body. A machinist cut the chain from Burleson’s neck and the doctor used oil to remove the tar. The constable testified that blood soaked through the mattress on which Burleson was placed—the worst beating the constable had ever seen—“as raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places the skin had been split and the flash was gaping open.”

Five men were arrested. The local Klan collected funds to retain the best legal team including a state senator and his brother. Enormous crowds and media from all over the United States came to hear the often lurid testimony in the trials of each defendant. By the time the last man was sentenced to prison, District Attorney Don Moody—the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan—had launched his political career.

Despite the Klan’s opposition, Dan Moody was elected Attorney General in 1925 at the same time Miriam “Ma” Ferguson won her first election as governor. Within a few months scandals began developing over highway contracts. Moody took the case to court and proved that $32 million in contracts—three times their actual value—had been awarded to Ferguson friends. He sealed his political future by traveling to Kansas City and Dallas to retrieve about one million of the state’s cash and securities that had been paid for the contracts. Armed with claims of Ferguson fraud, the following campaign for governor was one of Texas’ nastiest.

As the campaign got underway, Moody married Mildred Paxton, a newspaperwoman, and the press labeled it the “Honeymoon Campaign.” While Dan Moody focused his charges against the Ferguson’s corruption, Jim Ferguson made speeches for his wife’s re-election in which he

Dan Moody and his wife, Mildred Paxton Moody

called Mildred a “lipstick” that would chase Moody around the governor’s Mansion with a rolling pin.

When Moody became Texas’ youngest governor, the inauguration was the first to be held outdoors; it was the first to be broadcast on the radio and received national coverage because of Moody’s fame; and it was the first Texas election that denied a sitting governor a second term.

As a reform governor, Moody served two terms. He ended the Ferguson’s convict-pardon policies, reorganized the state highway department, including a program for a connected network of roads, and cut the cost of highway construction by almost half. He also created an office to audit state accounts.

At the end of Moody’s second term, he returned to a private law practice. He came in third in the 1942 race for the U.S. senate, his only political defeat, and he never again ran for public office.

He became known as an opposition leader to the New Deal and to the renomination for a fourth term of President Franklin Roosevelt. He supported Lyndon Johnson’s rival in his election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. As a Democrat, Moody supported Dwight D. Eisenhower for both his presidential victories and Richard M. Nixon for president in 1960. Dan Moody represented the conservative faction in the party that eventually led with the Nixon campaign to the wholesale movement in Texas of Democrats to the Republican Party.

The Grandest House on the Texas Coast

Today Fulton Mansion would be called the empty-nest home of George W. Fulton and Harriet Gillette Smith since at the time of its construction the Fulton’s six children were already grown.

Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion

In 1877 when the 3 ½-story, nineteen-room Second Empire style mansion rose along the shore of Aransas Bay, it was grandest house on the Texas coast, and the Fultons, with the help of seven servants, entertained lavishly in their elegant new home.

Fulton, like his cousin Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, was a brilliant engineer and used his skills to design a house with features that were rare for that time—hot and cold running water, gas lights, a refrigeration system, central heat, and flush toilets. Despite sitting only yards from Aransas Bay, the Fulton Mansion withstood massive storms, including the 1919 hurricane and ten-foot tidal wave that destroyed most structures in the area. Fulton designed a shellcrete (a form of concrete made from the plentiful local shell) foundation. Walls, both inside and out, were made of one-by-ten-inch pine boards stacked side-by-side to form a solid ten-inch thick frame. Shellcrete filled in between every fourth or fifth board in the floors creating a structure as stable as a grain elevator.

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Fulton could afford to construct the house, which cost about $l00,000, because of his wife’s inherited land and his own entrepreneurial spirit. Fulton, born in 1810, had worked in Indiana as a schoolteacher, watchmaker, and creator of mathematical instruments until he organized a company to fight in the Texas Revolution. They arrived too late for the action, but Fulton joined the Army of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for his service received 1,280 acres. Fulton worked for the General Land Office, which introduced him to the legal maneuvering necessary to acquire land. In 1840 he married Harriet who was the daughter of Henry Smith, governor of Texas for a short time in 1835 before the war for independence from Mexico. After Smith failed to win the presidency of the new Republic of Texas, he continued to serve in several government positions, to purchase land along the coast, and to promote the development of his property.

Meantime, George Fulton and Harriet left Texas and spent the next twenty years in Ohio and in Baltimore where they raised and educated their children. After Harriet’s father died and the Fulton’s cleared the titles on Smith’s coastal land, they returned to Texas. Using his knowledge of land titles, Fulton purchased acreage, and combined with the land Harriet inherited from her father, Fulton acquired 25,000 acres. After joining with partners in the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, the holdings peaked at 265,000 acres, creating one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. The lavish lifestyle that ensued from the business allowed the partners to live like cattle barons and the Fultons to build their grand mansion.

Much of the partners’ wealth came from the hide and tallow factories lining the shore of Aransas Bay near the Fulton’s home. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were slaughtered and their carcasses reduced to tallow in great boilers. The hides were cured and shipped along with the tallow, bones, and horns on waiting steamers headed for the U.S. east coast.

Ever the inventor, Fulton received a U.S. patent for shipping beef using artificial cooling and for a steam engine modification. He introduced new livestock breeds that are still prevalent in Texas. Before barbed wire became available, the company used smooth wire to fence some of the ranges. A wooden plank fence enclosed one 2,000-acre pasture near present Rockport. Fulton gave land for the railroad, and towns—Sinton, Gregory, Portland, and Taft—were laid out on the company’s vast holdings.

The most elegant of Fulton’s achievements, which survives today, is the Fulton Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a house museum by the Texas Historical Commission. A project is currently underway to raise $3.4 million to strengthen and preserve the grand old mansion.

The Man Who Beat “Ma” Ferguson

Last week’s blog post covered the political career of Ma Ferguson, the Housewife Governor of Texas. This week we are going to talk

Gov. Dan Moody

Gov. Dan Moody

about the man who beat her in the bid for a second term. Ma Ferguson was Texas’ first female governor. Daniel James Moody, Jr. set a record number of firsts: the youngest, at age twenty-seven, elected as Williamson County Attorney; the youngest district attorney at twenty-nine; the youngest attorney general of Texas at thirty-two; and the youngest governor of Texas at thirty-four.

Dan Moody was a tall, redheaded young man in a hurry. He entered the University of Texas at seventeen and began taking law courses two years later. He started practicing law before he finished school, and then served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army during WWI. The year he returned to his home in Taylor after WWI, his political career got underway. The circumstances that propelled him into state and national attention occurred while he served as district attorney of Williamson and Travis counties at the peak in 1923 of the Ku Klux Klan’s resurgence.

The national KKK preached white supremacy and hatred of blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gamblers, and people who broke the law. In Williamson County the Klan targeted a young salesman, R. W. Burleson, who stayed on business trips at the home of a young widow. A Baptist preacher and anti-Catholic lecturer sent a note that bore the seal of the Georgetown KKK No. 178 to Burleson in which the preacher warned Burleson to end his relationship with the young widow. Burleson burned the note and threatened to kill any Klan member who bothered him. On Easter Sunday in 1823, Burleson, the widow and another couple were stopped on a country road by two cars bearing eight or ten men wearing robes and hoods. The men dragged Burleson from his car, hit him with a pistol, threw him in one of the cars, and took off with his feet still hanging out the door. They placed a heavy trace chain around his neck and tied it to a tree. Holding a pistol to his head as warning not to cry out, the KKK members removed his clothing, and used a four-foot long, three-inch wide leather strap to lash Burleson’s naked back with about fifty licks. Throughout the beating Burleson was questioned and threatened. Finally, he was loaded into a pickup, driven to the lawn of the Taylor City Hall and fastened by the chain to a tree. They poured tar or creosote over his head and body and left him there in the darkness of early evening.

Burleson freed himself, and with the chain still around his neck, he walked toward the light at a nearby boarding house. The law officers who were called testified that Burleson had cuts and bruises all over his body, that his back was raw. He had creosote or tar on his hair, ears, face, shoulders, and body. A machinist cut the chain from Burleson’s neck and the doctor used oil to remove the tar. The constable testified that blood soaked through the mattress on which Burleson was placed—the worst beating the constable had ever seen—“as raw as a piece of beef from the small of his back to the knees; and in many places the skin had been split and the flash was gaping open.”

Five men were arrested, the local Klan collected funds to retain the best legal team, including a state senator and his brother. Enormous crowds and media from all over the United States came to hear the trial of each defendant. By the time the last man was sentenced to prison, District Attorney Don Moody—the first prosecuting attorney in the United States to win a legal battle against the Ku Klux Klan—had launched his political career.

Despite the Klan’s opposition, Dan Moody was elected Attorney General in 1925 at the same time Miriam “Ma” Ferguson won her first election as governor. Within a few months scandals began developing over highway contracts.  Moody took the case to court and proved that $32 million in contracts—three times their actual value—had been awarded to Ferguson friends. He sealed his political future by traveling to Kansas City and Dallas to retrieve about $1 million of the state’s cash and securities that had been paid for the contracts.

Gov. Daniel Moody and his wife, Mildred Paxton Moody

Gov. Daniel Moody and his wife, Mildred Paxton Moody

Armed with claims of Ferguson fraud, Dan Moody challenged the sitting governor in one of Texas’ nastiest political campaigns. Moody had married Mildred Paxton, a newspaperwoman, just as the campaign got underway, and the press labeled it the “Honeymoon Campaign.” While Dan Moody focused his charges against the Ferguson’s corruption, Jim Ferguson made speeches for his wife’s reelection in which he called Mildred a “lipstick” that would chase Moody around the governor’s Mansion with a rolling pin. On a platform  supporting prohibition, woman suffrage, and other positions that the Fergusons opposed, Daniel Moody handily beat Miriam Ferguson.

In addition to becoming Texas’ youngest governor, Moody’s inauguration was the first to be held outdoors; it was the first to be broadcast on the radio and received national coverage because of Moody’s fame; and it was the first Texas election that denied a sitting governor a second term. As a reform governor, Moody served two terms—ending the Ferguson’s convict-pardon policies, reorganizing the state highway department, including a program for a connected network of roads and cutting the cost of highway construction by almost half. He also created an office to audit state accounts.

At the end of Moody’s second term, he returned to a private law practice, and after coming in third in the 1942 primary for the U.S. senate, his only political defeat, he never again ran for public office. He became known as an opposition leader to the New Deal and to the renomination for a fourth term of President Franklin Roosevelt. He supported Lyndon Johnson’s rival in his election to the U.S. Senate in 1948. As a Democrat, Moody supported Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower for both his presidential victories and Richard M. Nixon for president in 1960. Dan Moody represented the conservative faction in the Democratic Party that eventually led, with the Nixon campaign, to the wholesale movement in Texas of Democrats to the Republican Party.

Housewife Governor

Society in 1924 expected women to stay at home, run the household, raise the children, and follow the lead of their husbands. In that

Gov. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson

Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson

atmosphere Miriam A. Ferguson became the first female governor of Texas. She ran her campaign while maintaining that she was just a little homemaker, and that when she was elected, her husband would be running the show. She used a two-pronged approach that appealed to newly franchised women and to men who continued to expect wives to remain in the background. She told women’s groups that she was running for governor to do what any wife and mother would do to restore her family’s good name. “Enemies” she said had conspired against her husband, James Edward Ferguson, the first governor in Texas to be impeached, convicted, and removed from office. Before male audiences she played the retiring wife, deferring to her husband who winked and nodded at the farmers and small business people who were reveling in the idea of turning the tables on the politicians that had declared Jim Ferguson ineligible to ever serve as governor. When a man asked Jim what he thought of women’s suffrage, Miriam kept a straight face when her husband delighted the male audience by saying, “If those women want to suffer, I say let them suffer!”

Miriam played down her background as the daughter of a wealthy Bell County family; a well-educated woman who had attended Baylor Female College before she married Jim Ferguson. A cultured and reserved woman, she felt the campaign slogan: “Me for Ma and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa,” didn’t suit her dignity, but she did not complain because it fit the role she was playing. Calling her “Ma” got started after a reporter for the Houston Press wrote campaign stories in which he referred to Miriam as M.A. Ferguson. Before long, “M.A.” became “Ma.” The campaign song, “Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet,” was another part of the image that Miriam endured because she and her husband understood how to make her more appealing to an electorate who believed women belonged in the kitchen. She told voters that, if elected, she would follow the advice of her husband and Texas would get “two governors for the price of one.”

Gov. James "Pa" Ferguson

Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson

She often delighted audiences by announcing that Jim would make the speech, and then she sat down. Those who knew her, especially her two daughters, claimed that she was anything but retiring. They said she was the strong one in the family, enforcing the rules, and Jim was the quite, pushover. The couple met after Miriam’s father died and her mother employed a young lawyer, James Edward Ferguson, to settle the estate. Jim Ferguson, the son of a Methodist preacher, was from the other side of the tracks, and he felt fortunate after a long pursuit to have finally won the reluctant Miriam.

When James Ferguson ran for governor as an anti-prohibitionist Democrat in 1914, Miriam remained silent despite her strong disapproval of drinking (No alcohol was ever served in the governor’s mansion, and she did not allow swearing or card playing.) During his second term, when he was impeached and convicted of ten charges, including misapplication of public funds and receiving $156,000 from an unnamed source, she continued to keep her silence.

Although Miriam was a teetotaler, she followed her husband’s policies and supported the “wets” in the fight against prohibition. She campaigned against the Ku Klux Klan that was gaining influence across the South. After her election she got an anti-mask bill passed, which was aimed at the KKK, only to have it thrown out as unconstitutional. Despite trouncing her Republican rival, or perhaps because of it, the rumors of wrongdoing plagued her two-year term as governor. The Fergusons were obsessed with the plight of prisoners, even going as a family to visit jails. Miriam Ferguson pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month (over 4,000 during her two non-consecutive terms), claiming many of them had only violated prohibition laws. Her fiscal conservatism led many to believe that her liberal acts of freeing prisoners were meant to relieve the cost of housing them in the penitentiary. Critics claimed that prisoners paid Jim Ferguson for their pardons and paroles and that Miriam should be impeached. No proof was ever presented. The accusations that she and “Pa” were accepting bribes from prisoners and that the Fergusons received lucrative kickbacks in exchange for state highway contracts allowed Attorney General Daniel Moody to beat Miriam Ferguson in the election of 1926.

When the Texas Supreme Court refused to allow Jim Ferguson to run for governor in 1930, Miriam Ferguson stepped forward, only to be defeated.  Again in 1932, after voters had experienced the full impact of the Great Depression, Miriam Ferguson won her second term by blaming then Governor Ross Sterling for the state’s woes. She promised to lower taxes and cut state expenditures, condemning Sterling for waste, graft, and political favoritism—many of the vices for which she was blamed in her first term.

The second time around, Governor Miriam Ferguson tried unsuccessfully to get a state sales tax and corporate income tax. She continued her liberal policy of pardons and paroles and did not suffer the attacks of her first term. She made one last run for governor in 1940, polling more than 100,000 votes, only to lose to W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.

Miriam Ferguson listed the accomplishments of her administration as taxing gasoline for highway improvements and taxing tobacco for school financing. She signed a law establishing the University of Houston as a four-year institution and was most proud of a more strenuous bootlegging law. In her bias against alcohol, she had even demanded that Amon C. Carter, nationally known civic booster and founder/publisher of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, resign as chair of the Board of Directors of Texas Tech because he was seen drinking liquor (“drunk as a biled owl”) at the Texas-Texas A&M football game. He did not resign.

After all the years of being accused of getting rich at the public trough, financial troubles in 1935 caused the Fergusons to lose their Bell County ranch.

Governor James Ferguson suffered a stroke and died in 1944. Governor Miriam Ferguson, who remains a controversial member of the brand of populism known as “Fergusonism,” died of heart failure on June 25, 1961.