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” 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.

From “Booger Town” to “All-American City”

A friend told me that in the 1920s her father’s job of hauling construction materials in the Texas Panhandle required that he drive through Borger.

Thomas Hart Benton's painting, "Boom Town," depicts Borger's Main Street.

Thomas Hart Benton’s painting, “Boom Town,” depicts Borger’s Main Street.

The place had such a bad reputation that her father carried a loaded .45 on the seat beside him. On one occasion a man jumped on the truck’s passenger-side running board. Her father, fearing for his life, grabbed his gun and fired out the window, past the man’s head. The fellow fell, and her father just kept driving.

That story prompted me to check out Borger, a town near the Canadian River, an hour drive northeast of Amarillo. When oil was discovered in the area in March 1925, A.P. (Ace) Borger, a man known in Oklahoma and Texas as a shrewd land promoter, went into partnership with John R. Miller, purchased 240 acres and laid out the town site—named Borger, of course. It only took ninety days of advertising the sensational discovery of “black gold” for the population to reach 45,000—mostly oilmen, roughnecks, panhandlers, bootleggers, and prostitutes—causing the new town to be known as “Booger Town.” The following October Borger was incorporated, and John Miller was elected mayor.

Early Downtown Borger

Early Downtown Borger

There was great progress—a railroad spur arrived; a school district opened; and the three-mile-long Main Street boasted a hamburger stand, a hotel, and a jail. Steam-generated electricity and telephones were available before the end of the year, and before water wells were dug, tank wagons delivered drinking water. However, Mayor Miller had an associate, “Two-Gun Dick” Herwig, who led an organized crime syndicate that opened brothels, dance halls, and gambling facilities along present Tenth Street. Robbery and murder became common practice. With the blessings of local authorities and the king of the Texas bootleggers, W.J. (Shine) Popejoy, illegal moonshine stills and home breweries flourished.

Traffic Jam, Main Street, Borger

Traffic Jam, Main Street, Borger

Governor Dan Moody, by the spring of 1927, had received enough complaints and requests for investigations that he sent a detachment of the Texas Rangers under captains Frank Hamer (famous in 1934 for tracking down and killing Bonnie and Clyde) and Thomas Hickman to clean up the town. Some of the rough crowd departed, but after the district attorney was assassinated in 1929, Governor Moody imposed martial law and sent in the Texas National Guard to restore order.

It was August 1934 before the violence finally came to an end. Town founder Ace Borger, had established himself as president of the Borger State Bank. When the bank failed, Borger was given a two-year prison term for taking deposits while the bank was insolvent. While his conviction was being appealed, Borger was at the post office when he was shot dead by the county treasurer, Arthur Huey. It seems that Huey, a long-time rival of Borger’s, was angry because Borger had not bailed him out of jail when he was arrested for embezzling county funds. Huey shot Borger five times with a Colt .45 pistol, and then took Borger’s gun from his pocket and shot him again before shooting another man who died a few days later. Ironically, Huey claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Three years later he was convicted of theft of county funds and sent to prison.

Borger’s struggles did not end with the violence. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl brought new challenges. The economic crash caused the price of oil and gas to drop, which ended the boom years. Carbon black produced during the oil heyday left a residue of soot that was blown by winds of the Dust Bowl, covering the town in dark-colored grime. The population shifted as Okies, farmers from Oklahoma who lost their land as a result of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, arrived looking for work in the local oil refineries and plants.

Despite the economic problems that came with the Depression, the young men employed during the New Deal by the Works Project Administration (WPA) laid new red brick streets and replaced the boomtown shacks with permanent buildings. World War II introduced a second boom as local oil refineries worked to meet the demand for synthetic rubber and other petroleum products.

By the 1960s the area around Borger was one of the largest producers of oil, carbon black, and petrochemicals in Texas, but automation in the plants meant the loss of jobs, which resulted in a mass exodus. Faced with another decline, the citizens began a citywide renewal—cleanup of the old federal housing and the empty storefronts—proving that “Booger Town” had finally grown up. Borger’s brand new reputation won the 1969 National Civic League designation as an “All-American City.”

Today Borger is a thriving industrial community that serves as an important shipping center for agricultural and petroleum products. The revitalization of the downtown, including the update of building facades and the opening of the Hutchinson County Historical Museum, better known as Boomtown Revisited, followed the restoration of the Morley Theater. Borger has come a long way.

Hutchinson County Historical Museum, known as Boomtown Revisited

Hutchinson County Historical Museum, known as Boomtown Revisited