Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

Texans love stories of pioneer settlers and heroes. Angelina Eberly fits the bill. Born in Tennessee in 1798, Mrs. Eberly married her first cousin, made the journey to Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast in 1822 and finally, with the help of several slaves, opened an inn and tavern in the new village of San Felipe de Austin on the Brazos River.

After her husband died, Mrs. Eberly continued operating the hotel until Texans burned the town in 1836 to prevent it from falling into General Santa Anna’s hands during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.

After the war she married again and moved with her new husband in 1839 to the new Texas capital of Austin where they opened the Eberly Boarding House.

History reveals Texas’ politics as contentious during the days of the republic as they are today. The constitution of the new republic allowed the president to serve only one, two-year term, which meant Sam Houston, first president and hero of the war for independence, stepped down to allow the election of his successor and nemesis Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Immediately, the new President Lamar inflamed the already contentious political climate by appointing a site-selection commission that moved the capital of the republic from old Sam’s namesake city of Houston to a little village on the Colorado River in the wilderness of Central Texas. The builders had only nine months to erect a city in time to house the next legislative session. The new capital, which rose out of the forest was named “Austin,” in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the father of early Texas settlement.

The temporary capitol, a plank-covered building with a dog run separating the two chambers, faced a wide dirt street named Congress Avenue. The other government agencies were placed in even less pretentious blockhouses made of logs cut from the plentiful cedar trees covering the hillsides. The president’s white house was constructed quickly of unseasoned pine from nearby Bastrop and placed on a high hill overlooking the town and the Colorado River coursing below.

One of the early businesses was Mrs. Angelina Eberly’s Boarding House where President Lamar and his cabinet often dined. When Sam Houston won reelection in late 1841 for another two-year term, he took one look at the president’s crumbling house and refused to occupy the structure. The green timbers had dried and warped, causing cracks in the plastered walls and damage to the roof. Instead, President Houston moved into Mrs. Eberly’s Boarding House.

Indians attacked individuals who dared to roam away from the capital. After dark, residents walked at their own risks in the town’s streets. Part of the defense plan included a six-pounder canon, loaded with grapeshot. Sam Houston and his supporters used the Indian threat as one of the arguments for moving the capital away from its location on the western frontier. Finally, when Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842, Houston moved the Congress to Washington, a tiny village on the Brazos River.

Determined to keep the last symbol of the capital in their town, Austin residents demanded the republic’s archives, which consisted of diplomatic, financial, land, and military-service records, remain in Austin.

When Mexicans invaded San Antonio again in December 1842, Sam Houston found his excuse for action. He instructed two army officers to take eighteen men and two wagons to Austin in the middle of the night and quietly remove the archives from the General Land Office.

No one ever explained what Angelina Eberly was doing outside in the middle of the night, but when she saw the wagons leaving with the archives, she ran to the loaded cannon and fired it to warn the citizens of the robbery.

The military men traveled about twenty miles that first day up to Kenney’s Fort located near present Round Rock. The next morning, when the officers rose to continue their journey, they discovered the citizens of Austin circling the fort with their cannon aimed toward the enclosure. Without further ado, the military men returned the files to the Austin citizens, thus ending what has been dubbed both “The Archives War” and “The Bloodless War.”

With most of the republic’s business handled in Washington, Austin struggled for several years, the population dropping below 200 and its buildings deteriorating. Finally, in 1845 a constitutional convention approved Texas’ annexation to the United States and named Austin as the state capital. In 1850 Texas residents finally voted to officially designate Austin as the Texas capital.

Ever eager to find a good business location, Angelina Eberly moved in 1846 to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) where she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House while she surveyed the coastal area for the best location for her business. Upon seeing nearby Indianola becoming a thriving seaport, she moved down the coast and opened her American Hotel. At the time of her death in 1860, her estate appraised at $50,000, making Mrs. Angelina Eberly the wealthiest citizen of Calhoun County.

Today, Austin residents honor their cannoneer with a larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture at the corner of Congress Avenue and Seventh Street.

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.

Minnie Fisher Cunningham Paved the Way for Today

Minnie Fisher Cunningham

Minnie Fisher Cunningham

After Minnie Fisher graduated at the age of nineteen with a degree in pharmacy from the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston, she discovered on her first job that she did not earn half the wages of the less-educated male employees.  She claimed the memory of that experience in 1901 led to her life’s work of championing the status of women.

Minnie Fisher married lawyer and insurance executive Beverly Jean (Bill) Cunningham in 1902, moved to Galveston and began volunteering in local, state, and national women’s suffrage organizations.  She honed her speaking skills by touring the country urging the passage of equal rights for women and universal suffrage.  Cunningham moved to Austin in 1917 and opened the state suffrage headquarters near the capitol.  A vote in January 1919 by the Texas state legislature granting full suffrage to women failed when the referendum went before the voters.  Then, the United States House of Representatives on May 21, and the United States Senate on June 4, passed a joint resolution on the Nineteenth Amendment.  Immediately Cunningham began campaigning to secure ratification by the Texas state legislature.  On June 28, 1919 Texas became the first southern state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote.

Cunningham joined a national tour of ratification supporters saying later that she “pursued governors all over the west” urging their states to ratify the amendment.  Finally, on August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state out of the existing forty-eight to bring the total to the required three-fourths of the states necessary to amend the constitutional.

Cunningham helped organize the League of Women Voters (LWV) in 1920 and served as its executive secretary. Twenty years later Eleanor Roosevelt recalled that when she heard Minnie Cunningham speak at the LWV’s second annual convention, the speech made her feel “that you had no right to be a slacker as a citizen, you had no right not to take an active part in what was happening to your country as a whole.”

Cunningham worked for an act in 1921 designed to lower infant mortality rate and for an act in 1922 that allowed women to have citizenship based solely on their own status and not the status of their husbands.  In 1924 Cunningham experienced another eye-opener, this time regarding the need for women to get more involved in partisan politics.  Eleanor Roosevelt invited Cunningham to join the Democratic Women’s Advisory Committee to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) where Cunningham found that despite the DNC authorizing the women’s group, it refused to meet with them.  Cunningham managed to gain access to the platform committee only because of her membership in the LWVs.

In 1928 Minnie Fisher Cunningham became the first woman in Texas to run for the United States Senate.  In an effort to raise the status of women among the electorate, she ignored her colleague’s advice to assume a combative style that had colored past elections, and ran on a platform of issues advocating prohibition, tax reform, farm relief, cooperation with the League of Nations, and opposition to the Ku Klux Klan.  She lost in the state’s primary.

Working in College Station as an editor for the Texas A&M Extension Service, Cunningham became interested in the link between poverty and poor nutrition and advocated alongside the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs to enrich flour with basic vitamin and mineral content.   In 1938 she organized the Women’s Committee for Economic Policy (WCEP), which worked for a fully funded teacher retirement system.  While working in Washington for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, President Roosevelt began calling her “Minnie Fish,” a title she carried for the rest of her life.

Returning to Texas in 1944, Cunningham ran for governor in an out-spoken campaign against Coke Stevenson. To raise money for her filing fee, she sold lumber from the trees on her old family farm in New Waverly and Liz Carpenter served as her press secretary.  Cunningham lost the primary, coming in second in a field of nine.

When the University of Texas Board of Regents began in the 1940s firing professors as suspected Communists and then dismissed the university president for refusing to go along with the charges by claiming he had not disclosed a “nest of homosexuals” among the faculty, Cunningham created the Women’s Committee for Education Freedom to stand up to the regents.  She helped organize groups to support the New Deal policies and worked tirelessly for Democratic candidates such as Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, and Ralph Yarborough.

Cunningham received a guest invitation to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in appreciation for her work in helping him carry her predominately Republican Walker County.  She financed the campaign in her county through the sale of used clothing.

Despite declining health Cunningham continued working for policies that benefited women and improved the lives of all the citizens of Texas.  She died of congestive heart failure on December 9, 1964.