February 25, 2014

James "Pa" Ferguson

   James Edward (Pa) Ferguson, Texas governor, son of James Edward and Fannie (Fitzpatrick) Ferguson, was born on August 31, 1871, near Salado, Bell County, Texas. When he was four years old, his father died. His mother continued to live on the farm, and he began working in the fields as a young boy. He entered Salado College, a local preparatory school, at age twelve but was eventually expelled for disobedience. He left home at sixteen and wandered for two years through the states of the Far West, where he lived by accepting any employment offered. After returning to Bell County, he farmed and worked with a railroad-bridge gang until, after a brief study of law, he was admitted to the bar in 1897 and began the practice of law in Belton. On December 31, 1899, he married Miriam A. Wallace; they had two children. His law practice did not require all of his time, so Ferguson expanded his interests to include real estate and insurance and later turned his attention to banking. He was associated with the Farmers State Bank of Belton for several years and was a member of the Texas Bankers Association. He moved to Temple and in 1907 joined with others in establishing the Temple State Bank. Throughout his years in banking he took an active interest in county and local politics.

   Although he had never held office, he was not a stranger to political problems; he had done much work in keeping local-option prohibition from Bell County, had been one of the Bell County managers in the campaign of Robert L. Henry for Congress in 1902, had helped carry Bell County for Cone Johnson in his contest with Joseph Weldon Bailey in 1908, had served as a campaign manager for Robert V. Davidson in 1910, and had aided Oscar B. Colquitt in his successful gubernatorial campaign (1912). Prohibition was a major issue in the campaign of 1914, with several aspirants for the governorship on both sides of the question. The prohibitionists held an elimination convention and pledged their support to Thomas H. Ball of Houston. The anti-prohibitionists attempted to have a similar convention, but Ferguson, whose statements and Bell County record identified him as an anti-prohibitionist, refused to submit his name to it. As a result it was impossible for the convention to eliminate him and obviously unwise to divide the vote by naming a rival candidate. The convention did not endorse Ferguson, but the other anti-prohibition candidates withdrew from the race. Ferguson won the nomination by a majority of about 40,000 votes.

   The campaign proved him to be a man of considerable native ability and the possessor of a captivating personality. As a political speaker he had few equals. The most discussed plank in his platform, which appealed especially to tenant farmers, proposed a law that would limit the rent charged by landlords and prevent the collection of bonuses. Landowners were assured, however, that they need not be alarmed by the proposal, as it would benefit all concerned. During Ferguson's first term, the legislature passed several measures of major importance. The tenant law was passed but remained on the statute books only a short time before being declared unconstitutional. The policy of state aid to rural schools was begun, and a rather timid law requiring compulsory school attendance was passed. Three new normal schools were authorized. Provision was made for the establishment of the Austin State School. Needed buildings were provided at other eleemosynary institutions. The colleges were permitted to begin building programs, and the educational appropriation bills were more generous than usual. As a result of these and other expenditures, the ad valorem tax rate for state purposes advanced from 12½ to 30 cents. The landholdings of the prison system were greatly increased, and because of the rising price of farm commodities, the system became self-sustaining; during the years of war prosperity, it showed a profit.

   In 1916 Ferguson's reelection seemed certain. The prohibitionists passed over their better-known leaders and gave their support to Charles H. Morris of Winnsboro, a political unknown. The issues were prohibition, the tax rate, and certain unpalatable rumors concerning the Ferguson administration. Ferguson was reelected by a majority of about 60,000 votes, but opposition was sufficient to show that many Texans, including a number who were not prohibitionists, were displeased with his stewardship. Aside from the act instituting the highway department, the second Ferguson administration was marked by little in the way of important legislation. The legislature passed generous appropriation bills, and the ad valorem tax rate reached the constitutional maximum of thirty-five cents. Early in his second term the governor became involved in a serious quarrel with the University of Texas. The controversy grew out of the refusal of the board of regents to remove certain faculty members whom the governor found objectionable. When Ferguson found that he could not have his way, he vetoed practically the entire appropriation for the university. The excitement that greeted the veto was soon overshadowed by the greater excitement that surrounded the impeachment trial. While the campaign of 1916 was in progress, the Ferguson administration had been charged with a number of irregularities. Preliminary investigations failed to uncover any charge that would merit impeachment, and for a time the incident seemed closed. The Ferguson controversy with the university brought renewed interest in the old charges, however, and at about the same time a number of new charges were made. On July 21, 1917, in the midst of the excitement, Ferguson appeared before the Travis County grand jury, and several days later it was announced that he had been indicted on nine charges. Seven of the charges related to misapplication of public funds, one to embezzlement, and one to the diversion of a special fund. Ferguson made bond of $13,000 and announced his candidacy for a third term as governor.

   As a result of these developments, the speaker of the House called a special session to consider charges of impeachment against the governor. This call was of doubtful legality, but Ferguson removed all question by calling the legislature to meet for the purpose of making appropriations for the University of Texas. The House immediately turned its attention to the numerous charges against the governor and, after a lengthy investigation, prepared twenty-one articles of impeachment. The Senate, sitting as a High Court of Impeachment, spent three weeks considering the charges and finally convicted the governor on ten of them. Five of the articles sustained by the Senate charged Ferguson with the misapplication of public funds, three related to his quarrel with the University, one declared that he had failed properly to respect and enforce the banking laws of the state, and one charged that he had received $156,500 in currency from a source that he refused to reveal. Nine of the charges can be described as violations of the law, while the obtaining of $156,500 from a secret source was certainly not in keeping with good policy. The Court of Impeachment, by a vote of twenty-five to three, removed Ferguson from office and made him ineligible to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit under the state of Texas. Ferguson declared that the legislature constituted little more than a "kangaroo court," but only a few months before, both the House and the Senate had refused to sustain charges against him, and his removal from office was far from certain when the legislature convened in special session. He resigned his office the day before the judgment was announced and contended that it did not apply to him. The question was eventually carried into the courts, where the judgment of the Court of Impeachment was sustained. But the mere fact that Ferguson had been impeached and made ineligible to hold any office of trust or profit under the state did not in any sense remove him from the field of Texas politics. In 1918 he sought the Democratic party nomination for the governorship but was defeated by William P. Hobby. In 1920 he was an unsuccessful candidate for President on his own American party ticket. In 1922 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate.

   In 1924, unable to run under his own name, he ran his wife's campaign for the governorship against Judge Felix Robertson, the candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. The Fergusons beat Robertson and went to the Governor's Mansion for a third time. Two years later they lost a reelection bid amid new scandals concerning excessive pardons and political patronage abuses. In 1928, for the first time since 1914, Ferguson was not an active participant in a political campaign, but even then he took some interest in the race for the governorship and gave his support to Louis J. Wardlaw. In 1930 he conducted the unsuccessful campaign of his wife for the governorship, and in 1932 he conducted her successful campaign for the same office. In 1940 Mrs. Ferguson again sought the governorship, and for the last time "Farmer Jim" appealed to the voters of Texas. He was by this time an old man. He made only a few speeches and must have known long before the votes were cast that Mrs. Ferguson had no chance to win. James Ferguson died on September 21, 1944, and was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin. Source

30° 15.920, -097° 43.621

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

February 18, 2014

Miriam Amanda "Ma" Ferguson

   Miriam Amanda (Ma) Ferguson, first woman governor of Texas, daughter of Joseph L. and Eliza (Garrison) Wallace, was born in Bell County, Texas, on June 13, 1875. She attended Salado College and Baylor Female College at Belton. In 1899, at the age of twenty-four, she married James Edward Ferguson, also of Bell County. Mrs. Ferguson served as the first lady of Texas during the gubernatorial terms of her husband (1915-17), who was impeached during his second administration. When James Ferguson failed to get his name on the ballot in 1924, Miriam entered the race for the Texas governorship. Before announcing for office, she had devoted her energies almost exclusively to her husband and two daughters. This fact, and the combination of her first and middle initials, led her supporters to call her "Ma" Ferguson. She quickly assured Texans that if elected she would follow the advice of her husband and that Texas thus would gain "two governors for the price of one."

   Her campaign sought vindication for the Ferguson name, promised extensive cuts in state appropriations, condemned the Ku Klux Klan, and opposed passing new liquor legislation. After trailing the Klan-supported prohibitionist candidate, Felix D. Robertson, in the July primary, she easily defeated him in the August run-off to become the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. In November 1924 she handily defeated the Republican nominee, George C. Butte, a former dean of the University of Texas law school. Inaugurated fifteen days after Wyoming's Nellie Ross, Miriam Ferguson became the second woman governor in United States history.

   Political strife and controversy characterized her first administration. Although she did fulfill a campaign promise to secure an anti-mask law against the Ku Klux Klan, the courts overturned it. State expenditures were slightly increased, despite a campaign pledge to cut the budget by $15 million. The focal point of discontent centered upon irregularities both in the granting of pardons and paroles and in the letting of road contracts by the state highway department. Ma Ferguson pardoned an average of 100 convicts a month, and she and "Pa" were accused by critics of accepting bribes of land and cash payments. Critics also charged that the Ferguson-appointed state highway commission granted road contracts to Ferguson friends and political supporters in return for lucrative kickbacks. Though a threat to impeach Miriam Ferguson failed, these controversies helped Attorney General Daniel James Moody defeat Mrs. Ferguson for renomination in 1926 and win the governorship.

   Miriam Ferguson did not seek office in 1928. However, after the Texas Supreme Court again rejected her husband's petition to place his name on the ballot in 1930, she entered the gubernatorial race. In the May primary she led Ross Sterling, who then defeated her in the August runoff. Her defeat proved fortuitous politically because Sterling, rather than she, was blamed by the voters when Texas began to feel the full impact of the Great Depression. In February 1932 she again declared for the governorship; she promised to lower taxes and cut state expenditures, and condemned alleged waste, graft, and political favoritism by the Sterling-controlled highway commission. After leading Sterling in the May primary by over 100,000 votes, Ma Ferguson narrowly won the Democratic nomination in the August primary. She then defeated the Republican nominee, Orville Bullington, in November to secure her second term as governor. Her second administration did not engender as much controversy as the first, despite dire predictions to the contrary by her political opponents. The fiscally conservative governor held the line on state expenditures and even advocated a state sales tax and corporate income tax, although the state legislature did not act on these proposals. Mrs. Ferguson continued her liberal pardoning and parole policies, but even that action did not stir as much controversy as in her first administration since every convict paroled or pardoned represented that much less fiscal strain on the state during the depression.

   In 1934 the Fergusons temporarily retired from direct involvement in politics and also refused to seek office in 1936 and 1938. However, Ma Ferguson did declare for governor once again in 1940. Although sixty-five years old, she alleged that she could not resist a "popular draft" for the nomination and joined a field of prominent Democrats that included incumbent governor W. Lee O'Daniel. Ma's platform advocated a 25 percent cut in state appropriations, a gross-receipts tax of .5 percent to raise social security funds for the elderly, support for organized labor, and liberal funding for secondary and higher education. O'Daniel proved to be too popular to unseat, but the Ferguson name was still strong enough to poll more than 100,000 votes. After her husband's death in 1944, Miriam Ferguson retired to private life in Austin. She died of heart failure on June 25, 1961, and was buried alongside her husband in the State Cemetery in Austin. Source

30° 15.920, -097° 43.621

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

February 11, 2014

Leon "Pappy" Selph

   Leon "Pappy" Selph, honky-tonk fiddler and a "founding father" of honky-tonk music, was born on April 7, 1914, in Houston to Lee and Alvenie Selph. He began playing the violin at the age of seven and studied classical violin at the Columbia Conservatory in Houston. He graduated from those studies in 1928, and he performed with the Houston Youth Symphony when he was fourteen. Selph joined W. Lee O'Daniel's Light Crust Doughboys in 1931, when he was seventeen. Although O'Daniel paid Selph $20 a week to play for the band, the fiddler's primary duty was to teach the Doughboys, who could not read music, one new song a week to perform on their radio show. Bob Wills was one of his students. At the same time, Selph was approached to instruct some of the musicians at the Grand Ole Opry, and so he commuted between Fort Worth and Nashville. When one of the featured performers fell ill, Selph also got the opportunity to perform onstage at the Opry, and he played Orange Blossom Special to a standing ovation.

   Back in Fort Worth, members of the Light Crust Doughboys increasingly clashed with O’Daniel’s demands. When Wills moved to Waco to form the Texas Playboys, Selph joined him. Selph stayed with the Playboys until Wills moved the band to Tulsa in 1934, then moved back to Houston and formed his own band, the Blue Ridge Playboys. The group, which included legendary musicians Floyd Tillman, Moon Mullican, and Ted Daffan, signed with Columbia Records in the mid-1930s and achieved some regional success with recordings that included Give Me My Dime Back and the classic Orange Blossom Special. From the 1930s until World War II the Blue Ridge Playboys had their own national radio show on KPRC in Houston. The show was canceled at the outbreak of the war.

   Selph enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a firefighter. After the war he returned to Houston and joined the Houston Fire Department, where he worked for the next thirty years. He achieved the rank of captain in 1955. After he retired in 1972, he formed another band, with which he toured the Soviet Union and served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department. During his music career, he performed in some thirty states and fourteen foreign countries. His audience members included United States presidents, the King of Norway, and other dignitaries. He played at numerous venues, including clubs, hospitals, churches, and schools, around Houston and for many private and municipal functions. Selph was a mainstay for thirty-one years at the Houston Rodeo parade and was made an honorary life member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Association. The city of Houston proclaimed June 9, 1991, as “Leon Pappy Selph Appreciation Day.” In 1996 he was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.

   Selph had married his wife Inez about 1937; they had four children. Once he became a father, he used the nickname “Pappy” for the duration of his career. He continued to play local venues around Texas until his death on January 8, 1999, in Houston. Selph was survived by his wife, two sons, and two daughters. Source

29° 54.848, -095° 18.707

Section 6
Brookside Memorial Park

February 4, 2014

Luke O. Bryan

   Born at Berwick Bay, Louisiana, October 7, 1807, Luke O. Bryan came to Texas with his parents in 1834 and settled in Liberty Municipality. On March 6, 1836, he was mustered into the service of the Texian army at Liberty for a four month stint. He was first assigned as Second Lieutenant in Captain S.C. Hirom's company of Liberty Volunteers before transferring to Captain William Logan's Company, with whom he fought at San Jacinto. He re-enlisted on July 7, a few days after his initial term expired, as First Lieutenant in Captain Franklin Hardin's company until October 7, 1836, when he left the service permanently. He died October 7, 1869, and was buried in the Bryan family cemetery near Liberty.

30° 04.273, -094° 48.181

Bryan-Neyland Cemetery