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In the Governor’s Shadow

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In 1915 Governor James Ferguson began his term in Texas bolstered by a wave of voter enthusiasm and legislative cooperation so great that few Texans anticipated anything short of a successful administration. His campaign was based on two key elements: his appeal to the rural constituency and a temporary hiatus from the effects of the continuous Prohibition debate. In reality, Jim Ferguson had shrewdly sold a well-crafted image of himself to Texas voters, carrying into office a bevy of closely guarded secrets about his personal finances, his business acumen, and his relationship with Texas brewers. Those secrets, once unraveled, ultimately led to charges brought against Governor Ferguson via impeachment. Refusing to acknowledge the judgment against him, Ferguson launched a crusade for regained power and vindication. In 1925 he reclaimed a level of political influence and doubled the Ferguson presence in Austin when he assisted his wife, Miriam, in a successful bid for the governorship. That bid had been based largely on a plea for exoneration but soon degenerated into a scandal-plagued administration. In the Governor’s Shadow unravels this complex tale, exposing the shocking depth of the Fergusons’ misconduct. Often using the Fergusons’ own words, Carol O’Keefe Wilson weaves together the incontestable evidence that most of the claims that Jim Ferguson made during his life regarding his conduct, intentions, achievements, and abilities, were patently false.

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Prologue | A Tainted Victory

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Prologue—A Tainted Victory

The election result on November 4, 1924, was news bigger than the State of

Texas. The political tide was turning in the state, and the results of the election reflected that much-needed change, but the most remarkable aspect of the governor’s race was not limited to state or even national appeal. It was worldwide news.

Texas voters had elected Miriam Amanda Ferguson governor, a significant feat in the year 1924, particularly in a southern state like Texas. She was not the first female in the role of governor. That distinction belonged to Nellie Tayloe Ross of

Wyoming, elected to fill the term of her husband after his death, but Miriam was only weeks behind her in capturing the honor. Nor was Mrs. Ferguson the first female to hold a public office in Texas. In 1918, following the first primary in which

Texas women voted, Annie Webb Blanton won the office of Superintendent of Public

Instruction after a heated campaign. However, Mrs. Ferguson’s election to the state’s highest office was no less astonishing. To assume that Miriam’s victory was merely a result of the changing times and evidence of women’s emergence into the political world, would be a colossal misjudgment. It would be another fifty years before a female who was not related in some manner to a former male governor would attain a gubernatorial office entirely on her own merits.

 

Chapter 1 | Tangled Family Roots

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Chapter 1

Tangled Family Roots

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lthough Jim Ferguson and Miriam Wallace lived only a few miles from each other as children, in lifestyles they were worlds apart. Their family roots were slightly intertwined, but it seems that their paths seldom crossed until they were young adults. Each was born to a hardy pioneer family in Bell County in the final years of the state’s Reconstruction period, and raised in a rural environment typical of that era. However, for the most part, the similarities in their lives ended there.

Bell County, near the center of Texas but slightly east, benefits from at least one enduring source of recorded history from its earliest days. The son of one of the original pioneers in the area, Judge George W. Tyler was born in 1851 in what would later become neighboring Coryell County (formed 1854). He attended

Salado College and received a law degree from Lebanon Law School in Tennessee before setting up a private practice in Belton. During his long life, Tyler accumulated a vast collection of notes and documents that pertained to life in early Bell

 

Chapter 2 | Life Unencumbered

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Chapter 2

Life Unencumbered

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he opportunistic and impetuous aspects of Jim Ferguson’s character presented themselves early in his life, but nowhere were they more prevalent than in his choices of business ventures. From the beginning, he was speculative, spreading his business interests in a variety of directions and frequently jumping from one venture to another, all in areas where he was not well-versed, perhaps a testament to his self-confidence. During the first years of his marriage, Jim dabbled in various undertakings including a second term as Belton city attorney, which he won in 1902. In May 1901 he and other investors chartered the Gusher Oil Company in an attempt to capitalize on the oil boom that was sweeping the state. In January of that year, the salt dome

Spindletop oil field had struck vast supplies of the fuel, rousing, almost overnight, hordes of “wildcat” speculators most of which, like Ferguson, were unsuccessful. In

1902 Ferguson was among five who chartered the Central Company of Belton, an endeavor meant to establish and maintain a hotel. After his stint as city attorney,

 

Chapter 3 | Political Plunge

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Chapter 3

Political Plunge

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hile the Ferguson household enjoyed a degree of status and privilege, Jim busied himself with promoting the interests of the bank.

In February of 1912, he spoke before a group of about one hundred at the Fourth District Bankers’ Association in Waco on the subject of overdrafts. The following day, the Dallas Morning News published this statement in its report on Ferguson’s remarks, “He could sympathize with and appreciate the position of the man who was sometimes forced to take this step, but declared the promiscuous over drafter was as much a parasite as the proverbial chinch bug.”1

Always passionately opinionated and vocal, Jim spoke out against banking reforms that he believed gave the government too much sway in the private sector. His exhaustive work in keeping Bell County free of local-option prohibition further confirmed his interest in politics and his (then) conservative leanings.

In 1902 he acted successfully as county campaign manager for Congressman

Robert L. Henry of Waco. He took part in the campaign of Robert Davidson for governor in 1910, worked toward Oscar Colquitt’s re-election as governor in 1912, and supported Champ Clark’s bid for the nomination for US President in 1912, all early hints at his own developing political aspirations. 2

 

Chapter 4 | Keeping Secrets

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Chapter 4

Keeping Secrets

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ith the governorship secured in early November 1914, James

Ferguson began making preparations to move to Austin where he and his family would have the honor of living in the fifty-nine-yearold Governor’s Mansion. His first and most urgent order of business was obtaining a replacement for himself as president of Temple State Bank.

In early January of 1915 at the Temple bank, Ferguson met with his choice of replacement, Mr. H. C. Poe. Certainly both men were optimistic, each looking to launch a promising new career in which a reciprocal spirit of cooperation and support was essential. The meeting, which was in no way spontaneous, amounted to the changing-of-the-guard at Temple State Bank. Governor-elect Ferguson was turning over the reins of the bank, now eight-and-a-half years old, to Poe, a man with considerable experience considering his age of thirty-three.1

James Ferguson was a name that probably had little significance to Poe prior to the 1914 governor’s race except, perhaps, in banking circles. The young banker was likely flattered at the prospect of replacing the governor-elect and was undoubtedly eager to prove that he was capable of the task. At the time, Poe was living in Eastland, Texas, where he had been a teacher and an elected county clerk before taking employment at the City National Bank of Eastland, where he had risen to the position of president. Poe and his wife, Leonora “Nora,” had one child, a six-year-old daughter who was called by her middle name, Gertrude.2

 

Chapter 5 | Guilty Knowledge

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Chapter 5

Guilty Knowledge

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osea Calvin Poe was named after a paternal uncle but must not have liked his given name. Even though the tradition of using men’s initials, particularly in matters of business, was widely used in his day,

Mr. Poe’s adherence to the custom was unusually far-reaching. He went solely by his initials, H. C., and even his tombstone is so inscribed.

Born in 1881 in rural Arkansas, young Hosea and his family moved from

Magnolia, Arkansas, to Eastland County, Texas, when Poe was barely a teen. He grew up on a farm with four younger siblings in a family that must have been keen on education. Of the three sons, two became teachers and the other a dentist. For

Poe, teaching was a temporary career choice, followed by an elected position as county clerk and a subsequent career in banking. 1

While 1915 had proved an eye-opening year for the new president of the

Temple State Bank, his dealing with Governor Ferguson in 1916 repeatedly confirmed his worst fears and suspicions. Poe realized that he had made a poor choice in accepting the position as head of the Temple bank but was committed to salvaging his relationship with James Ferguson if possible.

 

Chapter 6 | It Is Good to Be King

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Chapter 6

It Is Good to Be King

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im Ferguson began his first term with a bounty of enthusiasm. A retrospective look at his career could scarcely christen 1915 anything less than his finest hour. At the January 19 inauguration, he appeared confident and capable showcasing his talent for pleasing an audience.

Like a consummate wordsmith, he delivered an uplifting and well-received inaugural speech in which he emphasized and re-emphasized a sense of profound responsibility and a need for co-operation in securing those things that represented the people’s will. “You and I upon whose shoulders has fallen the mantle of the

Democratic Fathers, must wear the insignia of power, with credit to ourselves and with honor to the age in which we live,” he told the group. Lieutenant Governor

William Hobby followed with his own compelling words of optimism. The two leaders were similarly positioned on key issues. With a relationship that was entirely amicable, they launched an administration filled with promise.1

 

Chapter 7 | A Season of Success Begins to Fade

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Chapter 7

A Season of Success Begins to Fade

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n January of 1916, trouble in Mexico erupted again. Pancho Villa, seeking recognition as the leader of Mexico, was angry that the distinction had gone to Carranza, a fact that left him determined to continue the violence against

Americans. Under his leadership, members of Villa’s army stopped a train and summarily executed eighteen Americans on January 19, 1916. Two months later,

Villa led four hundred men who raided and burned the town of Columbus, New

Mexico, killing both private citizens and cavalry troops sent to defend them. In midMarch, in response to these attacks, President Wilson sent American troops under the command of Brigadier General John Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of Villa, an expedition that lasted almost a year. While the pursuers were successful in crippling the band of marauders, they did not kill or capture Villa. But for a time, Texas had the benefit of federal support in its border-war effort.1

In June of 1916 President Wilson directed the entire National Guard to the

 

Chapter 8 | A Falling Out and a Fall from Grace

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Chapter 8

A Falling Out and a Fall from Grace

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hough harmonious on most fronts, the governor’s first term was not without hitches, the most serious of which was a festering dislike for some of the staff members of the University of Texas. If the governor’s early popularity left him looking for a chance to flex his gubernatorial muscle as well as a chance to indulge his grudge against the elite “university crowd,” as he often described them, he found such an opportunity early in his term when the two-year university budget reached his desk toward the beginning of 1915.

In 1914, the president of the University of Texas, Sidney Mezes, resigned to take a position as president of the City College of New York. The Board of

Regents, the nine-member board that held the authority to do so, chose as a temporary replacement a classics professor and the dean of the faculty, Dr. William

J. Battle. The pairing of Ferguson and Battle, even briefly for a single purpose, produced a colossal clash of cultures. Battle had distinguished himself in the study of Greek, Latin, and classical studies, and was the son of a former president of the

 

Chapter 9 | An Investigation

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Chapter 9

An Investigation

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he Speaker of the House selected a committee of seven gentlemen for the purpose of examining the charges leveled against Governor

Ferguson and set the hearings to begin on March 7, 1917.

The distinguished attorneys opposing each other in the investigation before the Texas House of Representatives’ Investigating Committee were well matched. Both were well-known, accomplished, highly respected lawyers who maintained a private practice in Texas. Martin M. Crane served as chief counsel for the state. A former state senator, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, Crane was often referred to in court as “General.” He had distinguished himself in public service and as an able attorney in a number of high-profile cases.1

The chief defense counsel representing Governor Ferguson was William A.

Hanger, an attorney in private practice in Fort Worth. He was a former state senator, a seasoned trial lawyer, and a friend of Jim Ferguson’s. As such, Hanger was an excellent and obvious choice to defend the governor against the charges.

 

Chapter 10 | Testimony Most Telling

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Chapter 10

Testimony Most Telling

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is nerves spent from two years of chaos, the unemployed ex-bank president H. C. Poe finally arrived at the hour he could openly share the secrets he had harbored, secrets that had short-circuited his career and turned his life upside down. Unfortunately for him, his own secrets were so intertwined with those of the governor that any sense of relief was tempered by feelings of fear and regret. If there was any joy to be had in publicly exposing the governor’s misdeeds and shortcomings, Poe’s hushed tone did not betray that emotion.

Poe, still a young man of thirty-six, spoke so softly that committee members could scarcely hear his testimony and repeatedly requested that he speak more loudly. Under Crane’s direct questioning, Poe established that he had taken over the presidency of the Temple State Bank in January of 1915, and that the bank’s reduced capital, which Ferguson and other board members decreased by half shortly before his taking charge, had imposed critical limits on the bank’s lending ability. 1

 

Chapter 11 | In His Own Words

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Chapter 11

In His Own Words

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nyone with the slightest understanding of his personality traits knew that James Ferguson was impatient to have his turn to testify.

As a man who not only enjoyed the spotlight, but felt particularly confident in his persuasive skills, he was likely convinced that he could rather easily answer the charges to the committee’s satisfaction.

Ferguson’s attorney, W. A. Hanger, conducted the opening questioning in a way that allowed the governor some latitude in answering the specific charges that

Terrell, Achilles, and Poe had made against him in earlier testimony. He also allowed the governor to ramble off topic and soon the committee was hearing about the profitable prison system and other Ferguson accomplishments. 1

Mr. Hanger returned to the subject of alleged misappropriations. Ferguson did not refute the charge, admitting freely that he had approved the documents in evidence that represented payments for groceries and other personal items under the lights, fuel, and ice appropriation. He told the committee that he believed that a motion for a rehearing of the issue before the State Supreme

 

Chapter 12 | The Crane Swoops In

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Chapter 12

The Crane Swoops In

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here was no question that Charles Austin and H. C. Poe had met on a few occasions in the previous year to discuss the trouble that plagued the

Temple State Bank. Neither was sure of the exact number of times they had met. Poe testified first and Charles Austin was anxious to refute portions of his testimony. Austin had more than a casual interest in Poe’s version of events as they pertained to those meetings because he was the subject of one of the ten charges. The charge alleged that Austin knew of the banking violations at the

Temple State Bank and was remiss for not taking any action against the institution.

The two men had last met in late 1916 while Austin was still the chief clerk at the Insurance and Banking Commission; he was later appointed commissioner by

Governor Ferguson after the death of his superior, John Patterson. The meetings, all initiated by Poe, had been amiable though not particularly productive. Poe sought a remedy that Austin was unable to supply because Austin’s boss at that time, Commissioner Patterson, was part of the problem, at least according to Poe’s version of events. Poe held that Austin had shared a confidence with him in their last meeting, that Commissioner Patterson kept the records of the Temple State

 

Chapter 13 | The Ruling and the Aftermath

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Chapter 13

The Ruling and the Aftermath

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n its report, the committee opined that the governor had misused the mansion appropriation but the group conceded that a creeping encroachment upon the interpretation of allowable mansion expenses had taken place over several years. The evidence showed that other governors, to a much lesser extent, had taken similar liberties and, since no serious question had ever arisen in regard to those expenditures until the Colquitt administration, a loose interpretation of the fund had become something of a custom. 1

The committee found that transactions between Governor Ferguson and the

Temple State Bank were “deserving the severest criticism and condemnation,” adding that, as governor of the state, Ferguson was responsible for the enforcement of all laws. Though he was found to have knowingly encouraged the officers of the bank to violate the banking law, the report stated further that the committee did not believe Ferguson exhibited willful or criminal intent to defraud the bank or its depositors. The committee understood that Ferguson had paid the debts at

 

Chapter 14 | Let’s Try This Again

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Chapter 14

Let’s Try This Again

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n August 1, 1917, the special session met with 118 members of the House of Representatives in attendance. Speaker of the House Frank Fuller wasted no time in taking the floor where he began to read the thirteen charges he had drawn against Governor Ferguson. It was soon apparent that the pro-impeachment forces were in control even though Ferguson loyalists attempted to stall them.

Within a few days, Fuller, working with other like-minded representatives, had established a Committee of the Whole to investigate the evidence against the governor. The impeachment process would be a two-part undertaking beginning with an investigation by the House, a critical first step that could abruptly end their course of action. Based on its findings, the House would decide whether or not to submit a bill of impeachment to the Senate. To the dismay of those who were anxious to move forward with a trial, serious issues with the first step of the impeachment process soon emerged, issues so significant that they had the potential of jeopardizing the entire process.

 

Chapter 15 | Seeking Redemption

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Chapter 15

Seeking Redemption

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he dispute with the university is generally cited as the reason for Jim

Ferguson’s impeachment; however, only three of the ten charges that were upheld against him related to the university matter. Indeed Ferguson’s financial dealings, and perhaps more importantly, his refusal to provide information about the mystery loan, in addition to the exposure of his efforts to stack the university board, ultimately led to his undoing. The university dispute, without question, served as a catalyst that united efforts to bring charges against him and spurred deeper examinations of his financial foibles. Those examinations could not pass the obvious evidence of misconduct and taken together with his misconduct surrounding the university, led to the governor’s unseating.

By the end of September 1917, Jim Ferguson was out of office and out of Austin but was by no means out of the woods when it came to trouble. The criminal indictment issued against him in July by a Travis County Grand Jury remained open. Five others had also been indicted as a result of information that came to light in the impeachment trial. The charges were as follows: Commissioner of Labor, C. W. Woodman, eight counts; Secretary of State C. J. Bartlett, four counts; Commissioner of Banking and Insurance, C. O. Austin, four counts; State

 

Chapter 16 | Optimistic Defeat

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Chapter 16

Optimistic Defeat

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he man who had succeeded H. C. Poe as the Temple State Bank’s chief executive early in 1917, T. H. Heard, resigned that position in December of 1918. Heard, the former president of the Heidenheimer Bank, had experienced his own challenges with Jim Ferguson. In late December of

1916 insufficient funds had forced him to turn down a large check that Ferguson had written on an account at the Heidenheimer bank. This had angered Ferguson who, in open court, accused Heard of being full of “Poe poison.” In August of 1917, as the new president of the Temple State Bank, Heard was called before Judge William

Masterson of the Fifty-fifth District Court to explain why he could not turn over the sum of escrow money that Jim Ferguson was presumably holding in the Temple bank in the land sale. There was little Heard could say since Ferguson had spent the money in question.1

Jim reclaimed the presidency of the Temple State Bank but the position had long lost any semblance of prestige. The Fergusons’ personal financial situation remained perilous, but Jim continued to use a sort of “scatter” business approach, investing in a variety of ventures hoping one or more would take hold and flourish. None did. In addition to his newspaper, The Ferguson Forum, Jim owned (or co-owned) a creamery in Bosque County and held stock in a meat market and a produce market, both in Temple. Probably his greatest hope rested in his renewed endeavor: oil speculation. He made several attempts, drilling in Liberty and Eastland Counties, starting his own Money Oil Company, Chance to Lose Oil Company, and Kokernot Oil

 

Chapter 17 | The Accidental Governor

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Chapter 17

The Accidental Governer

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n early 1923 Jim Ferguson was living in Dallas where he resumed publication of the Forum, but as always he courted the possibilities of other business pursuits. It seems, however, that one particular endeavor did not materialize or was short-lived; there was no further mention of his proposed partnership in the Dallas law firm that precipitated his move. But Jim was soon engrossed in a new business prospect. In January he drew up and submitted a proposition to the State Senate and House of Representatives in which he proposed to lease the entire state prison system for a period of ten years in exchange for the state’s appropriation for prison expenses. Presumably, Ferguson believed he could run the prison system with such efficiency that the resulting profit would benefit all parties. Under the terms of the proposal, Ferguson and his associates would pay the state $260,000 per year for the lease, establishing a bond to secure the payment.

Interestingly, the terms of the proposed agreement also allowed for a liberal pardon policy, but legislators rejected the proposal and summarily returned it to the former governor after a vote in the House of Representatives failed to approve it.1

 

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