The Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library will soon be exhibiting portions of the papers of Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. Documenting his life and career from childhood to retirement in Junction, Texas, the exhibit will run from mid-spring to mid-summer.
Coke Stevenson was born on March 20, 1888, at his grandparents’ home between the little towns of Katemcy, Fredonia, and Pontotoc, in Northeast Mason County, Texas. Throughout his life Stevenson was an entrepreneur and civic leader: a cowboy at ten; the owner of a freight-line between Junction and Brady, Texas, at sixteen; a janitor who worked his way up to bank clerk by 18. Ultimately, he became a member of the bank’s board, and later became president of several banks. He was part owner of grocery, drug, and, hardware stores, the Junction Eagle newspaper, the Fritz Hotel, and Llano River Irrigation and Milling Company, along with water, electricity, ginning, grist mill, and irrigation businesses. He apprenticed under a former state judge, and the Fourth Court of Civil Appeals admitted him to the bar in 1913. Remarkably, he only completed twenty-two months of formal education.
Stevenson served two terms as Kimble County Attorney and County Judge, but soon was was elected to the Texas House or Representatives, where he became its first two-term Speaker. In 1938 he was elected Lieutenant Governor and was reelected in 1940 before assuming the governorship in August 1941, when W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel resigned to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the deceased Morris Sheppard. Stevenson served two gubernatorial terms during World War II, during which time he supported the war effort and President Roosevelt, and inspired the Good Neighbor Commission.
Affectionately known as “Mr. Texas,” after the war he ran for O’Daniel’s vacated U.S. Senate seat against Congressman Lyndon B. Johnson. He lost a contested run-off when George Parr, the so-called “Duke of Duvall County,” allegedly had Voting Box Number 13 stuffed with 202 ballots that tilted the election to LBJ.
Politics wasn’t the entirety of Stevenson’s life. In 1913 he married Fay Wright, and soon they were blessed with a son, Coke Robert Stevenson, Jr. Fay died in 1942 while Stevenson was governor. After leaving public office he married in 1954 the Kimble County District Clerk, and widow, Marguerite King Heap, with whom he had a daughter, Jane Stevenson. After the failed Senatorial campaign, Stevenson returned home to his Kimble County law practice, friends, and ranch. There he cowboy’d for a while, and took extensive road trips with his family, visiting all 48 contiguous states. He died at 87 years of age on June 28, 1975.
That’s the biography, but the exhibit is so much more! Come by and take a look at it if you have the opportunity. Also, if you’d like to view the Coke Stevenson Papers, they will be available for research use before the exhibit ends. Our Reference Staff will always help you find what you need.