The Tale of Jim Bowie’s Log Cabin (Maybe)

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A couple of years back, the Southwest Collection acquired the papers of Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. While loading up archival boxes at the Stevenson ranch hidden back amongst the cedars near Telegraph, Texas, Stevenson’s daughter revealed to us a hidden treasure. Tucked into a barn on the property was a log cabin that, according to family lore, once belonged to Jim Bowie, inventor of the Bowie knife and hero of the Texas Revolution who died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

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The Southwest Collection staff are not only archivists, but also historians. Therefore we listened to the tale with a mix of hope for its veracity, but also our innate academic skepticism. Fortunately, over the years we had tackled similar archeological questions with help from two professors from the Texas Tech University Architecture Department’s Historic Preservation Program: Dr. Elizabeth Louden and Dr. John White. They didn’t just teach undergraduate and graduate students the basics of evaluating historic structures and planning for their preservation. They were prone to lacing up their hiking boots and working in the field, bringing their expertise to claims like Stevenson’s. Louden and White could get to the bottom of this.

stevensoncrosssection1And so they set to work in 2014, applying the standards of the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey to the “Coke Stevenson Ranch Log Cabin,” as the final report titled it. The images here depict some of the results of their survey. Although these are hand-drawn, the Southwest Collection houses many of the digital 3D models and architectural renderings that Louden and White created.

cabin-interiorSo what did they learn? A lot about the structure itself, for one thing. It measured 14’ by 16’, with no interior walls (a “single pen-type,” as they described it.) It had been moved 100 yards from its original site to the shelter of the barn where it still rests atop several vertical log supports. Its roof had been removed, leaving no evidence of its shape or how it had been joined to the rest of the cabin. It also sported an amusing set of painted ducks on its north side.

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But was it Bowie’s? Well, it is likely that Bowie owned more than one cabin during his itinerant days on the US frontier. It is not, however, certain what happened to them after 1836. And so we are sad to report to you that, as with so many archaeological questions, we still don’t have a definite answer. However, we’re happy to repeat the Stevenson family’s story and provide the results of Louden and White’s months of work, so that future researchers can take a crack at the tale of Jim Bowie’s log cabin.

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Governor Coke Stevenson vs. The Communists!

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Born in 1888, Coke Robert Stevenson was a prominent Texas politician. How prominent? First off, he was Texas’ Governor from 1941 to 1947, but before that he served as a Kimball County Attorney and Judge, member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1929 to 1939 (four years of which he served as Speaker,) and also did a stint as Lieutenant Governor under Pappy O’Daniel. He was the only 20th century Texas politician to hold all of those statewide offices during a career. More importantly (to us!), the SWC is currently processing his papers. Among them we found a couple of small items concerned with a pressing issue in the United States during Stevenson’s years: communism.

The pamphlet above is one example. “A White Paper on the Black Pages of the Red Menace;” that’s one heck of a subtitle, and a stern indictment of communism to say the least. It does make sense to find it among Stevenson’s possessions. He consistently and vocally opposed communism and its attempts to creep into the U.S. But this pamphlet wasn’t by far the wildest material tucked into his papers.

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First, a story: in 1948, at the end of his governorship, Stevenson ran for a U.S. Senate seat against Lyndon B. Johnson. Although Stevenson had lead the race by a small margin, he ultimately lost by only 87 votes. He immediately cried “foul,” and challenged the results, claiming that Johnson had stuffed the ballot. By an equally narrow margin (29-28,) Texas’ Democratic Central Committee declared the election for Johnson despite Stevenson’s appeal. And so Coke retired to his ranch near Junction, Texas, and left elections (but not politics, per se) behind.

Communism was probably not involved in the ballot box issue, but one riled-up citizen of Pampa, Texas, thought otherwise, and in the above letter explained how communists had “stole, or feloniously miscounted” votes. His “facts, true facts!” were one voice among many concerned about America’s future. For example, Pappy O’Daniel, under whom Coke served as Lieutenant Governor, had hunted communists as well, focusing particularly on suspicious academics at the University of Texas. Lt. Governor Stevenson had supported that policy, and this letter writer knew it. Sadly, LBJ did not, and in Senatorial campaign speeches he accused Stevenson of being soft on the “red menace.” One more bit of evidence that one man in Pampa, Texas, believed pointed toward the Democrats’ “subservience” to the “COMMUNIST PARTY.”

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Setting election controversy aside, we turn again to Jack Gardner’s booklet. First, it’s signed to the governor by the author. That’s an exciting find in any collection! Gardner wanted to place it in the hands of those who could best prosecute the communism that he so despised. The booklet was actually written in the form of a speech to be given by the President of the United States, or “some patriotic statesman.” Because this item is dated 1964, however, it’s unlikely that Gardner’s dream of the “preservation of the sacred fire of liberty” in memory of George Washington, to whom the pamphlet is dedicated, was within the retired Stevenson’s power.

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The rhetoric in the pamphlet is intense. Whether by President or patriot, the words should be delivered at the United Nations. If “made available to all citizens of the Planet Earth,” Gardner’s rhetoric would send commies running and reignite the fires of liberty worldwide. Drawing from previous presidential speeches ranging from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to those of Franklin Roosevelt, the dozen or so pages of this pamphlet suggest a world of concentrated, fanatical anti-Communist sentiment in the mid-20th century.

The Coke Stevenson Papers are not yet available, as they are copious and have to be arranged, described, and inventoried correctly to be of any use to researchers. In the meantime, interested folks can feel free to take a look at the papers of other prominent politicians in our collection, such as Representative George Mahon and Governor Preston Smith. Our Reference Staff would be happy to facilitate that.