“Governor Coke Stevenson: Mr. Texas” – An Exhibit at the Southwest Collection

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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.

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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.

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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.

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San Jacinto Day and the Temple Houston Morrow Papers

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San Jacinto Day is today, Monday, April 21st, and that’s why we’re sharing with you our Temple Houston Morrow Papers. Morrow was a longtime president of Traders and General Insurance Company of Dallas, Texas, and more importantly the grandson of Sam Houston. Sam Houston was a leader of the Texas Revolution (which we also wrote about here), the 1st and 3rd President of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator, and the 7th Governor of Texas. Forces under his command defeated the Mexican Army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21st, 1836. Among other things, the Papers contains letters to and from Houston, his wife Margaret, and his son Sam, Jr.

The letter above is one of the most precious of our materials related to Sam Houston. Written by Governor Houston on December 2nd, 1860, to state Comptroller Clement R. Jones, this letter requests the transfer of funds from Texas University Land Sales in order to supply soldiers fighting along the frontier, which was, in Houston’s words, “being savaged by Indians.”

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As you can imagine, Houston was a national celebrity for much of his life as evidenced by this March 1861 note. Theo Sutherland (about whom our collections sadly provide no further mention than this note) asks herein for Houston’s autograph. Note Sutherland’s use of the title “General” when addressing Houston. This title, rather than Governor or Senator, is by far the most frequently used in any our documents written after 1836 regardless of the office he held at the time.

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Correspondence between Sam Houston, Jr. and his father and mother comprise more than a third of the Papers. This is one such written in Huntsville, Texas, the city in which Houston would eventually retire in the midst of the Civil War. Houston passed away in Huntsville in 1863, and not coincidentally Sam Houston State University is now located there. In this 1859 letter, Sam Jr. encourages his father, who had been absent from home for some time while serving as a Senator and campaigning for Texas governor, to return for a visit with Sam Jr. and his mother.

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Not all items in the collection were familial. This is a receipt of purchase written by F. D. Elberfield. Apparently the Houston family needed a sewing machine, and they got one for a mere $125 (which might correlate to as much as $2,000 today, although calculating currency across 150 years is not an exact science.) Elberfield also provided a warranty for replacement of the machine…provided it “is kept clean and oiled, the loop check is in order, the tension and lenght [sic] of stitch properly regulated.”

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Our final example comes from the hand of Margaret Lea Houston, Sam’s wife. It was written on April 18th, 1837, nearly a year to the day after the Battle of San Jacinto. Fittingly, Mrs. Houston mentions a speech that Sam was recently invited to give at Independence, Texas on the anniversary of the battle a few days later.

There are so many more incredible items in this collection that this blog could easily stretch much, much longer. Rather than do that, however, we encourage you to get ahold of our Reference Staff to arrange a look the Papers. Fortunately, many of them may soon be digitized and made available online among our many other digital holdings. Keep an eye out for that!