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!

Organized Crime and Texas’ Crime Investigating Committee in the 1950s

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In the words of Wichita Falls Mayor and Judge of the Corporate Court, T. Leo Moore, his city had ”bounced” infamous California gangster Mickey Cohen ”out of town” on August 30, 1950.  Later, Texas state officials held a hearing to assess whether or not Cohen had been looking to set up illegal gambling operations during his visit. The gangster had been subpoenaed, but as you can see from the documents above, he kindly explained why he was unable to attend. Soon after these events, in 1953 the Texas Legislature formed its Crime Investigating Committee. The Southwest Collection holds the entirety of their records, which offer an interesting perspective on “organized crime” throughout the state.

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Consisting of nearly 40 pages of summarized evidence and testimony, the Final Report of the Crime Investigating Committee details the large scale of their investigation. Gambling in Houston and Galveston, general vice in Waco and Dallas, and bootlegging in West Texas were among the topics and regions that they examined. In our opinion, the bootlegging side of things was the most interesting because its legacy is still visible in the West Texas (home of the Southwest Collection, incidentally.)

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For example, these minutes of a hearing held in Amarillo, Texas in November 1952 concern, among other things, the activities of alleged Odessa, Texas bootlegger Pinkie Roden. As further examination of the Crime Investigating Committee Records shows, Pinkie was the object of much of their scrutiny. He had constructed a regional crime empire. Elaborate procedures were in place to get booze into the hands of bootleggers, launder the money that rolled in, and protect Pinkie and his associates from reprisals. He was so successful that his stores are still in business today in Odessa, Midland, Lubbock, and elsewhere—albeit legally, now that those areas approach liquor sales more leniently.discs001

With hundreds of pages of evidence, testimony, and hearings to keep track of, surely the stenographers were hard-pressed to keep up. Not so! By the 1950s, sound recording media such as these Soundscriber discs were fairly popular. Although Dictabelt and Soundscribe recordings might now be perceived as of lower fidelity than more recent magnetic tape and LP discs, they are sometimes the only record of very pivotal moments in history (one of the most notable being Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration on Air Force One just after Kennedy’s assassination!) The discs pictured here are a sample of dozens created during the course of the Committee’s statewide proceedings. Transcriptions of their contents are present in our records, but it’s a unique (and very cool) experience to actually hear the events playing out over sixty years ago.

The items shared here represent only a fraction of the entertainment that these records hold. In fact, when combined with our dozens of oral histories with local bootleggers and their families, statewide criminals, and the police and judges who pursued them, the SWC might just have a gold mine of research material about Texas crime. Give our Reference Staff a shout and they will help you get your hands on them!