An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Twenty-Five

Above, First Baptist Church before the fire in Fort Worth

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Twenty-Four

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, April 1912

“Fishing. We are in the midst of a heated campaign, and Cone Johnson is sitting in a rowboat dangling his line in the water,” Tom complains to Judge Ramsey. “With a Senate race at stake, he has no business taking on a client the likes of John Sneed. When John’s wife told him she was in love with Al Boyce, John locked her up in the sanitarium in Fort Worth. She was not the insane one, though. But she does drive men crazy. Al bribes a nurse to get her out and absconds with her to Canada, and John remains so lovestruck he has her tracked down and returned to him. Al is charged with engaging in white slavery, yet John is the one enslaving his wife.”

John Sneed and his daughters on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, University of Texas Austin Library

Judge Ramsey shakes his head. “Two spoiled rotten sons of two very good men. The story’s so sordid that all ladies were asked to leave the courtroom during much of the testimony. The sons survive; the fathers lie dead. Why John Sneed took his anger out on Al Boyce’s father, I can’t understand. Just shot him in cold blood. Joseph Sneed endured the upsetting trial of his son for murder, only to get shot himself yesterday. It is hard to believe this murder an unrelated coincidence, but they say the distressed farmer who killed old man Sneed was his tenant.”

“As guilty as he is of shooting Captain Boyce, John Sneed is a free man today. On the other hand, a Sneed of a different color, Tennie Sneed, shoots a white man, and mob rule takes over in Panola County. When they couldn’t take their anger out on the accused, they hanged two of his friends. One of them a woman. I ask you, Judge, what kind of justice do we have in Texas?”

“One that temporarily drove our former Senatorial candidate into the sanitarium,” remarks Judge Ramsey. “I still think all of Texas would be better off if you had decided to step up to the plate in Cone Johnson’s place, Tom.”

“Unfortunately, we look foolish now. First Morris Sheppard’s health is too poor for him to run. Then Cone pleads the Sneed case left him too emotionally fragile. And now, miraculously, Morris’ health is improved to the point that he’s back in the race. We appear to be fielding a team of invalids in a relay race. But, at least Morris’ opening speech was effective enough to alleviate doubt he is fit for the campaign. He kept rising up on his toes and waving his arms in the air, stirring up the crowd in Greenville. His best line was about retiring Jake Wolters to rest in the shade of the Anheuser Busch.”

“‘And Jake didn’t know that,’” says Judge Ramsey. “Morris had all 4,000 people in the crowd echoing that refrain every time he ridiculed the ignorance demonstrated by Jake Wolters’ remarks. I want a line as effective as that to deliver about Governor Colquitt.”

“How about where was the Governor when that happened?” Thomas suggests. “Oscar was in the bar with Otto.” 

“Tom, he carried on for two hours without notes. That certainly makes Morris appear healthy enough for any debate in the Senate.” 

“The man who should be confined to the sanitarium is Reverend Frank Norris. I wish they’d locked him up and thrown away the key when he visited the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio last week. His trial reveals more devilish dealings every day. Asked the church’s financial secretary to mail so-called ‘anonymous’ threatening letters to him that he himself had written. Almost burned up his wife and children to get the church to build the new grandiose, six-story structure in which he wants to sermonize about the sins of man. The Reverend Norris is giving prohibitionists a bad name.”

“I still believe Reverend Norris is a powerful ally,” argues Judge Ramsey. “In the midst of the allegations flying around him, the number of faithful Baptists rallying around him has not diminished. Even with no church building, they flock to him. He has thousands show up to listen to him preach in a tent when it’s 100 degrees. Hundreds were turned away from the overflowing Byers Opera House in Fort Worth the other night, right in the midst of the trial.”

“He terms it all a far-reaching conspiracy—‘the greatest organized effort since Nero’s day of evil forces.’ Deems it ‘slander, incrimination and recrimination.’ While I know the whiskey ring will stoop to anything to keep Texans belly-up to a bar, Reverend Norris’ problems are of his own making.”

“The Reason,” Albert A. Smith, Collection of the New York Public Library

“But, Tom, he is on our side. We need every vote, and he proved during the last election he can get those Baptists to the polls. They thrive on his version of the rich Dives, whom they equate with a wealthy beer baron, ignoring the plea from the beggar Lazarus. God sent Dives to cook in the burning heat of the lower country, while he raised poor Lazarus up to heaven.”

Thomas sighs in despair. “Heaven. Elysian Fields. It’s supposed to be paradise, the final resting place of the souls of the virtuous. Yet, Elysian Fields is the name of the place in Panola County where those negroes were left swinging from a limb by a misguided vigilante ‘jury.’ I ask you again, Judge, what kind of justice do we have in Texas?”

Footnotes

Retiring an opponent “to rest in the shade of the Anheuser Busch” is one of those great phrases often cropping up during speeches of the day. “Oscar was in the bar with Otto” was actually not one of them. Politicians were longwinded, and often the entire text of their speeches would appear in newspapers.

The Author randomly assigned some compassion for African Americans to Campbell because the newspapers all portrayed such open prejudice against them. Trying to convey that blatant discrimination accurately in these pages wore the Author out. She wanted someone to pretend positive change was on the way. In reality, extreme racism persisted long after 1912.

Continue to Chapter Twenty-Six

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.