Above, Convict Labor Camp, J.W. Dunlop Photography Collection, UTA Libraries
Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, January 1913
“I’ve never felt this helpless, Fannie. Governor Colquitt’s going to be the ruin of Texas. Playing Santa Claus with the judicial system. He handed out twice as many pardons at the end of the year as I ever did. You can’t tell me all those men were innocent.”
“But at least your successor exposed the cruel use of the bat for whipping prisoners, Thomas.”
“I admit. Prison guards tend to employ brutal tactics to keep their charges in line, but what will happen within those walls with no discipline? The Governor worries more about the working hours of criminals than factory workers. If the state can no longer farm out this captive workforce, how is Texas going to afford to feed and house them?
“His so-called reforms probably will cost us at least half-a-million dollars this year alone. And then he wants to issue bonds to spend one to two million to upgrade Huntsville and improve State-owned prison farms. Worries about prisoners’ recreational opportunities. Does he think we should sentence them to vacation on the coast?”
“Thomas, I know you wish you could remedy things in Austin. You can accomplish much behind the scene, though. I’m so relieved to be spared this time from that painful obligatory march with the Governor during the Inaugural Ball.”
“And I am pleased, Fannie, not to have to subject you to the inappropriate drunken orgy this year. Twenty-eight Methodist Senators signed a protest against holding the ball in the halls of the capitol. Yet there they were. A thousand tipsy tipplers tripping over one another’s feet foxtrotting around the floor of the House of Representatives.”
“You must be relieved, Thomas, that the 9:30 saloon closing bill should sail smoothly through the legislature. Perhaps that will bode well for some of your other causes.”
“That compromise was a shady sham to boost Governor Colquitt over Judge Ramsey, but there are no indications the liquor lobby is losing its grip on the governor’s mansion. The Assistant Attorney General resigned in protest the other day. He refused to wear blinders in enforcing the club law. The Attorney General insisted he be lenient in areas of the state populated primarily by Germans.
“It’s a businessman’s legislature now, with a few clueless farmers thrown into the crowd. Scarcely a lawyer among those elected. How are they going to craft effective bills without that legal expertise?
“You can tell the predisposition of these newcomers by their last names. What happened to all the Joneses, Smiths and Browns? We’ve been invaded by keg-huggers—Schwegmann, Bierschfale, Burmeister. And that other Otto from San Antonio, Herr Koehler’s surrogate, Otto Wahrmund. Speaker Terrell appointed him Chairman of Military Affairs. As though the lofty title of Lieutenant Colonel of the Texas National Guard bestowed upon him by the governor indicates he possesses any actual expertise.
“I am a teetotaler by nature. Never believed family men should drink, but didn’t want to impinge on the rights of others. Rampant corruption among politicians bought and paid for by the liquor lobby has altered my outlook. Confronted by that, I’m becoming as intolerant as a rabid prohibitionist. The time is ripe to propel the liquor question back onto the ballot.”
“If only women could vote, Thomas. Then men would spend time with their families instead of squandering it and their pay in tawdry saloons.”
Politics as portrayed in Texas newspapers in January 1913, including those of Wetherford and San Antonio, are used to shape the former governor’s conversation. The Brenham newspaper gets credit for the observations about the lack of lawyers and preponderance of German surnames in the incoming legislature.