An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Fifty-Two

Above, Galveston and Texas History Center, Rosenberg Library

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Fifty-One

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, September 1913

The original campus of Trinity University at Tehuacana

“Governor,” says his son-in-law Clarence, “you hit the ball out of the park this afternoon. You left the crowd at the Cotton Carnival clamoring for more. The senatorial bee was buzzing in all of Galveston’s bonnets.”

“It felt good to be up there on the stage to counter the chicanery and political pecksniffery of the Colquitt machine. And the hoots of support from the old Tehuacana boys in the audience lifted my spirits. I never go anywhere in the state without bumping into fellow alumni from Trinity. If I had attended one of those uppity eastern universities, I doubt I could’ve been elected. The enthusiasm of the old Tehuacana boys carried me through the convention.

“The cheers from the working men today seemed genuine. Labor Day offers the opportunity to salute their contributions to our state’s economy. Particularly important in this city decimated by the Great Storm only 13 years ago. Four-million bales of cotton moved out of this port this year. That translates to one-million tons loaded up by the cotton jammers. Galveston’s screwjack teams shipped more than double the amount of cotton to Europe and manufacturing centers on the East Coast than crews in New Orleans. For a number of years there were boycotts by white longshoremen, but now many of the organized longshoremen are negroes.”

“With cotton-picking season upon us,” says Clarence, “complaints abound everywhere about the labor shortage. When Old Black Joe hears the cotton patch a-callin’ there is a massive autumnal exodus from the city of those in search of the golden fleece.”

“As slaves, they were forced to pick. Now freed from those shackles, they—men, women, whole families—flock back to the fields. The pay’s better there than what they make cleaning houses and tending gardens.”

“A frustrated housewife in Dallas,” Clarence chuckles, “took her rolling pin to the head of an employment agent trying to lure her cook away from her kitchen. The agents pose a problem at the foundry this time of year. But offering small perks and bonuses keeps most of the good men from leaving Palestine for the siren-like call of wild nighttime parties with willing women dancing that lewd boll weevil wiggle around the pickers’ shacks after work. With the foundry already struggling to keep production high enough to meet the demands of rapid rail expansion in Texas, I can ill afford to lose any able-bodied men.”

Soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution, Walter H. Horne, Library of Congress

“If Mexico ever stabilizes, Clarence, your demands could swell more. Miles of track will need to be replaced. There’s a Mexican Joan of Arc down there leading a roaming band of rebels. They call her Juanita, Daughter of the Regiment. Armed to the teeth, she and her followers set bridges ablaze and commandeer locomotive engines to rip up the rails to hinder the Federals’ movements in Coahuila. There appears no hope on the horizon for Mexico, though. The Mexican military court proclaims it can find no one accountable for the deaths of President Madero and his vice president. That mystery requires no Sherlock Holmes to solve. Everyone knows at whose hands they died.”  

“Governor, I’m fortunate that my father’s success greased the skids for me, placing me in charge of a large manufacturing operation at a young age, but I do miss the political theater at play in Austin. I miss the fervor and excitement you evoked today. Do you think Governor Colquitt will announce for the Senate?”

“If his handlers will fund his campaign, he will. While our Governor is off peregrinating around Panama, his Lieutenant Governor saddled up for the Governor’s race. He claims he will accept no campaign contributions from anywhere so he will be obligated to no one but the voters.”

“How naïve,” says Clarence. “You can tell the Lieutenant Governor was appointed midterm instead of having to run for office. Does he have no idea how much money the beer magnates pour into political campaigns?”

“All big business tries to corrupt the election process. Governor Colquitt coddles them. He wants to emasculate the Texas stock and bond law to curry their favor,” continues Thomas as though still on the stump.

“The governor claimed prison guards would exercise compassion under his watch, but he must not be watching very closely. To discipline their charges at the Harlem State Farm for not picking enough cotton, over-zealous guards locked a dozen men in a dark cell only seven feet wide. The convicts literally had no room to breathe. Eight negroes suffocated during the stifling heat of the night. Is that tragedy his idea of prison reform?

“Our state leader appears to have amnesia with regard to all his campaign promises. After jabbering on about the importance of fireproofing the dormitory for the blind children and improving our educational institutions, he took a knife to the appropriation bill, arbitrarily whittling it down by $3,000. Governor Colquitt told the university leaders he would allow the same degree of funding in this year’s budget as the prior year. When the budget was increased a slight amount, the governor was infuriated. No compromising for him. He vetoed the entire year’s funding for the university. That is how he supports education.

“When I left office there was a balance of $400,000 in the State Treasury. Every warrant was paid off. Yet, he claims I left the State in debt. All the while, he’s increasing government debt in other areas. The governor ignores the frivolous personal expenses administrators sneak by auditors, considers it a form of honest graft. And, of course, he didn’t consider tightening his own belt by cutting the extravagant allotment for groceries for the governor’s mansion.”

Thomas fails to realize how much he is monopolizing the floor until Clarence manages to squeeze his way back into the conversation.

“No one is fooled by his claims, Governor. You kept your finger on even the smallest details of budget expenditures. You caught that superintendent who swapped his two old draught horses for a pair of the state’s finest sorrel horses. Then you sold more than thirty horses petty officials purchased for their own use while still feeding the horses at state expense. You eliminated so much waste. State institutions were throwing away cowhides from beeves purchased for slaughter until you demanded the hides be harvested and put to better use. That alone saved the State $4,500 your last year in office.”

“Lord, I think I can be of better use, but what of the ladies in our family? Fannie and the girls seem content with their socializing in Palestine, do they not? Austin is one thing. Traveling back and forth to Washington might not be to their liking.”

“Your wife and mine,” says Clarence, “are content in Palestine. Throwing all the female-type parties for their Qui Vives Club friends. Planning themes and color schemes for bridge games. Making party favors. Arranging flowers. But mention politics? My mother-in-law’s eyes light up. She eagerly leaps into the conversation. And Sammie? She used to tire of our discussions, but politics is in her blood. She continually talks of how she will make all right in the world when she gets to vote. If you but nodded, she would have us all out on the campaign trail tomorrow.”

“Before I plunge back into the pool, I want to gauge the water temperature in Washington. Prior to catching up with Fannie and the girls in New York, I plan to swing over to the capitol and meet with some allies on the hill. Their reception of the concept will help with my decision.

“I also want to take the temperature of Senator Culberson. I hear alcohol has rendered him almost comatose. After his breakdown in April required yet another stay in a health resort, it’s difficult to imagine him mounting much of a campaign or even considering running for another term.”

Footnotes

Tom Campbell did deliver an address at the Galveston Cotton Carnival on Labor Day in 1913, but the Author mothballed Judge Ramsey and brought his son-in-law, Clarence Dilley, into the conversation for a change. Trinity University of San Antonio originated in little Tehuacana, Texas.

The dialogue and little stories are assembled from newspapers, with the most colorful phrases gleaned from small-town papers. “Political pecksniffery” is the Author’s favorite. More well-educated types already may be aware pecksniffery, meaning hypocritical behavior, was derived from Seth Pecksniff, a character in the 1844 Charles Dickens’ novel, Martin Chuzzlewit. Chuzzlewit is such a colorful sounding name as well; it is unfortunate it failed to creep into usage to describe a selfish, greedy person. Oh, and the Author did enjoy learning about the newest dance craze, the boll weevil wiggle, described as even more lascivious than the grizzly bear.

Continue to Chapter Fifty-Three

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