An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty-Nine

Above, Proceedings of Investigation Committee, House of Representatives Thirty-Fifth Legislature: Charges Against Governor James E. Ferguson, Texas History Collection, Austin History Center via Portal to Texas History

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eighty-Eight

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, September 1917

“Farmer Jim declines to name his friends, as he calls his wealthy saviors who leapt forward to lend him more than $150,000 to bail him out of debt in the nick of time to rescue his pig farm. He says the people have no right to know details of his private business affairs. Hogwash.”

Fannie sniffs. “It smells as malodorous as that offensive pig farm down the road.”

“We doubt he was acquainted with any of these friends before he ran for governor. Upon repeated questioning by several senators, the closest thing to an answer he has given is: ‘It is perfectly simple if you knew all the facts, but I cannot tell you the facts.’ And he can’t tell them because he promised his friends he wouldn’t reveal their names.”

“I should think, Thomas, these so-called friends wouldn’t care if their names were made public if this transaction was above board.”

“And, of course, Colonel Wahrmund is absent from Austin again. I’m not sure whether the Senate summons even has been served on him. But, no matter. The Senate’s made a strong enough case for numerous charges to stick. I expect the vote for impeachment will be taken in the next day or two. Having Lieutenant Governor Hobby take the scoundrel’s place will be a breath of fresh air.”

“So this shameful chapter in Texas history is coming to a close. Were you able to accomplish your business in San Antonio?”

“That, Fannie, is a matter I want to discuss with you. Two young attorneys, Dave Watson and Charlie Chambers, have asked me to take the lead on a very involved case. They’re both extremely competent but are guaranteed to be up against big guns. Cannon is a more apt description.”

“You rarely let that frighten you off, Thomas. What’s your hesitation? Is their case without merit?”

“It’s a criminal case. A case that will attract more attention and publicity than any I’ve ever tried.”

“You rarely take criminal cases, Thomas. Whatever is it that has sparked your interest?”

“Ensuring the client gets a fair trial. But I want your approval before I agree. The client is accused of murder. Fannie, it’s Hedda Burgemeister.”

“Who?”

“Fannie, you remember. The nurse. The woman who shot Otto Koehler.”

“Oh, Thomas. Why would you even consider defending her?”

“Because these two attorneys in San Antonio believe her innocent. They say the shooting clearly was self-defense, and they almost have me convinced they are right. I can’t be positive until I meet with Miss Burgemeister herself.”

“I thought she fled to Germany, a flight leading many to assume her guilty.”

“She did flee, but she was threatened. They say even her attorney, Carlos Bee, recommended she leave rather than face a San Antonio jury. Frightened, she felt she had no choice but to get out of Dodge. Now she states she can’t live with herself without clearing her name.”

“Where’s she now?”

“She’s in New York City. Mister Watson and Mister Chambers are on their way there now, meeting with her and District Attorney McAskill to negotiate her voluntary return to San Antonio.”

“I hate to ask this, Thomas, but would you be taking this case because you believe her innocent or because of your intense dislike of the man she shot?”

“You mean because of something like the note?” Thomas walks over to his desk and pulls out the piece of paper, carefully saved on the top of the pile in his center drawer. “The gloating john-l-sullivaned note message delivered on the night of Governor Colquitt’s inauguration? I turned that possibility over and over in my mind the whole way back from San Antonio. Because that would be the wrong reason.

“No, Fannie, I can understand why she bolted. Otto Koehler was so prominent, both public opinion and the jury would be stacked against her. A fair trial in San Antonio? The Sheriff was a pallbearer at the brewer’s funeral, as was Miss Burgemeister’s attorney. The Foreman of the Grand Jury indicting her for murder? Postmaster John Stevens, a close friend and a major partner in the San Antonio Brewing Association.”

“You could lose for the same reasons, Thomas. The associated negative publicity could damage your name. And risking your reputation for a client with no funds to pay?”

“Money really is not the point if she isn’t guilty. But, surprisingly, the case is not a pro bono one. Mister Chambers submitted two $10,000 notes she received from Otto Koehler to his estate. Which is to say to the attorney for his widow who inherited everything. Sam Newton indicated Missus Koehler would agree to make good on the obligations.”

“That’s surprising, Thomas.”

“No, I think Missus Koehler would prefer everything stay quiet. That the whole sordid affair would disappear. Maybe she thinks paying the notes would make that happen. Miss Burgemeister also owns a home on a double lot that she can sign over to her attorneys should she be required to pay any exorbitant bail.”

“I don’t like the thought of you embroiled in a scandalous murder trial, Thomas. But what possible reason would she have to return if she were not innocent? And, if she’s innocent, she deserves the best attorney she can find.”

Footnotes

Texas is about to temporarily bid Pa Ferguson goodbye, only to have him resurface down the road a bit as the First Gentleman of Texas when Ma becomes the second woman to be sworn in as governor in the United States in 1925 (Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming beat her by 15 days).

The Author is purely speculating about what motives convinced Tom Campbell to join Watson & Chambers in defending Hedda. Surely you remember that note from Chapter Four?

Continue to Chapter Ninety

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