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In the Governor’s Shadow

The True Story of Ma and Pa Ferguson

Carol O’Keefe Wilson

Publication Year: 2014

In 1915 Governor James Ferguson began his term in Texas bolstered by a wave of voter enthusiasm and legislative cooperation so great that few Texans anticipated anything short of a successful administration. His campaign was based on two key elements: his appeal to the rural constituency and a temporary hiatus from the effects of the continuous Prohibition debate. In reality, Jim Ferguson had shrewdly sold a well-crafted image of himself to Texas voters, carrying into office a bevy of closely guarded secrets about his personal finances, his business acumen, and his relationship with Texas brewers. Those secrets, once unraveled, ultimately led to charges brought against Governor Ferguson via impeachment. Refusing to acknowledge the judgment against him, Ferguson launched a crusade for regained power and vindication. In 1925 he reclaimed a level of political influence and doubled the Ferguson presence in Austin when he assisted his wife, Miriam, in a successful bid for the governorship. That bid had been based largely on a plea for exoneration but soon degenerated into a scandal-plagued administration. In the Governor’s Shadow unravels this complex tale, exposing the shocking depth of the Fergusons’ misconduct. Often using the Fergusons’ own words, Carol O’Keefe Wilson weaves together the incontestable evidence that most of the claims that Jim Ferguson made during his life regarding his conduct, intentions, achievements, and abilities, were patently false.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. x-xii

The reliability of the content of this book is critical to its value. Such a story, written more than a century after it began, could only be written comprehensively and accurately using information from many sources. The safeguarding of the documents, books and other records necessary for this kind of research...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Dan Moody, campaigning for Ross Sterling in 1930, expressed this sentiment regarding the election of Miriam Ferguson when he said, “Let us not have our children, as they turn the pages of history, say that the Fergusons could do what they have done and still be returned to power in Texas.”1 Dan Moody anticipated our day, a day when we would revisit those years of...

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Prologue | A Tainted Victory

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pp. xv-xviii

The election result on November 4, 1924, was news bigger than the State of Texas. The political tide was turning in the state, and the results of the election reflected that much-needed change, but the most remarkable aspect of the governor’s race was not limited to state or even national appeal. It was worldwide news. Texas voters had elected Miriam Amanda Ferguson governor, a significant feat...

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Chapter 1: Tangled Family Roots

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pp. 1-14

Although Jim Ferguson and Miriam Wallace lived only a few miles from each other as children, in lifestyles they were worlds apart. Their family roots were slightly intertwined, but it seems that their paths seldom crossed until they were young adults. Each was born to a hardy pioneer family in...

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Chapter 2: Life Unencumbered

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pp. 15-24

The opportunistic and impetuous aspects of Jim Ferguson’s character presented themselves early in his life, but nowhere were they more prevalent than in his choices of business ventures. From the beginning, he was speculative, spreading his business interests in a variety...

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Chapter 3: Political Plunge

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pp. 25-36

While the Ferguson household enjoyed a degree of status and privilege, Jim busied himself with promoting the interests of the bank. In February of 1912, he spoke before a group of about one hundred at the Fourth District Bankers’ Association in Waco on the...

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Chapter 4: Keeping Secrets

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pp. 37-46

With the governorship secured in early November 1914, James Ferguson began making preparations to move to Austin where he and his family would have the honor of living in the fifty-nine-year-old Governor’s Mansion. His first and most urgent order of business...

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Chapter 5: Guilty Knowledge

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pp. 47-54

Hosea Calvin Poe was named after a paternal uncle but must not have liked his given name. Even though the tradition of using men’s initials, particularly in matters of business, was widely used in his day, Mr. Poe’s adherence to the custom was unusually far-reaching. He...

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Chapter 6: It Is Good to Be King

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pp. 55-66

Jim Ferguson began his first term with a bounty of enthusiasm. A retrospective look at his career could scarcely christen 1915 anything less than his finest hour. At the January 19 inauguration, he appeared confident and capable showcasing his talent for pleasing an audience...

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Chapter 7: A Season of Success Begins to Fade

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pp. 67-72

In January of 1916, trouble in Mexico erupted again. Pancho Villa, seeking recognition as the leader of Mexico, was angry that the distinction had gone to Carranza, a fact that left him determined to continue the violence against Americans. Under his leadership, members of Villa’s army stopped a train...

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Chapter 8: A Falling Out and a Fall from Grace

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pp. 73-82

Though harmonious on most fronts, the governor’s first term was not without hitches, the most serious of which was a festering dislike for some of the staff members of the University of Texas. If the governor’s early popularity left him looking for a chance to flex his gubernatorial...

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Chapter 9: An Investigation

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pp. 83-90

The Speaker of the House selected a committee of seven gentlemen for the purpose of examining the charges leveled against Governor Ferguson and set the hearings to begin on March 7, 1917. The distinguished attorneys opposing each other in the investigation before the Texas House of Representatives’ Investigating Committee were...

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Chapter 10 | Testimony Most Telling

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pp. 91-98

His nerves spent from two years of chaos, the unemployed ex-bank president H. C. Poe finally arrived at the hour he could openly share the secrets he had harbored, secrets that had short-circuited his career and turned his life upside down. Unfortunately for him...

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Chapter 11: In His Own Words

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pp. 99-104

Anyone with the slightest understanding of his personality traits knew that James Ferguson was impatient to have his turn to testify. As a man who not only enjoyed the spotlight, but felt particularly confident in his persuasive skills, he was likely convinced that...

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Chapter 12: The Crane Swoops In

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pp. 105-112

There was no question that Charles Austin and H. C. Poe had met on a few occasions in the previous year to discuss the trouble that plagued the Temple State Bank. Neither was sure of the exact number of times they had met. Poe testified first and Charles Austin was anxious to refute...

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Chapter 13: The Ruling and the Aftermath

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pp. 113-122

In its report, the committee opined that the governor had misused the mansion appropriation but the group conceded that a creeping encroachment upon the interpretation of allowable mansion expenses had taken place over several years. The evidence showed that other governors...

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Chapter 14: Let’s Try This Again

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pp. 123-132

On August 1, 1917, the special session met with 118 members of the House of Representatives in attendance. Speaker of the House Frank Fuller wasted no time in taking the floor where he began to read the thirteen charges he had drawn against Governor Ferguson. It was soon apparent...

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Chapter 15: Seeking Redemption

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pp. 133-138

The dispute with the university is generally cited as the reason for Jim Ferguson’s impeachment; however, only three of the ten charges that were upheld against him related to the university matter. Indeed Ferguson’s financial dealings, and perhaps more importantly, his refusal to provide...

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Chapter 16 | Optimistic Defeat

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pp. 139-148

The man who had succeeded H. C. Poe as the Temple State Bank’s chief executive early in 1917, T. H. Heard, resigned that position in December of 1918. Heard, the former president of the Heidenheimer Bank, had experienced his own challenges with Jim Ferguson. In late December of...

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Chapter 17: The Accidental Governor

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pp. 149-158

In early 1923 Jim Ferguson was living in Dallas where he resumed publication of the Forum, but as always he courted the possibilities of other business pursuits. It seems, however, that one particular endeavor did not materialize or was short-lived; there was no further mention of his...

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Chapter 18: Shadow Governor

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pp. 159-170

The inauguration of the state’s first female governor was set for January 20, 1925, but Jim Ferguson did not wait for his wife’s swearing-in to parlay his new connections into a lucrative contract. On January 3, he announced that he had entered into an agreement as general counsel...

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Chapter 19: See Ma Run (Again)

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pp. 171-180

The first gubernatorial candidate to announce his intentions was none other than Lynch Davidson, whose declaration came early. He expressed his intentions in the fall of 1925 and celebrated the fact that no other office seeker with the name Davidson would challenge him. Davidson had sufficient reason for not fearing Miriam Ferguson as an opponent...

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Chapter 20 | Coming Back (1927–1932)

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pp. 181-190

Dan Moody had begun to fulfill his campaign promise well before he was a candidate for governor. He accomplished his goal of restoring integrity to the state’s top office in large part through his tireless efforts initiating investigations and litigation to expose, halt, and...

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Chapter 21: Twice the Vice

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pp. 191-202

In late November 1932, as Governor Ross Sterling passed his last weeks in office, Jim Ferguson filed suit to freeze state highway construction funds. If the move was an attempt to punish Sterling for his part in further exposing the deplorable conditions within the highway department that...

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Chapter 22: Sunset

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pp. 203-208

For a governor, even a new year in mid-term carries a certain number of expiring appointments and with it the necessity of making new nominations. Frank Lanham, a key player in the highway commission scandal of 1925, had resigned his post on the State...

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Chapter 23: Cross, Double Cross

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pp. 209-220

Returning to the Ferguson home on Austin’s Windsor Road in mid- January of 1935 was a relief to Miriam, but the solitude was a burden to the restive Jim. At the family’s Bosque Creamery and stock farm outside of Austin, Jim continued to oversee the operation of raising...

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Chapter 24 | The Last Act

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pp. 221-230

Nineteen-hundred and forty-two found the nation consumed with the war effort and James Ferguson in a continuing state of failing health. The Fergusons sold the Temple home in August 1941 for $3,200 even though they had paid $4,250 for the double lot in 1907. The cash...

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Chapter 25 | Not Your Average Ma and Pa

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pp. 231-240

Nola Wood’s serendipitous story emphasizes the dark shadow of influence that was cast by the Fergusons when, from positions of immense influence, they abused their authority, thereby establishing administrative climates where deception and fraud cascaded down...


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pp. 241-278


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pp. 279-286


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pp. 287-302

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415636
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415537

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 28 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ferguson, James Edward, 1871-1944.
  • Ferguson, Miriam Amanda, 1875-1961.
  • Governors -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Women governors -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Texas -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
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