- The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887—1906 ed. by Virginia Bernhard
The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary family, 1887—1906, by Virginia Bernhard, professor emerita of history at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, adds a valuable supplement to her biography of Ima Hogg. In this volume Bernhard has assembled and edited the personal correspondence of almost two decades of letters written by members of the Hogg family. Providing historical context and personal observations to the letters are parts of daughter Ima’s memoirs. Beginning in 1887, these family letters cover James S. Hogg’s terms as attorney general and governor and continue until his death in 1906. But more importantly, the letters kept the family close, providing bonds of affection, advice, and encouragement.
The Hogg family, sometimes referred to as the “first family of Texas,” lived at a time when the Old South was giving way to a New South that was industrializing and urbanizing. Such rapid transformation led to economic inequality, especially as railroads and corporations prospered over ordinary farmers and workers. By 1891 Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas, utilized his power to initiate reform, especially the regulation of the powerful railroads. But this volume does not intend to document Hogg’s public career, which has been amply covered in other books. Rather it shows “the Hoggs as a real family,” their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and disappointments (xii).
The author divides the book into four sections. The first part, “The Happy Family, 1887–1892,” includes Hogg’s dutiful letters to wife Sallie, his four children, and numerous family members. Filled with a mixture of fatherly advice and affection, these letters range from news about Sallie’s ill health to Ima’s music lessons and occasionally Hogg’s political battles. It also contains Ima’s descriptions of the Governor’s Mansion and the lavish parties held there.
In the second section “At Home and Away, 1892–1895” Hogg, often absent from home, maintains family ties through his correspondence. Many relate to Sallie’s illness, but Bernhard believes that Hogg, “never seemed to grasp the seriousness” of her condition (132). Always consumed by politics and business, Hogg wrote Sallie for the last time on July 31, 1895, before she succumbed to death, a victim of tuberculosis.
Section three, “Bereavement and Consolation, 1895–1900,” covers the family’s grieving period and recovery. Hogg returned to his law practice while family members found solace in their studies and travels. Hogg also rededicated himself to raising his children, writing letters of encouragement concerning their schooling, their health, and even fatherly advice for Ima about her suitors.
The last section, “High Hopes, 1901–906,” reflects Hogg’s optimism about his business ventures. He writes of his oil field trips to Beaumont after the Spindletop discovery and the purchase of Varner, a Brazoria plantation that son Will predicted would be “gusher territory” (230). With the family scattered during this final period, Hogg repeatedly appealed for an occasional letter, even an “old-time gossipy letter” (255). The letters end with Hogg’s death following a train accident on March 3, 1906. [End Page 329]
Any serious scholar or reader of Texas history has surely encountered the Hogg family. Most are aware of Hogg’s reputation as one of the four great statesmen of Texas. Now, with The Hoggs of Texas academics and lay persons will have a window into the private life of this extraordinary Texas family. But its biggest draw is allowing the Hoggs of Texas to speak for themselves. Reading these letters you can almost hear James Hogg tell Ima in 1903: “Mark my prediction. The [oil] business has just got started” (238).