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Texas | Columns

SAMíS HOME

by Bob Bowman

"A visit to Bonham should start with a stop at the Sam Rayburn House Museum on U.S. Highway 82 on the west side of town."

Bob Bowman
Most East Texans under forty know little about Sam Rayburn, the man whose name is attached to a giant reservoir on the Angelina River.

But in his heyday, ďMister SamĒ helped the nation through the Great Depression, World War II, and into the prosperity of the 1950s.

A visit to Bonham should start with a stop at the Sam Rayburn House Museum on U.S. Highway 82 on the west side of town. Operated by the Texas Historical Commission, the museum is unique in that it preserves furnishings and other possessions just as the Rayburn family left them--including Mister Samís 1947 Cadillac--when his sister passed away.

The two-story house is of distinctive Southern styling and modest by modern standards. Rayburn himself was somewhat retiring, when compared with the pomp of todayís politicians, and lived a simple life.

Fiscally conservative and middle-of-the-road on most social issues, Rayburn never forgot his rural heritage. He came to Texas from Tennessee with his parents when he was only five and grew up on a cotton farm in Fannin County.

After serving in the Texas House six years, he moved on to the U.S. Congress in 1912 and spent the next 48 years in Washington, including 17 as House speaker, one of the most powerful positions in Washington.

ďAny fellow who will cheat for you will cheat against you,Ē he once said, and then helped pass regulatory laws that led to the formation of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to protect the publicís interests.

He also pushed for federal funding for farm-to-market roads, veterans hospitals, and rural electrification, all of which helped the ordinary family.

Rayburn helped convince Franklin D. Roosevelt to choose fellow Texan John Nance Garner as his vice-president and, although he and Garner didnít always see eye to eye, they were responsible for many of FDRís New Deal programs in the 1930s. He also pushed Lyndon B. Johnsonís ascent to power.

Mister Sam was responsible for creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built Bonham State Park southeast of the city. He also played a role in helping the federal government buy eroded land and replace native grasses and vegetation. The result is the Caddo National Grassland.

When Rayburn died in 1961--a year after Sam Rayburn Lake was named for him-- his funeral was attended by three presidents.

Not far from the Rayburn House Museum is the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum. Opened in 1957, the library is one of four divisions of the University of Texasí Center for American History. Along with exhibits of photographs, art and personal items, the centerpiece of the museum is a replica of Rayburnís office of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The entrance foyer includes the white marble speakerís rostrum that stood on the House floor from 1857 until 1950.

In the park next to the library is a replica of a cabin from old Fort Inglish, the original settlement of Bonham. In Rayburnís day, Bonham didnít change much and Mister Sam was often seen shopping alone at a local grocery store.


© Bob Bowman December 12, 2004 Column
More Bob Bowman's East Texas >
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers

See also:
MacPhelan Reese and the Rayburn Library by Mike Cox

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