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
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.
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
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.
Bowman December 12, 2004 Column
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A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers