James S. Hogg orchestrated that long ago evening in a Southeast
Texas river bottom would today be unthinkable gubernatorial conduct.
For one thing, it would be patently illegal, a flagrant misuse of
state property and personnel. For another, the news media would be
beyond ecstatic if word leaked out about it. Finally, the opposing
political party surely would demand an immediate resignation, if not
impeachment or commitment to the state hospital.
But in the 1890s, journalists and politicians didn't worry so much
about ethics and legal technicalities. A governor could get away with
a lot of things simply because he was governor.
That said, historians consider Hogg one of Texas' best governors.
A populist who served from 1891-1895, he is best known for spearheading
creation of the Texas Railroad Commission. He also possessed one of
the best senses of humor of any occupant of the governor's mansion
before or since. He particularly liked practical jokes.
One man who could testify to that was a fellow East Texan, longtime
U.S. District Judge T. Whitfield Davidson. Two years after his death
at 98 in 1974, a collection of his writings was published in Marshall.
In that thin book, "Stealing Stick: The Folklore of Pioneer East Texas,"
Davidson offered an excellent example of Hogg's prankish nature.
To set the stage, ever-frugal Texas lawmakers wanted the state's prison
system to be as self-supporting as possible. By the time Hogg assumed
office, two prison farms had been established so convicts could raise
everything from the vegetables and cattle they ate to sugar cane and
One of those farms, Davidson wrote, lay "in the rich bottom land of
the Brazos and Trinity rivers." (The judge didn't name it, but from
the description it was probably the Harlem Plantation, established
in 1885 or 1886 in Fort Bend County. Today it is the Jester State
Prison Farm.) Not only was that piece of state land extremely fertile,
it offered ample habitat for migratory waterfowl and other game animals.
On the plantation, mules did what work the convicts didn't. But times
were changing. Northern industrial interests were developing steam-powered
machines that had more horsepower than the four-legged set. Hearing
of the relatively new prison farms in Texas, one manufacturer dispatched
two of its crack salesmen to the Lone Star State in the hope of inducing
the government to invest in some of their equipment.
Wanting to start at the top with its sale pitch, the manufacturer
contacted the governor's office. Hogg -- born in Rusk County in 1851
-- had grown up when mules were a farmer's only option. Still, he
was open-minded and agreed to give the Northern salesmen an audience.
Hogg decided to meet the pair at the prison farm. Presumably they
intended to demonstrate their machine for the governor and prison
Though eager to land a big sale for their parent company, the two
out-of-staters had heard stories about wild and wooly Texas. Being
on a prison farm among robbers and killers made them even more nervous.
Hogg picked up on their concern and decided to have a little fun with
the drummers, as traveling salesmen were then called.
The governor magnanimously invited the two visitors to join him on
a duck hunt on the prison farm. Not only was the governor going to
host a hunt on public property, he had the prison staff set up a camp
in the woods and requisitioned a prison wagon with a trustee as driver
to transport he and his guests. Hogg also had a private word with
the prison warden about something else.
The wagon carrying the 300-plus pound governor and the two Northerners
made it only a couple of miles from camp before six masked and heavily
armed horsemen appeared and surrounded Hogg and his party. One of
the men leveled a Winchester at the governor.
"Governor Hogg," he yelled, "my brother is a convict in this prison.
He is innocent, sir, and you know it, but you haven't got the guts
nor the honor nor courage to parole him. You are not worthy of being
governor of this state and this is your end."
With that, as the salesmen watched in horror, a rifle shot echoed
across the swampy landscape. The governor cried out, clutched his
chest, and slumped over in his seat.
Quickly levering another round into his rifle, the gunman turned his
attention to the pair of terrified salesman.
"You two men jump out of this wagon right now!" he ordered.
Having just witnessed the assassination of the chief executive of
Texas, the men did not hesitate. Flying from the wagon like startled
mallards, they hit the ground hard. As the men got to their feet with
their hands up, the wagon driver lashed the team and shot off with
the wounded or dead governor. At the same time, the riders spurred
their mounts and disappeared into the thick woods.
Alone in the middle of nowhere but grateful to be alive, in the fading
light the two stunned salesman managed to backtrack through the swamp
to camp. Staggering toward a flicking light, the men were shocked
to find a perfectly healthy Hogg relaxing next to the camp fire smoking
Davidson didn't say whether the drummers ended up landing a state
contract, but they left with a story to tell -- assuming they were
willing to own up to it.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" Augus
25, 2016 column
Stephen Hogg by Archie McDonald
Fishing Hogg by Mike Cox
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