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January 26th, 2012
Bartee Haile: First native son takes office as governor

This Week in Texas History: A column

The inauguration of James Stephen Hogg was such a special occasion that Texans were still celebrating five days later on Jan. 25, 1891. After all, the election of the first native son to the highest office in the Lone State State happens only once.

From his gargantuan physique to bare-knuckle campaign style, everything about Jim Hogg was larger than life. He carried 250 pounds on a six-foot three-inch frame and rang unprotected ears with a booming baritone. His dramatic rise to power complete with fabled feats of courage made him a flesh-and-blood hero in the eyes of many Texans.

Ten year old Jim swelled with pride as his father, Gen. Joseph Hogg, bid a stirring farewell to the citizens of Cherokee County. The time was 1861, and the place was the county square at Rusk. Gen. Hogg commanded the Lone Star Volunteers, a detachment of battle-bound Confederates.

The Civil War cost the youth his parents and his inheritance. Father and mother both fell victim to disease, and Mountain Home, the family plantation, was reduced to worthless ruin by the economic aftermath of the catastrophic conflict.

A pair of self-sacrificing older sisters raised the three orphaned Hogg brothers. Although he spent just a year inside a real classroom, his substitute parents drummed into Jim’s stubborn skull the importance of an education.

After getting a taste of the newspaper business with a hometown publication, the 16 year old worked as a full-time printer’s devil in Cleburne. When that paper burned down, the teenager walked 150 miles to Quitman, where he talked his way into an apprenticeship.Two years later, Hogg helped to rescue the local sheriff from a pack of outlaws. Lured into an adjacent county on the pretext of attending a dance, he was shot in the back by members of the gang.

The doctor did not arrive until the next afternoon and, to make matters worse, forgot to bring his instruments. Probing the gunshot wound with a pine twig, he located the bullet near the base of the spine.

Unable to remove the slug, the pessimistic physician gave the delirious patient little chance of surviving. Hogg lingered at death’s door for several days but eventually made a complete recovery.

After publishing his own triweekly at Longview, he returned to Quitman at the request of a citizen delegation. With a second-hand press, he launched The News.

At 22 the ambitious editor pulled a startling upset by winning election as justice of the peace. Against the advice of more practical pals, who cautioned him to take it easy if he planned to make a career of politics, Hogg cracked down on saloonkeepers who broke the Sabbath laws by staying open on Sundays. Though no temperance advocate, he insisted upon strict enforcement.

Falling short in an 1876 bid for the state legislature, his one and only ballot-box defeat, Hogg turned to practicing law. Hobbled by the chronic pain in his sacroiliac, he coaxed a nervous surgeon into cutting out the bullet. The operation was performed without anesthetic during a break in the court proceedings, and the tough attorney was back before the bar that same afternoon.

Starting with his election as county attorney in 1878, Hogg swiftly scaled the heights of the Democratic Party. Two years later came a promotion to district attorney for half a dozen East Texas counties, and in 1886 he advanced to attorney general at the precocious age of 36.

Capitalizing on his reputation as a two-fisted defender of the public interest against the powerful monopolies, Hogg announced his gubernatorial candidacy in a speech at Rusk in April 1890. “Shall the people or the corporations rule?” was the theme of his campaign, and the call for a state commission to regulate the railroads was his battle cry.

In spite of his opposition to prohibition, Hogg sewed up the rural vote, the key to the Democratic nomination since four out of five Texans lived outside the limits of the major cities. The Hogg bandwagon gathered so much momentum all the other candidates dropped out of the contest before the state convention.

While he was hailed as the Democrats’ unanimous choice for governor, not everyone sang the praises of the rotund spellbinder. The Galveston News denounced him as “the czar and autocrat of Texas, the completest and most perfect specimen of the demagogue that the nineteenth century and all other centuries have produced.”

The general election was the usual dull formality. Hogg captured a record 76 percent of the popular vote, the greatest victory margin to date, and rode an unprecedented wave of enthusiastic support into the governor’s mansion.

But after a stormy first term, a second did not come so easily. The incumbent lost ground to the tune of 72,000 fewer votes and won reelection with less than a majority. Nevertheless, when Jim Hogg left office in 1895, his place in history was secure as one of Texas’ most memorable chief executives.

Visit Bartee Haile’s “General Store” at or request list of “Best of This Week in Texas History” collections at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549.

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