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  • Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

    Pass the Biscuits, Pappy

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman

    Older East Texans who remember W. Lee (Pappy) O’Daniel will find a special appeal in a book by Bill Crawford.

    Daniel, a song-writing flour salesman who launched the musical careers of Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys, was a politician unlike any we’ve seen in Texas.

    His Texas homilies, radio broadcasts, hillbilly music and affinity for rural Texas propelled him into the governor’s office for two terms. He also handed Lyndon B. Johnson his only election defeat in Texas during a special election for the U.S. Senate and later won a full term.

    Pappy decided in the spring of 1938 that selling flour wasn’t much different than selling politicians. Even though he was a Republican in a state controlled by Democats, Pappy ran for governor, campaigned across Texas with his family and the Hillbilly Boys (the forerunner of the Doughboys), and won.

    During Pappy’s cavalcade from Fort Worth to Austin for his inauguration in 1939, 250,000 people cheered him along the way with a chant that became famous in his campaign, “Please pass the biscuits, Pappy.”

    As governor, Pappy commandeered photographers from a state agency to record his activities and, as a result, Texas has an excellent pictorial history of a Texas governor. Bill Caldwell’s book is a remarkable collection of many of these black-and-white images.

    Scenes with links to East Texas towns like Zavalla, Marshall, Livingston, Troup, Winnsboro, Paris, Newton, Liberty and Tyler offer snapshots from a kinder political era in Texas. Many of them are scenes of Pappy visiting the rural homes of Texas legislators during a tour in the fall of 1940.

    The joy of “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” lies in a close examination of the details found in the old photographs.
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    At Zavalla, when Pappy visited the home of legislator Ottis E. Lock, the photographer caught a foreground scene of a woman sitting in a car that had been converted into a homemade pickup truck.

    In Marshall, a crowd of Pappy supporters was snapped as one of them was wheeled down a street in a wheelbarrow. A nearby man carries a sign, “Mountain Music and Biscuits Got Me.”

    At Livingston, Pappy and his wife were greeted by Alabama Coushatta Indian Chief Bronson Cooper Sylestine, robed in full ceremonial dress, at the home of Senator Clem Fain.

    When Pappy visited the simple, clapboard home of legislator Washington M. Whitesides in Troup, the entire family, including a little grandmother and five children, were included in the photo. Pappy held one of the kids.

    At Winnsboro, when Pappy visited Rep. Joe Gandy’s ranch, the photographer snapped a photo of an old black ranchhand leaning on his walking cane--a lasting symbol of a proud, hard-working cowboy.

    At Paris, the photographer shot a scene of Pappy and his wife sitting down for supper with Senator A.M. Aikin, Jr. and his family.

    In Newton, during a stop at the home of legislator N.O. Burnaman, Pappy paused to pet a favorite hound dog owned by Burnaman, an editor and county judge, and when he visited legislator Price M. Daniel at Liberty, the two Daniel families had their photo made under a moss-covered oak.

    When Pappy’s daughter Molly married Jack Wrather, Jr. of Tyler , a photographer caught them cutting their wedding cake in 1941 at Austin. In a radio broadcast heard throughout Texas, Pappy invited everyone to attend the wedding.

    Some 25,000 people gathered on the lawn of the governor’s mansion to hear the vows.


    © Bob Bowman June 1, 2005 Column, reissued May 13, 2012
    More Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
    Related Topics: People | Columns | Texas Towns | Texas

    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of almost 50 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
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    The Forgotten Towns of East Texas, Vol. I
    By Bob and Doris Bowman
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