days after the election it looked like Coke Stevenson had beaten Lyndon
Johnson in the 1948 Democratic Primary runoff for the U. S. Senate
seat from Texas, but there was a little problem with arithmetic down
in Jim Wells County.
Coke Stevenson was born in a log cabin in Mason
County in 1888. His formal education consisted of seven 3-month
As a teenager he hauled freight between Junction
and Brady. A round
trip took a week. Every night he read books on history and government
by the campfire.
He passed the bar in 1913 and began a long career in law and politics.
Kimble County appointed
him district attorney in 1914. Voters elected him Kimble County Judge
In 1928 voters elected Stevenson to the House of Representatives in
Austin. Five years later
he won election as Speaker. In 1938 the voters of Texas elected him
When U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas died in 1941, Governor
Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel defeated Lyndon Johnson in the special election
to fill Sheppard's spot. When Pappy left for Washington, Coke Stevenson
moved into the governor's mansion.
Stevenson was the first Texas governor from west of the Colorado River.
He won re-election twice. At the time he was the longest serving Texas
governor and the only man to hold each of the top 3 elective offices
From district attorney to governor, Coke Stevenson had never lost
an election. Then in 1948 he ran against Lyndon Johnson for the U.
S. Senate. Johnson, on the ropes politically after losing the election
for senate in 1941, was fighting for his political life.
Fredericksburg Standard, July 21, 1948
In the July
Democratic Primary Stevenson got 477,077 votes to Johnson's 405,617,
but candidate George Peddy siphoned off enough votes to deny Stevenson
a majority. The Democrats scheduled a runoff between Stevenson and
August 28, 1948 Democratic Primary runoff election for U. S. Senator
from Texas is shrouded in controversy. Looking back it is clear
that the results of that election held enormous long-term consequences
and Blanco Counties,
the state, the nation and the world.
Coke Stevenson was extremely popular in Gillespie
County - a place most people considered Johnson's home turf.
In the primary Stevenson received 772 votes to Johnson's 262. In
the runoff Stevenson swept the county by 4 to 1 over Johnson.
It was a horse of a different color in the runoff down in Jim
Wells County where Johnson got 1,786 votes to Stevenson's 769.
But this election had not heard the last of Jim
Wells County. There was that little problem with arithmetic.
Votes trickled into the Texas Election Bureau in Austin
that August. Stevenson surged ahead, but Johnson came back.
Three days after the election, with all but a few of the votes counted,
Stevenson held a razor-thin lead of 349 votes. In those days the
vote count in state elections could take a week or more to finalize,
leaving lots of time for political mischief.
Then six days after the election, with Stevenson holding a slim
lead, the Election Bureau in Austin
got a telegram saying that Jim
Wells County officials discovered some uncounted votes in Box
13. The corrected total was now 1,988 for Johnson and 770 for Stevenson.
Johnson picked up 202 votes in Jim
Wells County - enough to beat Stevenson in the runoff election
by 87 votes.
Stevenson protested claiming Jim
Wells County officials added the 202 votes for Johnson after
the polls closed. Stevenson's lawyers got a temporary restraining
order halting Johnson's certification as the Democratic candidate.
Then President Truman endorsed Johnson. Two days later Supreme Court
Justice Hugo Black lifted the restraining order clearing the way
for Johnson's name to be placed on the November ballot. Since Democrats
always won the general election in Texas, Johnson was in.
A bitter Coke Stevenson retired to his ranch near Telegraph
in Kimble County.
Lyndon Johnson went on to become Senator, Majority Leader, Vice-President
and President of the United States.
They say Box 13 is in a closet somewhere down in Jim
Wonder what it would sell for eBay?
March 15, 2020 Column
"Coke Stevenson Rites Held in Junction," Fredericksburg
Standard, July 2, 1975.
"Gillespie Casts Record Vote in Saturday Primary," Fredericksburg
Standard, July 28, 1948.
"Johnson Certified As Senatorial Nominee By Demos," Fredericksburg
Standard, September 15, 1948. Handbook of Texas, "Jim Wells
"Election Judge Admits Stealing Box 13," De Rio News-Herald,
July 31, 1977.