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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
Tennessee
by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Politicians of the 19th century generally were not noted for their ability to give short speeches.

To the contrary, most political orations were long-winded affairs. At least they were more intimate, since the only way to hear some official was to see him in person.

But on Oct. 21, 1897, Gov. Charles Allen Culberson gave a short talk at an annual event then called the Dallas Fair, better known today as the State Fair of Texas. This was long before Big Tex and his booming voice towered over the Midway, but the fair even then was a big deal for Texans.

The occasion on this date was to welcome a delegation of Tennesseans led by the state's governor, Robert L. Taylor. For whatever reason, the Texas governor chose not to wax on about Governor Taylor. Culberson had another point he wanted to make: The debt the Lone Star State owed the Volunteer State.

"When we recall the past," Culberson began, "it appears particularly appropriate that Tennesseans should assemble here and rejoice in this imposing evidence of the progress of this great state. Broadly speaking, Texas is probably more indebted to Tennessee for her independence and subsequent development than to any State in the Union."


The governor then singled out for recognition five Tennesseans who had contributed greatly to the development of Texas, though he gave the full name of only one of them - Texas Declaration of Independence author George C. Childress. The young Tennessean's words, the Texas governor declared, "rang like a bugle call to arms and [rank] with those of Mecklenburg and Philadelphia."

Next Culberson mentioned, by last name only, Texas Ranger Ben McCulloch, "a knightly hero from plume to spur." The governor did not point out that Ben's Tennessee-born brother, Henry, also wore spurs for Texas as an Indian-fighting ranger.

Also noted by last name only was a fellow named Crockett, who "with his comrades at the Alamo wrested the crown of valor from all the ages, and taught the world a new and loftier martyrdom."

Then the governor talked of "Wharton, the keenest blade that flashed on the field of San Jacinto." With that description, Culberson was stealing a phrase first used by Republic of Texas President David G. Burnet, back when the subject of the remark was much better known than he is today.

The governor was talking about John Austin Wharton, a native of Nashville, a transplanted Tennessean who played a major part in procuring supplies for Texas forces. Among the war material he acquired for Texas were two pieces of artillery known as the Twin Sisters. Death in 1838 from "the fever" cut short his service to the republic at the age of 32.

Finally, of course, Culberson recognized a Tennessean whose given name did not need to be used: Houston. Of the first president of the Republic of Texas, Culberson said, "[his] genius contributed this empire to the American republic and Anglo-Saxon civilization."

Wrapping up his introduction, Culberson devoted only one sentence to the Tennessean he was there to introduce, Governor Taylor, "the superb gentleman, the distinguished citizen, the gifted orator."

Like the men he had listed in his speech, Culberson came to Texas from elsewhere. Born in Alabama, his family moved to Texas when he was barely a year old. As future non-native Texans would eventually claim, he got here as soon as he could.

Mike Cox
153 Tennessee, Mike Cox "Texas Tales" Sept. 26, 2003
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