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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Moody House

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

The two-story Victorian house in Taylor has been nicely restored, but when James Robertson and his sister Nancy had it built in 1887, it was just another residence on the outskirts of a Central Texas farming community and rail crossroad.

In 1890, Nancy married a railroad man, Dan'l (that's how he signed his name) Moody, a claims agent for the International and Great Northern. Moody bought his brother-in-law's interest in the house and the couple settled down to raise a family.

The Moodys had a daughter, Mary, in the summer of 1891. Two summers later, on June 1, 1893, the little girl got a baby brother, Daniel J. Everyone called him Dan.

The same year, the nation's economy went south, the resulting downturn eventually becoming known as the Panic of 1893. Having lost a lot of money in cotton speculation, Moody entered the dairy business to support his family.

As soon as he had grown stout enough to lift a pail, young Dan had daily chores to do before school. As a seventh grader, he worked at a coffee roasting plant in addition to doing his lessons.

After graduating from Taylor High School, Moody strung electrical wire to make enough money to go to the University of Texas. He moved quickly through his basic course work and then concentrated on the study of law, graduating in 1914 at 21.

Following his admission to the bar, Moody began a private practice in his home town. For the first time in his life he earned money without having to tote or climb. But the advent of a global war interrupted his law career and he volunteered for the Army.

Back in Williamson County after the armistice, he ran for county attorney in 1920 and won. In 1922, Gov. Pat Neff appointed him prosecutor for the 26th Judicial District. The district included Williamson and part of Travis County.

What happened next would take a book to explain, which is what current Williamson County Dist. Judge Ken Anderson did with his "You Can't Do That Dan Moody." (Eakin Press, 1998) In a sentence, Moody pulled the figurative sheets off the Ku Klux Klan in successfully prosecuting four members of the secret society for the beating and tarring of a young traveling salesman accused by the Klan of courting a widow.

The Williamson County case marked the beginning of the end of the Klan in Texas and propelled Moody into statewide office as attorney general under Gov. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson.
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You Can't Do That Dan Moody

The politically powerful Klan tried to elect its own candidate, but Texans choose the lawyer from Taylor. During his two-year term as the state's chief lawyer, Moody filed a series of law suits to set aside improper highway construction contracts benefiting cronies of the governor's husband, impeached Gov. Jim Ferguson.

Despite intense Klan opposition, Moody defeated Mrs. Ferguson in her bid for a second term, becoming the youngest governor in Texas history. He went on to serve a second term.

While best known for his successes, Moody had some interesting instances of reverse fortunes. He failed to convince the Legislature to relocate all state prisons to the Austin area, he could not get the votes for a Constitutional convention that could have given Texas governors more power and he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1942.

Moody died in 1966 and lies in the State Cemetery in Austin. Mary Moody, who never married, continued to live in the old family home until 1970.

Two years earlier, Taylor resident Ruby Cornforth had succeeded in getting an historical marker placed in the front yard of the Moody residence. She also convinced the Moody family to donate the house to the City of Taylor for use as a museum. The family deeded the city the structure in 1976. Four years later, Miss Moody died.

In 1986, Taylor residents dedicated the new museum. With the help of a large grant from the Meadows Foundation, a $208,000 renovation of the house was completed in 1989. More recently, with $30,000 in money from the City of Taylor, the house received some additional work.

The museum at 114 W. 9th St. is open from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sundays, though it also may be toured at other times by appointment.

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September 14, 2006 column
 
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