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The Vice Presidential Library of
John Nance Garner
Or
Mr. Smith Goes to Uvalde

by Dabney Blewett
Tucked away in a book entitled The Best of H. Allen Smith (Trident Press, 1972) is the four-page story of a very brief visit to Uvalde, Texas by the author to visit “Cactus Jack” Garner.

Mr. Garner, who retired from office in 1941 after serving 46 years in public service, is most famous for his quote that reflected his feelings on the highest office he had held. “The vice presidency isn’t worth a boot full of warm piss.” (More sensitive readers may want to substitute the word “spit” if they decide to use the quote. It’s been done that way for years.)
John Nance Garner
John Nance Garner
Wikipedia
Garner, who was born in Detroit in North Texas (less than 60 miles from his good friend Sam Rayburn) started his career in Uvalde, where he raised sheep and pecans and eventually built the largest house in that city.
Garner Museum in Uvalde
Garner Memorial Museum in Uvalde (Garner bequeathed his home for use as a museum)
TE photo
Somewhere around 1900, when Garner was just getting started, a vote was taken for the official state flower and John pushed hard for the prickly pear cactus he had grown fond of in South Texas. The softer, non-prickly Bluebonnet won and John soon became known as “Cactus Jack.”
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus
Photo courtesy Stan Shebs
When H. Allen Smith visited, he found Cactus Jack on the back porch of his house cutting the ends off pecans with a jackknife (for no apparent reason). Garner offered the writer a drink and answered a few questions like how many people lived in the 11-room house. At the time it was just widower Garner and his cook who Garner jokingly accused of being “a Russian spy” who “used to be a German spy.”

Garner didn’t offer any information. Instead, he told Smith that “anything you want to know about me, you can get from Bascom Timmon’s book.” Timmons was a nationally known newsman and a personal friend of Garners.

“I was always getting’ offers from people [to write a book] and I got sick of it. So I says there’s only one way to put a stop to this, and I got out all my papers and letters and everything and hauled ‘em out into the backyqard and made a bonfire outa them.” He had allowed Bascom Timmons to write his book since he “was a friend and stood a chance to make some money.”

Garner didn’t look up as the two left. Smith’s final thought on the meeting was: “To Garner, the two of us were just a couple of pecans with their ends cut off.”


Garner lived until 1967, dying just days before his 99th Birthday. H. Allen Smith died in 1976, after retiring to Alpine, Texas in 1967 after helping establish the First International Chili Cook-off at nearby Terlingua. His papers reside at Sul Ross State University.

© John Troesser
June 1, 2014 Column

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