The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887-1906

The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887-1906

by Virginia Bernhard

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In The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887–1906, Virginia Bernhard delves into the unpublished letters of one of Texas’s most extraordinarily families and tells their story. In their own words, which are published here for the first time.

Rich in details, the more than four hundred letters in this volume begin

…  See more details below


In The Hoggs of Texas: Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887–1906, Virginia Bernhard delves into the unpublished letters of one of Texas’s most extraordinarily families and tells their story. In their own words, which are published here for the first time.

Rich in details, the more than four hundred letters in this volume begin in 1887 in 1906, following the family through the hurly-burly of Texas politics and the ups-and-downs of their own lives.

The letters illuminate the little-known private life of one of Texas’s most famous families. Like all families, the Hoggs were far from perfect. Governor James Stephen Hogg (sometimes called "Stupendous" for his 6'3", 300-plus pound frame), who lived and breathed politics, did his best to balance his career with the needs of his wife and children. His frequent travels were hard on his wife and children. Wife Sallie’s years of illness casted a pall over the household. Son Will and his father were not close. Sons Mike and Tom did poorly in school. Daughter Ima may have had a secret romance. Hogg’s sister, “Aunt Fannie,” was a domestic tyrant.

The letters in this volume, often poignant and amusing, are interspersed liberally with portions of Ima Hogg's personal memoir and informative commentary from historian Virginia Bernhard. They show the Hoggs as their world changed, as Texas and the nation left horse-and-buggy days and entered the twentieth century.

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From the Publisher

“In many ways the Hogg family’s history reflects the larger history of families in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. The Hoggs lived in a time when butter was churned by hand and babies were born at home. . . . Most Texans lived in rural areas and made their living by farming, and many of those who had moved to towns could still remember how to milk a cow and birth a foal. But momentous changes in everyday lives were on the way.”—From the introduction

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Texas State Historical Association
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First Edition
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The Hoggs of Texas

Letters and Memoirs of an Extraordinary Family, 1887â"1906

By Virginia Bernhard

Texas State Historical Association

Copyright © 2013 Texas State Historical Association
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62511-021-3




IN 1890, AFTER TWO TERMS AS ATTORNEY GENERAL, Jim Hogg, age thirty-nine, was elected governor of Texas. By then Jim and Sallie had four children—Will, age fifteen; Ima, eight; Mike, five; and Tom, three—to move into the Governor's Mansion. It would be their home for the next four years. They filled the grand antebellum house with music and laughter, sing-alongs, and stately receptions, entertaining an endless procession of relatives and visitors. As one guest recalled, "I don't think any family ever lived in the Mansion who had as much fun as Governor Hogg and his family." The good times, however, were clouded by Sallie Hogg's delicate health. She would die of tuberculosis in 1895.

When Attorney General Hogg and his family first moved to Austin in 1887, they found a bustling town with a population of nearly 15,000. State politics was its main business. Dallas, with 38,000 people by 1890, was Texas's largest city, but to Jim and Sallie and their children, who had grown up in rural East Texas, Austin was impressive. The city had thirty mule-drawn streetcars clacking along on ten miles of track. Streets were not paved, but many were lit by gas lamps. By the time the Hoggs left the Governor's Mansion in 1895, Austin was replete with urban amenities: electric streetcars since 1891, and an underground sewage system, waterworks, and electric lights. It was still a small city in those days, with its grid of streets laid out between Shoal Creek and Waller Creek, bounded by the Colorado River to the south and Fifteenth Street to the north. There were gentle hills and an abundance of trees—live oak and cottonwood, pecan and walnut. (Before his death in 1906, Hogg requested that a pecan tree and a walnut tree be planted on his grave.)

The first railroad, the Houston and Texas Central Railway, had come to Austin in 1871, and the International-Great Northern came in 1876. Since then two other railroads, the Austin and Northwestern Railroad and the Missouri Pacific Railway, connected Texas to cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Austin passengers could go by train (at speeds of thirty miles an hour) to St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, with journeys eased by Pullman sleeper cars and dining car buffets. "Two Days Between Texas and New York," as one railroad advertised. As governor, Jim Hogg harnessed the power of the railroads operating in Texas, but as a passenger he enjoyed their convenience. So did the rest of his family.

The Hoggs also enjoyed Austin's cultural life. There was the Millett Opera House, where touring companies performed everything from Macbeth to Il Trovatore. There were music teachers who gave a precocious Ima Hogg piano lessons. And there was the University of Texas (UT). It had opened its doors on September 15, 1883, with 13 faculty members and 218 students, and graduated its first class of 32 seniors on June 15, 1887. Three of the Hogg children—Will, Ima, and Mike—would one day call UT their alma mater.

Before he moved his family to Austin, Attorney General Hogg stayed for a time at the Avenue Hotel at 717 Congress Avenue, three blocks from the Capitol grounds. A few blocks away on Sixth Street, a cattle baron named Jesse Lincoln Driskill had just built a grand sixty-room hotel. (Years later former governor Hogg would occupy a suite there, and one day the Driskill would have a suite named for him.) Hogg settled at Mrs. M. L. Andrews's boarding house at 1010 Lavaca, just across the street from the white-columned Governor's Mansion. He could watch the construction of the new state Capitol, second in size only to the national Capitol. Built of Texas red granite, towering more than three hundred feet in height, it would not be finished until the spring of 1888. Meanwhile, Hogg worked in the old Land Office Building, which had stood since 1857 at the edge of the Capitol grounds near Eleventh and Brazos. There he may have encountered a draftsman named William Sydney Porter who worked in the Land Office from 1887 to 1891 and was better known after 1899 as a writer named O. Henry.

Jim Hogg was also a writer—of letters. In the midst of his work to establish the Railroad Commission and his hard-fought campaigns for governor in 1890 and 1892, he wrote regularly and frequently to Sallie and the children when they were apart, to his two sisters and his brother, to his eldest brother's widow, and to various nieces and nephews. To James Stephen Hogg, orphaned at age twelve, family ties were almost—but not quite—as important as political connections.

It was in the winter of 1887, while Sallie and the children were still in Tyler, that J. S. Hogg (as he usually signed himself) began writing to them. This letter to twelve- year-old Will, like many letters to follow, is a mixture of fatherly praise and advice seasoned with political news and familial affection.

January 29, 1887
Master W. C. Hogg,
Tyler, Texas.

My Dear Son:

I was greatly pleased with your letter. Your very noble purpose for not visiting Austin with your mother was very gratifying to me and no doubt raised you high in the estimation of your teacher.... Your strict adherence to such principles will be certain to make you a great and good man.

I should like to have you see the Legislature while it is in session. As it will not adjourn until April no doubt you will get to see it. Austin is in many respects a nice and pleasant place, but I much prefer Tyler to it. The Senatorial race is up and is creating intense interest. Yesterday the vote stood: Maxey—30; Reagan—54; Ireland 33 votes. As it takes 89 votes to elect, neither of the Candidates are likely to get the requisite number for a long time. So the Legislature is "dead-locked" so called. They began voting last Tuesday and today is Saturday with no immediate prospects of election. The current opinion is that a "Dark Horse" will be elected. Your Ma can tell you what this kind of a being is in politics. I shall try to visit home next Saturday. Give kisses and love to Mama, Auntie and Sister and Mike; and tell Hettie and little Ima "howdy." Be a good boy.

Your Papa

J. S. Hogg

"Auntie" was Martha Frances Hogg Davis, Hogg's widowed eldest sister, fifty-three, who divided her time among various relatives. Hettie was the Hogg family cook; little Ima was her daughter. The other Ima, Jim Hogg's daughter, remembered them years later: "Father thought she [Hettie] was the greatest cook anywhere. She was devoted to the family and her first and only child, a little girl, was named after me. Little colored Ima was born in Tyler shortly after we moved there and was a privileged character in our family."

As Attorney General Hogg took up the duties of his new office, Sallie and the children left Tyler in February 1887 for a visit with her father, former Confederate Colonel James Alexander Stinson, and his family on their plantation near Speer, a small community (now no longer in existence) near Mineola in East Texas. Will left school to go along with Ima, then age five, and Mike, age two, for the visit to their grandparents. It was winter, but children's schooling in the nineteenth century was somewhat erratic. Texas law required only four months of mandatory school attendance, because many families needed their children as farmhands. (Governor Hogg would see this law changed to six months.)

From Austin, on February 17, the busy attorney general wrote to his wife, two hundred miles away:

Dear Sallie:

This morning I got up early, got my breakfast at 8 o'clock and now "have time" to write to you and "the babes." We are all quite well, and hard at work.... I would give anything to see you all. Tell the children I think of them every day, and as often wish to see Mike in his prattling, toddling ways; Ima in her dancing and antics and Willie in his manly demeanor and "book investigations"—and Sister admiring Mike's growth and beauty.

You did well in your arrangements at Tyler, and everything is satisfactory.

Enjoy yourself in every way possible; make your stay at your Pa's to suit yourself, and write me often. Love to all.

Your Affectionate Husband

J. S. Hogg.

Attorney General Hogg was indeed hard at work. His position furnished him with two assistants and one clerk, but he wrote most of his documents and letters by hand. As his daughter, Ima, remembered, "There was no carbon paper for duplication. The many copies were made by a long outmoded letter press."

Sallie, though she may not yet have been certain and probably had not told her husband, was then a month pregnant. Later that spring she and the children would move to their new home in Austin. The house at 500 West Fourteenth Street was in a neighborhood of spacious residences on the west side of the city. Like other Austin homes in those days, it had no running water, but its grounds had room for horses, milk cows, and other livestock. Ima later remembered that Austin in those days looked "like a little farming village" because "nearly everyone owned cows as well as horses." At the house on Fourteenth Street, the Hogg family "always had a cow and a horse and carriage and a little goat and some dogs."

In the Hoggs' case the livestock included (so the story goes) the cow that came with them from Tyler: "Mr. Hogg had a very beautiful Jersey heifer that through some mishap, had lost a horn. When he was selected Attorney General in 1886 and the family was preparing to move to Austin, his friends urged him to sell the cow. Mr. Hogg, however, could not stand the idea of selling her to the butcher, and when the family moved to Austin the cow went along, too."

For Sallie, there was daunting work to be done: settling into a new house, two active young children to look after, and the arrival of a new baby to prepare for. Years later, Ima recorded her memories of her mother as she coped with the pressures and pleasures of being the wife of a public official:

Mother was quite small, about five feet, two inches tall, and never weighed over 108 pounds. Her distinguishing feature, everyone said, was her tiny, beautifully formed hands. Her little feet never gave her enough support for I remember her complaining of them after standing any time. She had dark brown hair, gray eyes, and fair skin with little color. Without being a beauty, her even features gave her a sweet and refined appearance.

I do not know what all the things were which influenced my mother's taste but she was well prepared to be the wife of any public man except that she was very reticent and modest and, also, physically not strong. She was of a very artistic temperament, exceedingly fastidious, well read and accomplished in all the arts of homemaking. She must have had some executive ability for our house ran smoothly and rather lavishly for our means. We seemed to have everything that we could desire though we knew that we should not ask for much spending money.

I can look back upon many small economies which she practiced.... Buttons on our clothes were always taken off to be used on the next garments; even hooks and eyes and bones were removed from old dresses.

Somewhere mother learned to be an exquisite needlewoman. She always had ready a piece of embroidery, or hand work, which she could take up while talking with visitors. It was the style when I was a child for little girls to wear white aprons over gingham and woolen dresses and my aprons were the most exquisite hand-made creations made of finest muslin, dimity or swiss with rolled and hand-whipped ruffles edged with real lace trimming or eyelet embroidery. She did not always make these herself but she would have felt disgraced if I had worn anything made on a machine....

I often wonder now how she managed on my father's small salary. There were no extravagances outside of the household but my mother always had a few very fine gowns made each year.... Mother would have been happy to make her own dresses had she had the time but, of course, she did not. She spent much time overseeing the work of a seamstress who came into the house to make the boys' shirts, my clothes, and perhaps some of her housedresses.

I have been trying to remember what Mother's first reception dress was like.... I remember we thought it was very beautiful and I am still confused as to whether it was black taffeta with large orchid brocaded figures outlined with some kind of tinsel and beads or whether it was orchid color with orchid brocade on it. I know we all went into ecstasies over her appearance, especially brother Will.

It was Will, the eldest of the Hogg children, who no doubt helped his mother with some of the difficulties of moving into a house in Austin that hot summer. Attorney General Hogg, consumed by the demands of his office, spent long hours at work. He did find time to compose a long letter to his fifteen-year-old nephew, Baylor Hogg, in Denton. The boy was the only son of Jim Hogg's late brother, Thomas Elisha, who had died in 1880. Thomas's widow, Anna, lived in Denton with Baylor and her four daughters, Lucanda, nineteen; Hermilla, eighteen; Ethel, thirteen; and Annie, ten. Jim Hogg did his best to be a father figure to these children, especially Baylor, who had written to him hoping for a position in Austin. Unfortunately there was no job available. His Uncle Jim wrote kindly, if bookishly: "Upon the subject of your inquiry of the 14h inst., you are advised, that the Legislature will not again meet for two years, except in case the Govr. calls special session; in which event I will notify you in ample time so as to give you an opportunity to strike for the place you desire. ... Impatience is always to be avoided as productive of unrest and instability; while a well guarded desire and ambition to improve your opportunities and situation is in every respect commendable, and without which no man can succeed." Jim Hogg was ever the dispenser of how-to-succeed advice.

On August 20, 1887, Sallie gave birth to the Hoggs' fourth child, Thomas Elisha. It was apparently a difficult birth, and there were complications. Children were born at home in those days, and the nature of Sallie's condition is not recorded. The birth may have left her with pelvic injuries (Tom was a large baby), or she may have had childbed fever, a malady still prevalent in the late nineteenth century, when sanitation was primitive and the role of bacteria in infections was not widely known.

As Ima recalled Tom's arrival: "Mother was very ill after he came and it was not long before he began to pine. For a long time nothing could be found to agree with him. Finally the doctor recommended a negro wet nurse and it was necessary for a time to keep him most of the time in her house. She was a remarkable negro woman. Her little house was clean as a pin and she also had a strong baby boy who nursed along with Tom." Tom was breastfed until he was a year old.

Sallie's frail condition, the care of the new baby, and the burdens of the attorney general's office kept Jim Hogg and his family close to Austin, and family letters and travels were few the year after Tom's birth. They began again in the summer of 1888. That was the summer that Jim Hogg's nephew, Joseph Lewis McDugald, age twenty-three, the eldest son of Hogg's sister Julia, was shot and killed in Tyler. The shooting occurred on Saturday, August 4. On August 9, Jim Hogg wrote a letter of condolence to Julia:

Dear Sister—

In your sad moments of distress over the tragic death of Lewis, I feel that it is impossible for me to do more than to express my grief in common with yours. As I left Tyler Saturday night, perhaps an hour before the fatal occurrence I met Lewis and talked with him. He appeared in good spirits and was certainly acting the part of an upright gentleman. During the day before I met him a time or two and was most favorably impressed with his gentlemanly bearing. Enroute to Austin I heard of his murder, too late to return. On getting here I wrote Dr. Hicks and sent him a mite for Lewis's relief if such should be possible. He wrote me the particulars, which taken with what Mr. Gus Taylor wrote me leads me to the unquestionable belief that he was killed without cause. I should have gone to his side but from the news I received I knew it could only be to attend his funeral. To do this in the condition that the trip had left me really was a peril I felt that prudence as well as yourself would not demand or expect of me. I am now feeling clear of the threatened bilious attack and shall visit you at my earliest opportunity—perhaps sometime next week. Tell Mr. Ferguson to take no action towards prosecuting Lewis's assassin until I see or write to him. I wish to look into the matter with him.


Excerpted from The Hoggs of Texas by Virginia Bernhard. Copyright © 2013 Texas State Historical Association. Excerpted by permission of Texas State Historical Association.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

VIRGINIA BERNHARD is Professor Emerita of History at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Her publications include Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782, A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?, and Ima Hogg: The Governor's Daughter.

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