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Governor Dolph Briscoe and the Chicken Ranch

Dolph Briscoe, Jr. was the 41st governor of Texas.  He was born April 23, 1923 in Uvalde County, Texas to Leigh Adolphus (Dolph) and Georgia M. Garvey Briscoe.  His grandparents were Leigh Adolphus (the first of his Briscoe ancestors to be born in Texas) and Lucy A. Briscoe.  Going further back on the Briscoe side, his great grandfather was Robert Permenias Briscoe and his great grandfather was Andrew Briscoe, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a settler in the old Fort Bend area.

Dolph grew up on the family ranch in Uvalde.  Upon his graduation as valedictorian of Uvalde High School, he entered the University of Texas at Austin.  There he met Janey Slaughter.  In 1943, Dolph enlisted in the United States Army as a private, serving in the China-Burma-India theater and rising to the rank of officer.

Dolph, Jr. had considerable exposure to Texas politics via his father who was acquainted with Gov. Ross Sterling.  Dolph, Sr. was appointed to the Texas Racing Commission by Gov. James Allred. Dolph, Sr. also served on the board of First State Bank of Uvalde with John Nance Garner, also a long time Uvalde resident.  Dolph, Jr. recalled the family being invited to stay at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin by Gov. Sterling when Dolph was still a boy.  An early memory was being invited to sleep in Sam Houston’s bed in the Governor’s Mansion.

He won his first election when he ran for State Representative in 1948, serving from 1949 to 1957.  Dolph, Sr. died in 1954, leaving Dolph, Jr. to run the ranch, and Dolph, Jr. left politics for a time.  The family ranch was an operation of considerable size.  At one time, the Briscoe family were the largest land owners in Texas.  Dolph was a long time member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and in 1960, became the youngest person to serve as president of the organization.  While heading up the ranching industry Association, he helped raise $3 million dollars in voluntary contributions to assist in the eradication of the screwworm infestation in Texas and the Southwest.

Dolph, Jr. ran for Governor in 1968 in a crowded field of candidates trying to follow Gov. John Connally, but only finished fourth in the Democratic primary.  He ran again, four years later.  This time, he successfully defeated Rep. Frances (Sissy) Farenthold for the Democratic nomination and Republican Hank Grover for the Governor’s seat.  The state had been previously rocked by a political scandal known as the Sharpstown scandal and Dolph was considered to be a reform candidate.

Among his accomplishments were adding $4 billion dollars for public and higher education, increasing Texas teacher salaries along with salaries for state employees, expanding services for needy residents.  He appointed many African Americans to state boards along with the appointment of the first African American district judge.  He was known as being fiscally responsible, as he accomplished this without increasing state taxes.

Briscoe was known for favoring law enforcement.  The Chicken Ranch was the name of a long time brothel outside La Grange, Texas.  It was a successor to an earlier entity that had operated for decades inside La Grange.  The last operation is thought to have been set up around 1915 by a woman using the name of Jessie Williams.  Although the business was illegal, local and state law enforcement ignored it and allowed it to remain in operation.  Williams stayed in relatively good favor with the city and Fayette County officials by donating to worth causes and otherwise doing good deeds in the area, also supposedly informing local law officers of other illegal activities that she or her employees may have learned.  Local legend had it that during the Great Depression that the owner would accept chickens in exchange for services, which contributed to the name The Chicken Ranch.  During the world wars, the business was known for sending care packages to area troops.

Running of the business eventually passed to Edna Milton, a former sex worker at the Ranch.  Milton later acquired the property and business from Williams’ heirs and is said to have continued her predecessor’s relationship with local law enforcement.

In 1973, Houston journalist Marvin Zindler published an exposé that focused attention on the Chicken Ranch and during the tenure of Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, it was closed once, reopened briefly and after another piece by Marvin Zindler, it was closed this time for good.

After being shut down as a brothel, the real estate changed hands a time or two, with some of the buildings and furnishings being moved to Greenville Avenue in Dallas as the site of a restaurant owned by William Fair III, which was only open a few months.  There was also later a bar on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas that briefly operated from around 1979 to 1980 under the same name.  Both businesses had in common the involvement of Milton who served as hostess of the restaurant and supposedly had an interest in the bar.  The story of the brothel was the subject of a book, a Broadway musical, and a song by the Texas band Z. Z. Top.

Briscoe served as Governor from January 16, 1973 to January 16, 1979.  Following his final term as Governor, Briscoe retired from politics and returned to Uvalde.  Dolph and Janey were quite active in philanthropy, and were known for their support of the Witte Museum and University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.  Dolph had a long time interest in Texas and American history and donated $15 million to the Center for American History, now known as the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and also served on its Advisory Council.  Dolph also made a founding contribution to the Kate Marmion Regional Cancer Medical Center in memory of their late granddaughter.

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(Image credit: Findagrave)

Janey had always actively campaigned with Dolph and the couple was known around the state for their support of charitable causes.  She is credited for the campaign to have the Texas Governor’s Mansion named as a National Historical Landmark.  Gov. Briscoe passed away in 2010, having been predeceased in 2000 by Janey.  Both are interred in the Brisco Frio Ranch Cemetery in Uvalde.

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Posted by on July 18, 2019 in biography, governor

 

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Freddy Fender

freddyfender

(Image credit: FreddyFender.com)

Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Garcia Huerta in San Benito, Cameron County, Texas on June 4, 1937.  His parents were Serapio and Margarita Garcia Huerta, who were migrant farm workers.  Huerta was the oldest of four children and was raised around music, including lively “conjunto,” a traditional style of music that includes a blend of Tejano and references to German polka, including the use of an accordion.  He performed as early as the age of ten on a Harlingen, Texas radio station.  He dropped out of high school and lied about his age to join the United States Marine Corps.  He served from 1954 to 1956.  Huerta married in 1957 as he began to perform as “El Be-Bop Kid” and other stage names, doing covers of popular American hits of artists like Elvis Presley but singing them in Spanish.  He and his wife Evangelina had five children.  They divorced and remarried at one point, but otherwise were married for about forty-five years.

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Posted by on July 11, 2019 in biography, entertainers, hispanic heritage

 

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Sarah Horton Cockrell

Sarah Horton was born in Virginia on 13 January 1819 to Enoch and Martha Stinson Horton.  She moved with her family to Dallas County, Texas near Eagle Ford in 1844, becoming one of the pioneer families in the area.  In September of 1847, she married Alexander Cockrell.

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Posted by on June 27, 2019 in biography, texas women

 

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The “Twin Sisters” and Dr. Henry North Graves

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“Twin Sister” replicas at San Jacinto Battleground (image in public domain)

The “Twin Sisters” refers to two field pieces (artillery pieces) donated by ladies of Cincinnati, Ohio to the cause of the Texas Revolution.  According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman from 1874, they were two identical six pound rifle cannon that were built by a Mr. Tatum at a foundry in Cincinnati and shipped by riverboat to Texas.  They were delivered in person by Mr. Tatum himself in time to be used by General Sam Houston in the Battle of San Jacinto.  Following the Revolution they became prized relics and were known to have been fired at ceremonial occasions including the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto and the inauguration of Gen. Houston as President of the Republic of Texas.

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Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was born Charles Hardin Holley to Lawrence Odell and Ella Pauline Drake Holley on September 7, 1939 in Lubbock, Texas.  He began to perform in the country music genre in Lubbock at high school dances.  He had won a singing contest at age five but got his first guitar when he was fourteen.  Buddy and a former junior high school friend named Bob Montgomery formed a duo they called Buddy and Bob and played anywhere they could get a foothold.  They also were the opening act when other artists would tour the area and two different times, they opened for Elvis Presley in 1955 and one time the same year for Bill Haley and the Comets (“Rock Around the Clock”).  Buddy and some high school friends then formed a group they called Buddy Holly and the Crickets and were known around Lubbock for playing dances and also spots on local radio.  The Crickets were Jerry Allison on drums, Joe Mauldin and Nicky Sullivan on guitars.  Buddy did the lead singing.

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Posted by on June 6, 2019 in biography, entertainers

 

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Governor Beauford H. Jester

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(Image credit: lrl.texas.gov, the Legislative Reference Library)

Governor Beauford Halbert Jester was born in Corsicana, Texas on January 12, 1893.  His parents were George Taylor and Francis Paine Gordon Jester.  His father George Jester had served as Lieutenant Governor of Texas under Governor Charles Allen Culberson.  Beauford was also descended from the Hampton McKinney family, thought to be the earliest settlers in Corsicana in the 1840s, as his great grandfather was Hampton McKinney and his grandmother was Diadema McKinney, the daughter of Hampton McKinney.  Beauford graduated from Corsicana High School in 1911 and University of Texas in Austin in 1916.  He had attended Harvard Law School for around two years but enlisted in the United States Army when the U. S. entered World War I in 1917.  He was only a month or so from being eligible to graduate when he enlisted.

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Posted by on May 30, 2019 in biography, governor

 

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Walter Cronkite, Jr., World War II Correspondent

Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. is not a name that most people would associate with the State of Texas, but he had Texas roots.  Walter, Jr. was born November 4, 1916 to Dr. Walter L. and Helen Lena Fritsche Cronkite in Missouri.  The surname Cronkite is thought to be derived from a similar sounding Dutch name.  However, traditional genealogical sources show that this particular Cronkite family had resided in the United States as far back as the middle 1600s with similar spelling, though for a time it was spelled “Cronkhite,” with an h after the k.  Dr. Cronkite was a dentist like his own father had been.  The family moved to Houston, Texas when Walter, Jr. was ten years old when Dr. Cronkite had accepted an offer to teach at a local dental school.

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Posted by on May 23, 2019 in biography, world war 2

 

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