Carly Fiorina’s great uncle `literally riddled with buckshot,’ and other Texas news from July 3, 1923

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Good morning Austin:

I wrote a story for the Sunday paper about Carly Fiorina’s deep Texas roots.

I wrote about her father, the late Joseph Tyree Sneed III, a very distinguished federal judge, who was born and raised in Calvert and was a professor at UT Law School when Fiorina was born in Austin in 1954.

I also wrote about her uncle, John Beal Sneed, who a century ago did as much as any man to help sell newspapers in Texas.

From Sunday’s story:

On the evening of Jan. 13, 1912, John Beal Sneed strode into Fort Worth’s Metropolitan Hotel and pumped five or six bullets from a .32-caliber handgun into Albert G. Boyce Sr., the former longtime manager of the Panhandle’s XIT Ranch — the largest fenced ranch in the world. Boyce was father of the man who had “eloped” to Canada with Sneed’s wife, Lena, after helping her escape from the Fort Worth sanitarium to which Beal had committed her for “moral insanity” after she revealed to him her love for Albert G. Boyce Jr. (Sneed’s first impulse, he would testify at trial, was to kill Lena and himself, a plan averted only when their daughter wandered in on them.)

In September, nine months after killing Boyce Sr. — who he believed had plotted with his son to steal Lena — and between his mistrial and retrial for the shooting in Fort Worth, Sneed, disguised as a farm laborer in blue overalls, shot and killed Albert G. Boyce Jr. in front of a Methodist church in their hometown of Amarillo, delivering two shots from a double-barreled shotgun and then reloading and delivering a third.

Sneed would be tried and acquitted of both murders, his defense team focused on making sure that if any jurors weren’t native Texans, they were at the very least Southern-born. The trials were covered in newspapers across the country and graced the front page of the Austin Statesman for weeks.

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When reporters demanded an explanation for the verdict, the jury foreman replied, “The best answer is because this is Texas.”

“Because this is Texas,” is the title of a 100-page article in the 1999 issue of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, based on both Sneed and Boyce family records, written by Fiorina’s sister, Clara Sneed, a teacher, tutor and writer in Berkeley, Calif. She is now finishing work on a novel based on the astonishing family saga that gripped Texas and the nation for more than a year.

In other words, if Fiorina has emerged as a kind of cold-blooded, quick-on-the draw gunslinger in the two Republican debates that have slung her into the top tier of candidates, she comes by it honestly.

The Sneeds shot, and got shot at, always to great public interest.

Six days after the mistrial, Beal’s father, J.T. Sneed Sr., was leaving the post office in Georgetown when he was shot to death by R.O. Hillard, a tenant farmer, who then killed himself. Suspicion focused on the Boyce family, but Hilliard left a note blaming Sneed, his landlord, for driving him insane.

Lena, writing Boyce from Dallas, reported that she had seen “men and women fight on the streets for the papers” to read the latest chapter in what became known as the Boyce-Sneed Feud.

And Beal had a real flair.

Here from the Statesman report on the reaction he and had his lawyers had to his acquittal for killing Boyce Sr.

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If you have trouble reading that, the gist is that when he learned he had been acquitted, Beal let out an Indian war whoop and then insisted on speaking to the jury, promising each one of them a picture of himself and his children.

As I combed the Statesman archives, I found that Beal refused to relinquish his hold on the headlines.

There he was, back on Page One more than a decade later – on July 3, 1923.

Another shooting, though this time he was on the receiving end.

Because it had been so many years, the Statesman also provided a very helpful chronology of Beal’s previous exploits.

 

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It seems that while Beal was doing a stint in Leavenworth for bribing a juror in a land case, C.B Berry had shot to death Beal’s son-in-law in a dispute over some black men hired to pick cotton. On his return from prison to Paducah, where they lived, Beal shot Berry five times – without killing him – and Berry was now shooting him back.

Each was tried for shooting the other. Both were acquitted.

But, what really intrigued me looking at this story was the entirety of the front page that July 3.

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What a front page.

There are 16 stores on the page.

Yes, many are only two or three paragraphs long.

But scanning the page, I was stunned by the extraordinary topicality – as in current relevance – of many of the stories.

Right there rubbing up against the Sneed story, was a story about the American people hankering for a political outsider for president – someone with enormous success in the private sector.

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As it happens, in 2011, Joseph Kip Kosek, director of undergraduate studies and assistant professor of American studies at George Washington University, wrote for the History News Network about the Ford for President boomlet, with Kosek making comparisons even then to Donald Trump.

The nation’s leading capitalist emerges as a surprise candidate for president.  His political views range from unknown to repulsive to incoherent, but he vaults to the top of early opinion polls.  He has that flair, that self-reliance, that je ne sais pas that set him apart in an undistinguished field.  The man, of course, is Henry Ford.  Long before Donald Trump burst into contention for the Republican nomination, Ford briefly became the most exciting prospect for the presidential election of 1924.  Americans find something strangely seductive in imagining our most powerful economic leaders grasping the reins of political power as well.  The ill-fated Ford-for-President movement shows why that scenario has remained imaginary.

By the 1920s, Henry Ford was one of the great heroes of American culture.  Born on a farm in Michigan, he had parlayed his ambition and mechanical genius into an automobile empire.  Other inventors had designed experimental cars, but Ford’s unique innovation lay in his ruthlessly efficient system of “mass production,” a phrase he popularized.  Many voters began to dream about bringing some assembly-line efficiency to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Ford had become the “people’s tycoon,” as the title of Steven Watts’ biography has it.

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More skeptical observers thought that Ford’s popularity was largely the product of a media circus.  A critic writing in the Independent attributed the “bizarre” phenomenon to the rise of the American voter’s “movie mind” (this in the early decades of feature films).  Overstimulated modern people were always looking for “new sensations” that a “tame president” could hardly satisfy.  “If you were a motion-picture producer,” the writer asked, “bent on furnishing a glimpse into the future dramatically, wouldn’t you, now wouldn’t you, choose Henry Ford as your hero?”

Well, maybe.  Despite his potential, the people’s tycoon had some serious liabilities.  Like Trump, he had a weakness for conspiracy theories. Before The Donald’s perplexing sympathy for the birthers was Ford’s perplexing suspicion of the Jews.  In his magazine, the auto magnate disseminated a variety of anti-Semitic writings, including the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Indeed, Ford was the only American praised by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.  Being an anti-Semite did not necessarily disqualify one from high office during this period of resurgent nativism, but Ford’s enthusiasm along these lines would undoubtedly have been an embarrassment.

The most important obstacle to a Ford presidency, though, turned out to be the man himself.  He was a cold, even callous personality.  More importantly, unlike Trump, he turned out not to be very interested in running.  In fact, he was opposed to the principle of running.  “I don’t think any man should run for president,” he opined back in 1916.  If the Ford Motor Company needed someone to do an important job, he explained, the company would go out and find the right person.  The Ford-for-President crowd took this to mean that he wanted the American people to do the same, to draft him for president without any active participation on his part.

OK.

Next, what was the big issue back in 1923?

Here, from the middle of Page One.

 

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There’s a science story, suggesting that advances in medical science in the next half century would make dying under the age of 75 “a crime.”

 

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There are three separate stories revealing the way Prohibition, and its enforcement, were being observed, or not observed.

 

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And, then, most astonishing of all – though I suppose it should not have been – was a story promoting the coming July 4 speaking appearance of Emperor William J. Simmons of the Ku Klux Klan, who was going to explain why his faction of the KKK was “more actuated by the high ideals of the organization,” than the rival faction headed by Hiram Wesley Evans, a Dallas dentist.

The speech would be at Austin’s Wooldridge Park. All Austin residents are invited.

 

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So what gives with this struggle between Simmons and Evans for control of the Klan?

What divided them that would be sufficiently compelling for folks to spend some of their July 4th listening to Simmons?

From Jerry L. Wallace, a Coolidge scholar (Coolidge would become president a month later with the death of President Harding) writing at the Calvin Coolidge Foundation:

Col. William Joseph Simmons, an emotional man with a bent towards the mystical, founded the revived Klan order and served as its first Imperial Wizard.[xiii]  He had summoned it into being on top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thanksgiving night of 1915.  Simmons, an avid fraternalist since youth, who himself belonged to several orders, had long dreamed of creating his own group.  In reviving the Klan, he was inspired by stories of the original Klan told him as child by his father, who had been a Klansman, and his nanny.[xiv]

Simmons, however, got the idea for the fiery cross, which came to symbolize the Klan in the 1920s, from the writer Thomas Dixon.  Dixon had conceived the fiery cross and introduced it in his novel, The Clansman.[xv]  Later, the device appeared in Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.  The first Klan had never used it.

In its early years, 1915-20, the second Klan grew slowly and showed little promise of success.  During the Great War, it put itself to work ferreting out disloyal Americans.  It did not spring to life, becoming an organizational and financial success, until June of 1920, when Simmons hired two clever marketing experts, Edward Young Clarke and Mrs. Elizabeth Tyler, to head the Klan’s Propagation Department.  They became, as one student of the Klan has observed, the “real creators” of the second Klan.[xvi]

The Clarke-Tyler duo was able to exploit for the benefit of the Klan the postwar situation:  a chaotic, violent, and stressful period, marked by strikes, a crime wave, and race riots; by prosperity followed by a severe slump; and by political battles over the future of the nation.  They did this by developing a strategy based upon their conception of One-Hundred Percent Americanism, which consisted of a collection of religious, political, economic, and social ideas and beliefs common to the first American settlers and their descendants.  It was cleverly designed to appeal to the ingrained patriotism and prejudices of the average American.

Of Evans, Wallace wrote:

In November of 1922, Hiram Wesley Evans, a successful Texas dentist, deposed Simmons as Imperial Wizard.  Evans, a capable manager and leader, changed the direction of the Klan.  He exercised more control over local activities, he clamped down on violent acts, and he expanded the Klan’s ranks by creating a popular women’s auxiliary in 1923 and a branch for young folks in the following year.

Most notably, Evans attempted to make the Ku Klux Klan into a powerful political machine, working within the two major parties.  To be at the center of power, Evans moved the Klan headquarters in late 1925 from Atlanta, Georgia, to 7th and “I” Streets in Washington, D.C., where it was to remain until 1929 when it was returned to its home base.[xxxiii]

There were some political successes:  Klansmen, it is said, helped to elect nine Republicans and seven Democrats to the U.S. Senate and six Republicans and five Democrats to governorships.[xxxiv]  Generally, however, the Klan did best at the local level, where Klansmen’s votes, especially in primaries, could play a decisive role.

Revealing his influence, Evans’ picture graced the cover of TIME magazine on June 23, 1924, the day prior to the opening of the Democratic National Convention.  Yet, in the 1924 presidential election, following the debacle created by the Klan issue at the Democratic Convention, the Klan as a national campaign topic soon faded away and it apparently was not a significant factor in the voting that November.  As for the Klan’s own involvement, Robert K. Murray, an historian of the 1924 election, has concluded, “Davis lost no state because of Klan activity nor did Coolidge win one.”[xxxv]

 

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The Republican National Convention in 1924 was held, as it will be again next year, in Cleveland.

Time referred to it in its 1924 cover story on the Klan’s influence as the Kleveland Konvention

Many men went to Cleveland hoping, trying to put an anti-Ku Klux Klan plank in the Republican platform. They had prepared a plank which read thus:

This party pledges itself and its candidates to stand inflexibly for government by due process of law and against all groups, open or secret, which attempt to take the law into their own hands. If its candidates are elected, this party gives assurance that no act of theirs will render aid or comfort to any organization based on prejudice or discrimination…

As it turned out, the Cleveland convention sidestepped the issue of what to say or do about the Klan.

Meanwhile, from Digital History, the issue of the Klan’s proper place in American public life took an uglier turn at the Democratic Convention in New York:

The two leading candidates symbolized a deep cultural divide. Al Smith, New York’s governor, was a Catholic and an opponent of prohibition and was bitterly opposed by Democrats in the South and West. Former Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo, a Protestant, defended prohibition and refused to repudiate the Ku Klux Klan, making himself unacceptable to Catholics and Jews in the Northeast.

Newspapers called the convention a “Klanbake,” as pro-Klan and anti-Klan delegates wrangled bitterly over the party platform. The convention opened on a Monday and by Thursday night, after 61 ballots, the convention was deadlocked. The next day, July 4, some 20,000 Klan supporters wearing white hoods and robes held a picnic in New Jersey. One speaker denounced the “clownvention in Jew York.” They threw baseballs at an effigy of Al Smith. A cross-burning culminated the event.

Al Smith and William Gibbs McAdoo withdrew from contention after the 99th ballot. On the 103rd ballot, the weary convention nominated John W. Davis of West Virginia, formerly a US Representative from West Virginia, Solicitor General for the United States, and US Ambassador to Britain under President Woodrow Wilson. The nomination proved worthless. Liberals deserted the Democrats and voted for Robert La Follette, a third party candidate. Apathy and disgust kept many home, and just half of those eligible went to the polls. The Democrat candidate, John Davis, received 8 million votes. The Republican candidate, incumbent president Calvin Coolidge, received 15 million votes.

Meanwhile, the Klan was riding high politically in Texas in 1923 when Simmons came to speak in Austin – at least until it ran up against Ma Ferguson in her successful, anti-Klan, campaign for governor in 1924.

From L. Patrick Hughes, a professor of history at Austin Community College.

From 1922 to 1924 the secret order was the chief issue in Texas politics; it elected sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, and legislators. Probably a majority of the House of Representatives of the 38th legislature were Klansmen. In Waco, the mayor and the Board of Police Commissioners were Klansmen. So were the county judge of Dewitt and the sheriffs of Jefferson and Travis counties. When a newspaper charged that the city and county officials of Dallas were Klansmen, no denial was made. Perhaps as many as 400,000 Texans belonged to the Klan at one time or another during the Twenties.

According to Charles Alexander, the “distinctive quality” of the KKK in the Southwest was “its motivation, which lay not so much in racism and nativism as in moral authoritarianism.” More than anything else, the Klan was “an instrument for restoring law and order and Victorian morality to the communities, towns, and cities of the region. Its coercive activity and its later preoccupation with political contests make vigilantism and politics the main characteristics of Klan history in the Southwest.”

Only a small portion of the Klan’s defense of morality and society was directed at blacks. Its campaign of systematic terrorism was aimed mostly at bootleggers, gamblers, wayward husbands and wives, wife beaters, and other “sinners.” At Timpson, Texas, Klansman took a white man from his home and beat him because he had separated from his wife. Similar treatment befell a Brenham man who spoke German, a divorced man in Dallas, a black bellhop in the same city believed to be a pimp, a Houston lawyer accused of annoying girls, and many other moral errants. A woman was taken from a hotel in Tenaha, stripped, beaten with a wet rope, and tarred and feathered because there was some question whether her second marriage had been preceded by a divorce. The Klan in Dallas was credited with having flogged sixty-eight people in the spring of 1922, most of them at a special KKK whipping meadow along the Trinity River bottom.

Some Texans were alarmed by these outrages and attempted to take preventative measures. A number of outspoken district judges ordered investigations and some city officials attempted to prevent Klan parades. Forty-nine members of the state legislature petitioned Governor Pat Neff for an anti-mask law. Chambers of Commerce, American Legions, the Daughters of the American Republic, the Texas Bar Association, the Masons, and others denounced the Klan. The most serious threat to the political activity of the Klan in the Dallas area was the Dallas County Citizens’ League, formed on April 4, 1922, at a mass meeting of five thousand citizens. The League denounced the Klan for its terrorism and violation of the laws of the state and Constitution of the nation, and accused it of trying to destroy political and religious freedom.

The League efforts against the Klan were not very impressive, at least not in political terms. In 1922 practically all of the Klan-backed candidates for office in Dallas County won, including the one running for district attorney. The following year the anti-Klan mayor of Dallas and others on his ticket were defeated by an almost three-to-one vote.

In 1922 the secret order made its influence felt quite dramatically in the race for United States senator. In the Democratic party primary race Senator Charles A. Culberson, hampered by ill health, campaigned for reelection in a less than forceful manners. Three of his opponents were admittedly pro-Klan, while the remaining four were anti-Klan. Among the former group, the KKK in Texas endorsed Earle B. Mayfield of Austin, a member of the State Railroad Commission. Mayfield received a plurality in the primary. The runner-up was former Governor James E. Ferguson. Mayfield won the run-off by 45,000 votes. It is, of course, impossible to determine how many of Mayfield’s votes were cast against “Fergusonism” or how much of the former governor’s support was anti-Klan. What is certain is that the Klan played a prominent role in the two primary campaigns. Mayfield trounced his Republican opponent in the general election.

Governor Pat M. Neff, whom the KKK considered “favorable”, was reelected. Most of the state’s congressmen tried to straddle the Klan issue, although John Nance Garner spoke out against the order. Though reelected, he lost areas, including his home county of Uvalde, that he had always carried before.

In 1924 Klansmen and Klan supporters probably controlled the State Democratic Convention which selected delegates to the national convention. That meeting proved to be the high water mark politically for the KKK in Texas. In the governor’s race that year the hooded order campaigned actively for Judge Felix Robertson of Dallas. His opponent in the Democratic primary run-off, Miriam A. Ferguson and her husband, the former governor, ran a straight-out anti-Klan campaign. Mrs. Ferguson won by nearly 100,000 votes.

At the second State Democratic Convention of 1924, which met after Mrs. Ferguson’s Democratic primary run-off victory, the Ku Klux Klan in Texas was given a merciless political drubbing. The convention inserted in its platform an anti-Klan plank that began: “The Democratic party emphatically condemns and denounces what is known as the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan as an un-democratic, un-Christian and un-American organization.” Though many Texas Klansmen voted for Mrs. Ferguson’s Republican opponent in November, she won handily.

When Simmons died in 1945, he was given a contemptuous obituary in the New York Times:

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Those are only a selection of the stories on a single front page of the Statesman in 1923.

What a paper!

There were also two cartoons.

There was this one, which seems pretty timeless.

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And there is this one, which went alongside the banner story advancing the big July 4 heavyweight championship fight between Jack Dempsey and Tommy Gibbons in middle-of-nowhere Montana (the fight would turn out to be kind of a letdown). In this cartoon, a grizzled cowboy longs for the days when fights were settled not with gloved fists in a padded ring but out on the street, with guns.

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But the reader’s eye needed only drift to the left hand column of that day’s front page of the Statesman to see that, thanks to Carly Fiorina’s great uncle, Beal Sneed, those good old Texas ways were still very much alive and well in 1923.

 

 

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