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HomeNL-2018-09 "Cactus Jack" Garner

"Cactus Jack" Garner
September 2018
by John Rich
I was recently participating in an archeology dig north of Uvalde, Texas, which is west of San Antonio, and before departing the area I took some time to see a few sights first.  Uvalde is the type of small town where they let trees grow in the middle of the street, and you're expected to just be smart enough to drive around them, so they don't have to be cut down to protect drivers from their own stupidity. Bravo.

One of the things that Uvalde is famous for is the home town of John "Cactus Jack" Garner.  Garner started out as a County Judge in Uvalde, moved to the Texas House of Representatives 1898-1902, the U.S.House of Representatives 1903-1933, Speaker of the House of Representatives 1931-1933, and Vice President of the United States serving under Franklin Roosevelt 1933-1941. 

And he loved the outdoors and canoeing. 

Garner State Park, located about 25 miles north of Uvalde on the Frio River is named after him, and is Texas' most heavily visited park.  It often reaches capacity before noon, so if you want to visit, make reservations in advance or arrive early.

So I decided to visit Uvalde's Garner museum located in his former brick home, built in 1920.

Garner museum Garner home Home plaque

The 2nd floor featured Dolph Briscoe, the Governor of Texas from 1973 to 1979.  The thing I noted about him was that he created the farm-to-market road system. So every time you drive those nice rural "FM" roads, you can thank Briscoe.

Painting Time Magazine Inaugural program

One of the popular quotes from Garner's acceptance speech is this: "There are just two things to this government as I see it.  The first is to safeguard the lives and properties of our people.  The second is to insure that each of us has a chance to work out his destiny according to his talents.  This involves protecting him from being injured or oppressed by those of superior acquisitiveness and perhaps less conscience."

After running for the democratic nomination for President and losing, Garner headed home to Uvalde, where he spent time hunting, camping and fishing from a canoe.

Leaving Washington Canoe fishing On the Leona River

The canoe Garner used on his fishing trips was an Old Town, considered the "Cadillac" of canoes at the time. It fills the enclosed back porch of the house as a display.  It's a wood frame model, covered with canvas and lacquered to make it waterproof.  The bow has a high up-sweep, and the stern is squared off so that a small motor can be mounted.

There is a thin rib of brass to protect the nose and keel from abrasion.  Both seats have had the original material replaced.  The rear seat is now woven with wide webbing with the ends folded over and tacked in place.  You can see holes in the seat frame where the original material was woven, maybe cane. The front seat is now covered with leather and has decorative brass tacks around the edges to hold it in place.

Old Town canoe Ribs Canvas   Rear seat   Front seat

His favorite paddle is reported to be the Nueces River from the Highway 55 crossing down to Highway 90.  Map here.  There must have been more water in that river back then, because from what I've seen, it's now intermittently dry for about half of that length.

And that's the story of Cactus Jack's canoe.  John Garner, just like the rest of us, saw a day on the water as a pleasant reprieve from the pressures and anxiety of daily work life.

The author, John Rich