Times Past

Musings on pecans, Jim Hogg and nut trees in SLO's North County

While it doesn’t compare to some of the major crises of our world, we are confronted by a threat to our holiday traditions.

There may be no more pralines or pecan pies for our holiday tables.

The New York Times reported the bad news on the day before Thanksgiving: “A rare collision of ill-timed rain, marauding animals and a growing love affair between the Chinese middle class and the pecan has resulted in the worst pecan supply in recent memory. As a result, grocery store prices are up by about 30 percent, which is causing Thanksgiving bakers to think twice about their menus.”

Whatever happened to the dying wish of former Texas Gov. Jim Hogg? The night before he died from injuries in a railroad accident, Gov. Jim Hogg told his family he wanted no statue. Instead he said: “Let my children plant at the head of my grave a pecan tree and at my feet an old-fashioned walnut tree. And when these trees shall bear, let the pecans and the walnuts be given out to the people so they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees.”

Gov. James S. Hogg (1891-1895) was hooked on nuts. He wanted the government to give away young pecan trees to the farmers and ranchers of the Lone Star State.

He was the first native son to become governor of Texas, born near Rusk in 1851, the son of Lucanda (McMath) and Joseph Lewis Hogg, a brigadier general, who died at the head of his command for the Confederacy in 1862. His mother died the following year.

Hogg and two of his brothers were left with two older sisters to run the plantation. He worked as a typesetter to support his family and studied law. While helping the sheriff at Quitman, Hogg earned the enmity of a group of outlaws, who lured him over the county line, ambushed him, and shot him in the back. His injuries earned him many plaudits from “law and order” Texans.

Later, as he rose in political life, he took on the big railroads that were receiving huge subsidies from the Texas and national governments. He was a reformer and champion of the small farmer and the industrial worker. He supported Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld in the latter's opposition to Democratic President Grover Cleveland's sending troops to Chicago to put down the workers who were striking against the Pullman Company.

He became a major supporter of the candidacy of the Populist, anti-railroad and anti-big business candidate, William Jennings Bryan. He spoke on behalf of Bryan at New York’s famed Tammany Hall in 1896 and again in 1900.

He died at a relatively young age, ironically a victim of an accident on one of the very railroads he opposed.

Most of all he wanted to give pecan and walnut trees to the people of Texas.

His wishes were carried out and he was buried next to his wife in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery. A statue was, however erected, at a later date.

I was reminded of Governor Hogg when I read Phil Dirkx’s recent column titled “Paso Robles groundwater basin needs lots of help.”

Phil reminds us that “in the early days, most crops here weren’t irrigated. Mission San Miguel raised lots of grain — but with no irrigation.

“And in the early and middle 1900s, almond trees marched up and down North County hills, also without irrigation. Grapes were raised, but the vineyards were generally dry-farmed, as some in the North County still are.”

With the rising world price of pecans, may other nut crops also increase in value? Perhaps our county might once again become a leading supplier of this low water usage crop.