“General Webster Flanagan. Of the surviving ‘elder statesmen’ of Texas, none is better known and entitled to more distinction for his past services than General Webster Flanagan, of Henderson, Texas. He is one of the few remaining public men of the old regime of republicans in the Lone Star state, and a character among the active and forceful participants in state affairs from and after the Civil war until his recent retirement from a federal office. He is the only brigadier general now living appointed by Sam Houston. General Flanagan belongs to the era of pioneer settlement during the republic, was a participant in the events that filled Texas history during the Confederacy, espoused Republican policies when the war ended because of the principle of protection, entered actively into reconstruction politics, sat in the law-making bodies of the state as a representative from his section during the military and republic rule following the war, has been the recipient of favors from the various Republican national administrations in federal offices and has been a delegate to more national conventions of his party than any other man in the United States. As one still living from the old times, General Flanagan merits special recognition in these pages, but at the same time the memorial of history should be extended to include his father, who was in his time hardly less prominent as a factor in larger politics.
Webster Flanagan was born in Breckenridge county, Kentucky, January 9, 1832, and was eleven years old when he came to Texas with his father, Major James W. Flanagan in 1843. In 1844, the family home was established at Henderson. Grandfather Charles Flanagan made a record of which later generations are proud, as a soldier of the Revolutionary war, and was at one time in charge of a supply train for the colonists. In Kentucky after the war, he was a blacksmith at Cloverport, and a flatboat man, and on the return home on one trip down the Mississippi River he contracted cholera, and died in 1840.
Major James W. Flanagan was born in Albermarle county, Virginia, September 7, 1805, and in 1815 accompanied his father, Charles to Kentucky, settling near Boonesboro. A few months of his boyhood was spent in attendance at the Old Field Schools,’ but after that his education was of a practical business nature and self-acquired. For a few years after reaching manhood, he was a horse dealer along the line of Virginia and Kentucky, subsequently opened a stock of merchandise at Cloverport, doing a successful business, and finally engaged in the river transportation industry which in that era before railroads was one of the most important undertakings to which men of enterprise directed their energies. Eventually he acquired proprietorship of a flotilla of flatboats on the Ohio River, and each year sent these boats ladened with hoop-poles, staves, bacon, beeswax, and other common products of the country adjacent, down the currents of the Ohio, and into the Mississippi, as far as New Orleans, where the flatboats were sold for the lumber contained in them, and the proprietor and his men usually found their way back home on foot, the entire distance of six hundred miles or more. That was his steady vocation, until the battle of San Jacinto had been fought on Texas soil and had brought liberty to the patriot Texans, and then his heart became set on Texas, and he sold out, making arrangements to transfer his residence to the new republic.
Major Flanagan went by boat as far as Shreveport, and then to Slabtown, on the seventeenth meridian, separating Louisiana and Texas, where he established himself as a farmer and merchant. The following year in 1844, and on the ninth day of August, he reached Henderson, which was then a pioneer community. While in Kentucky, Major Flanagan served as justice of the peace and that office gave him a fair knowledge of the law, so that when he located in Henderson, his practice of the law went along with storekeeping and farming, and dealing in land. As a lawyer he acquired a reputation especially as a successful defender of causes. His investment in lands extended widely, and his holdings included several thousand acres about Henderson.
During the war Major Flanagan submitted reluctantly to the part Texas took, and the state went out of the Union in opposition to his advice and counsel. Before the war he had become a factor in politics, and was elected to the lower house, and later to the Senate. Among his varied services as a legislator, should be mentioned the introduction and work in securing the passage of the bill that gave Texas its first insane asylum, and secured an appropriation for the organization and maintenance of that institution. He also secured the passage of a bill chartering the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad, which was never completed. As to his early political affiliation, he possessed the old Whig doctrine of internal improvement by the central government, favored a national bank and a protective tariff, and during the fifties, and in the early sixties, stood with Sam Houston, with whom he was on intimate terms of friendship in opposition to secession. With the outbreak of the war he retired to his farm, established a tanyard, and furnished under contract large quantities of leather to the quartermaster’s department of the Confederate government. When the war ended with the result that he had forecast, he gave every evidence nf his love for his home people, and with his son saw that they were properly treated, and in the neighborhood over which his influence was most potent during the years following the war, no one can now be found who suffered as others claimed they did suffer from the acts of the federal soldiers. And as an evidence of the esteem for him among his fellow citizens, and an acknowledgment of his conduet and efforts in their behalf, Major Flanagan and J. H. Parsons, a prominent lawyer, and a partisan secessionist, were both elected from Rusk county, to the reconstruction constitutional convention of 1866. The acts of that constitutional convention were not recognized by the United States Government, and the State of Texas was accordingly placed under a provisional governor, A. M. Pease, dominated by General Reynolds, and Governor Throckmorton was deposed from office. Under that military rule another constitutional convention was held in 1868, and both Major Flanagan and his son were chosen as delegates to that convention. At the election following the ratification of the Constitution of 1868, and its acceptance by the federal government, E. J. Davis was elected governor, James W. Flanagan lieutenant governor, and Webster Flanagan was elected to the state senate. Such was Major Flanagan’s standing in his state, that the legislature of 1869 elected him and Morgan C. Hamilton to the United States Senate, where Senator Flanagan served until March 4, 1875, when succeeded by John Bell Maxey of Paris. In his service in the United States Congress, Major Flanagan was chairman of the committee on post offices and post roads, and was always a friend to Texas people.
Following his retirement from the United States Senate, Major Flanagan left active politics and was not again in political life. His personal affairs, which were extensive, required his attention, while he yet lived, and his death occurred in Longview, September 19, 1887. He is buried beside his first wife in Henderson, in the family plot which was established in 1844 when he lost his first wife. Major Flanagan was in religion a Missionary Baptist, and fraternally affiliated with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Major James W. Flanagan was three times married. His first wife was Polly Miller Moorman, a daughter of Rev. James T. L. Moorman, a Baptist preacher in Kentucky, and a niece of Bishop John Early of Virginia. The children of that marriage were: Laura, who married Ben Smith and died at Henderson; Webster; Charles, who died as a child in Harrison county, Texas; Marian, who married Dr. A. Gates and died in Henderson; Frances, who is Mrs. S. G. Swan of Henderson, and she and General Flanagan are the two oldest residents of that city. The second wife of Major Flanagan was Mrs. Ware.
General Webster Flanagan grew up in Henderson, was educated there in the public schools, read law under his father, and in 1851 at the age of nineteen was admitted to the bar under special act of the legislature permitting Roger Q. Mills and Webster Flanagan to practice law. His entrance into the practical work of his profession was immediate, and was continued without interruption until the beginning of the Civil war. General Flanagan served in the Confederate army, though he was opposed to the dissolution of the Union, and when the final surrender occurred, he accepted its result as a foregone conclusion, and entered into the reconstruction movement in the hope of being able to render some aid in ameliorating the afflictions from which the former Confederate soldiers of the state were almost inevitably bound to suffer.
His election to the constitutional convention of 1868, marked his active entry into politics as a Republican, and the beginning of his long career in public life. In that election he ran twenty-five votes ahead of his father, and when a member at Austin reproved him for some evidence of forwardness, tending to place himself ahead of his ancestor, he replied to the criticism, with a remark that he was the senior member of the delegation from Rusk county, having polled twenty-five more votes than his colleague, his father: The nomination which came to him as associate of his father, gave him great pleasure, and it is one of the rare occurrences in political life that a family should have both father and son participating in the same body where a constitution for the Commonwealth was being made. His election to the state senate enabled him to add his vote to the majority given to his father as candidate for the United States senatorship, and that likewise is an honor seldom given to a legislator. The Twelfth legislature in which he served was called the ‘ Reconstruction legislature,’ and he was chosen by the senate as lieutenant governor as the successor of Don Campbell. Before his election to the lieutenant governorship, he was chairman of the committee on internal improvements, and it is a matter of record that he reported from the committee more railroad legislation than ever came from that committee in any other legislature before or since. After a service of a year as presiding officer of the senate he was returned to the senate from his county in 1874, and when the election for the constitutional convention of 1875 was called he was elected a delegate to that body, and thus like his father, participated in the deliberations of two constitutional conventions of Texas. When his term expired in the senate he was not again a candidate and retired to take up a business career. General Flanagan became prominent in promoting the Henderson & Overton Railroad, in 1876 was elected president of the railroad company, and so continued until the line was sold to the International and Great Northern in 1882. In the latter year came his appointment as collector of internal revenue for the Fourth Texas district, with headquarters at Henderson. In 1885 President Cleveland declared him an ‘Offensive Partisan,’ and retired him from office. In the four years interim, his attention was given to private business affairs, and soon after his inauguration, President Harrison appointed him collector of customs at El Paso, an office he held until the second coming of Cleveland. The President seemed disposed to leave the General in undisturbed possession of his office, but the latter resigned and again resumed private life.
In the campaign of 1896, General Flanagan was very energetic in supporting the candidacy of William McKinley for the presidency, and secured a delegation of Republicans to the national convention at St. Louis in perfect harmony with the McKinley aspirations. A number of years before General Flanagan had made the acquaintance of the great tariff legislator, had sat in several national conventions with him, and knew and sympathized with his political convictions and principles perhaps as closely as any other man in the party. After Major McKinley’s election, it was well understood that General Flanagan might select any federal place in Texas, within the gift of the president. Thus the office of internal revenue collector of the Third District came to General Flanagan, that selection having been made because its headquarters were at Austin, where a resident had particular advantages for his family, in the good public and private schools, and the State University. General Flanagan has always been one of the warmest friends and supporters of the State University. When the entire state of Texas was made into one revenue district, the General was retained as collector, and was reappointed by President Roosevelt, and by President Taft, and filled the office until September 1, 1913, a period of almost sixteen years.
There is perhaps one exception to the statement that General Flanagan has attended more national conventions than any other man in the United States, but even so, his experience in this respect is one of the noteworthy facts of political history. His first service as a Republican delegate was in the national convention of 1868, when General Grant was the nominee of his party; however, at that time the delegation from Texas was not seated because the government had not accepted the state constitution of 1866. In 1872 General Flanagan was a delegate to the convention at Philadelphia, and supported General Grant for his second nomination. In 1880 he was one of ‘306’ who voted thirty-six times for the nomination of the great soldier, and an appropriate medal is among his heirlooms for his loyalty to the Union commander. In this convention, General Flanagan made his noted speech—’What are we here for ?’ A speech that has been referred to by public speakers and politicians in public assemblages ever since. In 1884, General Flanagan was a friend and champion of John Sherman for the presidency, as he was also at the Chicago convention of 1888, and when it was seen that the Mansfield statesman could not be named, he voted with the Texas delegation for General Harrison. In 1892 the national convention was held at Minneapolis, and there General Flanagan aided in bringing about the renomination of Harrison. In this convention an element of the party manifested itself for William McKinley, and thus indicated the rising of a star which was to reach its zenith four years later. In 1904 General Flanagan did his final convention work at Chicago when he supported Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency, and witnessed his nomination. During all this long service of national convention work, and candidate-making General Flanagan was a constant attendant upon state conventions and a member of the state committee and an adviser in the conduct of national and state campaigns.
General Flanagan is a lover of live stock, and has owned some of the best horse blood ever introduced into Texas. In his stable at one time was the celebrated racer ‘ Jack Gamble,’ and, ‘ Highlander,’ and he brought to the state the first cow from the Island of Jersey, the results of which are still visible on the dairy farms about Henderson and over East Texas.
There are many interesting phases to such a career and character as that of General Flanagan. He is a sportsman in the best sense of the term. His achievements in that direction began early, when as a lad of thirteen years, and within two hundred yards of where his Henderson residence is now located, he killed his first deer. In passing it should be noted that that residence was built in 1848 and is still good for another similar period of existence. The number of deer killed by General Flanagan since his first could not easily be reckoned. He has every year gone to the wilds of southwest Texas on deer, wild hog, catamount and other game hunts, and his home is filled with trophies of the chase, including many heads and horns of the antlers tribe. General Flanagan affiliates with the Masonic order, and has been a member of the Oddfellows since 1853, Shawnee Lodge, No. 15, at Henderson, and is the oldest in membership of the order in the state. He belongs to Bonita Lodge, Knights of Pythias, and his membership with the Knights of Honor began in 1875. As a church man he has been a Baptist since 1858.
On December 20, 1853, General Flanagan married Miss Lizzie Graham, a daughter of Major John E. G raham of Nacogdoches. Her death occurred November 20, 1872. Her children were: Webster, of Austin; Charles, who died in Henderson and left a family; Dr. Emmet of DeBerry, Texas; Marian, who died as Mrs. William Elliott, and left four children; Horace B., who married John Ware, and resides in Longview; and Bonnie May, who died the wife of Herbert Vinson, and left a daughter, now Mrs. Thomas of Dallas.
In May, 1878, General Flanagan married Miss Sallie Ware, a daughter of Dr. Levi Ware, whose widow was the third wife of Major James W. Flanagan, as already stated above. The Ware family came from South Carolina, but Mrs. Flanagan was born in Texas. To the second marriage of General Flanagan are the following children: Clarence, a farmer at Flanagan in Rusk county; Bessie V., who died in Austin, May 3, 1908; John Conklin, a farmer and ranchman of Zavalla county, Texas; and Irma, living at home. The family returned to the old home in 1913 and the General says he is fixing it up for his heirs, trusting they may take better care of it than he has and to love it as he has always.”
Source: A History of Texas and Texans, Vol. 4, by Frank White Johnson, The American Historical Society, Chicago and New York, 1914, pages 2003-5