Uvalde has quite a few claims to fame, depending on which generation you ask. With a 2010 census population of about 15,750, it has turned out such figures as actress Dale Evans and Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, and is home to Los Palominos, a Grammy Award-winning Tejano group.
Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is being the home of two political notables: John Nance Garner—also known as “Cactus Jack”—who served as U.S. speaker of the house and vice president of the United States and former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, who was elected in 1972 and 1974.
The Briscoe-Garner Museum, located in the building that served as home to Cactus Jack, documents their lives. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to Garner and the second to Briscoe. Both men are important to the history of Uvalde but also to the history of the state and country.
According to the Briscoe-Garner Museum website, “Garner was a dominant national political figure who played a critical role in the passage of much of the New Deal legislation aimed at alleviating or ending the most severe economic crisis in U.S. history.”
Garner’s career started as the county judge in Uvalde. During the 1893 election he was opposed in the primary by Mariette “Ettie” Reihner, who he married two years later. He served in the Texas House of Representatives and was later elected to the United States House of Representatives. Garner served as vice president alongside President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his first two terms, before retiring from office in 1941.
During retirement he managed his real estate holdings and provided advice to active Democratic politicians. One of those was Briscoe, who Garner mentored while he was serving in the state legislature from 1949 until 1957. Garner died in 1967, before Briscoe was elected governor.
Among Briscoe’s notable accomplishments while he was in office were “increased spending for highway improvements, signed into law the Texas Open Records Act and streamlined state agencies.” He credited his wife, Betty Jane “Janey” Slaughter, and her tireless campaigning efforts with helping him win his elections.
In addition to political service, Briscoe is also noted for being the youngest person elected as president of the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and for his work helping them raise $3 million for the eradication of screwworms. He also had the distinction of being the largest single landholder in the state of Texas, owning 640,000 acres before his death in 2010. Briscoe is outlived by his philanthropy, having donated well over $20 million to various Texas institutions.
The museum, originally donated to the City of Uvalde by Garner as a memorial to his late wife, opened in 1973. In 1999, the City of Uvalde transferred ownership of the museum to The University of Texas at Austin, where it is a division of the university’s Briscoe Center for American History. It was renamed as the Briscoe-Garner Museum in 2011. Today, the museum is worth the drive for a visit to see the impact these two men had on our nation and state.