Sunday, November 1, 2015

Disappearing Legislator: T. R. Watkins

Since looking at the partisan trends in Texas, I’ve become particularly interested in finding out more about the Populists serving in the 24th Legislature. Based on Texas Legislative Reference Library information, there were 24 Populists legislators (in the House and Senate), marking the high point of Populist electoral success.

One of these members disappeared during the 24th legislative session: T. R. Watkins. Watkins represented Navarro County and had introduced several bills in the 24th Regular Session.

According to the House journal, Watkins “mysteriously disappeared” from the Legislature and Austin. A committee was formed during the 1st Called Session to investigate his disappearance. The committee called witnesses, heard testimony, etc. They found he voluntarily left the state in April 1895 and was in “parts unknown.” They found no evidence he was “foully dealt with” but did not deem it prudent to print the reasons for his departure in the journal (Source).

The Austin Weekly Statesman also reported the House adopted a resolution instructing the clerk not to issue warrants for Watkins and two other members for “per diem, etc.” (Source).

According to Gregg Cantrell - professor at TCU - some newspaper stories from the area noted Watkins “borrowed money and bought goods on credit” before leaving town (Source).

Unfortunately, Navarro County records for 1895 are not available online, so a trip to the county courthouse would be necessary to find if there was any information, such as court cases, related to Watkins' disappearance. The testimony given to the committee may have been recorded; if it was, it is not available online, but could possibly be in the state archives or in the legislative reference library.

Prof Cantrell’s website says he is currently working on a history of the Populist Party, so perhaps he has been able to track down some information about Watkins’ disappearance. Until then, it seems to be a mystery to everyone except the deceased members of the committee and those who knew Watkins.

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