The Meitzens Make Texas Proud
The Meitzen Type: The Texas Socialist Party and E.O. Meitzen
Copyrighted in 2001 by John Edward Meitzen
Hallettsville, Texas Julv 13, 1914:
Dust hung over the square on the morning of July 13. 1914. And, as befits Central Texas in mid-summer, the heat was oppressive. Edward Otto (E.O.) Meitzen,(1) former Lavaca County Judge and current publisher of The New Era and The Rebel, slowly walked down the steps of the post office,(2) located on the comer of the courthouse square, facing Third Street.(3) He had turned 59 the previous April, and, while he was in good shape, an old spinal injury still occasionally pained him.(4)
Holding his mail receipts, he scanned the square. In the center of the square sat the Lavaca County Courthouse, its gray stone walls looming 170 feet over the town. It was easily the tallest building in Hallettsville, and men loitered under its Romanesque arches, escaping the unrelenting sun.(5) On E.O.'s right, the east side of the square, was the fire station followed by a meat market, Levytansky's jewelry store, and the offices of the Nachrichten, one of E.O,'s competitors. Across from E.O, obscured by the courthouse, was Meyerhoff’s Dry Goods store. Dr. Lay's pharmacy was right next-door. Other businesses bordered all sides, as the square was the bustling commercial district of Ha1lettsville, which in 1914 had an impressive 1300 people, thirteen newspapers, thirteen saloons, thirteen churches, and an empty county jail.(6)
The jail's vacancy was mostly due to the efforts of the Hallettsville City Marshal, O.T. East.
1. Edward Otto Meitzen, Ernest Richard Meitzen, and 0.T. East were known by their initials. This practice was a custom of the era.
2. “E.O. Meitzen Receives Pistol Wound,” Hallettnille Herald [Ha1lettsvi1le, TX], 14 July 1914, p. 2; T .A. Hickey. "The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen” The Rebel [Ha1lettsvi1le. TX], 15 July 1914. p. I.
3 Dorothy Bujnoch, Anne Rhodes, and Doug Kubicek, Hallettsville Past and Present (Ha1lettsvi1le, TX: Hallettsville Historical Association, 1997). p. 5.
4 "E.O. Meitzen Receives Pistol Wound," p. 2; Frieda Meitzen-Wi1liams, History of the Meitzen Family (n.p.. 1951).
5. T Paul Boethel, Lavaca County Seats and Their Courthouses (Ha1lettsvil1e, TX: Lavaca County Chamber of Commerce, 1997), p. 7. The architect was E.T, Heiner of Houston, and the building was finished in May, 1899. Please see this footnote's reference for a complete description,
6 Bujnoch, Rhodes, and Kubicek, Hallettsville Past and Present, pp. 2-5.
Earlier that morning, East had bumped into Meitzen at the post office, and they had spoken of town politics, especially the latest scandal, the embezzlement of city funds. Several stub books containing the records for light and water funds had vanished mysteriously, and the audit committee refused to validate the remaining receipts.(7)
To rectify the situation and recover what Meitzen's daughter Frieda claimed was $8,000 in missing funds,(8) Meitzen called for an independent audit of the city's finances. Apparently, that morning in the post office, Meitzen had questioned East about his involvement in the scandal and had implied that East and his courthouse associates were responsible.(9)
East was a small, quiet man who spent most of his days chewing a cigar on the porch of the hotel he owned on the square. Stationed there, he proudly displayed his Marshall's badge and kept a close eye on the town from under his wide-brimmed hat. He rarely carried a gun, because he only had to clear his throat to disperse men loitering on the street. East regularly placed advertisements in the local papers advising men to "get a job" because there was "no excuse for loafing two thirds of your time."(10) People often called him the "little red ant."(11) because of his small stature and his supposedly painful justice. After his death, the local newspapers would describe East as "salty" and "colorful."(12)
East angrily accompanied Meitzen as he walked down the steps of the post office. There,
outside of the money order window, the tension between them finally climaxed. The two men
7. Hickey, "The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen:' p. 2.
8 Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family, DNP -- --- ------ "
9. Paul Boethel, La Baca
10. Anne Rhodes, Personal lnterview. 17 Feb. 2001; O.T. East, "From the City Marshal," Hallettsville Herald (Hallettsville, TX], 12 Feb. 1924, p. 3.
11. Boethel, La Baca, p. 104.
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threw punches, kicked and bit each other, until East fired two deafening shots from his automatic pistol. One bullet hit Meitzen in the right groin, forcing him to the ground. The other bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk, bounced to the far south side of the square and punctured a piece of lumber on the construction site of the new Heye building. In the confusing aftermath, East's pistol fell to the ground. The men were still scuffling over possession of the pistol when on-lookers separated them.
One of the local newspapers later called the event "a difficulty."(13)
By 1914, at age 59, E.O. Meitzen was well acquainted with difficulties, having amassed a record that would make any seasoned political agitator or concerned, libera1 citizen proud. His encounter with East was not his first physical confrontation. After one of his newspapers, The New Era, had reported a con man selling Lavaca County swampland as "Orange Acres," Meitzen had been badly beaten. Characteristically, his daughter Frieda wrote that "Papa was . . cheerful, even when almost murdered."(14) Meitzen never seemed permanently affected by his personal or political injuries.
Meitzen was born April 28, 1855, at Biegel, Texas, a small village near La Grange that is now covered by the cooling pond of a power plant. His parents, Otto Meitzen and Jennie Caroline Alpine Holmgren, had emigrated from the Breslau region of Germany, arriving in Galveston on January 24, 1850 on the "Henschel."(15) In Germany, Otto Meitzen had participated in the failed 1848 revolution, in which he and his political sympathizers wished to unite Germany
13 “E.O. Meiuen Receives Pistol Wound" p. 2.
14. Meitzen-Williams, His'ory of the Meitzen Family, DNP.
15. Colleen Steckel. --Ship's Register, Henschel," Collected Meitzen Papers (n.p.), DNP .
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as a constitutional republic with guaranteed rights for citizens, among other things.(16) Although the role Meitzen played in this revolt is unknown, his involvement was prominent enough to force him "to flee the country to escape persecution and imprisonment at the hands of the nobility.,,17
University educated and a trained mechanical engineer. Otto proved to be an incompetent farmer in Texas, but his family survived and eventually prospered, thanks to Otto's mechanica1 inclinations. By the 1860s, Otto and Jennie had five healthy children: Hermann John, the eldest, Edward Otto (E.O.), Ernest August, Julia, and Ida, the baby.(18)
At the age of 15. E.O. became an apprenticed blacksmith; in 1875 he went into business for himself. Unlike his father, E.O. had no formal education, but his parents were both educated and had taught their son well. E.O. "was known as a prodigious reader of books, pamphlets and newspapers at all times." He married Johanna Kettner, the daughter of a German cabinetmaker, in 1877 at the age of 23. Together they had ten children, with seven reaching adulthood.(19)
E.O.'s life as a country blacksmith ended in 1880 when he was 25. While shoeing, he was kicked in the spine by an unruly horse; though he recovered, his health forced him to seek another profession. His studious temperament led him to become a schoolteacher in 1881.(20) Over the next twelve years. E.O. taught in Fayette and then Lavaca counties. His teaching career offered him more free time than had blacksmithing; like his father, he became interested in public politics.
16. Diether Riff, A History of Germany from the Medieva/ Empire to the Present (New York: Oxford, 1988).pp. 71-84.
17. Leonie Rummer Weyland and Houston Wade, Early History of Fayette County (Burnet, TX: Eakin Press, 1936), p 56
18 Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family, DNP .
19 Hickey, "The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen," p. 2.
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First, E.O. became involved in the Greenback Party, a small anti-big business political party dedicated to aiding farmers, When this movement dissolved after losing in the 1884 election, he joined the Colony Chapter of the Fanner's Grange in 1885, a small grass roots political organization that had been active for a decade. Like the Greenback Party, the Farmer's Grange
intended to improve the general living conditions of farmers. This group would soon be engulfed by the Farmer's Alliance, active from the mid-1880s to the early 1900s. The Farmer's Alliance was a much larger and a more effective organization, furnishing issues, leaders, and membership to the nascent Texas Populist movement. Having much in common with the political action committees of this era, the Fanner's Alliance was non-partisan, and attempted to influence government through contributions, reason, and pressure. It rarely nominated its own candidates; instead, it usually endorsed those of other parties.(21) In 1886, E.O. became a charter member of the local chapter based in Cistem.(22)
The farmers had much to complain about. Most had been financially ruined by the Civil War am had never fully recovered. E.O. Meitzen's family was no exception. While many of the German immigrants fled to Mexico for the duration, as their Revolution of 1848 ideals forbade them to support slavery, the Meitzens decided to remain in Texas. The Civil War, however, only brought more hardships, discouragement and no work for [his father] Otto. His mule-powered gin had failed and he sat reading many hours "with his rawhide bottom chair tipped back and his
20. Ida Dattner, Family Tree Book of the Holmgrens and the Meitzens (n.p. 1901) , p. 13.
21 Roscoe Martin, The People's Party in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970), p. 24.
22 Dattner, Family Tree Book of the Holmgrens and the Meitzens, p. 13; Hickey,The Shooting of Judge E.O.Meitzen" p. 1
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head against the wall."(23) After the war, the 1848 immigrants found that Reconstruction's military regime totally conflicted with their democratic ideals, causing further disillusionment and anger. Though Reconstruction officially ended in Texas in 1876, the distrust of government it sparked reverberated for decades.24 A victim of the Civil War's devastating financial aftemath, Otto Meitzen died a pauper at his son E.O.'s home on Apri127, 1882.(25)
The farmers faced more pressing problems as well. Severe droughts hit throughout the period.(26) In order to resume farming after the war, many were forced to seek loans.
Unfortunately , the next few decades saw crop prices remain stationary or drop, forcing most farmers deeper into debt until they became tenants on what was once their own land. By 1914, tenant farmers were the single largest voting group in the state.(27) Railroad and agriculture middleman monopolies only aggravated the farmers' plight by fixing unreasonable prices on
agricultural goods. This, along with lack of choice and loss of economic independence infuriated the farmers, who believed that the corporations were illegally exploiting them and slighting democratic ideals.
Later, other issues like produce and property taxation, and the debate between gold- or silver-based currency further contributed to a rising tide of farmer discontent. In order to combat these problems and address their needs, the farmers of the state formed political organizations.(28)
Partly because of his agrarian background and the ideals his father had taught at home,
23 Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family, DNP.
24. Martin. The People's Party in Texas. p. 18.
25. Weyland, Rummel, and Wade, Early History of Fayette County, p. 58.
26 Terry Jordan. German Seed in Texas Soil. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), p. 119: Mike Kinpton, Ed. Texas AIMQIIQC (Dallas: The Dallas Morning News, 1986), p. 68.
27 Seth McKay, Texas Politics. 1906-1944 (Lubbock. TX: Texas Tech Press, 19S2), p. SS.
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E.O. was naturally attracted to these organizations. In 1886, his first year as a member in the Farmer's, Alliance, he was elected secretary of the Fayette County branch. In 1887, he moved to Lavaca County, and again he was elected county secretary.
In 1888, he was elected Director and Manager of the Farmer's Alliance cooperative store.(29) During this period, he taught himself law and began to practice, charging no fees and attracting many clients. While his injury still prohibited him from heavy farming, he still cultivated watermelons, pecans, boysenberries, and honey, while continuing to teach.(30) By the late 1880s or early 1890s, he moved his family to a village called Novohrad, near Hallettsville, Texas.(31)
E.O. became more and more politically involved, especially with the Democratic party. In 1890, he supported Governor Hogg (the Alliance's hope and eventual disappointment) and was a Lavaca County delegate to the state convention. He returned disgusted. When the Democratic Chairman of Texas declared in 1892 that all Farmer's Alliance advocates were no longer members of the Democratic Party, E.O., like many others, decided to separate from the party. This declaration was precipitated by many Farmer's Alliance members' growing disenchantment with the Democratic Party, because Governor Hogg and many other Democrat politicians opposed the Alliance's plan to allow farmers to deposit their cotton or grain as collateral with the state and federal government.(32)
By 1892, many farmers saw their situation as still declining. They needed relief, and many felt that indirect methods such as petitioning public officials had failed, and they now sought direct
28. Martin, The People's Party in Texas, pp. 18-21
29 Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen." p. 1.
30 MeitzeO-Williams, History of the Meit:en Family, DNP; William Meitzen. Telephone Interview, 21 Feb. 2001
31 Weyland. Rummel and Wade, Early History of Fayette County, p. 58.
action. In June, 1892, soon after the Democratic Chairman' s inflammatory remarks, the first organizing conference of the Texas Populist Party was held in Dallas.33 E.O. Meitzen, of course, attended. 34
Hallettsville, Texas. Julv 13, 1914:
O.T. East shook off the men holding him and walked away, still bleeding from the bite wounds on his wrists and fingers. Immediately taken into custody and placed under a $500 bond East readily paid and was seen wandering the streets later that day. Days later, he would suffer from "Blood Poison,35 but would survive the encounter.
Shot in the right groin, Meitzen was more seriously wounded than East, but was still able to limp away from the scene, assisted by his son, Arnold. Meitzen was taken to Lay's Drug Store where Dr. Lay dressed the wound and pronounced that the bullet had fortunately missed all vital organs. Dr. Lay ordered Meitzen to go home and stay in bed.36
Word of the shooting spread quickly. Meitzen's daughter, Frieda, was attending school in Yoakum (located on the other side of Lavaca County), and believing that her father had been killed, came home immediately.37
His son, Ernest Richard (E.R.), was away on a speaking tour, campaiging as the gubernatorial candidate for the Socialist Party . That day,
32} Hickey, "The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen” p. r.
33 Martin, The People's Party in Texas. pp. 28-29. 150.
34 Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen" p. 1.
3S Meilzen-Williams, History of the Meilzen Family, DNP
36 “E.O.Meitzen Receives Pistol Wound," p. 2.
37 Meitzen-Williams. History ofthe Meilzen Family, DNP.
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he was scheduled to speak at an encampment in the countryside near Gouldbusk, Texas. After learning about the shooting from a series of long distance phone calls, he canceled his speech, rode to Valeria, and caught the train to Hallettsville. After staying two or three days to monitor his father's condition. he left again, this time heading for Brady.38
In his political activities, E.R. was following his father's example. After returning from the 1892 convention, E.O. had been nominated by the Populist Part yas their candidate for the tenth Congressional District, which stretched from Hallettsville to Galveston. In his two-wheel cart, E.O, sometimes covered 60 miles a day. This would be just the first of E.O.'s many crusading political campaigns. In 1893, he quit teaching for good, and bought The New Era in Hallettsvi1le from William Blakeslee.(19)
The muckraking New Era supported first the Populists, and later the Socialists. It remained in the Meitzen family until the late 1920s and formed the core of an operation that over the next 30 years would publish many other newspapers, all of them opinionated, most of them short-lived. In March 1896, for example, Meitzen organized and published the Anzeiger, a
German populist newspaper that lasted until 1898, when it merged with an Austin paper called the Texas Post. Other papers soon followed, and journalism became the primary family business.(40)
Though focusing increasingly on journalism, Meitzen continued to campaign. In 1894 and 1896 he ran for State Comptroller, procuring statewide recognition, though often negative outside of his own party. During the 1896 campaign, the Texas Vorwarts, a progressive Democrat
38. :Governor's Tour stopped and Started," The Rebel p[Hallettsville, TXJ, 22 July 1914, p 1]
39. Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen," p. I.
40 Ibid.. p. 1; Paul Boethel, A History of Lavaca County (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones. 19S9), pp. 149-ISO. G. Meitzen, grandson of E.O., still operates a small paper in Oregon. He is the last Meitzen in journalism.
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German newspaper in Austin, called him an 'eselkopf" (a German curse. literally meaning 'Donkey Head"),41 and a "German worm hanging from the political fishhook of the Populists to attract German bites.'42
Such negative publicity contributed to E.O.’s losing both elections. The latter accusation is probably accurate, though it might have been presented in a less hostile fashion. Meitzen was the son of German immigrants, and he made no secret of it. He spoke fluent German, and, according to one author, his nomination as Comptroller candidate in 1894 was a concession made to the German element in the party.43 Whatever the Populists' success with German voters at large, German farmers were an integral part of the organization.
Meitzen's nominations reflect both the German role in the Party and his own personal appeal. In any case, the Populist Party's days were numbered. In July 1896. the National Convention of the Populist Party was held in St. Louis, and Meitzen attended, traveling as one of the Texas delegates. There he watched in horror as William Jennings Bryan. the Democratic
Candidate for President, secured the Populist nomination for both himself and his Vice-Presidential Candidate without having to formally acknowledgement it. Meitzen, like the 102 other Texas delegates, felt that the National Populist Party had sold out, and therefore voted against adopting the Democratic candidates. Later, historians would mark this fusion with the Democratic Party as the official end of the National Populist movement.44
The Texas Populists, however, lingered on, fielding candidates in 1896 and 1898. But by 1900, the movement in Texas, along with the Farmer's Alliance, was dead, lost to the fusion and
41. “Die National-Democratische Staats Convention in Waco." Texas Vorwarts pAustin, TX[ 28 Dec 1896 p.1
42. Untitld. Texas Vorwarts. [Austin. TX], 28 Aug. 1896. p. I.
43. Martin. The People's Party in Texas. p. 100.
44. Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen." p. 1. for Meitzen's involvemen~ Martin. The People's Party ;"
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the internal quarrels it caused.45 Many of the Populists returned to the Democratic Party, but others, refusing to comply, formed the Socialist Party , believing it to be their only alternative to a Democratic Party they saw as dominated by corporations and which neither advocated nor cared about their issues.46
Not surprisingly, E.O. began advocating Socialism in 1899.(47) The platform and activities of the Socialists reflected the populist influence, though by 1908, when the Texas Socialist Party was beginning to be recognized as a viable political organization, the relatively small number of aging Populist and Alliance members devoted to Socialism had retired from politics.(48) The Party retained an agricultural bent, and much effort was made to organize farmers, especially tenant farmers, for whom the Socialists organized their own Union, the Renters' Union. Before the old Populists retired, they were instrumental in bringing large numbers of tenant farmers into the party, and also largely responsible for the Texas Socialist Party's emphasis on individualism and independence from the National Socialist Movement.(49)
The stubborn E.O. Meitzen, however, did not retire. Around the turn of the century, E.O. helped organize the local chapter of the Party in Hallettsville. In coordination with other Socialists, he also began organizing farmers and other special interest groups, throughout the state. In 1904, he ran for Lavaca County Judge, winning with a large margin over a cross section of the population. Afterwards, he was always known as "Judge" Meitzen. He was barely defeated
Texas. p. 100.
45. Martin. The People's Party in Texas,pp. 238-243.
46 Hickey, "The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen,'. p.l.
47 James Green. Grass-Roots Socialism, p. 24.
48 Ibid.. p. 38.
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two years later by a Democratic rival who accused him of being an anarchist, favoring black equality, and an atheist, which scared away many voters, especially those in the Catholic towns of Shiner and Sweet Home. The November 8, 1906, Hallettsville Herald reports that the County election had "an exceedingly light turn out." Meitzen lost only by 100 votes out of the 2000 cast.(5O)
Despite his defeat, he remained an influential man in the county, enjoying solid support from the rura1 area of Lavaca County and a smaller following in Hallettsville the rest of his career.(51) Devoting his time to journalism, lecturing, and statewide union organizing, E.O. held a series of offices in various unions. In 1910, at age 55, he turned the editorial control of The New Era over to his sons. E.R. and Arnold Meitzen. 52 A year later, he and his son E.R. began
publishing The Rebel, choosing Thomas A. Hickey as its editor.(53)
The Rebel proved to be a tremendous success, and quickly became the voice of southwestern socialism. With its muckraking, bombastic articles, fervor, and sheer propaganda directed towards the poor tenant farmers, thousands subscribed to it the first year, and within six months, the paper had a circulation of 18.000 copies. With its motto "The Great appear great to
us only because we are on our knees - LET US ARlSE!,"(54) the paper railed against corporate farms, greedy and exploitative landlords, and any others the tenant farmers perceived as threats. Its editorials covered both regional and national issues. written intentionally in the region's
50Ibid., p. 25: James Green, Socialism and the Southwestern Class Struggle. (Ann Arbor: University Microfilm. 1972). pp. 17-20
51 Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen," p. 1.
52 Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen" p. 1.
53 Green, Grass-Roots Socialism, p. 138.
54 The Rebel. any date, see Mast-Head.
vemacular. It attempted to unite both the small industrial unionists and the agrarian rebels. By 1914, the paper was nationally known, with a circulation of over 22.000, and had become the voice and communication organ for Texas socialists.(55)
Nineteen fourteen proved to be a busy year for E.O. The unions and party were larger than ever, and required much of his time. So did his family, as all seven of he and his wife's surviving children (along with some grandchildren) still lived in or around Hallettsville. Their sons E.R., Edward, Arnold, Benjamin. Martin, and Richard. all worked in the print shop, though
to varying degrees of involvement and dedication. Frieda, their only daughter, worked in the shop as well, though she was training to become a teacher, like her parents. The family was living outside the city limits.(56) Frieda writes of the period, "Papa's small town newspaper and his wrong side of the Lavaca county political fence had us living near the river bottoms and eating mostly out of Papa's garden.'. Interestingly, in her account of the shooting she dedicates an entire paragraph to describe the food friends brought. "I remember feasting on fruit cake, roast, dewberry cobbler" etc. That the food given to the Meitzens as get-well wishes for E.O. made such an impression on Frieda is very telling.(57) Much was sacrificed for E.O.'s political ideals, including his children's higher education. E.O. "managed to keep it [The New Era] alive by taking his boys out of school and depriving them from having a University Education."51
So, despite the success of The Rebel,59 the family was poor, and would remain so.
Describing a cousin's visit, Frieda writes, 'This rich cousin talked money. How to make it. How
55 Green, Grass Roots Socialism
56 Jo Lou Meiuen Gaupp. Personal Interview. 12 March 200 I.
57 Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family. DNP .
58 Hickey. “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen.” p. 1.
papa could accumulate it if he would think of himself more and the people less. He was contemptuous of newspaper editors who headlined swindlers. 'Let em swindle. Look out for, yourself was his motto." After listening, Papa declined such advice laughingly.'(60) That year, E.R. was the Socialist Party's gubernatorial candidate and was off traveling the state, attending encampments and giving stump speeches.
The 1914 election was particularly grueling. Jim Ferguson, a businessman from Temple, won the Democratic Primary over Thomas Ball from Houston, the Progressive wing of the Party's candidate. Though Ferguson had no name recognition outside of his own county and many considered his candidacy 'a joke,"(61) he established himself as a viable contender via two issues. First, he promised to veto prohibition legislation that passed the Texas Legislature. Second, he realized that tenant farmers were the largest voting group in the state and focused his campaign accordingly, promising to pass a law fixing a tenant's rent according to the price of grain and cotton.(62)
With his campaign aimed directly at the lifeblood of the Socialist Party, Ferguson seemed a deathblow to the organization. The Meitzens watched with dismay as Ferguson, with a tenant plank so far from the mainstream that it was considered a socialistic oddity,(63) easily won the Democratic Primary with over 40,000 votes.(64)
Dismay quickly turned to anger, and the Socialists fought back. E.R. and E.O. quickly organized an extensive encampment schedule and with his Lieutenant Governor candidate W.S.
59 Which was, after all, a Socialist newspaper dedicated to bringing down the rich.
60 ibid.. DNP .
61 McKay. Texas Politics.
6Z Ibid.. p. 55.
63 Ibid.. p. 55.
64 Ibid.. p. 57.
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Noble. E.R. Campaigned all over the state. Eugene Debs and Kate O'Hare, nationally famous Socialists, even visited Texas as part of their national tour. The encampments drew thousands of people, and crowds numbering in the thousands were not uncommon. 65 The Rebel printed scathing editorials and exposes, denouncing Ferguson as two- faced, a landlord with a .'false land plank66 who treated badly the farmers renting his land. Either out of anger or as an attempt to distinguish himself from Ferguson. E.R. employed unusually radical rhetoric even for he Socialists, often calling Ferguson a "parasite." which would reduce the tenants into .'abject peonage:' The Meitzens insisted that Ferguson was manipulating the tenants with pseudosocialistic policies. E.R. would write in The Rebel, "The only way to combat the truth is with lies, hence the opponents of Socialism have no chance but to lie purposely.'(67)
Despite the direct usurpation of their rhetoric and issues, the Socialists won 11.7% of the vote, making them the second largest party in the state.61 Ferguson, though winning, ran well behind the previous Governor's totals. The Socialist party was alive and well in 1914, and even picked up votes in many counties. including Lavaca, 69 further polarizing the already divided
society. Incidentally, Ferguson's tenant plank passed the Legislature in a modified form that made it impossible to enforce; it was declared unconstitutional in 1921.70 In 1917, Ferguson would be successfully impeached from office.
Monitoring the Campaign, E.O. stayed home, watching with dismay as stub books
65 Green. Socialism and the Southwestern Class Struggle. pp. 283.287.
66 E.R. Meitzen. “Don’t Throw Away Your Vote” The Rebel (HallettsviUe. TX]. 18 July 1914. p. I.
67. E.R.. Meitzen Vertical File.
68 McKay, Texas Politics. 1906-/944. p. 59. .
69 Green. Socialism and the Southwestern Class Struggle. pp. 287-288.
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recording the City's Power and Light expenditures were found to be missing. In an effort to identify the culprit(s) and expose the embezzlement, E.O. wrote an open letter to the city council requesting an independent audit of the city's finances.71
Hallettsville, Texas. Julv 13. 1914
Frieda arrived home that evening, finding her irrepressible male parent haranguing hundreds of rural visitors from his bed." E.O. must have already recovered a little from his wound. Since he told the story every time a new person walked into the room. "He was telling how he grabbed the advancing marshall and hugged him gun and all to defeat the aim. Then how he chewed the devil's fingers almost off. 'I was a bit dazed after the bullet hit and the thought struck me that I was chewing on one of my friends who were around, so I spit out his hand. I should have chewed it off."(72) He had no regrets about the incident.
Most visitors brought more than just good wishes. Whi1e many brought food, others expressed their concern a different way. T .A. Hickey writes, "Things looked bad for peace all quietness in this city . . . when the news went out about the shooting; for two hours I stood at the phone answering calls from all portions of the county and holding off angry men, who had armed themselves and were prepared to come to town.(73) E.O. had many loyal friends in the County. No hearing about the incident was ever held. The Rebel would print that neither "the old Judge nor any of his family harbors any resentment" since they considered O.T . East only a tool
70 McKay, Texas Politics
71 Boethel. La Baca p. 39
72 Meitzen-Williams. History of the Meitzen Family. DNP.
73 Hickey. ..The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen” p. 1.
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of the courthouse ring. "The Rebel does not believe that the assailant of Judge Meitzen is a bad man at heart; he was the victim of a vicious system."(74) Frieda writes, 'The law ignored the whole thing.(75) A hearing about the embezzlement had been set for the Saturday after the shooting, but was postponed due to E.O.'s condition.(76) Nothing further was mentioned further about the shooting or the embezzlement in the newspapers.(77)
Despite E.O's boisterous comments immediately following the shooting, he seems to have become less combative. While his son, E.R.. became more involved in the Party, E.O. gradually retired, though he still served as a union organizer. All of this, however, came to an end in June 1917, when the Federal government, acting under the Sedition act, suddenly revoked The Rebel's postal privileges. In a letter titled "Texas Landlord-Banker Plutocracy Strikes at Rebel" T .A. Hickey attributed the cancelltion to The Rebel's scathing condemnations of prominent landlords and politicians, and the paper's anti-war stance.78 Shutting down The Rebel was only the beginning. During the ensuing war hysteria, the government harassed many Socialist leaders an over the nation, often arresting them for draft dodging. In fact, government agents arrested and detained T.A. Hickey several times. Furious about such attacks, E.R. underwent hemorrhoid surgery so that he would be eligible for the arny. Even so, when he attempted to join, the army denied him admission.(79) Eventually, three of E.O.'s sons volunteered and served in World War 1.
75 Meitzen-Williams. History of the Meitzen Family. DNP.
76 Hickey, E.O. “Meitzn Receives Pistol Wound.” p. 2.
77 The available newspapers included The Rebel. The Hallettsville Herald and the Nachrichten.
78 Teus “Landlord-Banker Plutocracy Strikes at Rebel.” Thomas Hickey Papers. Center for American History. University of Texas at Austin.
79 Gaupp, Personal Interview.
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Two would be substantially wounded, one gassed; the other was kicked in the head by a horse and suffered brain damage.(8O) Deprived of The Rebel, depleted in manpower and continually harassed, the Texas Socialist Party disintegrated.
E.O. was too old to be conscripted, and waited out the war in Hallettsville. After the war, he and E.R. became involved in the Non-Partisan League, which supported essentially the same immediate objectives as their own Socialist Platform. 81 Based in North Dakota, The League began recruiting in Texas and Oklahoma after the Socialist Party disintegrated. The organization, while still harassed, was not shut down since it meticulously avoided anti-war and anti-draft statements. E.R. ran for Texas Governor as their candidate in 1920, and E.O, along with his son, published the Non-Partisan League's newspaper, the Texas Leader. 81 The two even traveled to North Dakota to help organize unions and elect League politicians.83
After the trips to North Dakota. E.O. remained in Hallettsville until he sold The New Era in the late 1920s. After his wife died in 1924, he moved in with his son E.R., who was by then editing a newspaper in Lake City, Florida. There E.O. had a desk in his son's newsroom. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election cheered him immensely, and during the early thirties, E.O.
saw the introduction of many programs he had advocated for years. Sometime in the late twenties or early thirties, his daughter Frieda invited him to live with her family in Houston, and E.O. accepted, residing in a converted chicken shack in her back yard that the family had renovated
80. Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family, DNP
81. "The National Nonpartisan League," Thomas Hickey Papers
82 Boethel. La Baca. p. 40:
83 Green. Grass.Roots Socialism. p. 381.
83 Green. Grass.Roots Socialism. p. 376.
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into a small guesthouse.(84) There, E.O. would spend the last days of his life, dying in 1934 at 79. Frieda recorded his last days in her book, Historv of the Meitzen Familv: 'Papa, E.O. Meitzen.. was patient. cheerful and unselfish. His children loved and respected him. He died in my home at 79 after a year’s illness, though he never suffered and remained jolly to the last. The week before he died he said to me, 'Frieda, go to your two babies as they need you more than I do. My parents are here with me. So are others whom I haven't seen for fifty years or more. They will help me across."(85)
E.O. was buried on a rainy day in the back corner of the Hallettsville City Cemetery, next to his wife.(86) His body lies about 200 feet from his antagonist, O.T. East.
Who was E.O. Meitzen? Was he. as Lavaca County historian Paul Boethel writes, the man who was 'by nature and in action divisive. . .he floundered in political career. He could not fit in with any party in the County. His Socialistic writing and his obnoxious behavior and their influence on the politics of the County reduced the County's prestige and standing in the state?" (87) Or was he a visionary who his friend Hickey felt "left the world better than he found it, because he has always struggled for purity in politics, virtue in the home, progress in statecraft, and the loftiest idealism has been his guiding star?"(88)
Together, Hickey's praise, Boethel's reactionary criticism, and Frieda's doting devotion,
84 Gaupp. Personal Interview.
85 Meitzen-Williams, History of the Meitzen Family. DNP.
86 Ellis Williams. Telephone Interview . 10 March 2001.
87 Boethel. La Baca. pp. 39-40.
88 Hickey, “The Shooting of Judge E.O. Meitzen.” p. 1.
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help describe the controversial E.O. Meitzen. Their accounts, along with a myriad of other sources, reveal a man dedicated to his ideals, willing to devote nearly all of his resources to his cause.
Another interesting consideration may perhaps render this work less a biography of E.O. and more of a study about the continuation and evolution of ideals across generations. E.R. may not have become the most successful Texas Socialist candidate ever had not his father, E.O., dedicated his life to his political ideals. Similarly, E.O. might never have joined the Farmers Alliance in Texas if his father, Otto, had not participated in the 1848 Revolution and. as a result, had never left Germany.
This handing down of democratic ideals from generation to generation happened across at least three generations in the Meitzen family. While men of "the Meitzen type" were perhaps not "the evangels of the new civilization.',(89) they were people who cared deeply about their beliefs; deeply enough to act consistently on them. They were not armchair philosophers but activists.
While E.O. Meitzen has sunk into obscurity, like many better known historical activists, he has left a legacy challenging those with ideals not only to fight for them, but also to share their ideals with the next generation.
89 Ibid.. p. 1.
From: Marty Boswell
January 10, 2002
Subject: Fwd: pictures
>first 2 photos, #1 is ER and TA Hickey, #2 is Frieda I believe
Frieda was E.O. Meitzen’s daughter. He was living with her in Houston when he died. Her writings are the source of much that is known about the Meitzen family.
E.R. Meitzen (left) was E.O.’s son and possibly the best known of the Meitzens in Texas labor history, since he was Socialist candidate for governor. T.A. “Red Tom” Hickey, editor of the Meitzen paper, The Rebel, has secured his own separate niche in Texas labor history.
They are also known for socialist activism in North Dakota and Florida.
Thanks to Marty Boswell for photos. For more Meitzen family photos, click here.