William H. Murray

William H. Murray

Infobox Governor
name= William Henry Davis Murray

office= Governor of Oklahoma
term_start= January 12, 1931
term_end= January 15, 1935
lieutenant= Robert Burns
predecessor= William J. Holloway
successor= Ernest W. Marland
birth_date= birth date|1869|11|21|mf=y
birth_place= Collinsville, Texas
death_date= death date and age|1956|7|15|1869|11|21|mf=y
death_place= Tishomingo, Oklahoma
spouse= Mary Alice Hearrell Murray
profession= Teacher, Lawyer
party= Democrat
order2= 1st Speaker of the Oklahoma House
successor2=Ben F. Wilson

William Henry Davis "Alfalfa Bill" Murray (November 21, 1869October 15, 1956) was an American teacher, lawyer, and politician from Oklahoma. He was the first Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, U.S. Representative, and Governor. He was a Democrat.

Early life

William Henry Davis Murray was born in the town of Toadsuck, Texas (renamed “Collinsville” in the 1880s), on November 21, 1869. His mother died when he was only two years old, and after his father remarried, the family moved to Montague, Texas. At the age of twelve, Murray left home. Most of Murray’s adolescence was spent working on farms during the summer and attending public schools in the winter. Murray worked and studied hard, and was admitted to the College Hill Institute in Springtown, Texas.

He graduated from College Hill with a teaching degree in 1889. Murray then held several jobs, including school teacher, bookseller, and writer for the "Fort Worth Gazette". While at College Hill, Murray took an interest in law. He passed the Texas bar exam in 1895, and practiced law in Fort Worth, Texas. In 1898, he moved his practice to Tishomingo in the Indian Territory (now eastern Oklahoma).

Tishomingo was the capital of the Chickasaw Nation. Murray’s legal knowledge and colorful personality earned him the position of legal advisor to the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, Douglas H. Johnston. Murray married Johnston’s niece, Mary Alice Hearrell. Not only did Murray practice law in Tishomingo he also learned many aspects of the farmer’s life.

Murray acquired his nickname “Alfalfa” around 1902 when he was a political operative for Oklahoma Territory gubernatorial candidate Palmer S. Moseley. Murray developed the habit of giving talks to local farmers about politics and farming. During the discussion, Murray would often talk about a large tract of alfalfa he had cultivated. An observer of one of Murray's speeches, Arthur Sinclair, reported to the editor of the Tishomingo "Capital-Democrat" that he had just witnessed “Alfalfa Bill” deliver one of his finest speeches. The name stuck with Murray for the rest of his life.

Indian politics and Oklahoma statehood

Murray’s closeness to Governor Johnston benefited his political career. By 1903, talk of an Indian state, the State of Sequoyah, was being heard. In 1905, the Five Civilized Tribes organized a convention to draw up a state constitution. Governor Johnston appointed Murray to represent the Chickasaws at the convention in Muskogee. Of the six delegates at the convention, four were Native Americans; Murray and Charles N. Haskell were the only whites. The proposed constitution was then overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of the Five Tribes in a referendum. Unfortunately President Theodore Roosevelt opposed separate statehood for Sequoyah. Roosevelt insisted that the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory must be admitted as one state - Oklahoma.

In response to Congress’s passage of the Enabling Act in 1906, the people of both Territories held a new convention. Murray was elected as the delegate for District 104, which included Tishomingo. At the convention in Guthrie, Murray worked closely with Robert L. Williams and again with Charles N. Haskell. Haskell became Murray's life-long friendship and ally.

Due to his experience in Indian politics, Murray was selected as the President of the Convention. Despite this, Murray kept Haskell close to him. Haskell, as one newspaper reported, was the “power behind the throne.” Together, the two men controlled the convention. The Oklahoma Constitution produced under their guidance was substantially based on the Sequoyah constitution. It was one of the most "Progressive" state constitutions. It was also the longest governing document in the world at the time.

The proposed constitution included explicit white-supremacist and segregationist clauses strongly supported by Murray. President Roosevelt objected to these clauses, and obtained their deletion. Congress then admitted Oklahoma to the Union as the 46th state on November 16, 1907.

Oklahoma Politics

With the state constitution in place, elections were held in 1907 for offices of the new state government. Murray was elected as a state representative, and became the first Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His ally Haskell was elected Governor.

As House Speaker, Murray often opposed the progressive work of Commissioner of Charities and Corrections Kate Barnard, and pushed for Jim Crow laws. He left the House after one term, not seeking re-election in 1908.

In 1910, he ran for Governor, but lost in the Democratic primary.

In 1912, Murray was elected U.S. Representative from one of Oklahoma's three at-large seats. (Oklahoma gained three seats in the 1910 Congressional apportionment, but had not drawn up a new district map.) In 1914, he was elected to a second term from the 4th Congressional District under the new map. In 1916, he was defeated for renomination.

In 1918, Murray again ran for Governor and lost in the Democratic primary. He now retired from politics and returned to private law practice back in Tishomingo. In 1924, Murray led a group of Oklahoma ranchers who formed a colony in southeastern Bolivia. He stayed in Bolivia until 1929, when he returned to Oklahoma to run for Governor in 1930.

Governor of Oklahoma

Murray won the Democratic nomination, then won the general election by almost 100,000 votes, the largest majority of any Oklahoma governor up to then. His win was helped by his campaign slogan that railed against “The Three C’sndash Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons.” He was inaugurated as the ninth Governor of Oklahoma on January 12, 1931. Murray faced the harsh problems of the Great Depression. Under the previous Governor, William J. Holloway, the state government had accumulated a deficit of over $5,000,000 ($60,000,000 in modern dollars) fighting the Depression.

Mass unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, the deficit, and bank failures haunted Murray’s administration and he took steps to fight them. In 1931, the legislature appropriated $600,000 for emergency necessities. Through money collected from state employees, businessmen, and even his own salary, Murray financed programs to feed Oklahoma’s poor. At this time in American history, no federal relief program had been instituted. Murray became a national leader for the victims of the Depression, calling for a national council for relief to be held at Memphis, Tennessee in June 1931.

The government of Oklahoma faced failure, not only because of the massive deficit, but because many of Oklahoma’s citizens could not pay their debts. In order to speed the collection of funds, at Murray’s urging, the Legislature created the Oklahoma Tax Commission. This three member commission was responsible for the collection and administration of taxes, licenses and fees of all Oklahomans. The new agency established safeguards against tax evasion and helped to stem the drain on the state’s tax revenue.

Due to the severity of the Depression, Murray relied on the Oklahoma National Guard to enforce the state’s laws through the use of martial law. Murray did this in spite of impeachment threats from the Oklahoma Senate. During his tenure as governor, Murray called out the Guard and charged them with duties ranging from policing ticket sales at University of Oklahoma football games to patrolling the oil fields.

One of Murray’s most famous usages of the Guard came during the “Toll Bridge War” between Oklahoma and Texas. A joint project to build a free bridge across the Red River turned into a major dispute when the Governor of Texas blocked traffic from entering his state on the new bridge. The Red River Bridge Company of Texas owned the original toll bridge and had a dispute over its purchase deal. However, Murray sent the Guard to reopen the bridge in July 1931. Texas was eventually forced to stand down when it was determined that Oklahoma actually had jurisdiction over both banks of the river.

Murray’s most vivid use of the military was in restraining oil production. Because of the vast quantity of newly opened wells in Texas and Oklahoma, oil prices had sunk below the costs of production. Murray and three other governors met in Fort Worth, Texas to demand lower production. When the Oklahoma producers did not comply, on August 4, 1931, Murray called out the Guard, declared martial law, and ordered that some 3,000 oil wells be shut down.

By the end of his administration in 1935, Murray had called out the National Guard forty-seven times and had declared martial law over thirty times. He did not seek re-election in 1934. Murray left office on January 15, 1935.

In 1933, Murray's old friend Charles Haskell died. Murray would never be the same.

, but later turned against the New Deal as most Oklahoma politicians did.

Later life and death

In 1938, he ran once more for Governor, and was again beaten in the Democratic primary. Later that year, he tried to run for the United States Senate as an independent, but his nominating petitions were filed late. In 1942, he ran for the Senate again, this time losing in the Democratic primary.

After his retirement, Murray became known as a radical racist and conspiracy theorist. Murray also wrote articles and books dealing with constitutional rights. In his books, Murray seemed to indicate his support for fascism.

Murray’s legacy continued in his son, Johnston Murray. Johnston was not only a fellow Democrat but also followed in his father’s footsteps as Governor. On January 9, 1951, Murray administered the oath of office to his son as the fourteenth Governor of Oklahoma.

Murray did not live long past his son’s governorship. Murray died on October 15, 1956. He is buried in Tishomingo. Murray was the last member of the Haskell Dynasty.

In 1972, the Oklahoma Legislature changed the name of a state college to Murray State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, in honor of the former governor. The community college is located in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Alfalfa County, Oklahoma and Murray County, Oklahoma are named in his honor.

tate of the State Speeches

* [http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/governors/addresses/murray1931.pdf First State of the State Speech]
* [http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/governors/addresses/murray1933.pdf Second State of the State Speech]
* [http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/governors/addresses/murray1935.pdf Third State of the State Speech]


* [http://www.rootsweb.com/~oknowata/murray.htm Sooner State Genealogy entry]
* [http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/governors/bios/murray.pdf State biography]
* [http://www.4alfalfa.com/AlfalfaNation/alfalfabill.htm Alfalfa Nation entry]
* [http://www.ou.edu/special/albertctr/archives/murray.htm The Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma "William H. Murray Collection"]
* [http://www.mscok.edu/ Murray State College Home Page]

NAME=Murray, William Henry David
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Ninth Governor of Oklahoma, First Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives
DATE OF BIRTH= November 21, 1869
PLACE OF BIRTH=Collinsville, Texas, United States of America
DATE OF DEATH= October 15, 1956
PLACE OF DEATH= Tishomingo, Oklahoma, United States of America

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