Texas governor Dan Moody (1927–1931) started in a Georgetown courtroom
Before he became the youngest governor in Texas history in 1927, Dan Moody battled the Klan and won. And he did it right here in Georgetown, at the historic Williamson County courthouse on the square.
In his book Dan Moody: Crusader for Justice, Ken Anderson writes, “Any assessment of Moody’s career begins with the Ku Klux Klan.” A young lawyer out of Taylor, Dan Moody didn’t shy away from the opportunity to take the Klan to task, despite the challenges. Anderson explains, “During its peak years, from 1921 to 1923, more than 500 acts of Klan violence were reported in Texas.” But not one of those reports came from Williamson County in 1921 or 1922.
County history buffs have suggested that the local Klan had internal disagreements about the use of violence, but it’s also likely that people were too afraid of the Klan to complain to the authorities. Whatever the reason, the fireworks between the Klan and twenty-six-year-old Dan Moody occurred in 1923 with the flogging of Ralph (R.W.) Burleson, a World War I veteran and traveling salesman.
R. W. Burleson was accused of having an adulterous relationship with Fannie Campbell, a widow who ran the boarding house where Burleson roomed. It’s rumored that one of the local Klan members, having been romantically spurned by Mrs. Campbell, made the accusation against Burleson and Fannie Campbell. Ninety-year-old gossip aside, the irrefutable fact remains that on Easter Sunday in 1923, R. W. Burleson was viciously attacked by several Klan members.
From the convening of the grand jury on May 7th, the trials lasted from September 1923 to early 1924. Nothing like these trials had been seen in Georgetown before. Every day the courtroom was packed with spectators who even brought their own lunches so they wouldn’t have to give up their seats. The Klan had hired as the defendants some of the most powerful and seasoned lawyers in the state. Dan Moody, the newest and youngest district attorney in Williamson County, led the team for the prosecution.
It was an uphill battle with the defendants initially refusing to speak, but with the first guilty verdict, the smugness of several of the defendants gave way to their sudden desire to tell the truth, even if it meant indicting their fellow Klan members. All five defendants received guilty verdicts, a first for the Klan not only in the state of Texas but also in the nation.
And just like that, Dan Moody’s political career was on the fast track. In 1925 he was elected the state’s youngest attorney general and in 1927 he defeated Miriam Ferguson to be elected the state’s youngest governor. He served as governor for two successful terms.
Dan Moody accomplished so much for the state of Texas that his earliest triumph is often overshadowed, but says Mickie Ross, “it’s a story that needs to be told. It’s one of the five hundred stories we [at the Museum] have to tell every week.” Every Friday and Saturday afternoon, Williamson Museum docents lead guided tours into the actual courtroom where Dan Moody prosecuted the five Klansmen and tell the story of the trial.
“This is a story that belongs to the county,” says Mickie. “It’s a story that has national prominence, and we need to promote it.”
To learn more about the promotion of the Dan Moody trial, read “Trippin’ with History” in this issue of the View.