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Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys

Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys
Texas Politics, 1929–1932

In his deeply researched sequel to Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug, a master storyteller of Texas politics brings to life pivotal moments of backroom wrangling, economic crashes, and aftershocks still felt nearly a century later.

Series: Focus on American History

October 2019
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480 pages | 6 x 9 | 13 b&w photos |

When the venerable historian Norman D. Brown published Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug in 1984, he earned national acclaim for revealing the audacious tactics at play in Texas politics during the Roaring Twenties, detailing the effects of the Ku Klux Klan, newly enfranchised women, and Prohibition. Shortly before his death in 2015, Brown completed Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys, which picks up just as the Democratic Party was poised for a bruising fight in the 1930 primary. Charting the governorships of Dan Moody, Ross Sterling, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in her second term, and James V. Allred, this engrossing sequel takes its title from the notion that Texas politicians should give voters what they want (“When you cease to deliver the biscuits they will not be for you any longer,” said Jim “Pa” Ferguson) while remaining wary of federal assistance (the dole) in a state where the economy is fueled by oil pump jacks (nodding donkeys).

Taking readers to an era when a self-serving group of Texas politicians operated in a system that was closed to anyone outside the state’s white, wealthy echelons, Brown unearths a riveting, little-known history whose impact continues to ripple at the capitol.

  • Foreword. Dr. Norman D. Brown: An Appreciation, by Jacqueline Jones
  • Editor’s Introduction, by Rachel Ozanne
  • Chapter 1. Tom Cat Lands on His Feet
  • Chapter 2. Daniel in the Legislative Lions’ Den
  • Chapter 3. A Sterling Victory
  • Chapter 4. The Sterling Years
  • Chapter 5. Texas Again Tangled in Ma’s Apron Strings
  • Chapter 6. Garnering Votes for Cactus Jack
  • Chapter 7. Roosevelt and Garner
  • Chapter 8. The Politics of Relief and Repeal
  • Epilogue. “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy!”
  • Notes
  • Index

Norman D. Brown
Austin, Texas

Brown (1935–2015) taught history at the University of Texas at Austin for nearly fifty years before his retirement in 2010. His many previous books include Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug and Daniel Webster and the Politics of Availability.

Rachel Ozanne
Austin, Texas

Ozanne holds a PhD in history from the University of Texas at Austin, where she currently teaches. She is also on the faculty of Austin Community College.


“[Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys] deserves a place on the scholar's shelf…Ozanne deserves great credit for bringing Brown's last work to light.”
Journal of Southern History

“A well-researched and documented look at the complex characters and the divisive state of Texas politics from 1929 to 1932...Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys is extensively researched and includes complete footnotes. The narratives are rich and detailed; no Texas political operatives of the day are omitted. Anyone who is interested in Texas politics, or is studying and researching it, should read this book.”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“[Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys] is rich in personal detail, and general audiences and aficionados of Texana will enjoy the colorful portraits of James and Miriam Ferguson, Ross Sterling, Tom Love, John Nance Garner, and others.”
History: Reviews of New Books

“Brown draws on an impressively diverse set of primary sources to deliver a very detailed blow-by-blow account of Texas politics during the early Depression...Brown succeeds in describing just how many different voices were at play within the Democratic Party in Texas. Political parties have rarely been monolithic, and the book is an important reminder that we would do well to reimagine political groups as more factional and varied and less cohesive than we often may.”
Western Historical Quarterly

“Norman Brown (1935–2015) adopted Texas first as his home and then as a cornerstone of his own research. The posthumous publication of Biscuits, the Dole, and Nodding Donkeys ensures that we can further profit from his labors...The book's able editor Rachel Ozanne merits our gratitude. Ozanne’s historiographical touch is evident in her introductory chapter. That chapter situates Brown’s evidence and insights, when and how they can fit, next to newer scholarship that brings a wider array of actors, political cultures, and even different time frames into the conversations that scholars have about the political history of Texas.”
Pacific Historical Review

“[T]his volume fills a gap in the historical literature related to Texas politics. . . . Norman Brown brings to life the personal dynamics that inflected Texas politics—the euphemistically labeled "colorful" characters who dominated the political landscape and wrangled backroom deals to get what they wanted. . . . [He] was keenly aware of the larger contemporary context for his political studies: the state’s oil-based economy, which brought fabulous, untold riches for a few; and its cotton economy, which brought backbreaking, unremitting toil for the many, including almost all Mexican Americans and African Americans. Impoverished whites were little better off than their disenfranchised counterparts, but at least they were a valued constituency of the Democrats, and party regulars gave them their due, if only in a rhetorical way and only right before election day.”
Jacqueline Jones, from the foreword

“In his final book, Norman Brown gives readers a fascinating tour of Texas state politics during the Great Depression. Readers of Brown's earlier work on the 1920s will recognize the late historian's signature gifts for storytelling, humor, and the illuminating detail--all informed by deep archival research and contextualized by Rachel Ozanne's introduction and annotations. A welcome addition to the literature on early twentieth-century politics.”
Keith J. Volanto, Collin College, author of Texas, Cotton, and the New Deal




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