Skip to NavSkip to Content

The University of Texas at Austin


Briscoe-Garner Museum - Biography Page 2

"Cactus Jack"

Garner made a successful run for state representative in 1898. During his two terms in Austin he authored only a few bills and spent most of his time learning the procedures of the Texas House. While in Austin, Garner earned the nickname "Cactus Jack" after he unsuccessfully proposed the cactus as the state flower. The bluebonnet prevailed, but the moniker "Cactus Jack" lasted a life time for the ambitious politician. While in Austin, Garner secured the chairmanship of the House Committee on Congressional Districts. He worked to keep San Antonio out of the new Fifteenth District, which covered all of South Texas from Corpus Christi, on the Gulf of Mexico, south to Brownsville and west to Del Rio, on the Rio Grande. Garner later termed the district simply as "the biggest in Texas." Ironically the district he helped create was also the district that he went on to represent for the next thirty-one years in Congress.

Garner in Office (19021933)

In 1902 Garner bested several experienced opponents to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives. At the time, no congressional office buildings had yet been built. The couple moved into a K Street boarding house which also served as Garner's office. There they worked on congressional and constituent issues, with Ettie Garner serving as secretary for the Fifteenth Congressional District. Ettie remained a vital force and capable administrator throughout her husband's long political career.

Speaker John Nance Garner wielding gavel

After the Democratic victory of 1910 gave the party control of Congress, Garner's colleagues elected him to the position of Democratic Party whip, the third-ranking House member. Garner's influence and prestige increased throughout World War I and the 1920s, and House Democrats selected him as minority leader after the Republican sweep in the 1928 elections. When Democrats regained a majority in the congress in 1931, the House elected Garner as its speaker.

Biography 1 | 2 | 3 | 4