By Dr. Tommy Stringer
Like many Texas communities, Hubbard in neighboring Hill County, owes its beginnings to the railroad. Although there were settlers in the area in the 1860s, the town was not formally organized until 1881 with the arrival of the St. Louis Southwestern Railroad, commonly called the Cotton Belt. Former Governor Richard B. Hubbard happened to be present at a meeting to organize the town, prompting the citizens to name their settlement in his honor.
Richard Bennett Hubbard, the town’s namesake, was born in Georgia in 1832. He earned a bachelors degree from Mercer University in 1851 and a law degree from Harvard two years later. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Tyler, Texas, and immediately became involved in the political arena. President James Buchanan appointed him U.S. Attorney for the western district of Texas, a position he resigned in 1859 to run for a seat in the Texas Legislature. An ardent secessionist, Hubbard commanded the 22nd Texas infantry regiment during the Civil War, serving in the trans-Mississippi theater in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Following the war, Hubbard returned to Tyler to practice law, and he also engaged in real estate development and railroad expansion. In 1873, he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Texas, and was re-elected to a second term 3 years later. Hubbard became the state’s chief executive in 1876 when Governor Richard Coke resigned to become a United States Senator.
Hubbard’s administration was marked by turbulence, as the state was transitioning from the Reconstruction policies of the Radical Republicans to a return to Democratic “home rule.” The state was plagued by financial problems and lawlessness. Hubbard was particularly restricted by the fact that the Legislature never met during the entire time he was in office. He was somewhat successful in reducing the public debt, addressing problems with land fraud, and introducing educational reforms. Although he wanted a second term, the Democrats turned to a compromise candidate Oran Roberts to appease various factions within the party. He remained active in the Democratic Party and was rewarded for his work by being named minister to Japan in 1885, a position he held for 4 years.
In addition to his political accomplishments, Hubbard was noted for two traits — his oratorical skills and his size. His strong melodious voice and articulate style earned him the title of “Demosthenes of Texas.” Hubbard also holds the distinction of being Texas’ largest governor in size, as his weight topped 400 pounds. Because of his expanse, his friends called him “Jumbo.”
Hubbard lived his final years in Tyler where he died in 1901 and is buried in Tyler’s Oakwood Cemetery.
Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation. His radio program, “Texas Legends,” airs at 6:55 a.m. weekdays on KAND Radio.