This blog post was composed by graduate assistant Bailey Edling, a master’s student in the History Department.
The collections at the W. R. Poage Legislative Library range in size from several hundred boxes to a single binder. One such binder collection, the George “Cotton” Moffett collection, was recently disassembled and arranged in archival folders. Though small, the collection spans an incredibly important and endlessly interesting period of American history. Moffett, born in a small Texas town and educated at Texas A&M University, served as an infantryman and in the US Army Air Service during the first World War. After returning stateside, he worked in oil and lumber and ran his family farm for several years until 1930, when he successfully ran for the Texas House of Representatives.
1930 was not just a pivotal year in the life of Moffett; it was a critical year for all Americans. The Great Depression severely impacted the American economy, but perhaps more damaging for rural, agricultural states like Texas was the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl, 1930-1936, was a historic period of extreme dust storms caused by a combination of changing ocean temperatures, severe drought, and agricultural land mismanagement. During this time, not only did crops fail to thrive or were outright destroyed during storms, but the soil itself was damaged, making it impossible to grow crops that previous generations of farmers had successfully grown. This agricultural nightmare had widespread effects, as the country was still deeply embroiled in the Great Depression, and unemployment rates soared. Suddenly a large sector of employment for Americans, agriculture, was no longer feasible. Farmers abandoned their homes and land and moved to cities to search for work. The failing crops caused food shortages. These ecological, geographical, and societal changes truly altered the American landscape.
George “Cotton” Moffett’s successful run for Texas legislature came at, perhaps, the most impactful time possible. Moffett studied agriculture at Texas A&M and had run his family farm for over a decade when he came into office. Moffett’s education and experience encouraged him to embrace new technology and explore new scientific approaches to farming. This mindset was critical for recovering from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The federal government created dozens of programs to help farmers and farmland during this period. One such program hired out-of-work farmers to slaughter pigs purchased by the federal government and then distribute the resulting meat across the US to feed impoverished Americans. Other programs employed workers to plant a protective belt of trees across the Great Plains to protect the soil from further erosion and assist in repairing the topsoil. Still other programs educated farmers on more efficient and environmentally friendly farming techniques. These programs helped employ unemployed Americans and address the nation’s serious agricultural issues.
Moffett supported these programs, emphasizing the importance of science for agricultural work. Moffett sought to change how farmers farmed their land and to find new ways to use the crops they harvested. A flyer distributed during a reelection campaign included a “chemically treated, and lint-free, cotton polishing cloth…” which was discovered in Texas “…through scientific research.” At a time when crop yields and income were low, Moffett’s drive to up the impact of a single crop, one which grew heartily in his state, helped put farmers back on their feet. Not only did Moffett concern himself with the economy and production of goods in Texas, but he was also interested in the people. Dozens of letters pepper his small collection. They are not constituents writing to Moffett (though these are in the collection.) They are letters Moffett wrote to his constituents, asking them questions about their local needs and their opinions on certain bills and issues they were facing. One letter reads, “I will be glad to have a letter from you at your leisure indicating what you think the legislature should do in regard to this unemployment relief matter.” Several such letters exist, particularly on the matter of how to best help small agricultural communities with high unemployment rates. Moffett was immensely popular, as evidenced by his decades-long tenure in state legislature. Looking through his collection, it is evident why.
A simple Google search of George Moffett does not yield many results. His collection in Poage’s archives is but a few folders donated alongside the larger collection of the younger Jack Hightower. Despite having worked for the state for several decades, he appears to be like the dust storms he helped Texans recover from, a powerful presence which, though dissipated, was critical to change and growth in Texas.
 “George Clarence Moffett,” Texas State Cemetery, last modified April 18, 2000, https://cemetery.tspb.texas.gov/pub/user_form.asp?pers_id=2400.