John Ben Shepperd: 1957 Arizona State Bar Convention

May 24, 1957

 1957 Arizona State Bar Convention


Thank you President Quail for that very flattering and truthful introduction. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything I enjoyed so much or agreed with so completely.

However, Keith probably found himself in the same predicament of the master of ceremonies who had to introduce another obscure character from a small Texas town. He said, “Our next speaker needs no introduction. Even if I told you who he is, you still wouldn’t know him.”

I, of course, want to say a few word about my native state. I talk about Texas when there is the slightest indication of interest in the subject and frankly, you have indicated the slightest interest in Texas of any group I have ever appeared before. But if I came this far away from God’s country and didn’t talk about Texas, you’d think I had been ex-communicated, or was dead, or running for a national office or an unmitigated fraud. Besides I want to get back in when I go home.

I think it’s time the truth was told about Texas. Some folks say Texans don’t have a very high regard for the truth, but actually we value it very highly and that’s why we are so economical with it.

Being from Texas, I guess you want me to do a little bragging. We Texans don’t enjoy this sort of thing as much as you think we do, but it has come to be expected of us and we’re too polite not to fulfill our obligations.

Actually, when you come right down to it, there aren’t many Texans who brag. As a matter of fact, if all the bragging Texans were laid end to end, it would meet with the unanimous consent of the rest of the country.

Now that I’m out of politics, I’ll let you in on a secret. There’s one sure way to tell if a Texan is lying. If his mouth is open, he is lying.

Another serious misconception needs to be cleared up about Texas. It is not true that all Texans are oil rich. In fact, if all the people getting rich on oil in Texas were suddenly taken up into heaven at the last trump—which within itself is an unlikely supposition—the state would still have left two janitors, three sharecroppers and a darn good former Attorney General.

However, I modestly won’t deny the fact that Texas is the healthiest place in the world. We have to go across state line to get sick. An Arizona lawyer friend of mine advised a client to go to Texas for his health. He bought a ranch there. When he came, he was crippled and had a glass eye. They discovered oil on his ranch and now, he has not only stopped limping but can even see a little out of that glass eye.

To top this, every sixteenth child born in the United States is a Texan and Texans are born four times as fast as they die which is pretty discouraging to the rest of the country.

Another discouraging thing to “outsiders” is that Texans live longer too. Texas is so much like heaven, they don’t see the point in moving on. Besides, there’s always the element of doubt as to which they’d go.

I know it won’t make you any happier to know that each Texan uses sixty-seven and one-half gallons of water per day for the domestic purposes and thank God, we’ve now got it to use. If you ever get that much water in Arizona, you’ll have to thank God and California, but not necessarily in that order.

I don’t know how much of this gospel you want to hear. For example, I don’t know whether or not you would be interested in knowing that Texans are drilling 25,000 oil wells a year, running 292,000 farms and 11,000 factories, carrying 14 billion dollars in life insurance, keeping 2 and 1/4th billion on deposit in their 985 banks and getting a substantial part of the 500 million embezzled in the U.S. annually—some would have you believe we have been getting all of it.

If all the money on deposit or in resources in our banks were divided, each Texan would get $2,000. If we lived in California, we’d get $1,750 and in Arizona only $1,100. New York, however, could give us $7,000. But wherever you live, you won’t find anybody giving it away.

But we have a lot of fun in Texas. We catch 140 million pounds of fish every year, start 1800 forest fires, have about 1 million teeth pulled, pay 2 and ½ billion dollars in federal taxes and seriously injure a farm resident every half minute.

We manage to stay pretty busy too.  We’re running about 70,000 corporations and 121,000 business establishments, including 154 independent shoe-shine parlors, 58 Turkish baths, 20 detective agencies, 31 diaper services and an unknown number of uranium sitting ditches.  On top of that we send more than 3,000 dogs’ heads to the State Health Department every year to be examined for rabies, indict some 15,000 fellow citizens, commit about 350,000 major and minor crimes, pluck more than 8 and ½ million Yankee tourists and pick about 4 million bales of cotton. It’s easier to pick a tourist then to pick cotton. More fun too.  I’ve tried both and I know. As a matter of fact, Texas is beginning to give Arizona some competition in the field of tourist plucking.

They call Texas the land of the big rich and I guess they’re right.  If all the minerals, crops and livestock in a given year were divided up among us, we’d each get 7/8’s of a cow, 1/4 of a hog, 4 pounds of pecans, 104 barrels of oil and 1/80 of a jackass.

The stork is making more stops in Texas than he used to—may be too wet to fly over—he’s making about 120 stops out of every possible 1,000 eligible homes and of course, a few that ain’t eligible.

One-third of all our women over 14 are working nowadays, 10,000 of them in the state government, and they make up 36% of all the automobile drivers in the state. It seems more than that when you get on the highway.  Of those 1,388,000 women drivers, 118 are old ladies 85 years of age.  But if you think that’s something, 249 women have drivers licenses listed their ages as “over 85” and I can tell you from observation, that’s also their driving speed.

The average married woman nowadays is three years younger than her husband and lives six years longer, so the average widowhood is nine years. There are about 150,000 bachelors in Texas and twice as many widows. All of which means that if you or I were a woman over 85 and head that kind of competition, we’d move pretty fast too.

To boil this factual report on Texas down to a simple formula—in Texas, men are men and women are women and I defy you to improve on a situation like that! Or as the old maid said, “Who’s trying to improve on it, I just want to get in on it.”

But let’s talk about Arizona. I honestly used to think it was too far away from Texas to amount to very much.

I have been amazed at the number of former Texans who are living in Arizona. A good portion of this crowd has eased up to me and told me that they are originally from Texas. I bring good news today to all of you transplanted Texans—I talked to the governor before I left yesterday and he told me to tell all of you to come on home, that he felt you had suffered enough and he would give you a pardon.

As a matter of fact, Arizona is in an analogous situation to Texas. If all the Texans were taken out of Arizona, it would collapse and if all the hot air was sucked out of Texas, it would collapse.

But Arizona offers a very powerful lesson to the rest of the country. The federal government owns 72% of all the land area in Arizona and 99% of it is devoted to wild-life refuges while office for federal employees have been crowded into a mere 1%. This proves without a doubt that the bureaucrats are giving the country to the birds.

Texans are grateful for the contribution by the citizens of Arizona by your annual donation to our economy and to our public education. Every year you send us over 75,000 tourists who are loaded with money. In addition to this, we have over 50,000 people who have moved permanently from Arizona to Texas—by choice, they claim. If I were a typical Fourth of July orator—or a politician—I’d stand up here and tell you what fine citizens they are and what great contributions they are making to our state. But I’ll be perfectly candid with you and say that you can have them back anytime you want them.

I’m sure you are wondering by now how I got on this program and there are several possible reasons: first, I usually come when I’m asked; second, back in my bureaucratic days, I made your distinguished President, Keith Quail, and Don Phillips, your outstanding Executive Secretary, Special Assistant Attorneys General of Texas and they invited me out here before they knew I was going out of office, in hope of getting their salary; third and I’m sure the actual controlling factor, I do it for nothing. Or it could be that I am a rare bird—a Texan with an inferiority complex about Texas, as well as the only successful politician in Texas—I quit.

Sometimes I miss politics—that great game where the issues are crowded with emotionalism. The candidates are lined up and the atmosphere is pervaded with a sort of nervous eagerness. Politicians are finding things that haven’t been lost yet and turning up crimes that haven’t even been committed.

There’s no problem too small to be turned into a crisis and every blabbermouth politician has a solution. I remember the first year I was in politics. That was when I almost had a nervous breakdown. I had a beautiful solution but couldn’t find a problem to go with it.

But it is a relief being out of politics. You know a politician has to take more criticism that the weather man, resist more pressure than a judge at a beauty contest and face greater temptations than a surgeon operating on his own mother-in-law.

Politics helped me a lot though. Even my parents agree on that. Someone recently asked my dad, “Has John Ben’s being in politics been of any real value?” “Yes,” Dad replied, “it’s cured his mother of bragging about him.”

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]