The State Flower Debate That Gave One Texas Legend His Name

Historian Patrick Cox shares the story of how John Nance Garner, the thirty-second vice president of the United States, got his nickname.

By Rhonda FanningMarch 26, 2015 8:51 pm

We all know the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas, right?

The famous Texas historian Jack Russell Maguire once explained the bluebonnet this way, “It’s not only the state flower, but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat.”

So making the bluebonnet the official state flower would have been an easy decision for state lawmakers. Or at least….one would think. The reality is that the debate got hotter than a Laredo parking lot.

Enter John Nance Garner – a young state representative from Uvalde, Texas.

He was having none of this.

Being from the southwest, Garner argued that the state flower should be none other than the prickly pear cactus. He thought the plant’s resilience, combined with its beautiful ‘orchid-like’ bloom, to make it the perfect representation of Texas.

Another contender for the state plant was cotton, at the time, the biggest crop in Texas.

But in the end it was a women’s club that put the bluebonnet over the top, the Texas chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.

The dames brought in a painting of a bluebonnet, delivered it to the house floor and virtually dared the lawmakers not to select the blue carpet of the Texas prairie as official state flower.

Garner lost the vote that day, but his passionate plea for the prickly alternative earned him the nickname, “Cactus Jack.”

Cactus Jack went on to become one of the most influential members of Congress, and one of America’s most powerful vice-presidents, serving two terms under Franklin D. Roosevelt.

One hundred fourteen years ago this month, a state got its flower, and a Texas legend got his name.