Last Words of Famous Texans
Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.
Last words are lasting words—sometimes memorable, sometimes quotable, sometimes regrettable.Few give much thought to what their last words might be. Fewer still know when they’ll breathe their last breath to utter their last words, which is a good reason to be careful about what you say. David, the King of Israel, prayed in Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door o my lips.” Not a bad prayer for all of us.
If Humphrey Bogart, the 1940s movie star, knew his last words would have been so banal he would have kept his mouth shut. But he didn’t, so when he said goodbye to Lauren Bacall before she left for the grocery store he said, “Hurry back.” And if Karl Marx knew his departing words would be so ironic, he would have thought of something else to say than “Go on, get out. Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”
Of course last words aren’t for fools, and Marx was foolish for saying so. For those present when loved ones slip into eternity last words can become treasured words. I find them interesting because they sometimes reveal a person’s character at their most momentous moment in life. And I’m not the only one, not if the number of books collecting famous last words is any indication. For those like me, here are a number of last words from famous Texans.
Stephen F. Austin, 1793–1836
Considered the “Father of Texas,” Austin was an empresario who established one of the first Anglo colonies with three families in what was then known as the Mexican state of Tejas. An ardent supporter of Texas Independence, Austin died shortly after that dream was realized, but before Texas was annexed to the United States. Delirious on his deathbed he imagined that Texas had been recognized by the United States. The said, “Texas accepted! Archer told me so! Did you see it in the papers?”
Joan Crawford, 190?–1977
The Academy Award-winning actress was born in San Antonio sometime in the early 1900s. (Dates vary between 1904, 1906, and 1908.) She married four times, her last to business executive Alfred Steele, CEO of Pepsi-Cola. With a difficult and demanding personality, Crawford, according to the biography and film Mommy Dearest, had a volatile relationship with her adopted daughter Christina. In Crawford’s final moments she noticed her nurse praying and snapped: “Damn it! How dare you ask God to help me!”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1890–1969
Eisenhower spent most of his life outside of his native state (born in Denison) but returned to Texas when he was stationed to San Antonio shortly after graduating from West Point. During World War II he was appointed supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe. He also served two terms as President of the United States. Dying at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he commanded, “Lower the shades! Pull me up! Two big men, higher!” Then he closed his eyes in prayer, “I want to go. God, take me.”
Larry Hagman, 1931–2012
The son of actress Mary Martin, Hagman is best know for playing J.R. Ewing in the popular primetime television soap opera Dallas in 1980s. Before that, he stared with Barbara Eden in the television comedy I Dream of Jeannie. He survived stage 2 throat cancer only to succumb to leukemia. Before his death he apologized to his daughter Kristina for introducing her to LSD. He said to her, “Forgive me.”
John Wesley Hardin, 1853–1895
Jesse James, Buch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Billy the Kid may have achieved more fame than John Wesley Hardin but none were as deadly. Of all the bad men of the west, Hardin was the baddest: at least fifteen shootings are attributed to him, killed and wounded. According to one story, while trying to sleep in a hotel a man’s snoring in the adjoining room keep Hardin awake. He grew so enraged he shot the man through the plank wall. Hardin was often on the run. While fleeing a murder charge, he was tracked down by Texas Rangers in Florida and brought back to Texas. He would have shot them but while drawing his pistol it caught in his suspenders. Hardin was sent to prison and spent seventeen years there, studying the law. Upon release he drifted to El Paso, where on the day of his death he was playing craps in the Acme Saloon. Before he was shot in the back of head he told another player, “You’ve got four sixes to beat.”
Ima Hogg, 1882–1975
It’s a Texas tall tale that Governor Jim Hogg had two daughters named Ima and Ura. He only had the one. A philanthropist who organized the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Ima loved music and founded the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Just before she died, she traveled to London where she went “to hear the greatest music in the world one last time.” While there, she broke her hip. Five days later she passed away. Her last recorded words were, “It’s going to be all right.”
Buddy Holly, 1936–1959
Singer-songwriter Don McLean wrote “American Pie” as a tribute to the day when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and “The Big Bopper” J.P. Richardson died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. That day became forever known as “The day the music died.” These three, along with Tommy Allsup, Carl Bunch, and Waylon Jennings were on a tour of the midwest called the “Winter Dance Party.” They had been traveling by bus, but a plane became available to transport some of them to their next stop, Moorhead, Minnesota. Before boarding the plane, Holly joked to Jennings, “So you’re not going with us tonight on the plane, huh? Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up. It’s 40-below out there and you’re gonna to get awful cold.” Jennings returned the joke and said, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” He regretted it for the rest of his life.
John Bell Hood, 1831–1879
General Hood wasn’t born in Texas but he got here as fast as he could. He is best known as the Confederate general who commanded the company named after his adopted state: the Texas Brigade. During the Civil War, Hood lost a leg at the Battle of Chickamauga, but survived the war. He died shortly after his wife’s death in a yellow fever epidemic. He would leave his young children orphans. With them on his mind, he said, “The Texas Brigade will take care of them, for that is what I wish.”
Samuel Houston, 1793–1863
The hero of San Jacinto made Houston the favored son of the Lone Star state. After securing independence from Mexico, he served Texas as president of the Republic, and then as senator and governor of the state. A fervent Union-man, Houston opposed secession and was removed from the governorship. He died two years later of pneumonia while the nation underwent a terrible bloodletting. An hour before his death he said to his son-in-law Charles: “Charlie, have you an American flag? Bring it out. I want to die under its glorious folds. I am sorry that it is the will of God that I cannot see that flag float again. Do you be faithful and true to it forever.” And then a few minutes later he turned to his wife Margaret: “Texas . . . Margaret . . . Texas.”
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1908–1973
If Texas hadn’t produced a man like LBJ we’d have to invent one. He was a physically imposing man with an unshakable confidence in himself. Early in his political career he was a Roosevelt Democrat and remained a progressive throughout. He represented Texas in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, rising to majority leader until he lost the Democratic nomination to John F. Kennedy and then selected as Kennedy’s running mate. He was with Kennedy in Dallas when the president was shot on November 22, 1963. He was then famously swore in as president onboard Air Force One as it sat on the tarmac at Dallas Love Field. LBJ’s administration accomplished great things for civil rights but became mired in the Vietnam War, which eventually destroyed his chances of reelection. After leaving the presidency, Johnson moved into his ranch house along the Pedernales River. On the day he died, in 1973, LBJ was seized by a heart attack. He called out for help over the intercom: “Send for Mike immediately!” Moments later he was found dead.
Janis Joplin, 1943–1970
Born in Port Arthur, Janis always feel like an outsider. She attended the University of Texas at Austin where she began to draw attention to her bluesy, soulful singing. Eventually, she made her way to California and entered the hippy scene. Her career took off like a rocket, but she struggled with drug addiction which led to her death in 1970 from an overdose. Her last words were simple: she wish a visiting friend, “Goodnight.”
Chester William Nimitz, 1885–1966
Chest Nimitz seemed like the least likely candidate to become an Admiral in the United States Navy. He was born and raised in the landlocked Hill Country of Texas, hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico. And yet, Nimitz rose in the ranks and by the time World War II broke out he became the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. After the war he returned to Texas where he died. Shortly before he slipped in a coma, he told a visitor to his Fredericksburg home who was drinking a sherry, “Jack, you can have something stronger if you like.”
Katherine Anne Porter, 1890–1980
The novelist and short story writer who left Texas and became a celebrated literary artist and bohemian around the world decided she wanted to be buried next to her mother in the town of her birth, Indian Creek. She had converted to Catholicism and was nursed by a nun in her final moments. “Death is beautiful. I long to die. I love God. I know that He loves me,” she said to her nurse. A priest was called and he assured her that eternity would be better than this present world. She responded, “Oh, yes, I know that.”
James Robert (Bob) Wills, 1905–1975
Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys became the father of Western swing, sometimes called Texas swing—a form of country and western music that has a distinct up-beat tempo perfect for dancing. He was surpassed in popularity and fame by other artist, but was considered foundational for artists like Merle Haggard and George Strait. In fact, he was recording an album with Haggard when he slipped into a coma. One evening in late 1973, while in bed, he told his wife, “Roll me down.” He then suffered a stroke. He never said another word, and died eighteen months later without ever regaining consciousness.
Mildred Didriksen (Babe) Zaharias, 1911–1956
Babe Zaharias is considered by many as the greatest female athlete ever. She played basketball and baseball, and was a four world record-setter and two gold and one silver medal-winner in the 1932 Olympics in track and field. A few years later she began playing professional golf and became a founding member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Her professional golfing career was cut short by cancer. After a long illness, she told her husband, “Bye, bye, honey. I’m going to go now. I love you and thank you for everything.”