Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn came into life on earth on January 6, 1882, in Roane County, Tennessee, and died November 16, 1961, in Bonham, Texas. In southeastern Texas, most people have heard of or enjoy the Sam Rayburn Lake (Reservoir). And recently in 2009, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) renamed the 121 Tollway the Sam Rayburn Tollway. Many public schools in Texas carry his name. What made Sam Rayburn still so important to Texas 48 years after his death? 

Why Was Sam Rayburn so Important?

Sam Rayburn had been deceased for 48 years when the NTTA renamed the 26-mile tollway that links the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport to the rapidly expanding cities and communities in Collin, Dallas, and Denton Counties. Construction on Sam Rayburn Lake began in 1956. He began his political career in the Texas House of Representatives in 1906. People in his hometown, Bonham, Texas, affectionately hailed Sam Rayburn as “Mr. Sam”.

On the Hill in Washington D.C., they called Sam Rayburn “Mr. Democrat”. By 1912, Mr. Democrat had won a seat as a Democratic Representative to the United States House of Representatives. In 1906, Sam Rayburn was attendingThe University of Texas at Austin’s law school. He passed his bar exam in 1908 and served in Congress for 48 years under eight presidents. 

The Democrat Party ideology today bears little resemblance to the Democrat Party ideology in Sam Rayburn’s eras. Texas elected him three times to the Texas House of Representatives. During Mr. Sam’s third term in Texas, the House elected Speaker of the Texas House. He won his seat in Washington D.C. at the same time. President William Howard Taft was in office in 1912 when citizens elected Mr. Sam.

Sam Rayburn’s Career

Sam Rayburn walked into the U.S. House of Representatives at the same time Woodrow Wilson walked into the Whitehouse. He went on to serve with Presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. He became a trusted adviser as House Speaker to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. 

Mr. Sam served 17 years as Speaker of the House of U.S. Representatives beginning in 1940. As speaker, his diplomatic skills led him to be successful in brokering legislative initiative deals between autocratic committee chairmen and their conflicting ideals. During Mr. Sam’s time as Speaker of the House, much of the power in the House belonged to committee chairmen. 

Longtime friend and fellow politician, Congressman Richard Bolling described Sam Rayburn as the “…baldest and levelest head in Washington”. Mr. Sam was a plain-spoken politician, and colleagues in both parties highly respected him for his honesty and integrity. People knew him to say this often, “I have found that people respect you if you tell them where you stand.” Mr. Sam brokered and helped pass several key pieces of legislature during his terms of service. 

Mr. Sam coauthored six crucial acts, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, the Truth-in-Securities Act, the Stock Exchange Act, the Federal Communications Act, the Rural Electrification Act, and one of the most bitterly contested of all, the New Deal laws, plus the Public Utility Holding Company Act. He worked closely with President Roosevelt and Vice President Garner, and played a vital role in the passage of the major New Deal legislative initiatives. 

Where is Sam Rayburn buried?

Sam Taliaferro Rayburn died on November 16, 1961, in Bonham, Texas, close to where he grew up at age 79. Mr. Sam won one of the hardest internal House challenges in 50 years in 1961, which was enlarging the House Committee on Rules. He left for Bonham before Congress adjourned that year. Once home, Mr. Sam’s health failed rapidly. 

Mr. Sam said he went home early because, “Where people know it when you’re sick and where they care when you die,” Mr. Sam died from pancreatic cancer on November 16, 1961, but he had known how ill he was since September and that there was no hope. Sam Taliaferro Rayburn is buried in the Willow Wild Cemetery in Bonham, Texas, in Fannin County. 

Who Attended Sam Rayburn’s Funeral?

In November 1861, Sam Rayburn laid in state at his Rayburn Museum in Bonham, Texas, for 24 hours before being laid to rest on November 18. Sam established his museum in 1957 as a public research center, library, and museum at 800 West Sam Rayburn Drive in Bonham, Texas, as a public research center, library, and museum. Dignitaries attended his funeral at the First Baptist Church in Bonham.

Among the most distinguished U.S. officials who attended Mr. Sam’s funeral were President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and former President Harry S. Truman. Also, the entire Texas Congressional delegation and 105 members of the U.S. Congress attended Mr. Sam’s funeral services. 

Thousands of U.S. Americans slowly paraded by Mr. Sam’s bronze coffin as he lay in state. Texas State Troopers estimated that 15,000 people visited Sam Rayburn lying in state at his museum or attended his funeral. The three TV networks of the day provided live coverage of his funeral services. For this, Mr. Sam used funds from a monetary gift for his impeccable and distinguished service to the U.S. legislative branch to create his museum.

Mr. Sam’s Roots

Mr. Sam’s family, of Ulster Scottish roots, emigrated from Tennessee to Texas in 1887. The Rayburn family settled on a 40-acre cotton farm in Windom, Texas, 11 miles east of Bonham, Texas. They lived in poverty there, as Sam’s mother bore ten children. It was toiling in the fields and the harsh life of the 12-member Rayburn family that inspired Sam to educate himself highly.  

It was the “Great Golden Age of Texas Politics” when Sam, at age eight, with his family, attended a rally in Bonham presented by U.S. Congressman Joseph W. Bailey. After that rally, Sam was enthralled, and as he worked those cotton fields in the blazing hot sun, he pictured himself making captivating political speeches and interacting in debates with current political leaders.

During his flights of imaginary fancy, Sam determined he would follow in the footsteps of influential politicians. Sam quoted, “After I made that decision, it was settled. I never worried a minute after that about what I ought to do or was going to do.” While attending law school, Sam worked as a schoolteacher. 

Sam had not yet earned his law degree when he won his first election as a congressman in the Texas House of Representatives in 1906. He earned his baccalaureate degree in 1903 from the East Texas Normal College (today’s Texas A&M University–Commerce). Sam graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and passed the bar exam in 1908. Texas voters re-elected Sam for three terms, and he became Speaker of the Texas House in 1911 at age 29. 

Photo of Sam Rayburn with Richard Nixon and Ngo Dinh Diem by manhhai.

Kendall Davis
Author: Kendall Davis

Author: Kendall Davis Company: Lumini Services Kendall currently lives on the shores of Lake Texoma in Texas. She traveled across two-thirds of the U.S. for many years camping at lakes, rivers, and three oceans before motels and hotels if at all possible, and she continuously saw God's presence in nature. Writing for Lakehub allows Kendall to share her experience with God's creations.

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