The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975 Page: 141
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Sam Rayburn and the Development of Public Power
Congressman Sam Rayburn, whose district included the site of the pro-
posed dam at Denison, had grown up on a small and poor cotton farm
in the area, and he knew first-hand the hardship and drudgery of a life
with kerosene lanterns, hand-pumped wells, and outdoor privies. He was
aware that the privately owned utility companies had no interest in the rural
market and agreed that the only solution was through public development
and operation of the water resources in the area. He quite naturally repre-
sented the local interests in Congress, and part of his work was the regular
duty of any congressman pressing for a federal project in his district. But
Rayburn went beyond the ordinary, demonstrating an unusual devotion to
hometown detail: he organized the Red River Flood Control Association;
he arranged for spokesmen to testify before congressional committees; he
persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to survey the site of the proposed
dam; he was always the principal figure responsible for each new achieve-
ment in the struggle to transform a rampaging river into a source of energy
for rural electrification. Rayburn won congressional approval of the dam
in 1938. It was built during World War II and went into operation in
The Norfork project was founded along the same lines. Agitation for the
dam was local until 1938, when Clyde T. Ellis was elected to represent the
congressional district in which the Norfork site is located. He won his seat
with a call for federal resource development and rural electrification, hav-
ing already established himself as a proponent of public rural electrification
in the state legislature where he had served two terms. He arrived in Wash-
ington while Rayburn was maneuvering for approval of the Denison
Among Ellis's first contacts was Rayburn, now House Majority leader,
and the dependence of the freshman representative on the veteran legislator
Mississippi River: Hearings ...: Part 3, April 28 to May 2, 1930, 7Ist Cong., 2nd Sess.,
746-747 (quotation). Electric companies throughout the United States had no interest
in the rural market and those operating in the Southwest were no exception. The prin-
cipal companies discussed in this paper are: Texas Power and Light Company, Oklahoma
Gas and Electric Company, Southwestern Gas and Electric Company, Arkansas Power
and Light Company, Oklahoma Power and Water, and Public Service Company of
Oklahoma. The cost of electricity for urban or rural service varied from one locale to
another. Rural rates were set by charging the urban rate and a surcharge. See Morris
L. Cooke, "A Note on Rates for Rural Electric Service," Annals of the American Acad-
emy of Political and Social Science, CXVII (March, 1925), 52-59.
2Sherman Daily Democrat, June 19, 1938; Dallas Times Herald, August 7, 1943;
United States Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Secretary of the In-
terior: Fiscal Year Ended June 30o, 1945 (Washington, D.C., I945), 68.
sUnited States Congress, Congressional Record, 77th Cong., Ist Sess., LXXXVII, Pt.
Is, Appendix, pp. 2621-2622; Clyde T. Ellis, A Giant Step (New York, 1966), 30.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975, periodical, 1974/1975; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117149/m1/176/: accessed January 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.