Linda Huffman tells of life with 'Uncle Earl'
By James Ronald Skains
Linda Huffman Cox is the daughter of Clem Andrew Huffman, the long time manager of Governor Earl K. Long's Pea Patch Farm and hog hunting companion. To Linda, Uncle Earl was her adopted Grandfather and Earl treated her as such.
"I never had a birthday or special event until I was nineteen that I did not get a card and a gift from 'Mister Earl'," Linda told the Piney Woods Journal. "He never took a trip that he didn't send me cards and presents."
"Actually Mister Earl and Miss Blanche wanted to adopt me," Linda said. "I was born on January 31, 1942 and Mister Earl and Miss Blanche were at the clinic in Winnfield with my Mom and Dad that night."
"They had been talking with my Mom and Dad for several weeks about adopting me," Linda recalled from family history related to her. "Mister Earl and Miss Blanche kept telling my Mom and Dad, ya'll are young and will probably have several other kids while we don't have any."
"Mister Earl was 47 at the time and my Dad was 26 and Mother was 23," Linda related. "Ironically, my parents did not have anymore children so I was an only child."
"However, I did grow up with three sets of Grandparents which made life very enjoyable for a kid," Linda noted. "Mom and Dad did let Miss Blanche name me and she choose Linda Lois. Lois was also my mother's first name."
"For the first few years of my life, we lived with Mister Earl and Miss Blanche in what they called the Cotton House which is now part of the Crawford Ranch on the Possum Neck Road," Linda explained. "Now I think the Possum Neck Road is now known as the Horseshoe Road in Winnfield."
Uncle Earl made what might have been the last cattle drive in Winn Parish when he moved his herd of cows from the Crawford Ranch to the Pea Patch. He herded his cows out onto the Possum Neck Road and with his 'cowboys' keeping the cattle out of people's yards and gardens drove the herd the short distance down to the Pea Patch.
"Later, we lived for a short time at the Pea Patch which in reality became my second home," Linda noted. "Although my Dad and Mom moved to a house east of Winnfield, we still spent a lot of time at the Pea Patch."
"When Mister Earl and Miss Blanche were in the house, and my dad got up to make coffee about 5:00 a.m. every morning, Mister Earl would holler at him, 'Clem', bring me some coffee and then bring that baby in here," Linda remembered from family stories. "That was their morning routine."
"Then Mister Earl and Miss Blanche would put me in their bed with them and play with me," Linda pointed out. "After my Mom and Dad, Mister Earl and Miss Blanche were the first people that I became aware of as a young child."
Linda Huffman Cox now lives in Gatesville, Texas near her two children, Russ and Chrystal. Her father, Clem Andrew Huffman died in 2007 at the age 91, perhaps closing out a chapter of era of the person who probably best knew Governor Earl K. Long.
"I was too young to remember much about the campaign of 1948 when Mister Earl became Governor of Louisiana for the second time," Linda recalled. "However, I do remember some of the political talk at the Pea Patch and how excited everyone was."
"The night of the election, Mister Earl called Daddy late that night and told him, Clem, I've won so you can go to bed," Linda said. "That became somewhat of an election night tradition, Mister Earl always called Daddy late on the night when then counted the votes and told him the results."
The Long political dynasty begin in 1918 with the election of country lawyer Huey P. Long to the Louisiana Railroad Commission, the forerunner of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. In 1928, Huey Long became Governor of Louisiana and ushered in the era of "politics galore."
Earl K. Long was first elected to office as Lt. Governor in 1936. He moved up to Governor upon the resignation of the Governor, Richard Leshe in 1938. He unsuccessfully ran for a full term in 1940 losing to fellow Piney Woods politico, Jimmie Davis, then was elected for his first full term in 1948.
"It was in the 1956 election that I got my first real taste of politics," Linda recalled. "During the campaign at night we would go out in my Dad's truck to put up signs," Linda explained. "I got to where I could jump out of the truck and nail up a sign as fast as anyone. It was also the tradition back in those days that while you were putting up signs for Mister Earl, you took down any signs of his opponents."
"I also got to ride in the sound truck and play the records for Mister Earl on the days of his campaign speeches," Linda remembered.
"He let me keep all the records after the campaign, so I had a very large collection for that time," Linda emphasized. "However, there was one record that was never played during a Mister Earl campaign and that was "You are My Sunshine," the song written and made popular by his political opponent Jimmie Davis.
"In fact I was prohibited from ever playing that record when we would be at the Pea Patch or when Mister Earl and Miss Blanche was visiting our house on the Tullos Highway," Linda noted with a laugh.
After a first primary win in 1956, he was prohibited by law from seeking a second consecutive term as Governor. Not wanting to leave the Louisiana political arena, Uncle Earl ran for Lt. Governor on former Governor Jimmie Noe's ticket. However, burdened with such things, the "Wild West Trip" he was unsuccessful.
"What has become known as Mister Earl's Wild West trip was a very painful time for everyone close to Mister Earl," Linda stated. "There were two things that I vividly remember about that trip. First, that every night while he was in Texas, he would call my Dad and talk for a long time," Linda remembered. "My Dad would keep telling him to come back home, relax, rest up and see Dr. Moseley."
"The second thing that I remember about that trip was that every day I got a card from Mister Earl and most days I got presents, usually clothes or shoes," Linda said. "He always remembered what sizes I wore no matter what else was going on in his life."
"In 1954, when Mister Earl had his first heart attack, he was here in the hospital in Winnfield," Linda explained. "Everyday after school, I would go up to the hospital and sit with Miss Blanche."
"They had given her a room across the hall from Mister Earl so she could keep an eye on him and whoever was trying to get in to see him," Linda recalled. "I will never forget the flowers that were sent to him at the hospital."
"The hallways were lined with flowers from his many friends and political supporters," Linda said. "Everyday more flowers came in so Miss Blanche would keep the cards but give the flowers to other people in the hospital and also to a lot of the local churches."
"While Mister Earl was out of office, he still had a lot of visitors," Linda noted. "It depended on whether he was in office or out of office as to who the people were."
"Also, Mister Earl when he was out of office spent a lot of time hog hunting," Linda pointed out. "I never was allowed to go on the hog hunts, but a soon as they got back with the hogs and the cleaning and cutting began, I was in the middle of that."
"I stuffed sausage, helped my Dad cook out the fat for lard, smoked hams and shoulders," Linda remembered. "I guess I was the boy that my Dad never had, but always wanted."
After losing his race for Lt. Governor in 1959, Earl Long decided to run for Congress in 1960 against incumbent Harold McSween of Alexandria. Against overwhelming odds and a very small campaign budget, Uncle Earl was elected to Congress from the then 8th Congressional District of Louisiana.
However, exhausted from the campaign and in bad health with a heart condition, Earl K. long died on September 6, 1960 without ever taking office as a Congressman.
Note: This is the first in a series of article about Linda Huffman and her unique connection to Uncle Earl.