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Official portrait of Texas Governor John B. Connally. Credit: Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Governor John Connally and Traces of the JFK Assassination in the GLO Archives

The act of signing one’s name dates back thousands of years, with examples occurring in Sumerian, Greek, and Roman cultures.[1] Its modern usage of expressing identity and authority in a legal context traces its origins to the Statute of Frauds, passed by the English Parliament in 1677, which legally mandated that contracts must be signed.[2] Signatures serve the practical purpose of identifying the signee, but they can also reflect one’s political allegiance, personality, or, in some cases, their life experiences.

For example, signatures on various GLO documents offer different perspectives on the people who put pen to paper. Stephen F. Austin signed the titles he issued as Estevan F. Austin, acknowledging his Mexican citizenship and political allegiance. James Bowie’s signature included a tornado-like paraph, possibly indicative of his frontiersman personality. GLO Commissioner Thomas William Ward had his right hand blown off by an errant cannon, thus causing him to learn to write with his left hand and altering the alignment of his signature. Sam Houston’s bold, flourishing signature dwarfs the surrounding text, much like the legend of the man himself.

Examples of signatures of various revolutionary figures found in the Archives of the GLO.

Typically, people don’t associate the General Land Office with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy was killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963, an event which changed the course of American history, its effects rippling through domestic and international politics for decades. That the killing occurred in Texas is enough to tie it intrinsically to Texas’ history. The records of the Texas General Land Office Archives provide a tangible reminder of the day that took the life of the president and nearly that of Texas Governor John Bowden Connally, Jr. Governor Connally’s changing signature on land patents before, immediately following, and months after his wounding is an indirect reminder of the violence that was perpetrated that day.

Connally was born on February 27, 1917, on a farm southeast of San Antonio.[3] A graduate of the University of Texas law school, his first political position was a legislative assistant to Representative Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he viewed as a mentor. During World War II, Connally enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserves and served in the Pacific Theater as an aircraft carrier fighter director, where he was promoted to lieutenant commander before returning home at the end of the war. He returned to politics, working alongside the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson, Sid W. Richardson, and Sam Rayburn over the next several decades. He served in President Kennedy’s cabinet as Secretary of the Navy in 1961 before being elected governor of Texas in 1962.

President and Mrs. Kennedy depart San Antonio Airport with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie. Credit: Art Rickerby/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

It was in his role as governor that Connally and his wife, Nellie, rode with President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, in an open-topped convertible through the streets of Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald opened fire on the motorcade as it passed through Dealey Plaza, mortally wounding Kennedy and injuring Connally in the back, chest, wrist, and thigh. Although he made a full recovery, evidence of his wounds remained.[4]

As governor, one of Connally’s duties was to sign land patents issued by the General Land Office. A patent is the written evidence provided by the government to a private individual or entity showing the conveyance of the government’s right, title, and interest to a portion of the public domain described in the instrument. In Texas, patents were first issued by the government of the Republic of Texas, and the practice was carried over after annexation to the United States.[5] When a patent is issued, the original document is provided to the recipient (patentee) to file with the relevant county clerk, and an administrative copy remains in the Land Office Archives.

Detail of the patent containing Connally’s last signature prior to JFK assassination. Patent Number 294, Volume 33B, Patent Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Initially, the original patent would bear the signatures of both the land commissioner and the governor (or, under the Republic, the president), whereas the administrative copy would have the names written in by a clerk. By the time Connally was serving as governor, however, the administrative copies included the officials’ signatures as well. It is these signatures that provide a reminder of the tragedy that befell Kennedy and Connally in Dallas.

The last patent signed by Connally prior to November 22, 1963, is dated October 31, 1963. His signature on this document, Patent Number 294 in Volume 33B, is steady and defined. On the first patent signed by Connally after the assassination, Patent Number 296, dated November 27, 1963, his signature was stamped because his right wrist was severely wounded in the attack.[6] By December 16, he had begun including the handwritten initials “JC” along with the stamped signature.

(Left) Detail of the patent containing Connally’s first stamped signature after the JFK assassination. Patent Number 296, Volume 33B. (Right) Detail of the patent containing Connally’s first stamped signature with handwritten initials. Patent Number 311, Volume 33B, Patent Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Finally, by January 7, 1964, about a month and a half after his injuries were sustained, Connally had rehabilitated his wrist to the point where he could execute his full signature on Patent Number 327 of Volume 33B. The governor’s signature appears quite different, with the shape of letters, spacing, and angles all affected. By the end of March, Connally’s signature once again closely resembled its pre-injury form.

Detail of the patent containing Connally’s first fully handwritten signature after the JFK assassination. Patent Number 327, Volume 33B, Patent Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
By the end of March 1964, Connally’s signature appeared very similar to its form before he was shot. Patent Number 443, Volume 33B, Patent Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Serving as governor of Texas was just one era of Connally’s lengthy, if controversial, political career. After leaving office in Austin, he was Secretary of the Treasury for over a year under President Richard Nixon (causing his signature to appear on U.S. currency), headed the “Democrats for Nixon” campaign, and was considered a candidate to replace Spiro Agnew as Vice President after Agnew resigned amid the Watergate scandal. Connally launched his own unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in 1980, his last attempt at seeking public office.

[enlarged detail] As Secretary of the Treasury, Connally’s signature appeared on U.S. currency.

The varied signatures of John B. Connally — a man with a decades-spanning legacy intertwining Texas and national politics, war, assassination, and scandal — appear on inconspicuous administrative records at the General Land Office and provide a subtle reminder of a momentous historical occasion.

[1] “The History of the Signature,” 19 February 2016. https://legalesign.com/blog/history-of-signatures/. Accessed May 9, 2018.

[2] “Statute of Frauds (1677).” https://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/Cha2/29/3/section/IV. Accessed May 9, 2018.

[3] Handbook of Texas Online, Walter H. Gray, “Connally, John Bowden, Jr.,” accessed May 09, 2018, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcosf. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 29, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[4] “The Testimony of John B. Connally.” Accessed May 9, 2018. http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/testimony/conn_j.htm

[5] Prior to its independence, Spain and Mexico granted land in Texas by title. Although the administrative processes to obtain a title and a patent were different, the documents served the same basic function, and Spanish and Mexican titles remain valid to this day.

[6] Between Patents #294 and 296, #295 was signed on November 14, 1963, by President Pro Tempore of the Senate Louis Crump.

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