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Dewey S. Short: The Silver-Tongued Orator from Galena

As originally published in "The History of Stone County" Volume I, pages 236-237
by The Stone County Genealogical & Historical Society, reprinted here with permission.

Galena, the county seat of Stone County, was established on the banks of the picturesque James River in 1851. Galena was described as a "dilapidated little town" by General Samuel Curtis during his march through southern Missouri in 1862. After the Civil War, the community grew to become the center of trade in Stone County, but it remained a rural community of the backwoods. All things considered, Galena seemed an unlikely source from which a man of greatness might emerge.

But small towns such as Galena, though short on sophistication, are rich in the qualities which nurture character: industry, honesty, neighborly compassion, and old-fashioned Christian morality. So, to those familiar with the people of the Ozarks, it is not surprising that a man of the stature of Dewey Jackson Short would be born, raised, and prepared for greatness, a11 in the little town of Galena, Missouri.

Born April 7, 1898, to Jackson Grant and Permelia Cordelia Long Short, Dewey Jackson Short would often in years to come remark on his family heritage and allow as to how he was the "long and the short of it." Endowed with a gregarious personality, superior intelligence, and a remarkable gift for oratory, Dewey Short was destined to become known far and wide as the "Orator of the Ozarks," and to serve his district in the U.S. House of Representatives for twenty-four years.

Short graduated from Galena High School in 1915. He then attended Marionville College for two years and received his college degree at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas, in 1919. Having decided to enter the ministry, Short attended Boston College School of Theology from 1919 to 1922, and graduated with honors. Having earned a fellowship to study abroad, Short and his friend, Earl Marlatt, traveled to Europe to study at Berlin, Heidelburg and Oxford in 1922-23. Short then became Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas.

In 1928, Short ran successfully for the congressional seat in the 14th district which extended from Stone County on the west to the Mississippi River on the east. After serving one term, he was defeated in the Democratic landslide of 1930 following the onslaught of the Great Depression which gave the Republican Party a setback for several years.

After traveling again in Europe and visiting the Soviet Union, Short ran unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate in 1932. In 1934, however, he captured the congressiona1 seat in the newly formed 7th district of southwest Missouri, a position he held until his eventual defeat in 1956.

Short gained statewide attention for his speaking abilities after his splendid address to the Republican faithful assembled at the Lincoln Day festivities in Springfield on February 12, 1926. Short's speech, "Republicanism and Americanism," created a sensation and placed him in great demand for speaking engagements throughout Missouri.

In 1935, Short's oratorical flair became the subject of national attention. Short was highly distressed by the New Deal's concentration of power in the federal government. He felt that the freedoms of the people were being eroded by the ever increasing bureaucractic agencies spawned by the New Deal. On January 23, 1935, he unleased a stinging verbal attack on the Congress for its participation in this process, saying:

Short's tirade drew national news coverage, and Time magazine carried his picture and termed the speech "notable," done in "his best revivalistic style." Short had made his mark as a major opponent of New Deal policies, and, thereafter, his voice was heard often in the halls of Congress and at meetings and rallies throughout the country.

In one memorable exchange of verbal barbs on the House floor, Short's knowledge of his home state was questioned by a Democratic colleague from Kentucky. Short replied, saying: "I have been farther back under my barn hunting for eggs than the gentlemen from Kentucky has ever been away from home."

In 1937, Short commented on a condition still prevalent today, saying that the people "seem today to be suffering with the 'gim-mes.' It is 'gim-me this and gim-me that.' There is very little difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to that sad affliction."

Short held nothing back in criticizing the New Deal. He once said, "Mr. Jefferson founded the Democratic Party President Roosevelt has dumfounded it.' And while praising Alf Landon, he sniped at FDR Postmaster General Jim Farley, saying, "He is not exactly like some men I know who care no more for their word than a tomcat cares for a marriage license in a back alley on the blackest night."

Short was a staunch believer in individual initiative. He said: "I have always been old-fashioned enough to believe it is much better to 'git up and get' than it is to 'sit down and set.' The only animal I know which can sit and still produce dividends is the old hen."

Short predicted that if the trend of the times was not checked the country ran the "danger of fostering a generation of beggars and mendicants." Though not opposed to progress, Short said: "I know that without change there would be no progress, but I am not going to mistake mere change for progress."

Short never lost his affection and pride for his modest upbringing in Stone County. Speaking to a gathering at Chicago in 1938, he said: "Really, I am just a plain, ordinary country boy, a native hi11bi11y from the Ozarks in southwest Missouri, where we still cover our houses with bull hides and use their tails for lightning rods."

Even Short's political opponents recognized his great talents and ability. After one of Short's oratorical displays in the House of Representatives, one of his Democratic colleagues remarked:

During World War II, Short served on the Military Affairs Committee of the House. After the war, he traveled to Europe to survey the tragic scene. He rose to the position of Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee (later known as the Armed Services Committee) during the only two sessions in this era when the Repubhcans commanded a majority in the House.

Defeated by Democrat Charlie Brown in 1956, after serving twenty-four years in Congress, Short was appointed by President Eisenhower in 1957 to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Army. In this capacity he had the privilege of dedicating the Table Rock Dam in Stone County, a project for which he had long labored. At the conclusion of the Eisenhower administration, Short retired from public service in 1961.

Dewey Jackson Short died on November 19, 1979. As he requested, his body was returned to Galena for burial in the cemetery on top of the hill overlooking the town.

The Dewey Short Visitors' Center at Table Rock Dam was named in his honor, and the Dewey J. Short Memorial Museum in Galena is a lasting tribute to the memory of a famous native son. But the most enduring legacy of this famous statesman is the lifetime of dedicated public service and advocacy of the individual freedom exemplified by the life of Dewey J. Short, the Silver Tongued Orator of the Ozarks.

by Robert S. Wiley

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© 1996, 1997 Jo Dunne