Four Wyoming Governors (AHC)
State Historic Site
Kendrick Campaign Card, 1928 (Knudson Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 2016 - December 2016
IN THE EARLY 20th Century, political campaigns rarely lasted more than a few months. John Kendrick, for example, campaigned for a few weeks prior to the 1912 August primary, but didn’t hit the road hard until September and October.
Between September 28 and November 4, 1912, Kendrick kept up a grueling campaign schedule, delivering speeches in at least 26 Wyoming communities. From Smoot and Van Tassell to Grand Encampment and Basin, no community was too small for a campaign stop. Most travel was by train, but a few towns were only accessible by car – cars that were more than once plagued by muddy roads, flat tires and/or complete automotive collapse.
Kendrick discovered early on that the secret to political success in a wide open state like Wyoming was to get out and meet as many people as possible. He didn’t necessarily talk politics with the folks he met; sometimes it was just “shooting the breeze” and learning what it was people were interested in.
As his daughter noted during her campaign swing with him through western Wyoming in the autumn of 1926, it was this subtle approach that made people like him:
Campaigning with my Father is a unique experience. Where ever we encountered hunters, teamsters, postmasters, we stopped for a friendly word, a bit of banter and the inevitable introduction all around. Our conversation was essentially western; it dealt with the crops, livestock, the prospects for winter hunters’ luck, almost everything but politics. As I remember that subject was never referred to except to explain our presence. No heat was developed from these encounters except that of good humor and good fellowship.
DURING THE 1912 campaign, Kendrick’s lack of political experience became abundantly clear. Newspapers repeatedly commented on his poor public speaking style, while he himself – clearly weary from countless days and nights on the road – noted,
My lack of training as a speaker together with an entire absence of preparation leaves me sadly handicapped. … I am not making a very creditable showing, but still retain enough native courage to make the best effort possible under the circumstances. … The only comfort that I am taking out of it is that my connection with it all will probably end with the election.
Not so! Two years later, Kendrick found himself running for office again, this time for Governor of Wyoming. By 1914, Kendrick’s public speaking skills had greatly improved, but his appreciation for campaigning had not increased. As he wrote to Eula,
In all my life I have not been involved in any kind of endeavor that so fully occupied your time and in which the results obtained seemed so vague and uncertain.
BY THE WAY ...
Here’s a little known fact about John B. Kendrick: although a very successful politician later in life, he actually lost his first election! In 1882, he suffered a crushing defeat in the Lance Creek constable election, receiving only three of a possible twenty-two votes. Guess he didn’t campaign very well then, either!