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Chicken Salad Case

Martha Sue Parr General Entry

The "Chicken Salad Case" was involved in the impeachment charges against James E. Ferguson in 1917. On February 11, 1915, the Thirty-fourth legislature passed a deficiency appropriations act providing $2,000 a year for two years for expenses incurred by former Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt for fuel, lights, water, and ice for the governor's mansion, and for food, including "chicken salad and punch," automobile repairs, feed, and stationery for his private use. Although Attorney General Benjamin F. Looney ruled the appropriation invalid, Ferguson signed the bill. Representative W. C. Middleton of Rains County brought suit and on June 12, 1915, was granted a temporary injunction by Judge George Calhoun of the Fifty-third District Court, Austin, restraining comptroller Henry Berryman Terrell from issuing warrants on the state treasury to cover these expenditures.

On appeal by Terrell to the state Supreme Court, transferred to the Court of Civil Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio, Chief Justice William Seat Fly, on June 14, 1916, upheld the lower court, making the injunction perpetual in part. The court ruled that the legislature could appropriate for fuel, water, lights, and ice necessary for the Governor's Mansion, but not for groceries and other personal needs of the governor, which appropriation was held to be contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of 1876 on the governor's salary, casual deficiencies, and prohibition against appropriation for private purposes.

Meanwhile, Ferguson continued to purchase groceries with state money under this appropriation. When questioned before the House Investigation Committee of the Thirty-fifth Legislature on charges of misappropriated funds, he testified under oath that he would repay the state if the Supreme Court decided against him. But in spite of the adverse decision he failed to do so. In September 1917 the High Court of Impeachment held that Ferguson was guilty of a misapplication of appropriations made by the legislature for fuel, lights, ice, and incidentals, in that he used the same in the purchase of groceries, feed, automobile tires, and gasoline for his private use, and that his refusal to repay these funds constituted a continued misapplication of the public funds of Texas.

Proceedings . . . Charges against Governor James E. Ferguson (Austin: Texas House of Representatives, 1917). Record of Proceedings of the High Court of Impeachment on the Trial of Hon. James E. Ferguson, Governor, before the Senate of the State of Texas (Austin: Texas Senate, 1917). Ralph W. Steen, The Political Career of James E. Ferguson, 1914–1917 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Court Cases, Controversies, and Scandals

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Martha Sue Parr, “Chicken Salad Case,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.