Far from the only political figure to emerge from Martinsville, Indiana, Emmett Forrest Branch‘s reign was perhaps one of the most short lived. He served as the 31st Governor of Indiana from April 30, 1924 to January 12, 1925, a term of less than a year that’s only topped (or bottomed?) by the 13th Governor of Indiana, Crawfordsville‘s Henry Smith Lane, who was only in office for two days. Branch was made governor not because he won an election but because of the illicit dealings of his predecessor, Warren T. McCray. Nevertheless, Branch served his time as the governor well and retired from politics after his short term was over. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, and born Hoosier, Emmett Forrest Branch holds a place in United States and Indiana history.
Emmett Forrest Branch was born in Martinsville, Indiana in 1874. His name could be considered unfortunate until you look at the branding hardships endured by Emmett’s siblings, Olive Branch, Leafy Branch, and Frank Oaks Branch. Despite the family’s silly penchant for naming, the Branch family had a long history in Indiana politics. Branch’s grandfather and great grandfather were both Indiana senators in their time, and his father was a Republican who was involved in Indiana state government. Emmett Branch also began his academic career on a political tack; after graduating from high school, he enrolled in Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana (where he also played on the Indiana college‘s baseball team). He graduated from Indiana University in 1896 and was admitted to the bar just three years later, in 1899.
Emmett Forrest Branch first enlisted in the military to serve in the Spanish-American War. He entered Indiana politics after that war finished, but he would be involved in two more American wars, the Mexican Border War (in which he served from 1903 to 1909) and World War I (where he served from 1916 to 1917). When Branch returned from the Spanish-American War in 1901, he settled down in Martinsville with his wife and son. 1902 marked Branch’s first successful foray into Indiana politics, when he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, a position that would eventually culminate in his appointment as Speaker of the House in 1907 and 1908. After his time as Speaker was finished, Branch returned to his Martinsville law practice. However, history came calling ten years later in 1920, when Branch was nominated to run for lieutenant governor. He won the race and took his post later that year.
Emmett Forrest Branch’s rise to the governorship was unexpected and abrupt. The former governor, Warren T. McCray, had been involved in bitter legislation against the then powerful Ku Klux Klan. His honorable cause was undone by his dishonorable actions: he had participated in several cases of mail fraud, practices which the KKK eventually exposed and used to remove McCray from office. As lieutenant governor, Emmett Branch was forced to fill the office after McCray was sentenced to ten years in prison. Since his term was so short, Branch didn’t enact too many new policies or push for vast reform. Instead, he was content to continue the efforts of his predecessor, and he saw many of McCray’s projects to completion. He finished a new state prison, expanded Indiana’s highway system, and improved a school for the blind. He also oversaw the completion of Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, an Indianapolis health institution that’s now one of the leading hospitals for children in the country.
After his short term as governor, Emmett Forrest Branch left politics, returned to Martinsville, and spent most of his final years practicing law and managing the Branch Grain and Seed Company and the Martinsville Trust Company. Though he only spent less than a year as the 31st governor of Indiana, Emmett Forrest Branch did the best he could in difficult circumstances. This famous Martinsville person held his office with dignity and managed to complete several important projects, despite his sudden ascension. One of a long line of Indiana politicians, Emmett Forrest Branch did his family – and his state – proud.
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