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"Big Sam" Harris

Written by Gene Fowler.

Untold numbers of skyscraping gents toured the country as “Texas Giants” (see Speaking of Texas, July 2000), but at least one Lone Star son won fame for his horizontal dimensions. Vertically, Sam Harris (1873-1924) of Farmersville soared to a mere 6 feet, 2 inches. But in his prime, the 731-pound “Texas Kid” was described by carnival barkers as the “World’s Heaviest Man.”

Farmersville historian Charlie Rike wrote that Sam began to pack on the pounds after suffering from typhoid fever as a young man. When fully grown, Sam served for a time as the town marshal. His intimidating size made it unnecessary for him to carry a weapon—he could simply pick up a lawbreaker and tote him off to jail. Resisting arrest was unheard of in the days when Marshal Sam wore the star.

Folks marveled at the strength of “Big Sam” for decades after his death, and even today he remains a local legend. Old-timers recall stories of Sam’s entering a burning building to push a 2,000-pound safe out of harm’s way. Sam himself allowed that he could “lift anything that is loose at both ends.”

Serving as mascot for the Farmersville Woodmen of the World, Sam even caught the attention of world-weary New Yorkers when he sauntered through the Big Apple wearing his custom-made W.O.W. uniform and carrying a giant axe. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! increased his renown when it weighed in on his Texas-size frame around 1920.

Like extra-tall Texans, extra-wide Sam had to have his clothing and furniture specially made. He rode around Farmersville in a one-of-a-kind buggy pulled by a team of white mules, or in a customized truck that featured a canopy over a platform with a settee in the center. Years before his death, Sam ordered a coffin built large enough to sleep four men of average size. Charlie Rike recorded that thousands attended Sam’s funeral. Too large for a hearse, Sam, who died of pneumonia at age 51, took his final ride in a truck.

In an interview in 1964, Sam’s son John (Sam and his wife had eight children) said people from all over the country still stopped in Farmersville to inquire about his larger-than-life pop. John recalled him as “just a good father…. He used to take us swimming a lot. He would float on his back while us kids climbed up on him and dived off.”

Others also remembered the “jovial giant” fondly. “You might say,” said local feed-store owner Coleman Jennings, “that most of him was heart.”

From the January 2007 issue.

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