Lesser known than his Progressive predecessors, including Governor Charles B. Aycock, the “Little Giant of the West” nevertheless implemented significant conservation and transportation programs. Early in his political career, Locke Craig was a Populist who supported William Jennings Bryan’s presidential candidacies; however, the Buncombe countian soon worked to help the White Supremacy movement regain control of North Carolina, became a Democrat who served in the North Carolina House and lost the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. He became Governor of North Carolina in 1912.
A Bertie County native, Locke Craig attended UNC. After having a less-than-perfect teaching experience at UNC, Craig pursued a legal profession. After being admitted into the North Carolina bar in 1882, he moved to the mountains, married Annie Burgin, and started a family.
His start in politics began in the Populist movement but he soon joined forces with Democrats in the White Supremacy campaign of 1898. He soon won election to the state House and served two terms. As a state legislator (1899 and 1901 sessions), he earned a reputation for being a good speaker and became known to his counterparts as the “Little Giant of the West”; for like Stephen Douglas, the U.S. Senator who debated Abraham Lincoln in 1858, Craig was short of stature but large in presence and oratorical skill. As a state legislator, he brought impeachment charges against state Supreme Court Chief Justice David M. Furches and Associate Justice Robert M. Douglas. According to historian William S. Powell, the impeachment proceedings reflected a partisan fear that Republican justices would order the repayment of Reconstruction bonds. The justices, however, were found not guilty.After failing to gain the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate and losing his first gubernatorial election, Locke Craig was successful in 1912. Of the votes cast, Craig received 149,974; Republican Thomas Settle had 43,625; Progressive candidate Iredell Meares received 49,930; and Socialist candidate H.E. Hodges had only 944. As governor, Locke Craig gained a reputation for being concerned with environmental conservation and for road construction and transportation improvement. Reflecting back on his Populist days, Craig worked diligently to remove what he considered an unfair railroad freight structure that negatively affected North Carolina. He created the State Highway Commission and highway mileage in North Carolina increased from 5,000 to 15,000. In regards to conservation, Craig played a leading role in the development of Pisgah National Forest and he was instrumental in the development of North Carolina’s first state park: Mount Mitchell.An interesting feature of Craig’s gubernatorial administration is his hearkening back to a concern expressed during his state legislative years. Governor Craig worked to ensure that Cuba could not claim repayment for Reconstruction bonds. When his gubernatorial service was finished, Craig returned to his mountain home and reopened his law practice in Asheville. He died in 1924.