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Dallas in '40s
Described by
A. H. Ellett


Wooden Bridge Crossed
Dallas Branch on Com-
merce Street.


Built First Mill

Pioneer Merchants Had
Store When the City
Burned in 1860.


     "My father, Joseph W. Ellett, a native of Virginia, came to Texas from Mississippi, some time in the '40s, lived a short time in Bowie or Cass County, and settled at Dallas," said Alfred H. Ellett, of San Angelo, who is in Dallas on business.  "My mother, who was Elizabeth Ellis, came to Texas with her parents.  She and father were married in East Texas just before they came to Dallas.  At Dallas, father bought a tract of land bounded on the north by what is now Commerce street. He built a dwelling on the hill, on the south side of Commerce street, about where Browder street ends, and there I was born in 1859.  His horse lot is now the site of the Baker Hotel.  His peach orchard and cornfield extended as far west as the Santa Fe Building.  There was a road or trail where Commerce street now is, and a wooden bridge across Dallas Branch, in front of the Santa Fe Building.  I have always remembered the bridge from the exciting circumstance that one of our negro women, who had been to town, undertook to cross it, just at the moment the back water from a freshet in the river set it afloat and threw her into the creek up to her neck.  My earliest picture of Dallas presents it as a village around the courthouse.  The parts of the city between Commerce street and Pacific avenue were a dense cedar brake, with a pond or lake here and there, and a creek, Dallas Branch, full of fish and good swimming holes.

Pioneer Dallas Merchant.
     "Father was the third or fourth merchant to open a store in Dallas, but I can not tell the year.  He was a merchant when I was born, and, boylike, I supposed he had always been a merchant.  Besides a general store, he had a drug store, and John Laws, father of the late Robert (Bob) Laws, was his clerk.  It was in this drug store that the fire which destroyed Dallas in 1860 started.  Both of his establishments went up in smoke.  I was only a year old at the time of the fire, and, of course, what I know about it came by hearsay.  But, the accounts that reached me were very different from what have been handed down as the facts.
     "Father and J. W. Record built the first grist and saw mill that was set up in this part of the country, and, for a long time, they had no opposition.  Their mill was at Record's Crossing, a few miles above Dallas.  Going to mill in those days involved a long journey for some people, for grist came to father's mill within a radius of 100 or 200 miles of Dallas, and even from Mexico.  An important adjunct of the mill was a wild hog claim father had in the woods in the bottom between Elm Fork and West Fork, a jungle which was known as Bear Thicket, from the fact that it was full of bears, with wolves, panthers and wild cats as companions, and no end of turkeys for the wolves and wild cats to prey upon.
     "Father used the waste of his mill as a connecting link between him and the hogs, and as a means of getting hold of the pigs to mark them.  He trained them to know, that when he sounded his horn, there was a feed coming.  It was an event when he took the negroes along to assist in tolling the hogs into a corral for the purpose of catching and marking the pigs.  But, the big thing came off when he took the negroes, dogs and wagons into the woods for a killing in the winter, when the porkers had grown fat on the mast.  It was like hunting any other wild animals, a chase, but the hogs had a way, when flight was out of the question, of coming to a stand and putting up a fight.  The old males, going through the preliminaries of whetting their tusks and generating clouds of foam by champing their jaws, would charge men and dogs, and make a scatteration of them, such as the tanks made of the ranks of enemy in the late World War.  Often, the hunters brought the dogs home all cut to pieces.  These hunts must have yielded whole clusters of bristling thrills to the hunters.

Bear and Deer Hunters.
     "Among father's friends were the Peaks, the Records, the Stegalls, Judge Nat M. Burford, Col. John C. McCoy, Judge W. H. Hord, Capt. W. H. and John Gaston, Henry Lively, W. B. Miller, William and Watt Caruth.  This party went on many a deer and bear hunt.  Father always carried his gun to the mill, and every day or two, he would come home with the carcass of a deer across his saddle bow.  In 1870, father sold out his interests at Dallas and moved to Cleburne, and, with the exception of a few years at Fort Worth, Cleburne was his home until he died.  Mother died in Coryell County and was buried at Cleburne.  My sister, Lizzie, who became Mrs. G. W. Wade, died at Temple.  Sister Ella, Mrs. Ella Tatum, is a resident of Fort Worth.  My brother, John Lee Townes Ellett, once well known in Dallas, died at Fort Worth in 1872.
     "More than fifty years ago, Uncle John A. Knight, who had extensive cattle interests, started me as a cowpuncher in Palo Pinto County.  I made a number of trips over the trail, starting from various sections of the State, sometimes on the coast, and delivering the cattle at Hunnewell, or Dodge City, Kan.  We were on the way from three to four months or longer, according to the distance of the point from which we started.  The public has heard a great deal in recent years about the Chisholm Trail, the Santa Fe trail, and I know not what other trails.  The writers on these matters give the impression that these routes were definitely marked out, and one herd followed close on the heels of another over them, turning neither to right nor left.  I doubt whether there ever was a man who could show anybody the way over the Chisholm trail, or over any other trail.  The truth is, that cattle were driven over no fixed routes, nor, in the nature of things, could they have been.  It is a long way from the Louisiana line to the Rio Grande, and another long way from the coast to Oklahoma, and herds were gathered in all parts of this vast territory and driven to Kansas.  Most of the herds went by Doan's Store, a great trading point, just north of Vernon, and probably traversed nearly the same route from there, north, but they got to Doan's Store from various directions.  Chisholm was one of the early day cattlemen on a large scale in Texas, and was, no doubt, among the first to drive cattle to Kansas, and thus, to blaze the way to the Kansas market, but to say that the route over which he drove his cattle was also the route of the thousands of herds driven to Kansas in the years following, is absurd on the face of it.  Cattle moving north were always headed in the direction that afforded the most convenient water holes, with no thought of whether the route had ever been traversed before, or not.

Turns "Boomer."
     "I led the life of a cowpuncher ten or twelve years, and then plunged into the Northwest, when developments were beginning in that region in the early 80s.  I became a member of a company which organized two trade papers at Salt Lake -- the Mining News and the Irrigation News, and, as agent of the two publications, I traveled all over the mining regions and the irrigation districts of the Rocky Mountain country, all the way to Southern California.  Severing my connection with this company, I traveled in Canada, Cuba and Old Mexico.
     "In 1909, I went with the Florida Everglades Land Company, an organization of English and Scottish multi-millionaires of Colorado Springs.  The company bought 800,000 acres of land in the everglades of Florida, paying $2 an acre for it, and by cutting canals, reclaimed 400,000 acres of the finest land in the world, the soil of unknown depth, being composed exclusively of [vegetative] matter. This land, the company put on the market at $24 an acre, and I [later] [be]came superintendent and agent in charge of the field forces.  This land produces sixty-eight kinds of fruit and all kinds of vegetables and truck that will flourish in the subtropics, and is now worth all the way from $1,000 to $3,000 an acre.  The World War dispersed our forces.
     "The lands south of San Antonio and in the Lower Rio Grande Valley will, in my opinion, be the next to be developed on a large scale.  I look for great activity in that section during the next five years.  These lands are unsurpassed in fertility, and as has been demonstrated, will grow all the subtropic fruits and vegetables, and, with the aid of smudge pots, many of the tropical fruits."

- July 11, 1926, The Dallas Morning News,
Section III, p. 10, 1-3.
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