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Roads to Dallas Also
Highways' Problem in
Early Days of State

BY W. S. ADAIR

     "Amos McCommas, my great-grandfather, moved from Missouri to Texas in the spring of 1843, in the days of the Republic," said John McCommas, 4303 Travis avenue."  With his row of covered wagons, he brought his horses, cattle, mules, chickens, slaves and household effects.  His four sons, John , Elisha, Melton and Steve, were afterward, well known in the county.  He traded twenty head of Missouri ponies for a section of land, and built a house on it, six miles northeast of the courthouse, three years before the county was organized.  There were few settlers in this part of the country, and the Indians were not far away.  John Neely Bryan, his dog and his cabin, constituted the greater part of Dallas.  Cedar Springs, Lancaster, Scyene and Trinity Mills were larger villages.  In fact, in the county seat election in 1846, Scyene came within a few votes of winning the contest.  Other candidates were Cedar Springs and Hord's Ridge, although there was nothing at Hord's Ridge, except the dwelling of Judge Hord, which was near the Dallas Zoo.
     "But, even before the county was organized, Dallas had become something of a trading point, and after that, it got a postoffice, with John Neely as postmaster, and from that time on, it slowly, but steadily, grew in importance.

Bumper Crops.
    "The early settlers actually did raise bumper crops, though there was little incentive for them to cultivate the land, the markets being so far away, that they could not realize on what they produced.  The prairies were covered to the choking point with the most nutritive grass in the world all summer, and with the best of hay all winter, so that it cost nothing to engage in the cattle and horse-breeding business.  All the old-timers agreed that it was nothing to raise fifty to seventy-five bushels of corn to the acre, forty bushels of wheat, 100 bushels of oats, and a bale of cotton, and that without cultivation, since there were no weeds, which, it seems, do not appear until the farmer begins to meddle with nature -- the weeds and the hoe go together.
     "Settlers drove their cattle and horses to Jefferson, Shreveport or New Orleans, and hauled their cotton, flour and meal to Jefferson and brought back their supplies.  After the Civil War, freighting became the best paying business in this region, and Amos McCommas was among the first to engage regularly in it.

Scyene a Manufacturing Center.
     "In 1866, Amos McCommas bought a tract of land on Prairie Creek and settled at Scyene, which was a more flourishing trading point than Dallas.  It had twenty-six business concerns, including six saloons and a plant for manufacturing hoes, plows and wagons. Scyene wagons, made of bois d'arc, the most enduring of timber, outlasted all other wagons.  Amos McCommas delivered freight as far out as Weatherford and Cleburne, which were then the extreme outposts of civilization.  He hauled from Jefferson, lumber to build himself a dwelling, barns and corncribs.  He must have built for the future, for these buildings are still standing and in fairly good condition, and may be seen just to the right, going east, of the point where the Dallas-Mesquite road make the turn in Scyene.
     "The high point on the road between Dallas and Jefferson was Blackjack Grove, a collection of saloons, gambling dives and dance halls, the rendezvous of all the outlaws in this end of the country. Blackjack Grove had a killing almost every day, and sometimes two, rather than one.  The place got such a bad name, that when it settled down to something like order and law, the people, as a move toward burying the past, changed the name of it to Cumby.
     "The freighters lashed two or more wagons together, freight-train fashion, and used oxen for motive power, several yoke to a train. They moved one outfit close behind another, so that they might assist one another when they got stuck in the mud, for there were neither roads, nor bridges.  Before the day of fences, the traveler took the nearest cut across country, using a compass when he was afraid to trust his natural sense of direction.  Many of the saddles were made with compasses in the pommels of them, so that the rider could guide his horse by them.  Uncle Sloan Jackson, the original Jackson in the Richardson community, used his compass-saddle long after there was any occasion for it.  Uncle Sloan was the great-grandfather of Albert S. Jackson, the Dallas attorney.
     "I have heard old-timers say, that in the days of the Republic, and even earlier, the trail between Dallas and Waco was blazed by heaps of the white bones and skulls of buffaloes.
     "Soon after the war, grandfather bought 160 acres of land on the river, twelve miles below Dallas, opposite Hutchins.  The elevation of land known as McCommas Bluff, is on the tract.  The land was heavily timbered with cedar, which was in active demand for building barns, cribs and fences, and which was hauled long distances.  There was not much farming in those days, but when a settler did take a notion to raise a little grain, it was necessary to have a good fence around the field to keep out the range stock.
     "Our old home on grandfather's farm would now be on Llano street, near Nelms Park, though, then, it was deep in the country.  In wet weather, we came to town over the worst of roads, and crossed the creeks at the most passable points, for there were no bridges. When the ruts in the road became too deep, we simply took a new route across the prairie.  Hopp Lane, now Junius street, long enjoyed the reputation of being the worst piece of road in Texas.  The Greenville road crossed Peak's Branch near the old Peak homestead, and entered East Dallas at Pacific avenue and Walton street.  The next highway entering the town from the north was McKinney avenue, the old Air Line Road across the State.  It turned into Ross avenue at St. Mary's College, later, it connected with a road at Jack Cole's place, near the North Dallas High School building, and thence to town, by what is now McKinney avenue.

Some Old Highways.
     "The highway to the northwest, later called the Denton Road, was the old Preston Trail, which, bearing north of Dallas, crossed the river near the mouth of Turtle Creek, and proceeding by way of Denton and Wichita Falls, crossed Red River at Preston Bend.  This was an old road when the Mexicans owned the country, and was the trail over which countless thousands of cattle moved.  Indeed, tradition makes it an old Indian trail, long before the advent of the white man.

Drunkard's Well.
     "On the Old Air Line Road, just below the intersection of Knox and Monticello streets, was, and still is, 'Drunkards' Well,' which contained what was regarded as the coolest water known in these parts before the days of ice.  At an early day, somebody was public-spirited enough to wall the well with brick, and to put in a bucket and windlass.  Everyone traveling through the country stopped there to get a drink and to water his horses, and even to rest up a day or two.  Often, campers were so numerous, as to place the well in the center of a tent town.  Above all, the water of the well was early discovered to be the very vehicle to wash home a swig from a bottle, jug or demijohn.
     "Often, men having grudges against each other, met at the well and shot it out.  Oftener, strangers, a little under the influence, met there, and, getting into a dispute, resorted to arms.  I have no idea how many men were killed there, but enough to give the place the name of 'Drunkards' Well.'  The mason who built the wall of the well must have understood his business, for it is still intact, and may be seen by anyone who will go to the trouble of investigating.
     "I attended races on the old fair grounds at Washington avenue and Peak street, and there saw the black mare Sam Bass brought from Indiana, easily run far ahead of the field.  Like a golf ball, once started, this mare never knew when to stop, and the farther she went, the faster she seemed to go.  Belle Starr and Cole and Bob Younger were there to cheer the winner.  In those days, Sam was just a plain, honest turfman.  It was not until later, he began the spectacular career which brought him greater notoriety.  In rapid succession, he held up trains at Hutchins, Eagle Ford and Mesquite, and furnished the newspapers all the sensational headlines they had room for.
     "I got a copy of the first edition of The Dallas News, in the fall of 1885, and have been a reader of that great daily ever since.  As I recollect, it contained only eight pages.  Think of that in connection with a big Sunday edition of The News today!  I saw the big doubleheader State Fair in 1886.  The grounds of both fairs were crowded with visitors, and every one who saw one of the fairs had to see the other, too, in order to be able to compare them.  I remember that the managers of the Cole Fair announced plenty of the best drinking water in the world, 'free to everybody.'  At that time, it was out of the question to supply anything like a crowd with ice water, and the next best was good well water, and this, the Cole Fair had, right on the grounds.  The water was hoisted from the well in buckets.  Part of the old brick wall of this well is all that remains to mark the site of the Cole Fair."

- July 13, 1930, The Dallas Morning News,
Auto Section, p. 1; cont. on p. 3.
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