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Mesquite Trip
To Dallas Real
Journey in '60s


Two Days Were Needed
to Come Here and Re-
turn by Oxen.


Farms Were Scarce

Cattle Raising Only In-
dustry When W. W.
Smith Arrived.


    "My people came to Dallas County before there was a railroad in this part of the State," said W. W. Smith, Route No. 2, Mesquite.  "My father, J. H. Smith, who came from England, first settled in New York, then in Wisconsin, went overland to California, in 1849, returned to Wisconsin, descended the Mississippi River in a flatboat, and crossed to Galveston some time in the '60s.  He started north with the Houston & Texas Central Railroad.  But, the construction of that road being slower than suited him, he left it at Millican, and came on to Dallas County.  He traded [a] yoke of oxen, a wagon and fourteen horses for a tract of 150 acres, three miles north of the site, afterward selected for the town of Mesquite.
     "All this part of the country was a wilderness when we came.  The chief, and, in fact, the only industry, was that of cattle raising after the open-range fashion, with only here and there, a house with a fenced patch of land in cultivation near it, and in some instances, only the house.  There were no roads and no bridges.  When we went anywhere, we followed the cattle trails.  It was a long way from our house to Dallas, as measured by the paces of oxen, for it took us a day to come, and a day to go back, with the result that we did not come often.  We brought wheat to the mill and traded it for flour when we did not wish to wait till it could be ground.  We sold our cotton to Levi Craft, Jack Friedlander, and afterward, to Henry Friedlander, to Ike Israelsky or Cahn Brothers, taking supplies and dry goods in payment for part of it, for all these men were Dallas merchants.

Tremendous Barbecue.
     "The cotton market was Elm street, west of Austin street.  It was there that the farmers stopped their wagons for the buyers to sample their cotton and bid on it.  I, many times, saw the street jammed with cotton wagons and other wagons waiting for an opening to get to the buyers.  I remember two other business men of Dallas in early days.  Jeffries, the jeweler, who repaired the watches and fixed the clocks for the town and country round about, and Blakeney, the baker, who peddled on the streets, yankee doughnuts, which he carried in a tray in front of him and sang in commendation of his wares, a song in which the words 'fine, very fine' had the place of musical emphasis, from which circumstances he was called Fine, Very Fine.  He wound up with a lot of Dallas property.
     "The Houston & Texas Central, in order to save its charter, had to run a train into Dallas by a stipulated time, and seeing it was not going to be able to complete the grading by that time, it simply cut the timber out of the way across the river bottom, laid the ties and rails on the unprepared ground, and skated a train in on scheduled time and squared things with the people and the State by giving, what we called in those days, a tremendous barbecue.  I had no idea that there were so many people in the world as actually assembled for that beef and mutton feast.  They came from as far away as the adjoining counties, for it was not every day a railroad was built into this part of the country, and besides, many of those people were yet to find out what a train looked like and what the shriek of a locomotive sounded like.  All the speakers within a radius of a hundred miles were here to tell the people what a railroad meant in the development of a country.  While their orator was, of course, pure bunkum, so far as the speakers were concerned, still their wildest flights of imagination did not amount to half-way prophecy of what has actually come to pass.

Dallas as Frontier Town.
     "The railroad made the station a long way from the town, a mile, I think it was.  I know, that in coming to Dallas, we considered that we still had some distance to go when we had reached the Houston & Texas Central station, which was at a point now marked on the map as the intersection of Commerce street and Central avenue.  Soon after the completion of the railroad, a street railway line was built on Main street, from the courthouse to Central avenue.  The small cars were drawn by little mules and were never commended for their speed, or for running with any regularity.
     "Dallas made a considerable show of prosperity as long as it was the terminus on the Houston & Texas Central and of the Texas & Pacific, which reached Dallas a year after the Central came, for all the wagon trade of North, West and Northeast Texas, was concentrated here.  The business district, which, in the old days, was confined to the courthouse square, began to move down Elm and Main streets, and some new additions to the town were opened.  But, a slump came when the railroads moved on, and for some years, the town seemed to be at a standstill.  In fact, it did not show much life until about the time The Dallas News was started, in 1885, and the State Fair of Texas was opened in two sections, the year following.  Since then, the old place has grown in so many ways and so rapidly, that to tell the truth, I have been unable to keep up with it.

Making of Mesquite.
     "Scyene was our town until the Texas & Pacific established a station at Mesquite.  The postoffice was moved from Scyene to Mesquite, and Jim M. Gross, the leading merchant at Scyene, moved his store over.  About the same time, R. S. Kimbrough came from Tennessee, and began to take an active part in the making of the town.  These men were soon joined by Ruegel Brothers and by Henry Humphreys and E. D. Vanston, hardware merchants.  Mr. Kimbrough started the Mesquiter, and by his snappy, original way of writing, made it the best-known weekly newspaper in the State, and thus, put Mesquite on the map.  Afterward, Mr. Kimbrough served with distinction in the Legislature.  He was one of the finest characters we have ever had in the county.
     "The pioneer settlers in the eastern part of the county, our first neighbors, were J. P. Lawrence, the Bennetts, the Paschalls and the Coats, who owned extensive tracts of land and big herds of cattle. Descendants of all these are still living on the land, or, are in various pursuits in Dallas.  For some years, little of the land was in cultivation, but in the '70s, settlers began to pour in, to fence the land, and to circumscribe the range.  They found plenty of timber in East Fork bottoms with which to make fence rails.  But, splitting rails and making fences was no boy's job; it was real work, and when barbed-wire fencing came on the market, rail-splitting ceased at once, for wire was much the cheaper and required no splitting.  Now, all the land out our way, as well as in other parts of the county, is under cultivation, and the levee on the west side of East Fork, extending from the Texas & Pacific to the Rockwall County line, has made available, hundreds of acres of the very best bottom land.  Ten years ago, we voted $260,000 of bonds for building this level.  But, we have reclaimed the land at a great sacrifice of timber, for in order to clear it, it was necessary to turn hundreds of acres of the finest kind of trees.  The farmers in all that part of the country are still using wood with which to heat their houses and with which to cook, and I should not be surprised if they found themselves, before long, confronted by a wood famine.  In fact, wood is already getting scarce in some localities.
     "A great change has come over the country within a very few years.  In early days, a trip from our place to Dallas involved a matter of two days, for we traversed a cow trail in an ox wagon.  Our family came to Dallas once a year to buy clothes, and once, to attend the State Fair of Texas, and often, we combined the business of the two trips in one.  Now, we negotiate the distance, fourteen miles, over East Pike, in something like twenty minutes, and come to town about as often as the people of Highland Park, or of any other suburb of Dallas do.  Our people see all the moving pictures exhibited in Dallas, hear all the musical concerts, and mix and mess around in Dallas precisely as the Dallas people themselves do, and then go home and consult the radio, in regard to what is going on in the world at large. In fact, it would take an expert to enter the jam on Elm street, and sort out from the Dallas people, the interlopers from Mesquite and East Fork.  The only Reubens left in the country are we old people, too much set in our habits and ways to adjust our lives to the jazz and the new order of things, generally.
     "Thanks to automobiles, telephones and good roads, country people can now live much as do city people.  We can get groceries, dry goods, and anything else we want, delivered in a short time.  We get ice every day, and The Dallas News comes regularly every morning."

- April 15, 1928, The Dallas Morning News,
Automobiles & Radio News Section, p. 10.
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