Search billions of records on
To Dallas County Archives main page
To list of published Wm. Adair columns, 1920-1925, 1926-1933
To list of transcribed Wm. Adair columns



A. W. Capy, Born in
Dallas in 1863, Tells
Their Story.


Good as Citizens

Most of Population Then
Was Killing Indians
and Hunting


     "My parents, Charles and Nativa Capy, came to Texas with the French colonists who settled at Reunion, near the present town of Cement City, in 1855," A. W. Capy of 4811 Junius street, said.  "The colony, which was an attempt to put into practice the theory current at the time in France that communism would bring about the happiest state of society, proved a failure, but whether because of a defect in the theory, or the absence of some of the necessary conditions of success, I shall not undertake to say.
     "Some of the settlers went back to France, some remained on the spot, and some found employment in Dallas.  My parents crossed the river and became residents of Dallas, occupying a house on the ground now occupied by the Jefferson Hotel, and there I was born in 1863.  Of course, I heard all about the colony when I was a small boy, but I was heedless, not being interested, and what little of it lodged in my memory, has become so dim, as to be worthless as history.  My mother, still living in Dallas, is one of the few survivors of the ill-fated colony.  She is 83 years old and quite feeble.
     "As I understand, the French colonists were the first to plant gardens and orchards in this part of the country, which they cultivated according to the intensive methods that had been worked out to meet the conditions in crowded Europe.  The natives, who were mostly American frontiersmen, were interested primarily in fighting Indians and chasing buffalo.  Whatever they had done in the way of cultivating gardens and crops was a secondary affair.  The breaking up of the colony also supplied the country with mechanics who had been regularly trained in Europe, and were, for that reason, we may suppose, somewhat more expert than just anyone who may take to the saw and hatchet.  Thus, while the skill of these gardeners, orchardists and mechanics went for nothing, as far as the colony was concerned, it was a real contribution to the rising town of Dallas.

Built Homes of Stone.
     "Instead of logs, the French colonists used the native white rock as building material.  They did not know how to build a log cabin, but they did know how to pound the soft rocks into fragments and dust and then to solidify again the fragments and dust by means of lime water, making wood frames to hold the walls up until the mass would harden or set, in the same way that builders nowadays proceed in getting cement walls to stand.  Rubble was the name by which such buildings were designated.  Several of them stood as monuments to the French for forty or fifty years.  There was one on Cochran street, about a block east of Lamar; another, on the south side of Bryan street, at or near the intersection of Harwood, and a third, a two-story, hexagon shape, that stood back in the yard, on the south side of Ross avenue, between Lamar and Griffin streets, and long used as a rooming-house.  But, they all have disappeared.
     "The Dallas I knew as a small boy comes back to me as a faded dream, difficult to reconstruct.  I must have been so shy, that the town and its people had no chance to make an impression in fast colors on me.  The courthouse was a two-story brick, with walls so sagged out of the perpendicular, that they had to be supported by logs set endwise against them at various angles.  People nowadays would not venture into such a ramshackle structure, especially when the winds were up.  But, it was before the days of building inspectors, and before most of us had heard of condemning buildings.  The phrase "to condemn," we thought, applied exclusively to criminals.

Infested With Fleas.
     "What there was of the village rested, together with the courthouse, on a bed of sand, much infested and quickened with fleas.  All the business houses and some of the dwellings looked across the street at the courthouse.  The business houses were frames, and most of them with high fronts.  There were naked lots on all four sides, offering themselves as desirable sites.
     "No traces of the great fire of 1860 were to be seen by the time I became old enough to make observations, but old-timers were still telling the story of the fire, and of the hanging of the negro slaves who were supposed to have started it.
     "I have no recollection of John Neely Bryan.  This may be because there was nothing in those days to make him conspicuous, since almost anybody could have founded such a town as Dallas was. Nearly every settler had accepted the gift of a survey of land and built a log cabin on it.  However this may be, I am inclined to think John Neely Bryan left Dallas before my time.  I remember Col. John C. McCoy, Jerry Brown, Ben Long, Fred Parker, Judge J. M. Patterson, Jack Smith and Mr. Tenison, a harness maker, whose sons founded Tenison Bros. wholesale saddle and harness house.  I do not recall Judge Hardin Hart, lawyer and District Judge, stories of whose eccentricities and originality are still in circulation, and still have a kick.  I think Judge Patterson and Jack Smith ran a partnership general store; at all events, they were both merchants.  Ash & Wagner conducted a grocery on the southeast corner of Main and Jefferson streets.  Ash retired from the establishment, which has continued until this day under the name of L. Wagner Grocery, and which is, without doubt, the oldest business concern in Dallas.

Stages and Ox Wagons.
     "Dense thickets of scrub trees, held together by vines and penetrated by winding sandy roads, ran in all directions from the town.  In default of a bridge, the river was crossed when it was up, by swimming, or by ferryboat, and when down, by fording.  Alex Cockrell, I believe, was the original ferryman.
     "Dallas was on the cattle trail.  It was at the Dallas ford that all the herds coming from the south crossed the river.  It was nothing for a drove of 2,000 or 3,000 wild longhorns to traverse the streets, and not a rare occurrence for them to put on a stampede.  All merchandise and supplies coming in to the country, and all produce going out, were transported on wagons drawn by oxen.  Teamsters exercised their fancy in regard to the number of yoke of oxen they hitched to a wagon, for the oxen subsisted on grass, and it, therefore, cost nothing to feed them, nor did even the oxen cost a great deal.
     "I well remember the old-time stages that carried the mail.  Every small boy intended to be a stage driver when he grew up.  He could think of nothing finer than to be a stage driver, handling four to six horses, and at the same time, blowing blasts on the horn.
     "I was never a mighty, or even a timid, hunter, and can relate no thrilling adventures with fierce wild animals.  But, the country was full of deer, turkeys and prairie chickens and wild geese, and ducks came and went by the million, and nothing was cheaper than wild meat. There was so much buffalo meat on the market, that it sold for next to nothing.

Schools and Churches.
     "The first schools I knew anything about were kept by Professor Martin and Professor Scales.  Professor Martin taught on Cumberland Hill, not far from the present Cumberland Hill ward school building, which makes Cumberland one of the oldest schoolhouse sites in the city.  Professor Scales, who was a noted teacher, had a building of his own on the north side of Elm street, just west of Griffin.  Many other teachers came and went.  We had no organized system of schools, and itinerant teachers stopped and held forth whenever and wherever they could get a sufficient number of pupils signed up to make a three-month school pay.  The boy who went to school three months out of the year, was held to be on the way to a liberal education.  A school teacher was a school teacher, and nobody dreamed of inquiring into the qualification of any one who offered his services as such.
     "I can not give much of an account of the churches.  There was a church of some sort at Market street and Ross avenue, which I think was used by more than one denomination.  The Episcopal Church was on the northwest corner of Elm and Lamar streets, and the Methodist Church on the northeast corner of Commerce and Lamar streets.  It was not until some years later that the Jewish people built a synagogue.  They placed it on the south side of Commerce street, at the head of Field street.

Learns Trade of Machinist.
     "At the age of 16, I went to serve my apprenticeship as a machinist in Garside & Bailey's machine shop, at Poydras and Wood streets.  When I had worked two years, the shop changed hands, and I went to the Trinity Iron Works, owned and operated by Richard Morgan, Ross avenue and Magnolia street, and there completed my apprenticeship.  For more than forty years, I have been a stationary engineer, the greater part of the time connected with ice and refrigerator plants, working seven days a week.  I have had so little leisure, that it has been impossible for me to keep up with the growth of the city.  I hear of many fine residence sections which I have never seen.
     "It was simple enough to become a machinist in my day, provided one had a turn for the work.  Everything was done by hand.  Now, there is a machine for every detail, and a man can become an expert at running one of these machines without being a machinist, and without knowing anything about any other machine in the shop, or in the world."

- June 20, 1926, The Dallas Morning News,
Sec. 4, p. 10, col. 1.
- o o o -