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EMIL FRETZ TELLS
OF EARLY DALLAS

________

CAME TO TOWN DEC. 3, 1870,
WITH 26 MEMBERS OF
SWISS COLONY.

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MANY SORRY 'SHACKS
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First Impression of Texas in
Pioneer Days Was That of
Plenty of Room.

BY W. S. ADAIR


EMIL FRETZ

   "I was a small boy when I arrived in Dallas with the Swiss colony Dec. 3, 1870," said Emil Fretz, 711 Liberty street.  "There were twenty-seven of us in the party. Ben Long, a native of Switzerland, who had come to the United States some years before and who had settled in Dallas, was the cause of our coming.  He visited Switzerland in the summer of 1870, and fed his old friends and neighbors on such glowing accounts of Texas and Dallas, that they all wanted to pull up stakes and come to the new world.  Mr. Long was a success in every way in which he tried himself out, but from what I knew of him, I am inclined to think he would have shown most respendently as an immigration agent.  But, the wildest pictures the most imaginative of our party could make of his representations of Dallas were beggarly, in comparison with the eventual reality.  He knew enough of the world to enable him to foresee clearly that the development of the vast resources of Texas was only a matter of time, and that the big State was the very place for those of his thrifty countrymen who wished to better their condition.

Plenty of Room in Texas.
    "Our first impression of Texas was that of plenty of room, an impression that is always exhilarating, as suggesting the possibility of unlimited expansion.  But, the village of Dallas, physically viewed, did not fill us with enthusiasm and cause us to engage in thanksgiving exercises to celebrate our arrival.  But, we were reassured by the heartiness of the reception the people gave us.  Among those who welcomed us, and afterward helped us in our struggles and consoled us in our distresses, were Jacob Nussbaumer, Henry Boll, Henry Bohny, Adolph Frick and John Loupot, who had come over with the French colony some years in advance of us; and, A. J. and William Ross, Capt. W. H. Gaston, Samuel Blake, Jack Smith, Capt. Swindells, editor of the Herald, and other native Americans, who had settled here.  There never lived better neighbors than these men and their excellent families, and I wish to include with them the people generally who lived in Dallas at that time.  The members of the Swiss colony and their descendants can never forget them.  Of the twenty-seven members constituting the Swiss colony, seven still survive.  They are Mrs. L. Wagner, Charles Fretz, Mrs. Herman Mueller and her sister, Miss Renle; John Hess and myself, of Dallas, and Jacob Waespi, of San Antonio.

    "In 1870, Dallas was a collection of sorry shacks on a sandy foundation around the courthouse square.  The courthouse was a one-story brick, surrounded by a board fence and a grove of locust trees.  Many men, ignoring houses, slept on or in blankets under the trees and the stars in the courthouse yard.  In the morning, they would roll up their blankets and store them for the day in the business houses in the neighborhood.  Several men, who afterward became prominent, thus passed the nights in early days.  A briefless lawyer, who later headed the legal profession in the State, used to leave his blanket during the day in my barber shop on the south side of the square and come after it at bedtime.  In 1870, there was an old-fashioned rail fence along the east side of Akard street, from Elm street south, with a corn field east of it.  Elm street was open, but the thoroughfare was the White Rock road and not Elm street.  There was also a fence along the north side of Elm street from Akard street to Lamar, and likewise, a corn field, north of it.  The land on the south side of Elm street was owned and occupied by Jack Smith, whose dwelling was in the middle of the block, between Elm street and the St. George Hotel.  The home of Mr. Murphy, the pioneer merchant, was in the E. M. Kahn block.  There was a grove of trees in the northeast corner of Mr. Murphy's pasture, now occupied by the National Bank of Commerce, which was the pleasure park of the village.  I attended several picnics there.  There were no improvements on the St. George Hotel block.  A blacksmith shop, or foundry, occupied the ground at the southwest corner of Main and Poydras streets, where the barber shop now is.  But, even in the earliest days, we were not without hints of something doing on a large scale.  Cattle moving from the regions south of Dallas to Kansas crossed the river at the Dallas ford.  One great drove after another traversed the main street of the village.  Often, when the river was up, numerous herds were held on the west side for the waters to subside.  Sometimes, they were stacked up clear into Ellis County.  Many cattle were drowned in attempting to swim the river.

Stage Coaches.
    "There was no bridge across the river, but the stone abutments of a former bridge that had been carried away by a freshet in the river, still were standing to mark the enterprise of the pioneer merchants.  The river was crossed by means of a ferry boat, owned by Alex Cockrell, and operated by a negro, who had once been his slave.  The ferryman hung up a horn and a bell on the west side of the river and those wishing to be set across, blew the horn or rang the bell as a signal to the loafing negro that there was something doing.  Terry's Mill was at the east end of the viaduct, and Michel's brickyard on the river bank, between Houston and Jefferson streets.  The Crutchfield House and the St. Charles Hotel entertained the traveling public.  All travel was by stage coaches, which regularly came and went over all the roads and trails.  The stage driver always sounded a full-lunged blast on his crooked horn as he entered a town, but I never knew why, since everybody knew about when he would arrive, and was looking out for him, the stage being the only medium for the transportation of news from the outside world.

Waespi and His Watch.
    "A two-story concrete building, erected by Mr. Moullard on Jefferson street, facing the courthouse in 1871, was of as much importance at the time as the first skyscraper was in more recent years.  Before the concrete could dry, there came a blue norther, freezing the water in the concrete and disintegrating the solid substance of it to such an extent, that when the thaw came, the building collapsed.  Jacob Waespi, a carpenter, and other mechanics, were at work in the building, putting the finishing touches to it, when the walls began to behave in an uncanny way.  The workmen got out in time, Mr. Waespi, with such precipitation, that he forgot his coat and vest.  A fine hand-made gold watch, which he had brought from Switzerland, was crushed, along with his coat and vest, beneath the load of collapsed concrete.  He never has, to this day, become reconciled to the loss of his watch.  There were not exactly giants in those days, but there were some monster alligators in the river.  In the spring of 1872, one of these ill-constructed creatures was captured at the bend of the river, just above the Dallas brewery plant.  It measured ten feet in length.  I think the men roped it.  At all events, it was brought to town alive and in chains.  Ben Long bought the saurian, had it mounted and placed as a sign in front of his grocery store, on Main street, between Market and Jefferson streets.  I have no theory as to why the alligators quit the upper Trinity.  Perhaps, the sewage of Dallas and Fort Worth had something to do with their going.

Boom Strikes the Village.
    "The coming of the railroads in 1872 and 1873 started the village on a boom.  A number of business firms, at once, moved to Dallas from Corsicana, and men with money, or its equivalent, abilities and energy, came from all over the country, and along with them, the usual army of small-fry adventurers to be found in any hurrah frontier town of fifty years ago.  With a view of bringing the town up to date and putting it in line to grow with the country, the people elected Ben Long Mayor in 1872.  One of the first moves was to give the merchants fire protection.  A proposition to purchase fire-fighting apparatus was dashed by the consideration that such machinery would be useless without water.  The problem was, at length, solved by excavating four cisterns for storing water.  These reservoirs were made under the ground on Jefferson street at Elm and Main, and on Market street at Main and Elm.  In the meantime, a Salsbey engine, the best made at the time, was delivered.  Sam Crossley was employed as engineer.  When the cisterns were completed, and engine was limbered up, the river did not have water enough in it to try the engine out.  But, after a weary wait of two months, a heavy rain made the river bank-full.  The city had hose enough to reach from the river to Jefferson street.  Crossley first filled the two cisterns on Jefferson street, and then pumped the water out of these into the cisterns on Market street, after which, he went back and refilled the cisterns on Jefferson.  When a fire occurred, the firemen were at their row's end when they had exhausted the water in the cisterns. Crossley was the only member of the department on the pay roll.  The rest were the business and professional men, who served in their own interest, or for the glory of it.  The worst early-day fires resulted when the people would periodically fire the variety theater buildings.  These places were the resorts of the most depraved characters in the country, whose carryings-on would, now and then, reach such a scandalous pitch, that the better class people considered it an act of patriotic vandalism to bribe some good man to set fire to the theaters.  Such fires usually occurred between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning.  The variety theaters were on the north side of Main street between Market and Jefferson.  All the buildings on the block were cheap frame or board shacks, and when one of them caught fire, the rest usually were included in the conflagration.  The variety theater block was reduced to a heap of ashes twice, if not three times.

    In 1873 or 1874, a company headed by W. C. Connor built the first waterworks, at Browder Spring, now included in the City Park.  The company erected a standpipe, high embossed against the sky, at Main and Harwood streets, where the municipal building now is.  By way of providing the rising town with amusements more elevated than the saloons, variety theaters and gambling halls afforded, Mayor Long developed Long's Lake.  By a dam across the valley, he impounded a considerable body of water.  He purchased a small steamboat on the river, and, taking it to pieces, hauled the pieces to the lake, and there reassembled them.  But, the first excursion the boat made, there was such a rush of passengers as to sink the craft to the guards.  It stuck in the mud, making it necessary to get the excursionists ashore by means of a small, oared boat.  The steamer was never again floated.  I think Mayor Long removed the engines and left the timbers to rot in the mud.  But, without boating, the lake was, for years, a popular pleasure resort.

Yellow Fever Scare.
    "In 1873, came the yellow-fever scare.  Refugees from Louisiana, where the fever raged, were invading Texas in shoals.  As soon as Mayor Long ascertained what was bringing so many Louisianans to town, he grabbed a shotgun and proceeded to Mesquite, then the terminus of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, to halt them.  At the same time, he had all the newcomers in town isolated and held for developments.  No one arriving at Mesquite from the east was permitted to proceed in any direction until he had performed quarantine.  A few persons in Dallas had the fever in a mild form, but no deaths occurred.  Viewed from this distance, it is remarkable that we escaped an epidemic of the fever, for the town was far from being, what is now termed healthful.  It was without sewerage system, and the majority of the population simply defied all the laws of health.  Ice was scarce, and not to be had with any regularity.  There were swarms of flies and mosquitoes, and no screens to prevent them from streaming through the doors and windows.  I question if the people of today could endure a meal, and at the same time, fight the flies as he had to fight them fifty years ago.  The invention of the country worked over time to devise a fan that would keep the flies away.  I invented one myself, and I believed, and was told, that it would be my fortune.  But, about the time I got it to going, here came the electric fan, and, almost simultaneously, window and door screens, either of which would have been fatal to my dreams.  Jacob Waespi bought the right to manufacture and sell window and door screen in Dallas county, and dreamed of wealth, but before he could get his plant in operation, opposition set up in a dozen places.
    "About the last exploit of the Sam Bass gang of bandits in this part of the country was to steal four fine horses from Gaston & Works' livery stable on the southwest corner of Commerce and Houston streets.  Gaston & Work used these spanking prancers to draw the bus between the hotels and the railroad stations.  At daybreak one morning, the bandits suddenly appearing, overpowered the few stable hands who happened to be astir at that early hour, and led away the horses.  Soon after that, Bass was killed at Round Rock."
    Mr. Fretz has been a member of the City Park Board for twenty years, and has served as vice president of it for the last six years.

- November 23, 1924, The Dallas Morning News,
Sec. III, p. 11
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