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Dallas Was an Island in 1866

Reported Several Drowned on What
Are Now Business Streets of City


Reconstruction Days. How the Old Song,
"Dixie," Was Taboo.  Hunting in What Is
Now Manufacturing District of City -- Law
and Order Was Maintained -- Few Men
Had the Nerve to Start Anything -- Every
Grown Man "Toted a Gun."


     "Our family settled in Dallas a short time before the great overflow of the Trinity River in 1866," said Clifton Scott, 1913 Orange street.  "I have always believed and said, that the river was higher at that time, than it was in 1908, though, I admit that the matter is difficult to decide.  The railroad dumps and fills and the street grades, made after the first flood, so changed the river banks and the low places in and about Dallas, that some places that were under water in 1866, were high above it in 1908.  It is a fact, however, that in 1866, Dallas was an island, save for a narrow strip of land on Elm street at the head of Murphy street.  The strip was about wide enough for a wagon to pass with dry tires.  At that time, there was a creek where Murphy street now is.  The water came almost up to Houston street and Commerce street, and the greater part of the yard of the Cockrell home, on the south side of Commerce between Houston street and the river, was under water.
     "My brother, Robert, 12 or 14 years old, was drowned in the backwater in Dallas Branch, between Wood and Young streets.  It was three or four hours before his body was recovered.  Dr. Gillespie and Dr. Crowdus, and, I think, Dr. McDermett, worked a long time trying to resuscitate him, but failed.  The same day, I think it was, someone was drowned in the creek at Main and Murphy streets; but, I do not remember clearly about it.  The mere fact is all I can recollect.  The person may have been a negro.

Starts Big Flour Mill.
     "My father, Dr. James E. Scott, came from Alabama to Texas in 1854, and settled in Walker County.  He moved from there to Dallas in the spring of 1866.  He selected for his homestead, the block now occupied by the Higginbotham-Bailey-Logan Company, and employed Andy Moore, former marshal of Dallas, to build his dwelling, which was a frame structure.  Col. John C. McCoy's dwelling was on the block between our house and Commerce street, and William Caruth's dwelling was on the block on the opposite side of Lamar street from Colonel McCoy's.  Carey & Welch had a blacksmith shop on the News block.  A pond or swamp, shaded by persimmon trees, made a dismal place of the old Windsor Hotel block.
     "About 1867, my father built a flour mill near the present site of Hughes Bros.' factory, south of the City Park.  It was the largest flour mill in the state at the time, having a capacity of 200 barrels a day.  That was before the days of railroads and automobile trucks, and even before the word 'good' had been coupled with roads; in fact, roads were so scarce, that any kind of a blazed way was a godsend.  On account of lack of transportation facilities, cotton could be profitability grown, and wheat was the leading agricultural product in all this region.  Our mill received wheat by wagon from all the adjoining counties.  There were two varieties of it, known as red May wheat and white May wheat.  It averaged sixty pounds to the bushel, the white being a little the heavier.
     "I do not remember what the yield of wheat per acre was, but I do remember that it was a profitable crop, and that there were good and bad crop years, according to the rainfall.  After the railroads came and furnished transportation for cotton, wheat was neglected for the more profitable cotton, and in a few years, the impression got abroad that cotton was the only crop that would grow in this part of the country.

Wheat Main Crop.
     "My father paid from $1.25 to $1.75 for wheat delivered at the mill.  He sold the flour as fast as he could grind the wheat, at $4 to $4.50 per 100 pounds at the mill.  Customers came in wagons, hundreds of miles.  After the people began to grow cotton, my father built a gin in connection with his mill, operating it with the mill engine.  I remember he had trouble getting rid of the cotton seed, which at that time, and for many years after, were regarded as worthless.  He burned some of it in the furnace of his engine and paid to have the rest hauled away.  Of course, it was known that cattle would eat cotton seed and thrive on it; but, the whole country was open range and the native grass of the most luxuriant growth, and there was no demand for cattle feed.  It was not until many years later that the oil, cake and other products of cotton seed had any value, or, that the processes of preparing them were discovered.  The first cotton ginned at our place sold for 3 1/2¢ a pound.
     "Dallas was not much of a town, as towns go, when we settled here; still, it was a wonderful country, blessed in many ways.  Game of all kinds abounded.  I killed deer and turkeys in all parts of the territory now covered by the city.  My favorite hunting ground was the vicinity of the present Dallas Cotton Mills.  I shot ducks and geese until I was weary of the sport, where the branch runs into the river, near the east end of the viaduct, and killed rabbits, squirrels and prairie chickens anywhere on McKinney road, north of Orange street.  Any man could step out, and in thirty minutes' time, provide fresh game for a meal.  Prairie chicken were as thick as grasshoppers ever were, and for half the year, we ate ducks and geese until we were sick of the diet.

Good Old Times.
     "The country was all free range, and the native grass, which grew like Johnson grass, sustained an incredible number of cattle.  Under such conditions, it was just as easy for a man to own a herd of cattle, as not, and every man was, to some extent, a cattleman.  The butchers sold the best cuts of the finest grass-fed beef in the world for 3¢ to 3 1/2¢ a pound.  We had no railroad outlet, and were a thousand miles from nowhere, but we really had everything we needed, and got it almost without effort.  The people were just bow-legged with money, and were free with it.  Everything was on a cash basis.  Dallas has become a great, modern city, and there is much wealth here, but the average man does not experience the good times of the days of wagon trade, when all merchandise was freighted from Houston and Jefferson.
     "In those days, the streets were crowded with wagons and people, day and night, and the wagon yards flourished.  It seemed that the chief business of the people was to get rid of their money.  They gambled and drank whisky, and even tossed up dollars on the street, winning or losing a dollar at a throw.  Every man wanted to 'set 'em up' in the saloons, and, with every sale or service, went a tip.  The bootblack charged only 5¢ for a shine, but he seldom received less than 25¢ or 50¢ as a tip for his trouble.

Took Second Thought.
     "People nowadays seem to think that a majority of the people on the frontier were desperadoes.  It is a fact that men went armed, and prepared for any emergency, but the very preparation minimized the emergencies.  When a man knows, that to start trouble means that somebody is going to be killed, and he is not certain that it will be the other fellow, he goes a little slow.  The pistol-toting custom was, no doubt, the best for the welfare of the community under the circumstances.  This much is certain -- there were no assassinations of unarmed men in those days.  Men had it in for one another, just as they do now, but they had no opportunity of catching one another unarmed and off their guard.  You never heard of two or three heavily armed men suddenly bursting into a room and, riddling with bullets, a man whom they took by surprise, and who had no means of defending himself.  A man thought twice before he went on the warpath in old times.
     "I have a very vivid recollection of Dr. Samuel Pryor, the first mayor.  When we came to Dallas, Dr. Pryor had a drug store on the south side of Commerce street, near Houston street.  He was a portly man, weighing about 200 pounds; wore a full beard, and impressed you as a mover.  John Neely Bryan was also still here.  He was a stout, thick-set man, about 5 feet 9 inches in height, sporting a full beard, according to the fashion of the times.  He seemed to have great muscular energy and endurance.  His son, Ash Pryor, the first child born in Dallas after the town was incorporated, I also knew well.  Ash remained in Dallas until along in the '80s, when he moved to Arkansas.  I have not heard of him in many years.  Ash was on the police force for a long time, and also served as Deputy Constable in Precinct No. 1.

"Dixie" Taboo.
     "When we came to Dallas, E. F. Davis was governor, and the state was under carpetbag rule.  Captain Horton, a one-armed man, was in charge of the negro bureau in Dallas, and, backed by a company of soldiers, he was making it uncomfortable for the people, annoying them in all sorts of petty ways.  Mrs. E. B. Scott, who owned one of the few pianos in town, had the air of 'Dixie' among her favorite pieces.  Captain Horton served notice on her husband that the playing of the odious Southern tune was an insult to the flag, as well as to common decency, and that if Mrs. Scott played it again, she would have to answer for it.  I give this as a sample of what the people had to put up with in reconstruction days.  Mrs. Scott was a daughter of Wake Latimer, founder of the Dallas Herald, the first newspaper published in Dallas."
     Mr. Scott was a member of the Dallas police force under Marshal Campbell during reconstruction times.  Captain June Peak was also on the force at the time.  Mr. Scott served as a deputy under Sheriff James E. Barckley, beginning about 1872.  In that capacity, he arrested two men who were wanted elsewhere for murder, and who had given out that they would not be taken alive.  He was also a member of the police force for several years under Chief James C. Arnold.

- September 3, 1922, The Dallas Morning News,
Magazine Section, p. 6, col. 1-4.
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