Bois d'Arc Seed
By Early Texans
Sam H. Bell Tells
How Pioneers Solved
By W. S. ADAIR
the people, and the country, have undergone many and great changes
within the last seventy years, but whether for the better, may
be open to debate," said Sam Houston Bell, 425 South Beacon
street. "My father, Baxter M. Bell, came by ox wagon
from Jefferson County, Tennessee, to Texas in 1848, and settled
at McKinney, a village of forty or fifty people. Just as
the Renaissance in Italy produced men who were geniuses in various
directions, conditions on the American frontier turned out mechanics
of many trades, as [if] it were hundred-handed artisans. Father
set up a shop at McKinney, and, among other things, manufactured
tables, chairs, bedsteads, doors, window sash, sorghum mills,
bois d'arc wagon, flax breaks and hackles, weavers' looms and
plow stocks, and started an industry, which, like innumerable
other enterprises, promised great riches, but was disappointing
in the outcome.
"The pioneers, like the motorists
and tourists of today, were a prey to wanderlust. They
had a way of hitching up their wagons and traversing pathless
wilds to distant points. But, having no money to scatter
as they went, as present-day travelers do, they took something
along to sell, in order to meet expenses.
"Observing that the people
over on East Fork, in Collin County, were making hedges of bois
d'arc, which answered all the purposes of fences, father conceived
the idea of loading his wagon with bois d'arc seeds and taking
them to Missouri and showing the farmers of that State that they
were foolish to go to the trouble of mauling rails, which rot
in a few years, when, at infinitely less cost, they could get
hedges, which would last till the crack of doom. Then,
drawing on his mechanical ingenuity, he built a mill that looked
like an old-fashioned sorghum mill, with which he pressed the
seeds out of the bois d'arc apples to the amount of a wagonload.
He got $15 a bushel for his cargo and, bringing the money
and the news back to Texas, he and all his neighbors fell to
grinding bois d'arc apples as fast as father could make the mills.
The next year, a train of wagons, laden with 10,000 bushels
of the precious product, went to Missouri, but the producers
got only $10 a bushel for it. The third year, they gutted
the market and made no money. From Missouri, bois d'arc
found its way into Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Bois
d'arc is a hardy plant and spreads like Johnson grass, and I
am told that the people of the four infected States I have mentioned,
have not, to this good day, finished cussin' Texas.
How They Lived.
"In 1870, father bought a
tract of 315 acres of land, two miles west of the present town
of Garland, and we moved to Dallas County. He got the land
from Col. J. M. Stemmons, then, and for long afterward, the law
partner of Col. D. A. Williams, of Dallas, paying him $3 an acre
for it. We and our neighbors were beholden to the outside
world for little, besides sugar, coffee, salt, plow shares, and
a few other things in iron.
"The women spun and wove the
cotton and wool into cloth and cut and made the clothes. Many
a time, I held my hands up as winding blades until I was dead
tired, I could hold them up no longer. The leather was
tanned at home, and the local shoemaker took our measure and
made our shoes and boots, and that is why so many of us old fellows
have bad feet. A Frenchman, M. Lang, made wool hats at
McKinney and drove a thrifty trade. Some of the women were
experts, even witches, at making hats of rye straw, which were
natty and lasted for years without getting weather-beaten. The
pioneers imported plow shares from the plow factory near Jefferson
and made the stocks themselves. Much of the prairie land
broken in our section was turned by plows stocked by father.
Later on, the plow factory at Jefferson got to making plow
stocks, as well as shares, and thus, left the farmers more time
to devote to their fields.
"The earliest settlers, however,
did not farm to any great extent, since they had no markets.
Very few of them had more than twenty-five acres under
fence, and to where there was one twenty-five-acre field, there
were several five and ten-acre patches in corn, wheat, sorghum
or cotton. Most of the settlers shunned the open prairie
and kept to the timber along the creeks and rivers, where there
were shade, water and fire wood, and, strange to say, timber
land was worth more than open black prairie. The country
was heavily stocked with wild cattle and horses, and without
fences, farming was out of the question, and splitting and hauling
rails and making worm fences involved so much expense and work,
that it was hard to see how it would be possible to cultivate
the rich prairie lands. But, all things come at the proper time.
It was not long after the railroads gave the country access
to the markets, that barbed-wire came on the market.
Ponies and Longhorns.
"In early days, the range
country extended from the Trinity River as far east as Rockwall
County and the prairies of Kaufman. There were some big
herds in Rockwall County, then Hunt County, and in Kaufman County,
but, as a rule, the cattle were owned, so far as they had owners,
in small bunches. It was before the day of the cattle kings.
Very few settlers owned cattle enough to make up a trail
herd. Buyers from Kansas came along and bought up cattle
in small bunches, until they got a sufficient number to make
a trail herd.
"Cattle moving north from
east of the river always went over, what was known as the Preston
trail, and they moved by thousands; and, nature was careful to
stock the country with the horses needed in the handling of them.
It is clear to me, at this distance, that those old longhorns
were not intended for domestic purposes; they were left, like
everything else, for man to improve to his liking or service.
Old longhorn cows began to give milk in the spring when
the sap rose in vegetation, and when the grass dried up in midsummer,
they dried up, too. We had plenty of milk and butter, from
about March until August, and then drank our coffee black and
substituted gravy for butter until the next March.
"Every man who had a bunch
of cattle was obliged to keep a complement of horses for his
cowboys. The busy time was the calving season, in the spring,
for a wolf could smell a new-born calf miles away, and, following
his nose, and tasting the calf as he went, he made straight for
it. It was up to the cowboys to bunch the cows and calves
at night, and, by, and with, the aid of the cows, to hold the
wolves off until daylight. Those same ponies had the endurance
of machines. With green grass, alone, to sustain them,
they could go in a trot all day with a 150-pound man on their
back, or in a gallop half a day. The difference was due
to the fact that the trot was their natural gait, and the gallop
was an acquired frill, and therefore, did not have the full instinctive
push or libido behind it. Dr. K. H. Embree, pioneer physician
at Duck Creek, had a pony, which, on a hurry-up call, could go
full tilt with the doctor on his back, a distance of ten or twelve
miles, and wind up at the end of the run with normal respiration,
and with every indication that it had enjoyed the spurt.
Fence and Plow Problems.
- June 7, 1931, The
Dallas Morning News,
"Settlers poured into the
black waxy belt as soon as the railroads were built, and by early
in the 80's, this region was no longer a cattle range. But,
the farmers had two difficulties to get around. They needed
a better plow than the Jefferson make, which took twelve yoke
of oxen to pull it across a raw prairie, and a cheaper and stronger
fence than the old worm-rail makeshift. The manufacturers
of the North were already trying to help them out. The
first barbed wire they put on the market was unsatisfactory,
but, in a few years, they succeeded in working out the problem. They
were slower in turning out a plow that answered the needs. The
best early-day plow was made by B. F. Avery & Co.
"My first visit to Dallas
was when everybody in the country came to see the first train
come in over the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, in the summer
of 1872. The people of Dallas celebrated the event by giving
a great barbecue and inviting everybody. It was, by long
odds, the greatest gathering I had seen, but nobody went hungry.
Cattle, sheep and pigs were cheap, and the butchers kept
on killing, and the cocks roasting, until the multitude had enough.
Most of us had never seen a railroad or a train, but, there
was nobody to tell about it when we went home, for nobody remained
"I came to Dallas in 1881,
and entered Lawrence's Commercial College, and was graduated
in 1884. The school was in the Norton Building, a three-story
rock structure, built and owned by Judge A. B. Norton, on the
corner now occupied by the Queen Theater. I boarded with
my aunt, Mrs. Abner Keen, wife of the Methodist minister, northwest
corner of Ross avenue and Harwood street. Prof. E. B. Lawrence
was the champion penman, when penmanship went for something,
a graceful dancer, a musician, and a Chesterfield. During
the four years I was in his school, I blew the tuba in his band
and made many trips with the band out of town. George Kadel,
who became a professional musician, was a student under Lawrence
when I was in the school. He has lived to see machinery
put the musicians out of business."
Section IV, p. 1, col. 2; cont. on p. 5, col. 5-7.
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