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Bois d'Arc Seed
Market Glutted
By Early Texans


Sam H. Bell Tells About
How Pioneers Solved
Many Problems.


     "Both 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.
     "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 at home.
     "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."

- June 7, 1931, The Dallas Morning News,
Section IV, p. 1, col. 2; cont. on p. 5, col. 5-7.
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