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Published May 6th, 2014 by Unknown

By Colonel Acie Sooner

[From Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, April, 1927]

I CAME to Texas immediately after the close of the Civil War, by rail to New Orleans, and took passage on a boat called the Iron City, for Shreveport, La. The trip up Red river was slow and frequently it became necessary to use a block-and-tackle to draw the boat over the shoals and sand banks. I landed at Shreveport in about five days after leaving New Orleans, but the river was too shallow to float the vessel further up to Jefferson, Texas. I remained in Shreveport but a short time, as most of the people were suffering with chills and fever, and footed it to Jefferson, since there was no immediate transportation available. At that time Jefferson was the largest city in North Texas, with a population of 15,000 or 20,000 people, and did an immense overland traffic with towns further west. It was also the head of navigation. Here I found hundreds of wagons loading for points in the interior of the state. One of them was bound for Greenville and others for McKinney, Denton, Sherman, Fort Worth and Dallas. Sherman was a larger town at that time than either Dallas or Fort Worth. I obtained permission to ride in a wagon bound for Greenville, in Hunt county. Here I remained for some time. The town was dilapidated. Owls and bats had but recently been driven from the houses and the high weeds cut down and burned. Hardin Hunt was running the only tavern in the town, and the writer took lodging there. A Mrs. Orr was postmistress and Prof Cushman had opened a school. Dr. Young was the principal physician and a Mr. Upthegrove the only lawyer. Fred Ende had a little grocery store and there was a blacksmith shop and a stable. The population numbered about 300 souls The county of Hunt now is said to contain a population of about forty-eight thousand. There were no such towns in the county as Commerce, Celeste, Wolf City and Lone Oak when the war ended. A frame court house stood in the center of the public square. There was no church, The prairies and timbered lands presented an uncouth appearance; there were thousands of acres of uncut postoak, elm, ash, hickory, bois d 'arc. The prairies were covered with grass from three to five feet high. Ninety thousand Texans had participated in the Civil War, among them all the patriots of this county, but no hostile armies, except plundering bands of Indians, had invaded this section of the state. In fact, Texas had been almost free from the ravages of the northern foe. But there had been a number of union men in the country, and these had spread terror among the women and children left behind by fathers and sons. Colonel Jim Bowlin and Colonel Young hanged thirty-five of them on one tree in Gainesville. Towns had been destroyed by fire in places in this section of the country, the firing of the buildngs had been attributed to the union men. Hunt county had the appearance of a wilderness. Great Jamestown weeds, sunflowers, etc., overspread the land, and the song of the forest insects induced a cheerless feeling. I wandered around the courthouse and observed that there were still a few owls, bats, crickets, spiders and cockroaches in evidence. Gradually the men had returned from the army and the prisons, footsore and tired, minus their implements of war, to take up implements of agriculture. A number of Texas Rangers with great spurs on their boots, passed through the town on their way to San Antonio, Nacogdoches and Refugio. In a conversation with one of them the writer was told that since their job of hunting Yankees was knocked out they were going to resume their work of herding cattle. They were still armed with carbines and navy six shooters for the purpose, they said, of resisting any attack that the Comanche and Kiowa Indians, under Lone Wolf, Big Tree and Santanta, might make upon them, as they traveled through the wilderness. They had information that wild Indians were raiding Tarrant, Denton, Wise and Montague counties, stealing horses and killing cattle, in retaliation for raids upon them by palefaces from New Mexico and Arizona. These Indians had crossed Red river and made their escape into what is now known as the beautiful Indian Territory, or Oklahoma.

About this time the writer found a wagon destined for Denton county, loaded with goods for R. J. Battle & Co., merchants. Availing himself of the opportunity to get closer to the frontier he asked and was given permission to ride in the wagon. We passed through McKinney, a little clapboard town in Collin county, and in the course of a little more than a week the town of Denton was reached. The road from McKinney to Denton, with branches of trees hanging over from either side, was wretched and alarming. Big Elm was almost out of its banks, and in some places the rand was so bad that teams of three or four wagons had to be hitched to one wagon in order to pull it through the mud. It was said by the teamsters to be the most abominable road in the Lone Star State. Up one road, down another the wagons moved slowly along, but finally the cry arose that Denton was in sight. I found myself in the midst of the "town " before I knew it. Our wagon stopped on a high hill. A line of native clapboard houses skirted the west side of the hill, called the "public square," and here I took a survey of the surroundings. I was told it was dangerous to go further west on account of the Indians, Mexican lions (or cougars), leopards and panthers. It was as much as the buffalo-hunters could do to live further west. The hill had been surveyed by Luellen Murphy , Joe Carroll and O. C. Welch, and was three hundred feet square, with an eighty-foot street and twelve-foot sidewalk on the four sides. The "square " was thickly covered with postoak trees, tangled wildwood and weeds. It appeared never before to have been touched by the hand of civilized man. On the southeast corner stood a log cabin called the "Murphy House," owned by Henderson Murphy. It consisted of two log pens, a passage and an attic. Mr. Murphy had erected one pen, and when business justified, he built another pen, and this gave him a passage between the two pens. By elevating the roof of these Murphy, his wife, raised fifteen children, and was always serene and cheerful. She called each of her guests "honey, " and was ever gentle, kind and obliging. She was a courageous woman, had fought the Indians from the portholes of her cabin, and had gone through hardships and dangers incident to frontier life.

It was in April, 1868, that the writer stopped at this inn. The four streets around the square were sandy, and when the wind blew the fine dust around the square obscured the rays of the sun. Mr. Murphy said the present townsite had been occupied about ten years. It had been moved to that point from Pinkneyville. The latter town existed only in name, and not a house has been erected upon it from that day to this. The town of Denton had been moved from New Alton to Pinkneyville, and from Old Alton to New Alton. Those old sites still remain in obscurity. Mr. Murphy said there had been some talk of moving the county seat again, but this could not be done for the reason that the population had increased to more than two hundred souls since the boys had returned from the war. Now the town of Denton has a population of over five thousand, with state colleges, fine public schools, thirteen churches, street cars, sewerage, electric lights, waterworks and preparation for gas.

A newspaper was started in Denton in May, 1868. It was called the "Monitor." it’s motto was "maintain the right—expose the wrong." C. W. Geers was the editor and James Williams and Charles Brim were the devils. John Miner, subsequently the editor of the Bonham News, was the foreman. A Washington hand press was used and a negro by the name of John Skaggs rolled and inked the forms of type. The office was located in the upper story of the new storehouse of R. J. Battle & Co., on the southwest corner of the square. The news had gone out that a newspaper was to be started on the first Saturday in May, 1868, and a large number of men, women and children came to witness the "sight." The forms were placed on the press. The paper was to be all home print. One side of the paper had been printed a few days before. The people were staring and gaping for the news They crowded so close around the press that the foreman had to stretch a rope around to keep the people back and give the pressman room to work. The whole community was on tiptoe and women held their children on their shoulders to give them a better view of the press while in operation. They had never seen a printing press before, and some of them had come from points several miles away to witness the event. The forms were rolled, the paper adjusted on the press, and then the lever was pulled; it cried like a screech-owl when the impression was made, and women and children jumped back in a momentary fright. Thus, the first paper in Denton and adjoining counties was born, and scores of hands reached to get it. As the paper was torn in the scuffle, the foreman cried: "There will be plenty of them," and the pressman soon supplied the whole crowd, each with a paper.

"Oh," said several, "look at the reading matter, printed in a minute." And they gazed, with parted lips, wondering.

A young man said, "Why, here is enough reading, printed in a minute, to require a whole day to read. "

"What is the price of this paper for a year?" they inquired.

"Two dollars and fifty cents per annum, in specie, in advance," replied the editor." Green-backs will not be accepted at any price," he continued. And in one day the editor had secured three hundred subscribers.

The county clerk, J. R. McCormick, gave him thirty estray notices to print at two dollars each which he had been saving for the paper.

The next day the editor printed one hundred circulars, size eight by ten inches, on the Washington press, for seven dollars and fifty cents. He made money "hand over fist, " so to speak, and the people looked on and wondered.

The Monitor was popular from the start and was eagerly read by these good people each week.

They were the best people, as a whole, that the Monitor ever had on its subscription list, during its run of 40 years, as I was informed by the editor. It is true that many of the men wore a rough visage, and homespun style of dress, and seldom wore a coat, except in the winter time. The material worn by them was made by the women at home, and in every house could be heard the hum of the spinning wheel and the stroke of the loom. The women manufactured their own jeans and linsey, cut the garments, and made their clothing. There was not a stove, or buggy, or sewing machine or piano in the county. Cooking was done in pots and skillets. The fireplace reached clear across one end of the cabin and iron rods were adjusted in the open recess of the chimney or jambs. On these rods were suspended large kettles and pots, filled with hominy and hog meat. Light bread and biscuits were cooked in skillets on the hearth. The fare thus provided was superior in every respect to any I have ever come in contact with since. At night an iron or tin lamp, supplied with grease, was attached to the jambs of the fireplace, and this gave all the light that was thought necessary. Mrs Lewis Fry, a pioneer lady, who had also fought the Indians and was a bit serious-minded said she felt sorry for the rising generation, for she apprehended all the grease would be consumed in fifty years, and the people would sit in darkness; also shiver in the freezing blasts of winter, as wood, too, become scarce in the distant, future. She had never heard of coal or gas, kerosene or electricity, nor had ever dreamed of such things.


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I was impressed with the evident happiness of this lady and, in fact, all the people were happy. Though dressed in homespun garments with leggings made of the hides of animals, and a snake for hatband, a more contented or milder mannered community did not exist. It appeared that all of them had cultivated a soft, melodious tone of voice and speech, to correspond with their hospitality and generosity. It seemed that anything they had was yours, if you wanted it. I felt that I was in a veritable paradise on earth. If you visited the cabin of one of them, the whole family would take a pleasure in entertaining you, showing you the hides of animals, on the walls and fences, the shoats in the pens, being fattened for hog-killing time, when the meat for the winter was to be laid in, the cows, horses and chickens, and everything calculated to add comfort and pleasure to the home. Now, these were the men who returned from the war and substituted the implements of peace for those of war.

True the Texas of secession and slavery was gone. It was dead. But the Texas of union and universal freedom was taking root and growing. Men and women of this generation will never forget the traditions of their fathers, though they may now have other ideas and aspirations. They read how the union soldiers returned to the North, flushed with victory, in their shining blue uniforms, and were greeted in a blaze of glory. But they saw how their fathers and brothers came home with faded and tattered gray jackets, and with their paroles in their pockets, presenting them to their children as a testimony of faith and fidelity. Ragged and half starved, heavy-hearted and some of them wounded, they surrendered their guns, wrung the hands of their comrades in a final farewell, and taking a last look toward the graves that dotted the fields of carnage, completed their journey home. They had been fighting four years for the glory and liberty of Texas.

Many found their homes in ruins; their farms overrun with weeds; their stock driven off by wild and merciless Indians, their barns empty, their business destroyed. Their money was worthless and their people were without government or law. Neighbors had been slain. They were crushed by defeat, and without money or credit.

But not for a day did they sit down in sullenness and despair. The scourge they had suffered was attributed to fate. God had inspired them in their adversity and therefore restoration was near. Horses that some of them had ridden in the war now marched before the plow. Fields that had known only the whoop of the Kiowa and Comanche Indians for four years, were made ripe with harvest. Decayed towns were beautifully rising again, and there was no hatred and animosity rankling in the bosoms of the Confederates against those who wore the blue.

But to return from this divergence to the main topic as touching the condition of the pioneers of North Texas after the Civil War: The negroes as I have said, were free. They were ignorant, and by fate left among us. Many of them were industrious, it is true, and willing to work for a living, but all were very ignorant, as the race had been in slavery since long before the days of King Solomon. Indeed, at the first dawn of history, they were found in slavery, and classed with cattle and hogs and were bought and sold as personal property. Many of the dissipated, licentious sort, were expecting from the government forty acres of land and a mule as a free gift. The scalawags and carpetbaggers that infested Texas at that time were promising them as much and in some instances giving them forged deeds to parts of their late master's lands. And they were claiming lands under these deeds, and stealing cattle, hogs, horses and poultry, watermelons, fruits, etc. Some of the vicious, lecherous sort had frightened women and children and one of them went as far as to drag a woman from a horse on Holford Prairie, in Denton county, not far from the little town of Lewisville. This negro was caught by an organized band, said to have been but recently formed, and called the Ku Klux Klan. They carried him to Lewisville, where the lady resided, bound hand and foot, and turned him over to her. She told them that he was the identical negro that assaulter her and she requested them to take him out in the brush and kill him. They replied that they would take him out, but that she must do the killing herself, for that she was the only person that had the right to do so, being the party mostly aggrieved. Accordingly, they conveyed the negro to a lonely spot in the woods, and she shot him two or three times with a pistol, and then the men unbound him. About an hour after a boy came running into the house and reported that the negro was still alive. A man then went out and knocked him in the head with an ax. In about two hours afterward three or four men went out to get the corpse and bury it, but to their surprise the negro was gone, and could not be found near the place where he had been presumably killed. A posse was immediately organized, and by following a trace of blood and foot marks through the timber, they found him not far from the town of Denton. They brought him to the Murphy house, in Denton, and tied him to a post, on the southeast corner of the square. Scores of men, boys and negroes, followed the posse to that post, and looked at him in astonishment, because he was still alive. I approached the negro and asked him where he was hurt, as he was bloody all over, but he complained only of a thorn in his foot.

The question then arose as to what disposition should be made of the negro.

It was decided that as no one had authority to kill him, he should be sent to the jail at McKinney. Denton had no jail, it having been destroyed by fire. So the posse, headed by Columbus Daugherty, now deceased, started with the negro for McKinney. It was not long before the posse returned and reported that while riding through Elm Bottom the negro leaped from the horse he was riding and escaped in the brush. That negro was never heard of again. How he was permitted to "escape " has never been explained, nor did I ever hear of any further effort to recapture him. Various theories were advanced, but, no one has been found that could tell anything about it. Now this story may be found a little questionable, but old settlers of Denton and Lewisville will confirm every word of it, for it is true.

I was a young man at that time and viewed the habits, practices and customs of the people of this locality with considerable awe and astonishment, for I was born and raised amid environments quite different in many respects. But no people on earth were more kind-hearted, charitable, unselfish and benevolent generally, than the people of this section of Texas.

About this time seven horse thieves were caught and hanged on one tree near Grapevine in Tarrant county. One was hanged on the public square in Denton and another near the public well on what is now Prairie street. Another was hanged not far from Denton on the Fort Worth road.

This thief deserves special mention. I will not call his name lest it might be confounded with some prominent citizens bearing the same name. There was a widow with five children living alone on a farm. The husband had perished in the war, while gallantly leading a charge on a federal battery. She had but one horse and this was her only dependence for making a living for herself and children. The thief saw her come home from the field, after plowing all day and watched her feed her horse. He thought, according to his own confession, that as there was no man about the place, he could get off with the horse unpursued. So about midnight, while the widow and her children were wrapped in slumber, he stealthily crept to her home, untied the horse and appropriated it to his own use. Great was the excitement in that little family the next morning when the widow arose and found her only hope of making a living gone. Wringing her hands, she and her children went from neighbor to neighbor and reported the theft. The pioneers, as fast as they heard of the widow's loss, rose as one man to hunt the thief, and recover, if possible, the horse. Some of them could trail man or beast through the brush like a bloodhound. They could tell by the impression of the feet of the stolen horse how old the track was and by this means before the sun was down they had caught the thief in Tarrant county. As they returned with him bound on the horse he had stolen, the crowd increased in number, and by the time they had reached a point a few miles from town, the mob was crying "Hang him, hang him!" Already a rope was around his neck, while the thief, trembling, through pallid lips begged for his life. "Brother, brother, brother!" he kept repeating, "have mercy on me." They replied that he might ask God to forgive him, but that they could not. So they hanged him by the neck to the limb of a tree until he was dead, on the Fort Worth road.

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