Newspapers around the country in 1860 called it “the Texas Troubles.” Rumors—fanned by letters written by Charles R. Pryor, editor of the Dallas Herald—claimed that a mysterious fire on Sunday, July 8, which burned the newspaper office and all the buildings on the Dallas square except the brick courthouse, was an abolitionist plot “to devastate, with fire and assassination the whole of Northern Texas . . . .”

On the same day, other fires destroyed half of the square in Denton and burned a store in Pilot Point. Fires also erupted in Honey Grove, Jefferson, and Austin. The city leaders of Dallas (population 775) first believed the extreme heat—105 to 113 degrees––caused spontaneous combustion of the new and volatile phosphorous matches. They concluded that the matches, stored in a box of wood shavings at a drug store, ignited and quickly consumed the entire building before spreading over the downtown. Citizens in Denton, after experiencing similar problems with “prairie matches,” concluded that spontaneous combustion caused their city’s fire.

In Dallas, however, white leaders stirred by the prospect of Abraham Lincoln’s election and encouraged by Pryor’s claims, decided on a sinister slave plot hatched up by two white abolitionist preachers from Iowa. They jailed the preachers, publically whipped them, and sent them out of the county.

A committee of fifty-two men organized to mete out justice to the slaves in the county. At first, the vigilante committee favored hanging every one of the almost 100 Negro slaves in the county, then cooler heads prevailed and decided to hang only three. Two days later the men were hung on the banks of the Trinity River near the present Triple Overpass. The remaining slaves, out of consideration of their property value, were given a good flogging. Later, a judge who had been part of the vigilante committee said that the three murdered slaves were probably innocent, but because of the “inflamed state of the public mind, someone had to be hanged.”

The “troubles” were not over. By the end of July, towns throughout North and Central Texas organized vigilance committees to find and punish the conspirators. The committees terrorized the slave community. Interrogations focused on white itinerant preachers who were cited as insurrection leaders.

Despite fears of a slave rebellion that lasted until after the Civil War, there was never an organized group of slaves in Texas that shed white blood. Vigilantes often obtained “confessions” and evidence points to white leaders spreading the rumors to garner public support for secession.

Estimates vary from thirty to 100 Negroes and whites who died before the panic subsided. One historian described the times as “the drama of the imagination.”

Bonnie Parker, Dead at Twenty-three

She was an honor student and loved poetry, but she dropped out of school, married Roy Thornton before her sixteenth birthday, and had “Roy and Bonnie” tattooed on her right knee to celebrate the union. After a stormy two years, Thornton went to prison; Bonnie never divorced him and died five years later, still wearing Thornton’s wedding ring. Those five years would make her a legend as the partner of another man.

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was four in 1914 when her father died. Her mother moved her three children to “Cement City,” an industrial area of West Dallas to be near relatives and to secure work as a seamstress. That rough and tumble area was where Bonnie met and married Thornton, and it was where the four-foot-ten inch, eighty-five pound Bonnie met Clyde Chestnut Barrow one year after Thornton went to prison.

Clyde Barrow had already made a name for himself with the Dallas police force for a series of robberies. When he was arrested again, Bonnie wrote letters pleading with him to stay out of trouble, and then she smuggled a handgun to him that he used to escape. He was captured in a week and sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. One account says that to avoid hard labor on the prison’s plantation, Barrow had a fellow inmate chop off two of Barrow’s toes on his left foot. Another account says that before Barrow was paroled in February 1932, he beat another inmate to death for repeated sexual assaults. Whatever happened in that two-year prison experience, Clyde Barrow walked out as a hardened criminal, bent on getting revenge for the treatment he had received.

Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Historians believe Bonnie stayed with Barrow and his gang, which had an ever-changing list of members, because she loved him. She willingly took part in the series of small robberies—stores and gas stations—with the goal of eventually launching an attack to liberate Eastham prisoners. She was arrested with one of the gang members as they tried to steal guns from a hardware store. After a few months in jail, a grand jury failed to indict her, and she was released. While Bonnie was in jail, Barrow was accused of murder because he drove the car in a robbery in which a storeowner was shot and killed.

A few months later, while Bonnie was visiting her mother in Dallas, Barrow and a couple of his cronies were at a dance in Oklahoma and ended up killing a deputy and wounding a sheriff—the first time the Barrow Gang killed a lawman. Before the reign ended, they had killed nine.

The crime spree continued. In the last six months of 1932 the gang killed five men—law officers and private citizens they were attempting to rob. The following March, Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck was released from prison and the two couples—Bonnie and Clyde and Buck and his wife Blanche—moved into a garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri. Their loud drinking parties caused neighbors to grow suspicious and report them to authorities. On April 13, 1933, when five lawmen approached the apartment, the gang opened fire killing a detective and fatally wounding a constable. As the gang ran for their car, Bonnie covered their escape by firing her M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (their weapon of choice). The got away without any of their personal belongings, which included Buck’s three-weeks-old parole papers, a large stash of weapons, one of Bonnie’s poems, and a camera with several rolls of undeveloped film. Before the police gave the film to The Joplin Globe, Bonnie and Clyde were known primarily for their crimes in the Dallas area. But the pictures, swaggering attempts to look tough as they posed with their guns, made the Barrow Gang a front-page story across the nation.

For the next three months they made headlines, roaming from Texas to Minnesota, robbing banks and stealing cars, killing those who got in their way, and kidnapping both lawmen and robbery victims. Sometimes they released their hostages with enough money to get back home. While the public enjoyed following the increasingly violent behavior, the five members of the gang, forced to ride in one car, began to bicker according to a prison account written years later by Blanche Barrow. There was no place to hide—restaurants and motels offered the threat of exposure—forcing them to cook on campfires and bathe in cold streams.

On June 10, 1933, Clyde missed a construction sign and flipped their car into a ravine. Bonnie received third-degree burns on her right leg, either from a fire or acid in the car’s battery. While they waited in a tourist court near Fort Smith, Arkansas, for Bonnie’s leg to heal, other gang members botched a robbery and killed the town marshal of Alma, Arkansas. Despite the serious condition of Bonnie’s leg, they were forced to flee.  It was July 18 when they checked into a tourist court near Kansas City, Missouri, and began a series of stunts that drew immediate attention. Blanche Barrow, while wearing jodhpur riding breeches—clothing unfamiliar to women in that area—registered for three guests, and five people openly stepped from the car. She paid with coins instead of bills for the lodging and for meals at the neighboring restaurant that was a favorite hangout for Missouri highway patrolmen. When Clyde went to a drugstore to purchase bandages and ointment for Bonnie’s leg and crackers and cheese, the pharmacist became suspicious and notified authorities who were on the lookout for strangers shopping for such supplies.

Ironically the ensuing gunfight resulted in a bullet hitting the horn on the lawmen’s armored car and caused them to think it was a cease-fire signal. Although they got away, both Blanche and Buck Barrow were severely injured. Clyde Barrow was so sure his brother would die from his injuries that Clyde dug his grave. Again, they drew attention to themselves by tossing out bloody bandages. When the authorities arrived, Bonnie and Clyde escaped on foot; Buck was shot and died later, and Blanche was taken into custody.

For six weeks the remaining three members of the gang moved from Colorado to Minnesota and south to Mississippi, committing small robberies and trying to replenish their arsenal. They returned in September to Dallas where their families tended to Bonnie’s leg injuries, which never healed properly and caused her to spend the rest of her life hopping on one foot or being carried by Clyde. He stayed busy pulling off minor robberies until November 22, 1933, when the Dallas sheriff almost caught the pair as they headed to a family meeting. Clyde sensed that something was wrong and drove quickly away amid police machine gun fire that struck both him and Bonnie in the legs.

The next week, a Dallas grand jury indicted Bonnie and Clyde for the 1933 murder of the Tarrant County deputy—the first murder warrant issued for Bonnie Parker.  On January 16, 1934, Clyde Barrow succeeded in reaching his goal of revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections by leading an escape of former gang members and other prisoners from the Eastham Prison. One of the escapees shot a prison officer, which focused the full power of state and federal authorities on the capture of Bonnie and Clyde.

Retired Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer was employed to get the Barrow Gang. A tenacious hunter, Hamer had the reputation for getting his man—during his career he suffered seventeen personal wounds and killed fifty-three criminals. For over two months Hamer stalked the gang—always one or two towns behind. On April 1, 1934, Barrow and another gang member killed two Texas highway patrolmen. A witness, who was later discredited, claimed to have seen Bonnie laugh at the way the patrolman’s “head bounced like a rubber ball.” The story was picked up in the papers and fueled the public outcry against Bonnie Parker. The Highway Patrol offered $1,000 for “the dead bodies,” and Governor Ma Ferguson put up another $500 for each of the killers.

Bonnie closed the door on any possible claim for clemency a few days later when Clyde and another gang member killed a sixty-year-old Oklahoma constable and took the police chief as a hostage. Before they gave the chief a clean shirt and let him go, Bonnie asked him to spread the word that she did not smoke cigars (she chain-smoked Camels). The arrest warrant named Clyde, a John Doe, and Bonnie as the killers of the constable.

Bonnie Parker/Cigar

Bonnie Parker/Cigar

Frank Hamer had been studying the movements of the gang. He realized that they visited family, moving in a circle along the edge of five midwestern states, enabling them to escape without law enforcement being able to follow them across the state line. He estimated when it would be time to visit a gang family member in Louisiana.  Hamer amassed an armor-piercing arsenal, a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers and lay in wait on a rural road near Arcadia, Louisiana. The father of one of the former gang members, who later claimed that he was forced to cooperate, flagged down the speeding Ford carrying only Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934. The posse opened fire, hitting the stolen vehicle with 167 bullets. Reports said that Bonnie’s bullet-riddled body was found holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes. Clyde, whose body was barely recognizable, was still clutching a revolver.

The death scene erupted in chaos with souvenir hunters scavenging pieces of clothing, hair, and shell casings. They were not buried together as they wished, but in separate Dallas cemeteries. Mobs descended on the Parker home, and a throng of 20,000 made it almost impossible for the family to reach the Dallas gravesite. Although thousands crowded both funeral homes hoping to see the bodies, the Barrow family held a private service and buried Clyde next to his brother Buck. They shared a simple granite marker with their names and the words that had been selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.”

No one will ever know the real extent of Bonnie Parker’s involvement in the crimes of the Barrow Gang. Some gang members claimed that she never killed anyone, but she was involved in eight murders, seven kidnappings, less than a dozen bank heists, many armed robberies and car thefts, and a major jailbreak. One account says that the largest haul of any of the robberies netted only $1,500.

Bullet-riddled car

Bullet-riddled car

Peter Pan, A Texas Girl

Growing up in Weatherford, twenty-five miles west of Fort Worth, Mary Virginia Martin was a mimic—dancing and acting like Dick

Mary Martin as Peter Pan

Mary Martin as Peter Pan

Powell’s co-star, Ruby Keeler and singing like the crooner Bing Crosby.  Martin’s mother, a violin teacher, had planned to have a son in 1913. Instead, her lively little girl became the family’s tomboy, romping and playing in the orchard and barn and riding ponies with her older sister Geraldine.  She claimed in her autobiography My Heart Belongs to have had an idyllic childhood, and that her photographic memory made it easy to memorize songs and remember the answers for school exams.  She performed her first solo in a fire hall and remembered soaking up the crowd’s admiration. Then, she sang with a trio of little girls dressed like bellhops on the town’s bandstand right outside the courthouse where her father used his powerful voice to present his law cases.  She realized her voice was powerful, too, because even without a microphone it rang out across the town square.

She enrolled in Ward-Belmont, a strict finishing school in Nashville, Tennessee, where entertaining the other girls with imitations of Fanny Brice was not enough to assuage her homesickness, especially for Benjamin Hagman.  She and Hagman convinced her mother, who was the family disciplinarian, to allow them to marry.  As it turned out, marriage and expecting her first child (Larry Hagman, future J.R. Ewing in Dallas) at seventeen was not the dream she had imagined.  Following her sister’s suggestion, she opened a dance school in nearby Mineral Wells and embarked on a series of choices that finally propelled her into stardom:  She divorced Hagman, left her son in Weatherford, and headed to California to study dance.  Over the next two years she became known as “Audition Mary” for never missing a chance to sing or dance for a job.  She took whatever work she could get including a stint at theaters in San Francisco and Los Angles singing “So Red Rose”—from the wings of the theaters.  After Oscar Hammerstein II, whom she did not recognize, heard her sing “Indian Love Call,” he told her she had something special.  Since she could not break into the film industry, she went to New York for a role in a play that never opened.  Finally, in Cole Porter’s production of Leave it to Me she captured the audiences with the song, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

The media attention opened the door to Hollywood in 1939, and over the next three years she starred in ten movies.  Radio performances included Good News of 1940 and Kraft Music Hall. In 1940 she married Richard Halliday, an editor and producer at Paramount, who became her manager.  She won the New York Drama Critics Poll for her role as Venus in One Touch of Venus.  She contributed ideas for the songs and choreography for her role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit South Pacific.  Over the next ten years, she performed on stage and television in Skin of Our Teeth and Annie Get Your Gun, however she said that her favorite role was that of Peter Pan that ran briefly on Broadway and then repeatedly on NBC-TV.

Star for "Recording" on Hollywood Walk of Fame.  She also has a star for "Radio."

Star for “Recording” on Hollywood Walk of Fame. She also has a star for “Radio.”

Martin claimed many awards including Tony Awards for Peter Pan, for her portrayal of Mary Rainer in The Sound of Music, and for her role as nurse Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. She was presented with a special Tony in 1948 “for spreading theatre to the rest of the country while the originals perform in New York,” and she received the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 1989 for career achievement.  Although she is credited with fifteen films and fourteen television performances, Martin said she preferred the “connection” she felt with a live theater audience.  She is credited with twenty-two stage productions.

Mary Martin died of cancer on November 3, 1990, and is buried in her hometown of Weatherford, Texas.

Peter Pan statue in Weatherford, TX

Peter Pan statue in Weatherford, TX

Immigrant Creates a Food Tradition

In 1892 when Adelaida and Macario Cuellar left their impoverished home in Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande, and were married in Laredo, they had dreams of working hard and finding

Adelaida "Mama" Cuellar in early 1890s with the first of her 12 children.

Adelaida “Mama” Cuellar in early 1890s with the first of her 12 children.

success. They did not imagine that their family would eventually head a multi-million dollar food business.

The Cuellars spoke very little English and worked on farms in South Texas as they moved north, eventually settling as sharecroppers on a farm outside Kaufman, a town southeast of Dallas. By 1926 Macario worked as a ranch foreman at Star Brand Ranch and the family had grown to twelve children.  In an effort to add to the family income, Mama Cuellar as Adelaida had become known, set up a stand at the Kaufmann County Fair to sell her homemade chili and tamales, while her five sons, known as Mama’s Boys, played guitars.  She not only won a prize for her cooking, she sold out.  The tamale stand made $300, the family claims that was more than Macario Cuellar made in a year.  Thus began the family’s tradition of using Mama Cuellar’s famous recipes and hard work to find success.

Two of her sons soon opened a Mexican restaurant in Kaufman with Mama Cuellar doing the cooking, but the Great Depression forced them to close after a couple of years.  Over the next few years her five sons tried unsuccessfully to operate restaurants in several East Texas towns, until 1940 when sons Macario and Gilbert, using Mama Cuellar’s recipes, opened El Charro in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas. As the restaurant became more profitable, all five sons pooled their resources and expanded to other locations under El Chico Corporation.

In 1961 Angus G. Wynne, Jr. owner of the Star Brand Ranch that had employed Macario Cuellar, planned to open an amusement park in Arlington to be called “Six Flags Over Texas.”  Wynne wanted to serve food representing all the cultures in Texas and he invited the Cuellars to open a restaurant in the Mexico section of the park.  El Chico proved so popular that it ran out of food and even paper plates and cups.

Mama Cuellar

Mama Cuellar

By the time Mama Cuellar died in 1969, El Chico had expanded into twenty different businesses from canning to restaurant franchising. Over the years the business went public and then returned to the family’s hands several times, each time at considerable profit.  Many of the El Chico employees, realizing the growing popularity of Mexican food, opened their own Mexican restaurants.  Some are white tablecloth and fine dining establishments, while others serve Mexican seafood, and some cater to the post-college boomer crowd.

In 1971 Mariano Martinez, one of Mama Cuellar’s grandsons who owned Mariono’s in Dallas’ Old Town, hit on the idea of refitting a soft-serve ice cream machine to serve frozen margaritas.  His invention, which revolutionized the restaurant and bar industry, is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C..

Today the tiny Mexican immigrant’s dream of using hard work to be successful has expanded into almost a hundred El Chico restaurants in Texas and the surrounding states and twenty-seven El Chico Restaurant franchises.Story

Texas Troubles

Newspapers around the country called it “the Texas Troubles” in 1860 when rumors—fanned by letters to Texas newspapers written by Charles R. Pryor, editor of the Dallas Herald—claimed that a mysterious fire on Sunday, July 8 that burned the newspaper office and all the buildings on the Dallas town square except the brick courthouse, was an abolitionist plot “to devastate, with fire and assassination the whole of Northern Texas . . .” On that same day other fires destroyed half of the square in Denton and burned down a store in Pilot Point. Fires also burned in Honey Grove, Jefferson, and Austin.  The city leaders of Dallas (population 775) first blamed the extreme heat—105 to 113 degrees in the area—for causing spontaneous combustion of the volatile phosphorous matches in a box of wood shavings, which ignited a fire that quickly spread over the downtown.  The citizens in Denton, after experiencing other problems with “prairie matches,” concluded that spontaneous combustion was the cause of their fire.

In Dallas, however, white leaders stirred by the intense political climate and encouraged by Pryor’s claims, blamed a sinister slave plot hatched up by two white abolitionist preachers from Iowa.  The preachers were jailed, publically whipped, and sent out of the county.  A committee of fifty-two men organized to mete out justice to the slaves in the county.  At first the vigilance committee favored hanging every one of the almost 100 Negro slaves in the county, then cooler heads prevailed and decided to hang only three. Two days later the men were hung on the banks of the Trinity River.  The remaining slaves, in consideration of their property value, were given a good flogging.  Later, a judge who had been part of the vigilante committee said that the three slaves were probably innocent, but because of the “inflamed state of the public mind, someone had to be hanged.”

The “troubles” were not over.  By the end of July, towns throughout North and Central Texas organized vigilance committees to find and punish the conspirators.  The committees terrorized the slave community and focused their investigations on white itinerant preachers who were cited as insurrection leaders.  An article in the Handbook of Texas tells of  Rev. Anthony Bewley a Northern Methodist preacher who held antislavery views and operated a mission south of Fort Worth.  A letter, which some people claimed was a forgery, urged Brewley to continue his efforts to free Texas from slavery.  It was published widely, which convinced Brewley that he must take his family to Kansas.  A posse caught him in Missouri,  returned him to Fort Worth on September 13, where a lynch mob hanged him and left his body dangling until the next morning.  After burial in a shallow grave, his body was exhumed three weeks later, the bones stripped of the flesh, and placed atop a storehouse. Children played with the bones.  The episode ended the activities of Northern Methodists in Texas.

Despite fears of a slave rebellion that lasted until after the Civil War, there was never an organized group of slaves in Texas that shed white blood.  Vigilantes often obtained “confessions” and evidence points to white leaders spreading the rumors to garner public support for secession.  Approximately ten whites accused of being abolitionists and around five slaves actually  died during the “troubles ”  between July and September 1860.

La Reunion, Dallas Commune

On June 16, 1855, residents of the area around the village of Dallas (population 400) declared a holiday in anticipation of greeting about 200 very foreign-looking immigrants from France, Belgium, and Switzerland.  The newcomers, who spoke French and wore odd-looking clothing and sabots (wooden shoes) arrived after a twenty-six-day trip from Houston—some walking,



others on horseback.  They were accompanied by ox-drawn wagons on which they carried household goods necessary to begin a utopian community.  Unlike most frontier settlers, La Réunion colonists were brewers, watchmakers, weavers, and shopkeepers—unsuited to the rigors of farm life.  Over several months, more settlers arrived bringing supplies such as an organ, piano, flutes, and violins.  One wave of newcomers brought thirteen trunks and had to pay ox-cart drivers three cents a pound to haul the load.  An elderly man had broken his leg on shipboard and had to pay the freight rate to ride in a cart.

Victor Prosper Considerant

Victor Prosper Considerant

The groups’ founder Victor Prosper Considerant planned a loosely structured experimental utopian community on the banks of the Trinity River in which members shared in the profits based on the amount of capital each one invested in the cooperative and the quantity and quality of work contributed by each participant.  Unlike rigid communism, Considerant advocated voting by both men and women and individuals owning private property.  He had been a leader in the democratic socialist movement in France and had been forced to flee to Belgium in 1851 after taking part in a failed insurrection against Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.  His travels with a fellow follower of the French philosopher Charles Fourier led him to North Texas where he found the people, climate, and land perfectly suited for establishing a cooperative utopian society.  Upon his return to Paris he established the European Society for the Colonization of Texas and published Au Texas (In Texas) in which he praised the ideal climate and claimed the fertile soil well suited for growing tropical fruit.

Considerant sent advance agents who purchased about 2,500 acres on the chalky, limestone bluff near the forks of the Trinity River, three miles west of Dallas.  The land was not suitable for farming, even if the colonists had known how to farm.  They did plant a large garden, bought 500 head of cattle, sheep, pigs and some fowls.  They purchased equipment for mowing, reaping and thrashing wheat and by the following year they had laid out a town site, built offices, buildings suitable for making soap and candles and operating a laundry.  They prepared their meals in a cooperative kitchen and built two dormitories for individual families.

Their Saturday night parties, which included music, singing, and dancing, shocked some of their Dallas neighbors whose protestant faith led them to believe that violins were instruments of the devil and singing should be limited to sacred songs. La Réunion residents vigorously defended their entertainment by insisting that keeping the Sabbath meant worship and pleasure.  The locals claimed that a half day on Saturday should also be set aside.  It wasn’t long before a few of the younger, more independent Dallas residents began attending the parties and romances soon followed.

Although groups continued to arrive, the population never grew beyond 350. After putting 430 acres into cultivation, a blizzard in May 1856 damaged the crops and froze the Trinity River.  The heat of summer brought drought and grasshoppers invaded to feast on the remaining crops.  Settlers began leaving as tensions developed over Considerant’s poor financial management, unclear land deeds, impractical distribution of work, and disagreements over how meals should be served to provide equal sharing.  Some headed back to Europe while others moved into Dallas and surrounding communities.

In 1860 Dallas incorporated La Réunion land and the colonists offered their considerable skills to the growing city.  M. Monduel opened the first brewery in 1857; Emil Remond experimented with the white rock on the banks of the Trinity and eventually established a cement plant; Julien Reverchon became an internationally known botany professor at Baylor University College of Medicine and Pharmacy in Dallas and Jacob Boll, who taught Reverchon after he arrived in Texas, discovered and classified many Texas plants and flowers.  Jacob Nussbaumer opened the city’s first butcher shop.  Benjamin Long served two terms as Dallas mayor; and John B Louckx, created the public school system.

Today, the 561-foot Reunion Tower completed in 1978 in downtown Dallas is about three miles east of the old colony and serves as a handsome reminder of the contributions made by the little band of visionaries.

Reunion Tower

Reunion Tower

Texas Interurban Railways

In 1901 the first electric interurban, or trolley, began operating on a 10.5-mile track between Denison and Sherman in North Texas.  The thirty-minute trip on the seventy-

Denison & Sherman Railway Donna HuntHerald Democrat

Denison & Sherman Railway Donna Hunt
Herald Democrat

pound steel rails cost twenty-five cents.  The line proved so successful that a second route between Dallas and Fort Worth opened the next year.  A fourteen-mile track began operating between Belton and Temple and by 1909 the original line extended all the way south from Denison to Dallas.  In five years the line moved further south to Waco and other lines began between Beaumont and Port Arthur, El Paso and Ysleta, and Houston, Baytown, and Goose Creek.

Parlor CarDenison-Dallas-Waco-Corsicana

Parlor Car

The interurban between Houston and Galveston started carrying passengers in 1911 after Galveston completed its amazing rebuilding following the devastating 1900 storm.  The city constructed a seventeen-foot seawall, raised the entire level of the island, and opened a new $2 million causeway to the mainland with tracks to accommodate the electric interurban line, railroad tracks, and a highway. The Houston-Galveston Interurban boasted an observation car on the rear and the fastest schedule of any steam or electric railroad.  It made the fifty-mile downtown-to-downtown trek in seventy-five minutes with the help of a thirty-four-mile “tangent,” one of the longest sections of straight track that allowed the carriage to travel at fifty-five miles per hour.  Passengers rode to Galveston for an evening on the beach or in the gambling houses and then took the late interurban back to Houston.

Houston-Galveston Interurban

Houston-Galveston Interurban

Other areas offered special excursions between cities.  Baseball teams grew up along the interurban lines, and passengers flocked to see games of the Class C and D “Trolley League.”

The frequent service, convenient stops within cities, and lower fares of the interurbans overcame all competition with steam railroads.  At the peak of the service in 1920, nearly four million passengers enjoyed the trolleys—the carpeted cars with lounge chairs, spittoons, and rest rooms.  By 1931, ten systems across the state covered over five hundred miles.

The advent of the automobile and the convenient travel it offered spelled doom for the interurbans.  The lines began closing, their tracks being paved over to make way for their competition, the automobile.  On December 31, 1948, the old Denison to Dallas line made its last run.