Richest Little City in Texas

In 1911 Niles City occupied a little more than half a square mile and boasted a population of 508. Located three miles north of Fort Worth’s business center, Niles City included within its bounds the Fort Worth Stock Yards, Swift & Company, Armour & Company, two grain elevators, and a cotton oil company, which placed the city’s property value at $12 million. Six railroads came through, and the Belt Railway owned and operated a roundhouse. Niles City had a town council and enjoyed complete utility service, good roads, and fine schools.

The town was named for Louville Veranus Niles, a successful Boston businessman who reorganized the Fort Worth Packing Company in 1899 and was instrumental in convincing Armour and Swift to locate in his namesake town in 1902.

Niles City claimed no fine homes, only the houses belonging to the plant workers and about seventy rental houses erected by the Fort Worth Stock Yards for its employees. However, the town boasted other important venues including the Live Stock Exchange Building, the horse and mule barns, and the Cowtown Coliseum where the Fat Stock Show offered the first indoor rodeo in the United States. Many big name entertainers performed at the Coliseum including Enrico Caruso who drew a crowd of about 8,000 in 1920. The Swift and Armour packing plants added significantly to the economy, employing about 4,000 workers from Fort Worth and the surrounding area.

All of the wealth packed into such a small piece of real estate proved too tempting for Niles City’s neighbors. In 1921 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing a city of more than 50,000 to incorporate adjacent territory that did not have a population greater than 2,000. To protect itself from annexation, Niles City quickly took in another square mile that included the Gulf Oil Company refinery, its pipeline plant, and two school districts attended by the children of Niles City. The move increased the town’s population to about 2,500 and its taxable property to $30 million.

The legislature passed a second bill raising the population needed to halt annexation to 5,000. In July 1922, Fort Worth held a special election in which voters passed amendments to the city charter allowing Fort Worth to incorporate Niles City. The move took place on August 1, 1923.

Today the Stockyards, the Cowtown Coliseum, and Billy Bob’s world-famous honky-tonk are located on the grounds of the town once known as “the richest little city in Texas.”

Cowtown Coliseum

Cowtown Coliseum

Flapper Bandit

Just before Christmas in 1926, Rebecca Bradley, a twenty-one-year old student at the University of Texas in Austin, decided to rob banks to pay her college tuition.  First, she set fire to a vacant house near downtown Round Rock and rushed into the nearby bank thinking the employees would be distracted by the blaze.  When that plan failed, she drove south of Austin to the Fa

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rmers National Bank in Buda and pretended to be a newspaper reporter as she made careful notes while interviewing local farmers about their crops and government policies.  She secured perm

ission to use the bank’s typewriter inside the teller’s cage.  After a time, she pulled a .32 automatic, herded both employees into the walk-in safe and fled with $1,000 in five-dollar bills.  Her Ford Model T coupe got stuck in the mud on the way back to Austin; the bank employees used a screwdriver to jiggle their way to freedom; and by the time she reached home she was arrested.

Newspapers across the country went nuts reporting on the pretty little coed who they dubbed the “flapper bandit.”  Rebecca’s story soon emerged.  With the help of a student loan and part time jobs she had earned a bachelor’s degree in history and was beginning a master’s degree program when her mother became ill and moved to Austin to live with Rebecca.  To further complicate matters, Rebecca had been secretly married for a year to her high school sweetheart Otis Rogers, a UT law student who could not afford to care for his wife and her mother.

Rebecca worked for a university professor who managed the business affairs for the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) and planned to be away during the summer of 1926.  In his absence and apparently thinking Rebecca would be eager to bring in new members, he allowed Rebecca to keep $1.40 of the $3.00 membership dues she collected.  She jumped into the new opportunity, used personal funds to hire secretaries to send membership invitations to thousands of names, and ended up overwhelmed by poor record keeping and errors that resulted in her owing over $1,200 to the TSHA.  In the meantime she went to work as a secretary for Texas Attorney General Dan Moody who was elected governor in November 1926.

Justice ground forward as a witness in the arson trial testified to seeing Rebecca enter the vacant house and leave again just before the fire erupted.  The jury could not agree on a verdict.  The December 1927 trial for the bank robbery resulted in a conviction and maximum sentence of fourteen years.  Finally, her husband Otis Rogers joined the defense team that won an appeal and after lengthy legal wrangling she was granted a new trial.  While many professionals wondered at the sanity of a young woman who would rob a bank, her husband actually argued that she was insane at the time of the robbery.  One account claims that he pleaded passionately for the court to “hang her high or send her to the electric chair” instead of allowing her to suffer in prison.  Again, a hung jury failed to convict.  Before it all ended in September 1929, Rebecca Bradley Rogers had been tried four times for either arson or armed robbery.

Later, the sheriff reported that as he and Rebecca drove through Buda she laughed and said, “I have a whole lot to live down, but not as much as those men back there who let a little girl hold them up with an empty gun.”

Rebecca Bradley Rogers became a free woman the day before she gave birth to their first child.  She and Otis moved to Fort Worth where he became a successful criminal attorney with Rebecca serving as his legal secretary.

Read about other famous Texas gangsters in Dr. T. Linday Baker’s Gangster Tour of Texas.

Gangster Tour of Texas T. Lindsay Baker

Gangster Tour of Texas
T. Lindsay Baker

rebecca

Niles City: “Richest Little City in Texas”

Three miles north of Fort Worth’s business center, Niles City, a tiny strip of land spreading over a little more than one-half square mile and boasting a population of 508, incorporated in 1911.  Within its bounds sat the Fort Worth Stock Yards, Swift & Company, Armour & Company, two grain elevators, and a cotton-oil company, which placed the city’s property value at $12 million.  Six railroads came through the town with the Belt Railway owning and operating a roundhouse.  Niles City had a town council and enjoyed complete utility service, good roads, and fine schools.

The town was named for Louville Veranus Niles, a successful Boston businessman who reorganized the Fort Worth Packing Company in 1899 and was instrumental in convincing Armour and Swift to locate in Niles City in 1902.

There were no fine homes in the town, just the houses belonging to the plant workers and about seventy rental houses erected by the Fort Worth Stock Yards for its employees.  Niles City claimed other important venues including the Live Stock Exchange Building,

Live Stock Exchange Building, 1902

Live Stock Exchange Building, 1902

the horse and mule barns, and the Cowtown Coliseum, where the Fat Stock Show offered the first indoor rodeo in the United States.

Cowtown Coliseum, first indoor rodeo in the US

Cowtown Coliseum, first indoor rodeo in the US

Many big name entertainers performed at the Coliseum including Enrico Caruso who drew a crowd of about 8,000 in 1920.  The Swift and Armour packing plants added significantly to the economy, employing about 4,000 workers from Fort Worth and the surrounding area.

All of the wealth packed into such a small piece of real estate proved too tempting for Niles City’s neighbors.  In 1921 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing a city of more than 50,000 to incorporate adjacent territory that did not have a population greater than 2,000.  To protect itself from annexation, Niles City quickly took in another square mile of extraterritorial industries including the Gulf Oil Company refinery and its pipeline plant, and two school districts attended by the children of Niles City. The move increased the town’s population to about 2,500 and its taxable property to $30 million.  The legislature passed a second bill raising the population needed to halt annexation to 5,000.  In July 1922 Fort Worth held a special election in which voters passed amendments to the city charter allowing Fort Worth to incorporate Niles City, which occurred on August 1, 1923.

Today the Stockyards, the Cowtown Coliseum, and Billy Bob’s the world famous honky tonk are located on the grounds of the town once known as “the richest little city in the state of Texas.”

Billy Bob's "World's Largest Honky Tonk" at 127,000 sq. ft.

Billy Bob’s “World’s Largest Honky Tonk” at 127,000 sq. ft.