Sunday, October 25, 2015

ACROSS THE CONTINENT - 1878 The Frank Leslie Excursion to the Pacific

This article is included here as background information to describe train travel conditions about the time that Ft. Worth got its first rail service in 1876.  The intent is to provide a glimpse of what our Cattle Barons and other assorted early Fort Worthians likely experienced as they ventured out from their prairie homes to see the larger world beyond.

New York publisher, Frank Leslie himself, wrote of his 1878 journey from New York to San Francisco taken just a few years after the Golden Spike was set at Promontory Point joining the East and West coasts together for the first time.  Although his descriptions tell of his numerous tribulations, railroad travel was revolutionary in its day.  Journeys that formerly took weeks to complete, suddenly could be done in 4-5 days, coast to coast with the engines chugging along 24/7 making about 35 mph on average.

Credit for the following goes to:  

FROM our Pullman hotel-car, the last in the long train, to the way-car which follows closely on the engine, there is a vast discount in the scale of comfort, embracing as many steps as there are conveyances.  It is worth one's while to make a tour of the train for the sake of observing these differences and noting the manners and customs of traveling humanity, when tired bodies and annoyed brains (there are plenty such even on the overland trip) have agreed to cast aside ceremony and the social amenities and appear in easy undress.  The old assertion that man is at bottom a savage animal finds confirmation strong in a sleeping-car;  and as for the women — even wider dear little five-and-three-quarter kids, the claws will out upon these occasions. For here, at 9 P.M., in the drawing-room steeper, we find a cheerful musical party bowling, "Hold the Fort!" around the parlor organ, which forms its central decoration; three strong, healthy children running races up and down the aisle, and scourging each other with their parents' shawl-straps ; a consumptive invalid, bent double in a paroxysm of coughing ; four parties, invisible, but palpable to the touch, wrestling in the agonies of the toilet behind the closely buttoned curtains of their sections, and trampling on the toes of passers-by as they struggle with opposing draperies; a mother engaged in personal combat (also behind the curtains) with her child in the upper berth, and two young lovers, dead to all the world exchanging public endearments in a remote corner. Who could bear these things with perfect equanimity?  Who could accept with smiles the company of six adults at the combing and washing stages of one's toilet?  Who could rise in the society, and under the close personal scrutiny of twenty-nine fellow-beings, jostle them in their seats all day, eat in their presence, take naps under their very eyes, lie down among them, and sleep — or try to sleep — within acute and agonized hearing of their faintest snores, without being ready to charge one's soul with twenty-nine distinct homicides?

But if the "drawing-room sleeper" be a place of trial to fastidious nerves, what is left to say of the ordinary passenger-car, wherein the working-men and working-women — the miners, the gold-seekers, the trappers and hunters traveling from one station to another, and the queer backwoods folk who have left their log homesteads in Wisconsin and Michigan and Illinois to cross the trail of the sunset —— do congregate, and are all packed like sardines in a box?  It is a pathetic thing to see their nightly contrivances and poor shifts at comfort ; the vain attempts to improvise out of their two or three feet of space a comfortable sleeping.  Place for some sick girl or feeble old person, and the weary, endless labor of the mothers to pacify or amuse their fretted children.  Here and there some fortunate party of two or three will have full sway over a whole section — two seats, that is to say — and there will be space for one of them to stretch his or her limbs in the horizontal posture and rest luxuriously ; but, for the most part, every seat has its occupant, by night as well as day, a congregation of aching spines and cramped limbs.  The overland journey is no fairy tale to those who read it from a way car !

We climb into the baggage-car sometimes to admire the orderly-piles of trunks and valises andboxes, to peep at the queer little corner fitted up as an armory, with its gritted door and assemblage of deadly weapons held always in readiness for a possible attack upon that store-house of many treasures ; or we take a furtive glance at some pretty girl who has been seized with an unconquerable desire to explore her trunk, and who — under close surveillance of the baggage-master, who is no respecter of persons — is turning over the trays to rummage out a handkerchief or a clean collar, or perhaps a hat in place of the one which a gust of wind just now sent whirling over the Plains into some Pinto lodge.

Among the "side-scene"sketches which our artists scratch down by the way, the Chinese roadmenders come in; we find a constant amusement in watching them along the route from Echo Cañon to Reno, where whole groups of them dot the roadside, bare-legged, ragged, dressed in a sort of hybrid mixture of Chinese and Caucasian styles, with their pig-tails twisted up out of the way, and their great straw platter hats tied under their chins.  They are by no means the smooth, immaculate wellshaven pictures of neatness which greet our eyes in the dining-saloons — on the contrary, they are evidently of the lowest caste of Chinamen, with stupid, half-brutal faces, and dirty and unkempt though still, in these respects, falling far enough short of the Irish or German laborer.  They work diligently as beavers along the route, traveling from point to point with their tools on a little hand-car, which they sometimes hitch fast to our train, and then we, on the rear platform, find an ever-fresh delight in looking down upon them, laughing, and pelting them with "pigeon English," to which they scorn a response, but sit cackling among themselves in their own queer chopped-up language, replete, probably, with opprobrious epithets for the "white devils."

Note:  The above is one complete article published February 9, 1878, in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,  from the July, 1877 - late 1878 multi-part series on "The Frank Leslie Excursion to the Pacific Coast."  The vivid description of this transcontinental excursion on the Pacific Railroad by Frank Leslie and his wife, Miriam, captures the experience of travel on the CPRR as well as the regrettably commonplace prejudices of the 19th century.   Frank Leslie's technological innovation, a dramatic speed-up in wood block engraving, made possible the illustrated newspaper, of which Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly were preeminent.  Leslie realized that large wood block engravings could be prepared fast enough to appear in a weekly newspaper by drawing the entire image onto a single wood block, then cutting it into rows and columns of smaller blocks each of which could be simultaneously hand engraved by a separate engraver.

Frank Leslie’s cross-country trip report broaches the topic of various classes of travel on the same train and illustrates the “coach” class most likely taken by many of our early Fort Worthians when they decided to go somewhere.  We packed our trunk, put on some comfortable, yet proper traveling clothes, gave the conductor our ticket and climbed aboard to chug off over the northern horizon at 35 mph for hours and hours and hours.

During those early Ft. Worth days of the 1880s and 1890s, our most likely destinations were St. Louis (a 19-hour trip); Chicago (a 28-hour trip); and New York (a 45-hour trip).   St. Louis and Chicago had the big meat packing plants and New York had the money and plenty of restaurants where our beef was consumed (more about them just ahead).

George Pullman, a self-taught western New York Engineer, who had lived and worked on the Erie Canal in his early life, had moved on to Chicago shortly before the Civil War.  He was in the perfect location to observe the rise of railroad travel to far-away places and make note of how long those journeys were.  He brilliantly combined his canal boat experience with the rising need for comfortable rail passenger accommodation and invented his “Pullman” sleeper cars. 

They were finished in various degrees of comfort, then leased to the railroads, complete with a Negro staff.  Pullman correctly reasoned that the recently freed slaves of the post- Civil War South would make excellent service staff for his cars and time proved him right.  He rapidly became the largest employer of freed slaves in the country.  And what’s more the Pullman porters treasured their positions and became highly respected pillars of their own communities throughout the nation.

Pullman’s cars ran the rails until the 1960s when rail passengers moved away to jet airline and personal automobile travel.  So, we just missed the opportunity to experience the highly refined rail travel as it had developed over the company’s 102-year history.  However, there are a few travel clubs and restored Pullman cars still in existence where a dedicated rail fan might find a current version of the experience.  The pictures that follow show a few fully restored cars that well illustrate the travel experience our Cattle Barons might have had when they ventured “back East” to catch steam packets for “the Continent” or just see the big city for a visit.

....hang on Gotham...we're on our way....

...Next, Gotham, THE Mrs. Astor, and some Vanderbilts....

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.4 – Early Cowtown Society - Quality Hill

If the upshot of the railroad coming to town was the ready availability of outbound transportation for Fort Worthians—all 500 of them at the time—it was also the gateway for thousands of people living north and east of us who had been reading of the “Wild West” in their local newspapers and dime-novels of the day.  Within 10-years, our population jumped to 6600 and after 20-years, in 1890, it was 23.000.  Our little town was booming and the railroad made it possible.  As the sequential maps above reflect, our entire country had been largely “wired-up” by 1890.

Essentially none of Fort Worth’s Cattle Barons were born to wealth and when they started moving to town after working their ranches for about 25-years, they had the task of having to learn how to live to their levels of accomplishment.  And what better way to start effectively living up to their stations than to build a grand house in Fort Worth's very first "upscale" neighborhood, Quality Hill?"  A section of land located just southwest of downtown and today, other than for a couple of surviving relics such as Waggoner's Thistle Hill, covered by Ft. Worth's "hospital district" the area is difficult to find on casual inspection.  The 1891 "birds-eye" drawing below pretty well illustrates the area (outlined in red) at the time.

The very first cattleman to build a home on Quality Hill was R.D. Hunter, a Scotsman via Missouri who had come to America in 1843.  After having been a gold miner during the California gold rush period, Hunter saw promise in the post-Civil War free-range cattle business and stopped off at Texas to give the business a try.  Success and fortune followed and Hunter, like many others of his day decided to make the newly developing Fort Worth his later-life home.  Ultimately Hunter, with the aid of the T&P railroad, founded a coal mine about 60-miles west of Fort Worth at Thurber and a side business of making brick with the residue coal not taken by the railroad.  His Thurber bricks were the ones we recall driving on as they covered our downtown streets and on some of the early brick highways that were still paved with their original brick surfaces…Highway 80 to Weatherford, for example.  His grand home was built in 1897 at the corner of Summit and El Paso.

For the most part, the mansions of Quality Hill were built by men who had not been born with silver spoons in their mouths (although one—George Reynolds—long carried an iron arrowhead in his back). Two of the most successful began their careers as cattle trail cowboys (Samuel Burk Burnett, William Thomas Waggoner); another began as a Pony Express rider (George Reynolds), and still another began as an illiterate woodchopper (Winfield Scott).

Summit Avenue just as easily could have been called “Cattleman Avenue.” Among the cattlemen with fine homes along Summit Avenue were John Bunyan Slaughter, William Thomas Waggoner, Cass Edwards, Colonel C. A. O’Keefe, brothers William and George Reynolds, Samuel Burk Burnett, and James H. Nail. Likewise, Penn Street could just as well have been called “Bankers Boulevard.” Bankers on that four-block street included W. H. Eddleman, Otho S. Houston, Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt (also a lawyer), and C. H. Silliman.

Pennsylvania Avenue had a bit more variety. Winfield Scott who listed his occupation in the city directory as simply “capitalist” (in boldface), was Fort Worth’s biggest taxpayer. Also on Pennsylvania Avenue were three cotton brokers (Neil P. Anderson, Hermann Frerichs, and T. B. Owens) and four bankers (H. C. and W. R. Edrington, H. B. Herd, and G. E. Cowden).

As the Cattle Barons built and moved into their Quality Hill mansions during the late 1890s, Fort Worth finally had some venues large and fine enough to host some fancy soirees that might have become the genesis of our 1950s Meadowbrook Minuet but, I don’t think so…not yet.  A couple of Winfield Scott hotels, the Metropolitan and the Worth, were built near the end of the decade that would have had large enough public spaces to hold a large party but, I'm not sure that many of us knew how to do it yet.  Still, there were no paved streets yet, nor any automobiles, although a streetcar system was pretty well developed by now and we had some electricity.  Fort Worth was developing into a working man's society with a few manager-types moving in to help keep the books straight.

After the large growth seen the decade before, Fort Worth’s population growth slowed considerably during the 1890s.  It appears to have been a time of organization and consolidation of the City infrastructure itself, as well as a time of changing of the guard as the older Cattle Barons were mostly in or approaching their retirement years when they built their mansions.

As younger leaders emerged, it became clear that although some of Fort Worth’s leading citizens had earned substantial wealth, none of them were “to the manor born” in an East Coast sense.  However, since the arrival of the T&P Railroad about 20-years earlier, an inflow of people, news, and new ideas had been contributing to the maturation of our Chisolm Trail campsite.  And some of our leading citizens had taken the opportunity to travel “back East” to see for themselves, the big cities they had been hearing about.  But, we had a long way to go to catch up with magical places like Chicago, where much of our cattle herds headed for processing and New York, where a lot of our beef was consumed and where Jay Gould and the T&P Railroad money originated…..

Chicago 1870--before the great 1871 fire destroyed much of this...

Fort Worth 1890--a rare shot of the Texas Spring Palace..up 2-years, then burned down.

Fort Worth 1899 - 10th Street viewing east..Houston shown above, is 2-blocks ahead and Hell's Half Acre starts on the right side of 10th St.

Plainly, although some of us had some money, we weren't quite ready to work on getting our own Cowtown Society up and running just yet...and forget about minuets out on the lawn...for now, anyway.  It would take a few more years of Summers and 35 mph train rides "back East" for some of us to start developing our own notions of how Cowtown Society ought to work.  And in 1900, what better place to start learning than in New York City?  After all, weren't the Astors and Vanderbilts going at one another for the top spot in NYC society about then?  Why, yes they were....and that story is next....

Circa 1900:  
Fort Worth population.............26,700
New York City population...3,400,000

Next, The NYC Connection and "The" Mrs. Astor's famous 400