Who the Heck Was . . . C. J. Swasey?

(This post is the first in the “Who the Heck Was . . .?” series of profiles of persons who, although not as well known as Daggett or Van Zandt or Paddock, nonetheless have a story to tell about Fort Worth history.)

He was half of one of the most lyrical business names in Fort Worth history: “Casey & Swasey.”

Charles James Swasey was born in 1847 in New Hampshire. His father Samuel had been speaker of the House in the state legislature. But about 1857 the family moved to Belvidere, Boone County, Illinois.

Father Samuel was active in Boone County politics. But he had to earn a living. According to a history of Boone County, Samuel lived in Chicago for nine years. So, the Samuel Swasey in this Chicago ad may be Charles’s father.

At age thirteen Charles began playing the new sport of baseball in the greater Chicago area.

But after the Civil War began Swasey joined a different kind of team: the 134th Regiment, Illinois Infantry of the Union Army. The 134th, organized in Chicago in 1864, was a unit of “hundred days men”—volunteers who served a one hundred-day enlistment and performed routine duties to allow veteran units to go to the front lines for combat.
This is the index card for Swasey’s military pension application, made in 1892.

In 1864 Swasey put down the rifle and again shouldered the bat. He played second and third base for two of America’s early baseball teams: the Forest City team of Rockford, Illinois and the Excelsiors of Chicago, formed in the late 1850s.

The major leagues as we know them did not exist yet, and players who were paid at all were not paid much.

Baseball back then featured some high-scoring games. The score of a game played in 1868 between Swasey’s Forest City team and the Capital City team of Wisconsin looks like a football score: 43-12.

And see that “Spalding” mentioned in the top of the first inning?

One of Swasey’s teammates on the Forest City team was pitcher Albert Goodwill Spalding, who went on to play for the Boston Red Stockings and Chicago White Stockings. In 1876 Spalding helped found baseball’s first major league: the National League. He also wrote baseball’s first official set of rules.

But Spalding is, of course, best remembered for another change in the game. When Swasey and Spalding played baseball, fielders rarely wore gloves. When a ball was hit to them or a ball thrown to them, they caught it barehanded! Spalding became a trendsetter when he began wearing a glove. In fact, in 1876 he founded a sporting goods company to manufacture the gloves he had helped to popularize.

Remarkably, just five days after that Forest City rout in Wisconsin in 1868, Swasey was playing for the Excelsiors in Chicago. Just as remarkably, Swasey’s team again scored forty-three runs in a 43-23 game. Swasey scored eight of those forty-three runs.

In 1869 Swasey moved to St. Louis, where he put down the bat and picked up the books to study business in commercial college.

Four years later, in 1873 Charles Swasey intended to put his business education to work out West: He and G. H. Day moved to Fort Worth, traveling in a “prairie schooner” (covered wagon). Swasey and Day opened a wholesale liquor business in Fort Worth. In 1874 Day  would be elected Fort Worth’s second mayor.

But Swasey couldn’t keep off the diamond. In 1877 he played in another high-scoring game in which Fort Worth defeated Dallas 17-12. Swasey scored three runs.

But later that season he broke a finger in a game in Weatherford, ending his playing days.

After partnering with Day, Swasey became a salesman for A. O. Robbins & Company wholesale liquors.

By 1878 Swasey had partnered with J. G. Hubbell in another wholesale liquor company.

Also in 1878 Swasey and Ireland native Martin Casey partnered in the Atlantic Beer Garden on Main Street.

From the beer garden at the retail level Casey and Swasey moved up to wholesaling. Casey & Swasey on Houston Street distributed wine, liquor, and cigars.

The business also had its own bottling plant. Casey and Swasey bought liquor in bulk from distilleries in Kentucky and elsewhere and blended and labeled their own brands such as Panther Club Whiskey and  Panther Club Gin.

Here are wholesale liquor and tobacco prices in 1878.

Casey & Swasey was the sole Fort Worth distributor of Lemp’s Bottled Beer. Lemp Brewery was an antecedent of the Falstaff Brewing Corporation.

Casey & Swasey also advertised in the emigrant guide of Joseph S. “Buckskin Joe” Works.  Works wore his hair long and dressed in a buckskin shirt. He was a “professional booster,” an entrepreneur who traveled around “colonizing” settlements during the late nineteenth century as railroads spread and as states such as Texas and Oklahoma were settled by immigrants. Works was instrumental in developing the town of Ederville.

This 1886 sketch shows the Casey & Swasey building at Houston and West 3rd streets.

In 1888 entrepreneurs, including William H. Ward of Fort Worth, owner of the White Elephant saloon, organized the Texas League. Note that A. G. Spalding would provide the league’s official baseballs.

A few days later the old infielder got back into the game, if only on the business side. Swasey, Ward, and others organized the Fort Worth Base Ball Association to provide Panther City with a team in the new league.

The Fort Worth Panthers began their storied history auspiciously, beating the Dallas Hams 6-4.

Like most entrepreneurs, Charles Swasey was diversified. For example, in 1877 he and W. T. Melton published Fort Worth’s first city directory.

He also was one of the incorporators of the Democrat Publishing Company.

Martin Casey and Charles Swasey also bought and sold real estate. Their Casey & Swasey addition was located just southwest of downtown, bounded by Macon and Collier and Lancaster (“North Street” on the map) and Presidio streets.

Swasey speculated in gold mining.

He also was a bank director.

Fort Worth civic leaders often financed projects by subscription: Citizens contributed money to build a hotel or erect a memorial or lure a railroad to town. This abbreviated list of subscribers shows that Swasey was among a veritable who’s who of Fort Worth residents pitching in to finance a hotel in 1890.

Swasey also was a stockholder in the Texas Brewing Company. (Photo from descendant Mike Douglas.)

Charles Swasey also one of the first directors of B. B. Paddock’Fort Worth & Rio Grande railroad in 1885.

By 1895 Swasey was president of Casey & Swasey. Martin Casey was only a director. In 1896 Casey went into competition with his former partner’s namesake company by founding his own namesake company: Martin Casey Company, a wholesale liquor dealer.

Charles Swasey retained the “Casey & Swasey” name for the original company.

But in 1917 Martin Casey, Charles Swasey, and other liquor wholesalers and retailers began singing “How Dry I Am.” The installation of Camp Bowie and Camp Taliaferro imposed prohibition on Fort Worth: Liquor could not be sold within ten miles of a military base. The ten-mile zone law closed saloons and wholesale liquor dealers.

Nail 1.

Then the Texas legislature imposed prohibition for the state in 1918.

Nail 2.

Then the federal government imposed national prohibition in 1919.

Nail 3.

That’s three nails in the coffin—make that cask—of sellers of beer, wine, and liquor.

But Charles Swasey had one final sale to make. And it was a big one: Jerry Flemmons in Amon: The Life of Amon Carter, Sr. of Texas writes: “Shortly before the 18th Amendment shuttered saloons and breweries, Amon purchased the entire stock of the Casey-Swasey Wholesale Liquors warehouse.”

Charles Swasey’s former partner Martin Casey died in 1911, but the Casey name lived on. Charles Swasey, facing triple prohibition, fell back onto the other product he wholesaled: tobacco. In 1918 he and two other businessmen chartered Casey-Swasey Cigar Company.

Brothers James and William Yocum founded Y-B Cigars in Pennsylvania in 1879.

By 1938 Charles Swasey was ninety years old. In terms of a man’s life span, he had rounded third base, headed for home. He now lived at No. 12 Chase Court in a house built in 1920 for George C. Clarke.

In 1938 the Star-Telegram interviewed Swasey, who was confined to bed with a broken hip.

Swasey, the Star-Telegram wrote, “claims to be the oldest living man who once played in the front ranks; a man who played before there was any American or National Leagues, who played before there was any such thing as a salary for ballplayers.”

At age ninety Swasey still followed the sport. He subscribed to two newspapers and had them delivered daily to his bedside. He read the sports pages first.

The Star-Telegram wrote of Swasey: “Baseball still is his game, although he recognizes the great hold football has on the public.

“‘I don’t get any kick out of football,’ he said, ‘because I don’t understand it, I guess. There you have twenty-two men all jumbled up, and you can’t tell who is doing his job right on the line and who isn’t. But in baseball, everything is clean and right out in front of you so that everybody knows the good player from the bad and knows what can be expected. It’s just the best game.’”

Of current baseball stars he said: “I think that [Lou] Gehrig’s just about the best player of them all.”

Swasey still followed the hometown Cats he had helped to found in 1888 but was unable to attend games because of his hip.

“But if determination has anything to do with it,” the Star-Telegram wrote, “he’ll be out [of bed] before the end of the coming season.

“‘You can figure I’ll be out of this bed before long, if I have to roll out’ he said. ‘I’m too young a man to be spending my time in bed this way!’”

A year later, on March 24, 1939—two months before A. G. Spalding was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Lou Gehrig ended his playing streak of 2,130 games—Charles James Swasey, who had played the game before fielders wore gloves, before stadiums were named for corporate sponsors, before players were paid a living wage (much less a king’s ransom), made his twenty-seventh out at home.

The Star-Telegram eulogized Swasey in an editorial.

Charles James Swasey is buried in Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

(Thanks to descendant Mike Douglas for his help.)

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