Verbatim: Well, the Bible Is a Little Black Book, Isn’t It?

When pioneer J. C. Terrell (1831-1909) came to Fort Worth in 1857 as a young bachelor, the Cowtown dating pool was small, and “the sexes were divided in meeting.” There was no Match.com. There were no bars offering “ladies’ night.” And the relaxed social atmosphere of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” was still seventy-seven years in the future. So, how could Terrell and his law partner—another young bachelor—meet single women? Here, in his own words, Terrell recalls how the two men broke “the social ice” during those “halcyon days of youth” in his book Early Days of Fort Worth (1906):

terrell

In 1857 I left Austin and came to Fort Worth in company with Col. M. T. Johnson, Dr. (afterward Governor) J. W. Throckmorton, Charley De Morse of the Clarksville Standard, and a young attorney from Virginia named Jordan, who located in Parker County. The Fort then had some 300 inhabitants, nearly all white, and mostly of the border States, that is, from States bordering on Mason and Dixon’s line. This county, and a long strip of territory north of Johnson and south of Denton County, constituted “Peter’s Colony,” an emigration company chartered by the young State of Texas, managed by Hedgecoke, with headquarters in Louisville, Ky. Under the act of the 26th of August, 1857, known as the pre-emption law, this country was open for location, survey and settlement by actual settlers. I came, a young lawyer, to grow up with the country. The nearest railroad was over 200 miles distant. Owing to the liberal homestead provisions in the Constitution of 1845, since made more liberal and definite by the Constitution of 1876, a superior class of early settlers were attracted hither. Business men who had failed in other States came here with the remnants of their fortunes and secured homes and property free from the writ of scire facias [“let them know”]. It was not unusual to meet higher culture in a cabin and to see pianos on dirt floors. As a rule, the foreigner settled in the North, then, objecting to our “peculiar institution.”

As for a law office, none was to be had for love or money. I hired a man named John Branon, and in a few weeks had a two-room office building, with chimneys, on the corner of First and Main streets. The timbers were cut with a whipsaw. Office in one end, sleeping room in the other, and the “hall’ was used for saddle, fishing tackle, etc. Hospitality was only 30c per gallon, with corn stoppers. This property I yet own.

Judge Dabney C. Dade, now of Springfield, Mo., and who formerly had been secretary for Gov. Joe Lane, first Governor of Oregon, came also in 1857. He had been my schoolmate, and we became law partners. Both were bachelors; society was decidedly exclusive. The sexes were divided in meeting, sitting on opposite sides of the house, the women with “heads covered,” but with no chicken or bird feathers on their bonnets.

Being strangers, we made poor progress in making our way with the girls, and so, tiring of hunting, fishing and of Oldham & White’s Digest [a book of Texas law], and of the long Sundays, and as we both loved Sunday school, I suggested to Dabney that we start one and break the social ice. He boarded with Mrs. W. T. Ferguson; I, with Mrs. Lawrence Steel[e], where the concrete hotel afterward stood. Dabney was a “disciple of the Christian order,” and on occasion could pray and “pitch and carry a tune.” It seems to me that the girls were prettier then. Their meek eyes and bright faces haunt me still, and then, their dresses were of reasonable length.

Oh! the halcyon days of youth! Melodions, stately organs and pretty soloists appeared afterward to help us worship God. As for myself I was “unattached,” but gave valuable service teaching the Bible class; was well up in faiths, baptisms, and was specially versed in Revelations. We bought a desk and books and subscribed for Sunday School Union literature. We had a prosperous and profitable time, broke the ice and got acquainted with the girls, and Sundays became too short then. And thus the establishment of our first Sunday school in Fort Worth.

Of course, when the real “cloth” appeared, Dabney and myself retired from office . . .

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