Parker County Today July 2017 - Page 70

68 (0.010 km 2 ) of the city. The Acre was an important source of income for the town, and despite outside pressures against the illegal activities, Fort Worth officials were reluctant to take action. “The name (Hell’s Half Acre) first appeared in the local newspaper in 1874, but by that time the district was already well established on the lower end of town, where it was the first thing the trail drivers saw as they approached the town from the south. Here there was an aggregation of one and two story saloons, dance halls, and bawdy houses, interspersed with empty lots and a sprinkling of legitimate businesses. Only those looking for trouble or excitement ventured into the Acre. As one headline put it in a description of a popular saloon there, ‘They Raise Merry Cain at the Waco Tap.’ Moreover, the usual activities of the Acre, which included brawl- ing, gambling, cockfighting, and horse racing, were not confined to indoors but spilled out into the streets and back alleys.” — Handbook of Texas Online Of course not everyone “cottoned to” the dance halls and brothels — they were more tolerant of the saloons and gambling houses for some reason — and in time, following serious outbreaks of violence from that sector of the city, officials were pressed to shut down many of the more unsavory activities the cowboys, outlaws and local “sinners” loved so well. This wave of reform, which ultimately brought about Prohibition proved unstoppable. Attitudes shifted and forbearance dwindled. One publication, The Home Missionary, in March 1887, made their aim crystal clear: “What are our plans? The arousing of public sentiment till every saloon and gambling house is closed; but more especially, at present, to offer counter-attractions.” These counter-attractions were books and reading rooms — “Don’t drink whisky and howl at the moon, come read with us.” Hmm. One Charles E. Martin of Weatherford, Texas, wrote the group to request books for a local counter-attraction effort here, the success of which is unknown. “Drys, as the reformers were called, first animated Texas politics in the 1840s. The drys sought measures allowing voters in prescribed areas to declare prohibition in effect: to pass so-called local-option laws for neighbor- hoods, towns, cities, and counties. Eventually the drys sought statewide prohibition and an amendment to the United States Constitution declaring illegal the manu- facture and sale of alcoholic beverages. In 1843, the Republic of Texas had passed what may have been the first local-option measure in North America. A Texas law of 1845 banned saloons altogether. The law was never enforced, however, and was repealed in 1856. The prohi- bition controversy, however, did not disappear in either Texas or the nation.” — Handbook of Texas Online  Thanks to local historian Henry Smythe, we have at least one example of the calamity strong drink and loose living could cause. In the 1860s, “one of the oldest citi- zens was asked for his daughter’s hand in matrimony,” wrote Smythe in his Historical Sketch of Parker County and Weatherford, Texas (1877). “The old gentleman hesi- tated and said: ‘I would gladly consent, but you drink too Hell’s Half Acre much whisky.’” The young man told his prospective father-in-law that he had the wrong end of the stick, that he was mistaken. The older man told the younger that he’d been seen at the “drunken row” on the Weatherford Square the night before. The young man pleaded and explained till hoarse that he’d not been involved in a “drunken row” but simply a “night of fun.” One can imagine the glee in the father’s face as he watched the young man squirm and beg for his daughter’s hand. Whether convinced by the suitor’s impassioned plea or not, at length he relented and granted Thomas Lewis’s request. According to Smythe, Mrs. Lewis died March 31, 1875, “in the glorious hope of the redeemed through the pardoning love of the Savior.” There is no record as to whether the widower returned to the saloons or rows in Weatherford’s Square. Horse racer and train robber Sam Bass (1851-1878) and his gang were known to hang out in Hell’s Half Acre, Fort Worth’s “den of iniquity,” notorious for it’s saloons, gambling houses and bawdy establishments