And Another Word Or Two
Bonham Daily Favorite, January 16, 1994
Continuing some Fannin County miscellanies:
Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was much admired in Texas, not only by those men who fought for the southern cause in the Civil War, but also by the population in general. As a mark of their respect and admiration, state officials offered Davis the presidency of Texas A & M College when that institution was first created. Davis declined the position.
Upon learning of Davis' death in 1889, the Fannin County Commissioners Court "ordered that the Fannin County Courthouse be suitably draped." Nothing exists to tell us what the suitable draping was but it is assumed that some sort of black crepe was probably placed over the doorways and windows.
One unfortunate incident occured when Davis' body was lying in state in New Orleans on December 7, 1889. That day a traveling theatrical troupe arrived in Bonham on the T & P Cannonball with plans for a production that evening at Russell's Opera House on the north side of the square. (Where Bonham Office Supply is located.)
In a perfect example of poor timing, it was announced that the evening's presentation would be a performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Indignant citizens immediately stormed the manager's office demanding that the performance be cancelled. The manager informed the protesters that because of contractural obligations the show would proceed as scheduled.
As curtain time approached only six paying customers were in attendance. However, the street in front of the opera house was packed with a mob of men and boys armed with giant firecrackers, horns, whistles, drums, tin cans, pots and pans, and anything else that would produce a loud disruptive noise.
Soon after the curtain rose, six men filed into the theater brandishing firearms. Taking careful aim they shot out most of the lights, (electric or oil?) The sounds of gunfire served as a signal to the crowd below who then began producing noise in such fearful volume as to effectively curtail any thoughts of the performance continuing.
Reportedly the actress playing Little Eva fled down the back stairs accompanied by the bloodhounds which were a part of the company. She later made her way back to the hotel where the company was quartered, possibly The Burney House which was located just behind Russell's.
Other actors playing Simon Legree, Uncle Tom, and Topsy fled to the outskirts of town. The company later returned to the dressing rooms, collected their belongings and left town on the next train out.
No one was injured and obviously the participants had meant no harm to the actors. What was intended was a clear warning to theatrical managers and others that the citizens of Bonham were very resolute in ther judgement of what was right and wrong.
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In November of 1889 two items appeared in local newspapers which were of major interest to the citizens of Bonham.
On November 6, The Farmer's Review printed a brief article on page 3. "The reporter of the REVIEW went out to the electric light works yesterday and found everything progressing nicely. The engine and boiler are being placed in position. The building is nearly completed and it will now be only a few days until the Bonham people will have the gratification of seeing the electric lights shining."
The Bonham News reported on November 22, "By the middle of next week the electric lights will be shining on our streets. The boiler arrived last week and is being put into place. The wires are nearly up."
Edison's "miracle" made it to Bonham, not on the 1885 date as pronounced by other historians but at the beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century. The power plant was located in Russell Heights, northwest Bonham, near old Lake St. Clair. Initially most of the lighting was around the square and in the businesses just off the square. The residential areas were slower to install the new wonder and even well into the twentieth century many homes in Bonham were still relying on the kerosene lamp.
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It appears that Honey Grove was somewhat slower in electricity to its citizens. The March 19, 1897 edition of The Bonham News carried the following article: " Honey Grove has just completed a good electric light plant and turned on the lights for the first time last week. The Signal says that Honey Grove is one of the best lighted towns having 20 arc lights on the streets. The plant belongs to the city and it is expected that patronage from citizens will pay for it."
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Today with the touch of a button we can be witnesses to battles as they occur around the world, see the destruction from the latest earthquake in China, or watch the coronation of a monarch in some story-book European municipality. Television, more than any other invention has allowed the public to be instantly aware of news as it happens.
Our nineteenth century ancestors were dependent primarily on one source of information, the local weekly newspaper. On the Texas frontier the daily chronicle was a rarity during much of that century especially in the small towns.
These papers are a curiosity in comparison with today's journalistic efforts. Each seemed to follow a certain form rarely exceeding four to six pages. Pages one and two contained national and international news gleaned from exchange papers received in the local newsroom. Often this news was weeks or even months old before it found its way into print locally. Page three contained local news and long columns of personal notices. Page four was devoted to serialized stories and a number of lengthy testimonials for one patent medicine or another. Local advertisers could be found on all the pages with business cards making up the bulk of local advertising.
At least nineteen papers were published in Bonham between 1842 and 1900. Many of these seemed to have been short-lived. Four papers existed of which we have little or no knowledge, "The Daily Pick," The Daily Dinner-Horn," "The Centipede," and "Farm and Fireside." If anyone has knowledge of these papers we would appreciate the information.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas