My dad was born on a farm just outside Denison, Texas in 1916. Third to the youngest of thirteen children, he left home at the age of 17, “hitting the road” during the Great Depression. He traveled all over the western U.S., eventually settling in San Francisco, where he met my mother, a Minnesota farm girl who had come west during WWII in search of work and a bit of adventure.
My dad with legs dangling, his siblings and father, ca. 1925
New Union Depot, Denison Texas (postcard, circa 1909)
Daddy never lived in Denison again, but he was always proud of coming from the town where President Dwight Eisenhower was born in 1890. The President’s home has been restored and is now the centerpiece of the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, which includes a museum.
Dwight Eisenhower Birthplace, Denison, Texas
Denison was founded in 1872 to serve as a depot for the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad (MKT) or "Katy" as it’s affectionately known. The town was named after MKT vice president George Denison. The first train arrived on Christmas Eve, 1872.
1881 Ad for the MKT
Denison was incorporated the following summer. Main Street boasted a neat row of businesses, but beyond that sprawled a tent city of bars, gambling halls, and brothels. However, because the town was laid out where the MKT crossed the Red River (both important transportation routes), it soon grew into a thriving center of commerce in the Old West. In 1875 John Henry "Doc" Holliday kept offices in Denison. By the end of the 1870s the town had two cotton compresses, a large flour mill, and a slaughterhouse. In the 1880s an opera house was built, and the Denison Herald began publication.
1891 Aerial Map of Denison by Artist Thaddeus Fowler
In The Sunday Gazetteer on January 11: “It is believed to include every residence within the city limits, covering a territory of over three miles square” -- Amon Carter Museum website http://www.birdseyeviews.org/zoom.php?city=Denison&year=1891&extra_info=
During the mid-19th century, an epidemic of phylloxera, small insects that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines, destroyed most European vines. Denison horticulturalist T.V. Munson pioneered ways to grow phylloxera resistant vines, for which he was inducted into the French Legion of Honor. Denison was named sister city to Cognac, France.
On February 6, 1873, Denison established the first free public school in Texas. In 1886 a post office opened, and in 1889 the town had 5,000 residents. In addition to the MKT, several additional rail lines connected to Denison. In 1901 the first electric "Interurban" railway in Texas was completed between Denison and Sherman, Texas. Sherman is situated seven miles south of Denison in northeastern Grayson County.
New Union Depot, Denison Texas (postcard, circa 1909)
Rusk Avenue facing north, Denison, Texas (postcard, circa 1911)
By the mid-1920s Denison had just over 17,000 residents and 400 businesses, including four banks. It also hosted two high schools, nine grade schools, and a number of churches. My grandparents moved into town after losing their farm during the Depression, and my great grandmother, who lived with them, died at their home in 1939 at the age of 91. So, you see, I have deep roots in this small Red River railroad town that broke ground in several arenas.
I mention Denison in Dearest Irish, Texas Devlins, Book III.
Here’s a snippet from the story, set in 1876.
Rose stretched and yawned. Something hard supported her head, and another something lay half across her face. This object felt like cloth and gave off a vaguely familiar scent. Swatting whatever it was away, she opened her eyes and had to squint at the bright sun glaring down at her from on high. In the time it took to blink and shield her eyes with her hand, everything that had befallen her during the night burst upon her like a waking nightmare.
Realizing she lay on the hard ground – she had the aches and pains to prove it – she turned her head to the right and saw Choctaw Jack lying a hand’s breadth away. He lay on his back, head pillowed on his saddle and one arm thrown over his eyes. Where was his hat, she wondered absurdly. Recalling the object she’d pushed off her face, she rose on one elbow and twisted to look behind her. First, she saw that she’d also been sleeping with a saddle under her head; then she spotted the hat she’d knocked into the high grass surrounding them. Jack must have placed it over her face to protect her from the sun’s burning rays. In view of his threat to beat her if she tried to run away again, she was surprised by this small kindness.
A throaty snore sounded from her left. Looking in that direction, she saw Jack’s Indian friend sprawled on his stomach, with his face turned away from her. He was naked from the waist up, his lower half covered by hide leggings and what she guessed was a breechcloth, never having seen one before. His long black hair lay in disarray over his dark copper shoulders.
He snored again, louder this time. Rose’s lips twitched; then she scolded herself for finding anything remotely amusing in her situation. Glancing around, she wondered how far they were from the Double C. Jack had been right to chide her last night. She’d had no idea where they were or in which direction to run for help. Even more true now, she conceded with a disheartened sigh.
She heard a horse snuffle. Sitting upright, she craned her neck to see over the grass and spotted three horses tethered among a stand of nearby trees. She caught her breath. Was one of them Brownie? Aye, she was certain of it. Excited and anxious to greet him, she folded aside the blanket cocooning her and started to rise, but a sharp tug on her ankle made her fall back with an astonished gasp. Only then did she notice the rope tied loosely around her ankle. To her dismay, the other end of the rope was wrapped around Jack’s hand.
“Going somewhere?” he asked, startling her.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CK9LGA2 (Kindle & Print)
Other Books in this series available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble:
White Witch: Texas Devlins Origins (a Prequel Novella)
Darlin’ Irish: Texas Devlin (Book I)
Dashing Irish: Texas Devlins (Book II)