Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hell's Half Acre by Kathleen Ball

FORT WORTH TEXAS
HELL'S HALF ACRE 



HELL'S HALF ACRE, FORT WORTH. Among the various Hell's Half Acres across the frontier, none was more infamous or more rambunctious than Fort Worth's. The Fort Worth version started during the city's heyday as a drover's stop on the cattle trails to Kansas in the early 1870s. The name 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. there was one and two story saloons, dance halls, and bawdy houses and some  legitimate businesses. 


Only those looking for trouble or excitement ventured into the Acre. The usual activities of the Acre, included brawling, gambling, cockfighting, and horse racing.

As the importance of Fort Worth as a crossroads and cowtown grew, so did Hell's Half Acre. It was originally limited to the lower end of Rusk Street (renamed Commerce Street in 1917) but spread out in all directions until by 1881 the Fort Worth Democrat was complaining that it covered 2½ acres. 

Long before the Acre reached its maximum boundaries, local citizens had become alarmed at the level of crime and violence in their city. In 1876 Timothy Isaiah (Longhair Jim) Courtright was elected city marshal with a mandate to tame the Acre's wilder activities. Courtright cracked down on violence and general rowdiness-by sometimes putting as many as thirty people in jail on a Saturday night-but allowed the gamblers to operate unmolested. After receiving information that train and stagecoach robbers, such as the Sam Bass gang, were using the Acre as a hideout, local authorities intensified law-enforcement efforts. The cowboys began to stay away, and the businesses began to suffer. City officials muted their stand against vice. Courtright lost support of the Fort Worth Democrat and consequently lost when he ran for reelection in 1879. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s the Acre continued to attract gunmen, highway robbers, card sharks, con men, and shady ladies, who preyed on out-of-town and local sportsmen.

At one time or another reform-minded mayors like H. S. Broiles and crusading newspaper editors like B. B. Paddock declared war on the district but with no long-term results. The Acre meant income for the city-all of it illegal-and excitement for visitors.
Suicide was responsible for more deaths than murder, and the chief victims were prostitutes, not gunmen. However much its reputation was exaggerated, the real Acre was bad enough. The newspaper claimed "it was a slow night which did not pan out a cutting or shooting scrape among its male denizens or a morphine experiment by some of its frisky females." The loudest outcries during the periodic clean-up campaigns were against the dance halls, where men and women met, as opposed to the saloons or the gambling parlors, which were virtually all male.

A major reform campaign in the late 1880s was brought on by Mayor Boiles and County Attorney R. L. Carlock after two events. In the first of these, on February 8, 1887, Luke Short and Jim Courtright had a shootout on Main Street that left Courtright dead and Short the "King of Fort Worth Gamblers." Although the fight did not occur in the Acre, it focused public attention on the city's underworld. A few weeks later a poor prostitute known only by the name of Sally was found murdered and nailed to an outhouse door in the Acre. These two events, combined with the first prohibition campaign in Texas, helped to shut down the Acre's worst excesses in 1889.

By 1900 most of the dance halls and gamblers were gone. Cheap variety shows and prostitution became the chief forms of entertainment. The Progressive era was similarly making its reformist mark felt in districts like the Acre all over the country.

In 1911 Rev. J. Frank Norris launched an offensive against racetrack gambling in the Baptist Standard and used the pulpit of the First Baptist Church to attack vice and prostitution. Norris used the Acre both to scourge the leadership of Fort Worth and to advance his own personal career. When he began to link certain Fort Worth businessmen with property in the Acre and announce their names from his pulpit, the battle heated up. On February 4, 1912, Norris's church was burned to the ground; that evening his enemies tossed a bundle of burning oiled rags onto his porch, but the fire was extinguished and caused minimal damage. A month later the arsonists succeeded in burning down the parsonage. In a sensational trial lasting a month, Norris was charged with perjury and arson in connection with the two fires. He was acquitted, but his continued attacks on the Acre accomplished little until 1917. A new city administration and the federal government, which was eyeing Fort Worth as a potential site for a major military training camp, joined forces with the Baptist preacher to bring down the curtain on the Acre finally. 

According to the police department  50 percent of the violent crime in Fort Worth occurred in the Acre, a shocking confirmation of long-held suspicions. After Camp Bowie was located on the outskirts of Fort Worth in the summer of 1917, martial law was brought to bear against prostitutes and barkeepers of the Acre. Fines and stiff jail sentences curtailed their activities. By the time Norris held a mock funeral parade to "bury John Barleycorn" in 1919, the Acre had become a part of Fort Worth history. The name, nevertheless, continued to be used for three decades thereafter to refer to the depressed lower end of Fort Worth.

Source: The Texas State Historical Association.




 
 Kathleen Ball writes contemporary western romance with great emotion and memorable

characters.Her books are award winners and have appeared on best sellers lists including

Amazon's Best Sellers List, All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand, Desert Breeze Publishing and

Secret Cravings Publishing Best Sellers list. She is the recipient of eight Editor's Choice

Awards, and The Readers' Choice Award for Ryelee's Cowboy.

There's something about a cowboy....


www.kathleenballromance.com

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