Friday, August 12, 2022 Aug 12, 2022
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Out of the dust of West Texas rode Amon Carter, ready to turn Cowtown - and himself - into a living legend.
By Jerry Flemmons |

Washington. Early spring. 1939. A man leaves the White House. stepping into the twilight of a new night. Mrs. Roosevelt sees him through the door, fondly calls. “Good night, and please come again.” In response, he touches the brim of his white, western-crimped hat, answering. “Thank you, I will. I’ve never seen him looking better. See that he takes care of himself.” The door closes. The man adjusts his knee-length, bone-colored topcoat, girts the loose belt ends tightly, binding them in a square knot. He steps briskly from under the porte-cochère, strides to and through the gate, nodding politely to the guards, who call him by name with a reverence used only for important visitors.

On the street he walks quickly, as if late for an appointment, although his next meeting is not for two hours. He merely is a fast walker. Here and there he pauses to glance in shop windows, inspecting this and that article, for he is a man curious about everything, a compulsive, impulsive shopper always in search of new gadgets and knick-knacks. He smiles at Washingtonians on the street, and they smile back at the handsome, distinguished man in the white western hat. He is content, and happy, pleased with his meeting at the White House.

For an hour he and President Roosevelt had chatted as old friends comfortable with one another. They spoke of their children, especially the man’s daughter, who had visited in the White House with the Roosevelts. The man told FDR a new joke. The President laughed appreciatively. Suddenly serious, the President solicited the man’s opinion on the situation in Europe. The man would travel to England soon and the President asked him to report on conditions there. “I think it’s already bad,” said the man, “and getting worse. I don’t see how we can stay out of it.”

“Nor do I,” answered the President.

The man continued his thoughts on war, urging FDR to move more quickly in preparing the country for yet another confrontation in Europe. “The people will support you,” advised the man, “I’ll help. All of your friends will.”

Later, the President sought the man’s counsel on economy, attitudes of businessmen toward the administration, the wisdom of instituting more taxes. The man brought up the subject of a new national park he was interested in. FDR promised his support.

They spoke frankly, earnestly, for more than an hour, until interrupted by Mrs. Roosevelt. She announced dinner, and invited the man to dine with them. He declined. He had a later appointment with several military men. The President offered a limousine for the man’s return to his hotel. “No, thanks,” he said, “I like to walk.”

Full dark. He arrives at the Mayflower Hotel, enters its lobby and surveys the solid elegance. The man always has been impressed with the hotel, his favorite in Washington. Pausing briefly, he makes a decision: He will have dinner. Uncharacteristically, he will dine alone. He dislikes eating alone, but he is suddenly hungry and his need for food overrides his antipathy for being alone. He walks quickly to the dining room, passes his hat and coat to an attendant. He is greeted enthusiastically by the maitre d’, who gushes, “Welcome back to Washington. We are honored to have you with us again.” He asks for a table by the window. The maitre d’ suggests a drink before dinner. He declines. He only drinks in social situations. He orders dinner, and waits quietly for it, watching strollers pass in the darkness. The dining room is almost full, because Washington is an early town.

The man eats. He drinks a final cup of coffee and calls for the check. He signs his suite number, leaves a ten dollar bill on the table. At the door, the maitre d’ waits with his hat and coat. He accepts them, hooks a finger inside the hat, drapes the coat over an arm. He palms a twenty for the maitre d’. The man leaves. Outside he suddenly stops, reverses himself, and returns to the dining room. He hands his hat and coat to the maitre d’ and strides to the nearest table. It is occupied by an elderly couple. He smiles at them, indicating an empty chair. He asks, “May I?” They appear quizzical, but nod. He slides out the chair, and steps onto it.

Above the crowd of diners, he waits. Gradually, the people notice the distinguished man standing on a chair. They stop what they are doing to stare. The room becomes silent. Good, he has their attention. He smiles, raises his hand to his mouth and shouts. “Hoooooraaaaay for . . . Fort Worth . . . and West Tex-aaassssss!”

The elderly lady drops her fork. A head is thrust out of swinging doors leading to the kitchen. Toward the back of the room, a man jumps to his feet, startled. The room is in bewildered silence. Gradually, a low conversational murmur returns. A few pieces of laugher rise above the ripple of talk. Then there is scattered applause.

The man steps from the chair, returns it under the table, thanks the elderly couple. He walks from the room, collects his hat and coat.

The maitre d’ calls after him, “Good evening again, sir.”

“Good night,” he replies, smiling.

He said he’d have to leave his home, his Daddy’ d married twice

And his new ma beat him every day or two:

– Verse 4, Little Joe, The Wrangler

The origin of Amon G. Carter is shrouded in mystery. His discovery is a matter of record. William Randolph Hearst, strolling through his beautiful gardens one dewy morn, paused in admiration before an exceptionally large cluster of violets. Underneath was the Baby Amon . . . Since then his family silver has been marked with a shrinking violet as the Carter Coat of Arms.

– Menu Legend, Sherry’s, NYC, May 7, 1928

Bowie, in the mid-l890’s, owned the congenital blandness of a thousand Texas hamlets, characterized by a weathered clapboard grayness and simple unornamental silence interrupted only by yawns from front porch swings and squeaky buggy wheels. Like blips on dark radar screens fireflies provided entertainment on lukewarm summer nights, mosquitos and chiggers went on duty after spring rains for disciplined scratching, but neither flood nor famine, cataclysm nor moral disaster, brushed Bowie. Its businesses served a thousand people from false-fronted stores. Folks gossiped, listened to a makeshift band that played badly for civic occasions and waited, often desperately, for the arrival of a Fort Worth or Denver train to salvage their prosaic lives. Those residents who escaped mostly fled to Fort Worth, a city of twenty thousand persons, sixty-five miles south by rutted road or sixty by rail. Bowie’s principal street, the south finger of it, pointed toward Fort Worth. At the other end, one could strike out for Wichita Falls, although few did, and those wondered why. There were saloons enough to inspire Baptist sermons, and to satisfy men driven to drink by their humdrum ghetto. Though sunk in numbness, Bowie remembered livelier days of the 1870’s, when Indians (now shuffled off to Oklahoma reservations) had committed atrocities by scalping settlers and burning cabins, and the adjacent Chisholm trail had served as a super-highway for four million cattle jammed horn to tail and driven to railhead in Kansas. The old trail in 1890 was literally a cow path. The railroad replaced cattle drives and in its way saved Bowie from absolute despair by depositing visitors at the depot and lugging farm produce to Fort Worth. And, besides, the whistle blew a dandy song for soft spring evenings.

Bowie, as tranquil as Heaven, as intolerably boring as Hell, lay on the dark sand, mesquite and scrub-oak prairies of North Texas and squeaked its porch swings and buggy wheels, marveled at the neon animation of fireflies, scratched chigger bites, ignored and was ignored. Had Bowie but glanced to the outside world for diversion perhaps it would have taken an interest in the Great Snuff War raging all about.

Railroad Snuff and Levi P. Garrett Scotch Snuff were swinging away at one another with fiscal fierceness. Each sold snuff in square bottles of the same size and price – twenty-five cents. Railroad fired the first shot heard ’round the snuff-dipping world by cutting its price to twenty cents. Levi P. Garrett regarded the discount as crass commercialism and maintained its two-bit price, but sneaked a nickel under the cork of each bottle. Stalemated, the two great snuff generals rested their armies, plotting their next maneuver.

Snuff dippers of course were giddy over the price war. Non-snuff users generally were cognizant of neither the war nor the giddiness, but Amon Carter noticed. He was a quick-eyed boy who wore too-large clothes and roomed at Jarrott’s Hotel. Amon was a recent arrival from Nocona, a half-pint settlement of even lesser appeal than Bowie. Then thirteen, young Amon was taken not by the finely ground tobacco but by the knowledge that a huge, shiny nickel lay underneath the cork of each and every Garrett Snuff bottle. His youthful reverence for nickels, which he would later transfer to thousand dollar bills, was fashioned partly by a native respect for money, partly by his poverty. At the time of the great snuff stalemate, Amon was hustling to support himself. He performed miscellaneous chores, including toting buckets of drinking water into Z. T. Lowrie’s wholesale grocery store. Always he de-toured through the snuff department to experience the awesome presence of nickels. One early morning, Lowrie’s store burned. It was a glorious blaze, more watched than fought by Bowie’s bucket brigade and water wagon volunteer fire department. The flames called out most of the citizenry, who welcomed a new conversational subject. Amon was there, but he was not thinking of the fire. His mind was on snuff.

At mid-morning, ashes smoldered. The store and its contents were little more than tangled wire and twisted tin rising out of smoking rubble. Amon approached the owner: “Mr. Lowrie, if anybody picks up anything in there, can he have it?”

“Certainly, my boy,” answered Lowrie generously.

Like every country boy of the period, Amon was barefooted. The ashes were hot. He searched behind S. Daube’s general store where there was always a pile of discarded footwear left by new shoe buyers. He selected a largish pair, bound them to his feet with baling wire and waded through ashes straight to the snuff department.

The nickels were too hot for his hands. He dug them out with a stick and dropped the coins in a number two tomato can. Amon had six dollars – the largest amount of money he had ever amassed – before other boys discovered the Garrett Snuff treasure hoard. Amon had beaten them again.

What passed for Amon’s childhood was a money-making contest between him and the boys of Bowie. He was a born entrepreneur, a money-maker with native intelligence and a sharp eye for opportunity who advanced Horatio Alger’s Pluck and Luck plot to that of a grand design. Not that he actually enjoyed the conglomerate of enterprises he was forced to undertake. He wanted to be a cowboy. He left home at eleven, not by choice, and sneaked aboard a freight bound for what he believed was Montana and, as he later wrote, “. . . the great West where cowboys and Indians predominated.” His ride was brief. A conductor halted the train and dropped Amon beside a dry stream. Salt Creek, twenty-two miles from downtown metropolitan Bowie.

“It’s all right,” Amon, cocky even then, called to the conductor. “I really wanted to go fishing anyway.”

The trainman told him he could have all the fish he could catch in Salt Creek. Amon felt the four dimes in the pocket of his knee britches, pulled his cap lower over his eyes and trudged to Bowie where lethargy, not cowboys and Indians, predominated. He arrived at dusk, passing the friendly city limit sign warning: “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in Bowie.”

Amon had no idea what he would do until he remembered his father often sold peaches to a hotel/boarding house operated by Mrs. Mollie Jarrott. He walked to the hotel’s rear door and rapped loudly. Mrs. Jarrott opened the door. Amon asked for work, declaring there was not anything he could not or would not do. She hired him as a handyman, chambermaid and waiter for $1.50 weekly, plus room and board. That first evening she fed the thin boy in ragged clothes and he told her of his life.

Amon’s father was William Henry Carter, a sometime farmer who resorted to blacksmithing when his crops failed, which was often. The elder Carter was a small solid man, muscular, almost handsome, adorned with a drooping moustache, ignorant as the mules he shod. An early picture shows Father Carter beside a wooden board ringed by horseshoes. “W. H. Carter, Grays, Ga.” is spelled out with nails on the board. Mr. Carter was at best indifferent to Amon, though at one time he tried to make a blacksmith of his son. During one of the elder Carter’s retreats into the anvil business, he put his son to shoeing a goosey cow pony. The horse kicked Amon into unconsciousness, breaking three ribs. “Pa,” Amon declared once awake, “I’m out of the blacksmith business.”

Josephine Ream Carter, Amon’s mother, was pretty with dark curly hair and esthetic features. In her childhood, she lived at La Reunion, a French commune that flourished briefly on banks of the Trinity River near Dallas. She had some musical talent and taught Amon to peck out a one-fingered piano version of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” She encouraged his singing, which was awful. She spoiled little Amon. Josie wrote to a cousin, Mary Bundrad: “Willie Harkins gave Amon this dres and Gills bought Amon a dres and a yarde of red ribbon and I am going to braid it with red Flours. Tell Aunt Nancy I do reckon I have the finest boy you ever saw. He can crawl but he crawls on his belly. I can’t kep him on’na palet nor hardly in the house.”

Josie concluded with a very telling, and prophetic, statement about Amon: “He is the worst rounder I ever saw.”

William and Josie moved in the 1870’s to a farm near Crafton, a wart-like collection of mismatched sod and log houses mounted on hump-backed hills in Wise County. As usual, William’s farming did not go well. He cut logs and built a one-room cabin. On December 11, 1879, the hut was still unchinked. Father Carter spent the day plugging holes, attempting to stay the numbing cold of a norther that struck in the early morning. Amon arrived with the freezing gale. Josephine complained of the cold. William wrapped his wife and new son in blankets, placed both in a rocking chair, and carried them to a neighbor’s warmer home.

In later years, Amon claimed his log cabin birth was a status shared by too many others to have any standing in Texas. He also said he began work early, picking 104 pounds of cotton in a single day when he was seven.

Josie died in 1892, soon after giving birth to a daughter, Addie, and Amon went to live with a grandmother in nearby Nocona, where he discovered saloons for the first time. Farmers bought half-pints of whiskey and drank them near the wagon yard, leaving the empty bottles in horse stalls. Early each morning, Amon rescued the empties and sold them to saloon keepers for twenty cents a dozen. His recycling business lasted until he decided to become a cowboy, an ambition he would pursue all of his days.

The Jarrott Hotel had eleven rooms, each containing a double bed, washstand, washbowl, pitcher and “white owl,” a kind of chamber pot. Meals were served family-style on a large oak table. Daily, Amon cleaned rooms, emptied the pots, refilled the pitchers, swept out, and served meals. He was well-liked by all the boarders except Short Tarpley, a sarcastic, ugly-mooded tyrant who labored in the town’s livery stable. Tarpley bullied everyone, including Amon.

“Kid,” he barked to Amon one morning at breakfast. “Eggs. Straight up, one over the fence and make it snappy.”

Angry, Amon marched to the kitchen, selected a guinea egg, which is less than half the size of a chicken egg. He fried it hard. Cooked, the egg looked like a burned suspender button. He placed the egg in the center of a thirteen-inch steak platter and set it before Tarpley. Other boarders burst into laughter.

“Where’s the other egg?” the bully demanded.

“It’s over the fence,” answered Amon.

This pleased the boarders so much they called the stablehand “Over-The-Fence Tarpley” until he finally moved out. Harry Bedford and Chap Loving, operators of a gambling hall, gave Amon his first suit of clothes and others collected five dollars as a reward for shutting Tarpley up.

The boarding house salary could not support Amon and he branched out to other jobs. He sold peaches. He helped a doctor. He worked in a confectionery shop, selling ice cream and candies. He took a job in a bottling works, making soda pop. Near Queen’s Peak, the highest hill around Bowie, was a horse track, just two parallel paths half a mile long. At race meets, held each Saturday in the spring. Amon filled a fifty-gallon barrel with soda pop and set up a refreshment stand for fans.

Of all young Carter’s deals, the chicken and bread business was the most profitable. He shared the business with five other Bowie boys – John Black, Mose Johnson, Shorty Ryan, R. J. San-defur and Tan Turner. It began when Amon was working as roustabout in the wagon yard. The owner gave him a red wooden gun powered by a rubber plunger. It fired an eight-inch long stick. An ancient Dominique rooster lived in the wagon yard and young Amon practiced his marksmanship on the bird. One day he was too accurate and dispatched the tough old rooster with a shot to the head. An idea occurred to Amon. He asked a widow to cook the bird. She parboiled the old Dominique, trying to soften the meat, then cut up and fried the various parts.

Amon met the next train. The Fort Worth and Denver carried no dining car, and passengers rushed to buy Amon’s fried rooster. He was counting his profits – forty cents – as the train pulled away. Suddenly, a heavy rooster leg struck him on the head. An irate customer screamed curses at the boy for selling such a tough meal.

Dismissing the man as a grouch, Amon began thinking of train passengers and chicken. He decided chicken sandwiches would sell better than fried chicken and were, incidentally, more difficult to throw. He proposed a deal with the Widow Brodie. She would cook him one chicken daily and provide room and board for $2.50 weekly. Amon paid two bits for each chicken. He cleared about two dollars a day. Soon, other Bowie boys took up the business and Amon gathered his five friends to form a monopoly and squeeze out competitors. The Carter cartel did well. When chickens were not available at favorable prices, the boys made late night henhouse raids, which, of course, considerably lowered the firm’s overhead. If neither money nor midnight foray produced chickens, the youths substituted rabbit meat. The Chicken and Bread Boys of Bowie soon became famous on the Fort Worth and Denver run through North Texas, and the nickname would follow Amon to New York. Decades later, when Franklin Roosevelt campaigned for a second term, his train stopped in Bowie. Amon came aboard selling chicken sandwiches. FDR laughed at his friend and passed over a dime.

When he was finally out in the world for good, Amon turned to more sophisticated means of support. He and a railroad brakeman, O. G. Hurdleston, established a knifeboard in Lindsey’s saloon. The board held knives stuck in whiskey corks. Various coins were glued to each knife. Customers tried to toss wooden rings over the knives. The old carnival game seemed simple but of course was not. For one thing, the rings would not fit over the knives guarding fifty cent pieces. A deerfoot knife stabbed through a five dollar bill was turned in such a way that it was impossible to ring.

The knifeboard prospered until a part-time housepainter and pool hustler nicknamed Shadow arrived one evening. Lanky, loose-jointed and long-armed, Shadow could drop rings on any and all knives, even the five-buck deerfoot. Amon was fascinated with Shadow, partially because the man had a double row of upper teeth and smiled like twin piano keyboards. Shadow broke the knife-board and Amon did the only honest thing. He barred Shadow from ever playing again, then hired him at five dollars a week to drop in each evening and show the suckers how to win. The knifeboard’s profits increased dramatically. Shadow suggested letting the deerfoot knife pot be won regularly, so once a month, Amon turned the handle to a winning position. First winner was a farmer, Adolph Fincher. News spread quickly through Bowie: Adolph had beaten the game. Ring toss-ers lined up three deep that evening. A couple of weeks later, Fincher brought a bale of cotton to town. He spent all his cotton money trying to ring another knife.

Ignorant of Shadow’s business arrangement, Bowie’s peg-legged city marshal, Charlie Bray, offered to run the house-painter out of town. Amon declined. He had larger plans for the hustler. He financed Shadow’s trip to the Dallas Fair where the housepainter beat any game the carnival folks could dream up. They split the winnings. Amon took Shadow to the pool room of Dallas’ Oriental Hotel. They played like rubes until local hustlers suggested a game for money. Amon took side bets. Shadow cleaned out the Dallas pool men. The pair returned to Bowie with more than a hundred dollars.

Amon spent a portion of the pool profits on his first grownup clothes. He disembarked from the train dressed in a white suit, high-collared silk dress shirt, narrow red and white bowtie, black derby (Texans called derbies “chili-dippers”), and bile-green Selzswab Piccadilly shoes with toes sharp-pointed as fence palings. Amon’s rainbow raiment stunned Bowie. Children were frightened. Dogs growled at him. His saloon chums slapped knees and guffawed loudly. Amon put away his city duds, not really understanding why they were unacceptable.

It is of little surprise that town parents felt Amon was an inappropriate companion for their children. Hooking rides on trains, hustling farmers in saloons, the curious idea of sartorial glory – his lifestyle gave him the social standing of an itinerant spot welder. Most of this would be forgotten sixty years later when Bowie was naming its city lake for him and bestowing other honors on its most famous son. At eighteen, Amon was a full-grown man. He was allowed to attend Sunday dinners in the home of Mrs. Arch Turner, a widow who felt sorry for him. Several of Bowie’s young people gathered each Sunday at Mrs. Turner’s home and it was there presumably that Amon met and wooed Zetta Thomas, the tall gangling daughter of a prominent family. After several years of wandering, Amon would return to marry her.

In 1898, having ridden elevators and worn green shoes and become a worldly young man, Amon left Bowie, itching to travel and see America. He went most of a hundred miles, north to Indian Territory and what now is Norman, Oklahoma, where the husband of a first cousin owned a grocery store. The cousin got him a job in Davis’ Confectionery Shop at thirty dollars a month. He boarded at Grand Central Hotel and worked from five a.m. until almost midnight six days a week. He made friends with Bill Ince, driver of a grocer’s delivery wagon, and the pair schemed to get on the road. They bought a gross of pipes and a supply of tobacco, and acquired a taffy-making machine, preparing to join a traveling circus where they would hawk smoking materials and candy.

Before they could hook on with the circus, however, Amon met a Mr. Phillips one morning at the barber shop. Mr. Phillips represented the American Copying Company of Chicago. He was hiring young men to travel and sell colored portraits. The portrait dodge, one of the plagues of early America, was hardly more legitimate than Amon’s knifeboard. First, a salesman hit town and called on leading merchants, selling them frames for $1.50 each. Afterward, a crew of boys arrived and went door to door telling mothers they could have oil paintings made from their children’s photographs for very little cost. The gimmick was that the paintings were odd-sized and would fit only the plaster of Paris frames sold by merchants, at prices beginning at $2.98.

Amon liked the idea. He left Ince pulling taffy, borrowed a suitcase, and hit the road. He was an instant success. He and selling were perfect for one another. The boy who could peddle inedible rooster legs and bunny sandwiches could make colored portraits seem like Rem-brandts. Within a year, he was the company’s top-producing salesman and by late 1901, Amon was American Copying’s sales manager with a salary of $300 monthly, a magnificent sum for a young man hardly twenty-one. He traveled to every state in the union, enjoyed life on the road but understood that his future with the business was limited. During this period he also married Zetta. So when Ed Swasey, who he had met in Portland – he later would rise high in the Hearst organization – offered a job in San Francisco, Amon accepted. He went to work with Bamhart & Swasey Advertising Agency for $100 a month. Before leaving Chicago, Amon acquired from American Copying a letter of recommendation which said in part, “We believe Mr. Carter has few equals and never a superior in his representation of us.”

Amon thought the statement was an underestimation of his abilities; he couldn’t remember any equals.

He was almost two years away from taking Emerson’s advice for up-and-coming dreamers: “Hitch your wagon to a Star.”

Then Hail to the Press! Chosen Guardian of Freedom! Strong Sword-arm of Justice! Bright Sunbeam of Truth!

– Horace Greeley, The Press

The newspaper business consists of buying newsprint at 2 cents a pound and selling it at 10 cents a pound.

– Charles A. Dana

There seems to be no plan because it is all plan. There seems to be no center because it is all center.

– C. S. Lewis

Perhaps there is significance in the fact that Fort Worth’s second telephone, installed in the Democrat, a newspaper, was but a single line leading to the fourth telephone, billeted in the Club Room, a saloon two hundred feet away across Main Street. Perhaps not. Handy, yes. Editor Buckley B. Paddock wrote that he ordered a lemonade to test the new service.

Once a Confederate scout. Paddock was a leading city booster preparing to retire as active editor and make money in the real world. The portly Paddock, literate, an excellent journalist, and more than a little Victorian, earlier stood his newspaper in the path of sin, seeking to erase the cowboy’s playground – Hell’s Half Acre, Fort Worth’s red light district where back-sore whores and card slicks serviced ranch hands with competence and perfidy.

The crusade kept cowboys out of town for awhile, thereby cutting trade at legitimate businesses. Angry merchants demanded Paddock remove his blue nose from the cribs and gambling joints. The sinful zone returned to its former busy life.

Fort Worth’s first newspaper was the Chief, founded in 1849 by Anthony Banning Norton, who was slightly dotty. Norton was a Henry Clay supporter in the 1844 Presidential election. Clay lost to James Polk. Norton angrily trekked to Texas where he neither shave nor cut his hair until Clay became President. Very soon, Norton was as hairy as a practicing hermit and Fort Worthians wearied of reading about Henry Clay.

The Chief and Paddock’s Democrat withered and died as newspapers seem to have done regularly in early Fort Worth. Fully forty publications came and went before 1906 when Amon Carter and the Star wandered into that journalistic graveyard. Two newspapers remained at the time of the Star’s conception. C. D. Reimers edited and published the Telegram, an afternoon daily. He was considered a good businessman and poor journalist. Clarence Ousley owned and edited the morning Record, which had climbed out of the coffin holding the Register, still another short-lived newspaper. Ousley rates a footnote in American journalism. Early in the I9(X)s the Dallas News owned rights to national stories distributed in North Texas by the Associated Press. Fort Worth papers were blocked from publishing any AP wire news originating outside the state. Ousley began a court fight to break monopolistic control of the single news service, and won.

That boosted the Record and Telegram, both of which became AP subscribers, but effectively froze out the Star, leaving it victim to the Scripps-McRae service, which issued a meager five hundred words daily. W. C. Stripling, Sr. an emigrant from Bowie who prospered in Fort Worth, told Amon to forget the Star, citing the lack of AP news as reason enough for it to fail quickly. Stripling also promised Amon he would never buy even a single ad for his department store. Amon ashcanned the advice, joining the Star as its only salesman, thereby becoming advertising manager.

Stripling asked Amon, “Why did you seek my advice about going to work for the Star, which I strongly advised against and which you did not accept?” Carter replied that he was like most people – they asked advice of their friends with the hope their ideas would coincide and then “went ahead to do what they originally intended to do.”

When A. G. Dawson and D. C. McCaleb sniffed the manured air and spoke of their dream to begin a new afternoon newspaper, Amon had little money. His small business paid bills but could not be stretched to support his rather vigorous nightlife. He borrowed $250 from American National Bank, pledging as security a small diamond ring. That cash was almost gone, consumed mostly by a high straight held against Amon’s three aces. He had no money to invest and contrary to his boast that he could borrow, knew of no one who would loan him money. Amon, however, steered Dawson and McCaleb to Paul Waples, a wealthy businessman titled “colonel” as were half the grown men in Texas. Waples became the Star’s

angel. The wholesale food magnate selected a few friends to finance the newspaper with fifty thousand dollars. Waples, a philanthropist and politician who became chairman of the Texas Democratic State Executive Committee, brought in Louis Wortham (yet another “colonel”’) as publisher/editor.

Though out of the venture Amon was offered a job as ad salesman. What followed was typical of Amon Carter. He needed the job, but it was his policy never to accept a first offer. He and Dawson bargained for weeks. Dawson offered twenty dollars a week, then twenty-five. Amon said “No” to each. Thirty dollars? Amon shunned the offer. He would work for no less than thirty-five dollars a week. Dawson replied that the Star could not afford Amon Carter. “I’ve been working for the Dallas News for ten years,” said Dawson, “and it has never paid me more than $30 a week.”

“Mr. Dawson,” answered Amon, “pardon my frankness, but one or the other of you must have been imposed upon.”

The Star was two weeks from its first issue and Amon ten days beyond the last of his borrowed $250 when Wortham arrived. Wortham summoned Carter to the office.

“How much do you want?” asked Wortham.

“Thirty-five dollars a week.”

“You’re hired. When can you come to. work?”

“I’m working right now.”

Amon’s hold-out was a useless exercise. He only collected six thirty-five dollar paychecks, then voluntarily reduced his salary to twenty dollars. His lack of financial interest in the Star was a blessing. It never made money but mired deeper and deeper into dept. Investors lost everything.

Amon survived the failure. And Wortham. Colonel Wortham, a puckish-faced, large man with middle-parted hair, was impractical, windy, gentle, drank too much and had little notion of how to operate a daily newspaper. Amon liked him immediately. They became close friends and allies against Dawson and McCaleb, both of whom left before the newspaper’s first anniversary.

The first Star arrived on the eve of Groundhog Day, February 1, 1906, two weeks late but with great exaltation inside the 25 x 25 foot newsroom located at Sixth and Rusk Streets, underneath the Eagle Lodge Hall and behind a saloon, the Senate Bar. Outside, no angels sang hosannas from on high. There was massive disregard by Fort Worth citizens, only forty-five hundred of whom bothered to accept free delivery for the first thirty days. That afternoon, the Telegram bragged on page one of its 11,156 paid circulation.

The first edition of the Star was a typical, typographically dull publication with seven columns, stacked headlines and a few illustrations. It had sixteen pages but subsequent issues were only eight pages because the crippled flat-bed Bullock press could print no more in a single run. The ancient press was propped up on one side by an iron brace. The Star also owned three rickety Linotype machines and an antique stereotyping pot with a metal dipper. So crowded was the newsroom that the men stood at shelves around the walls as they worked.

Predictably, there were few local ads. The Star, in fact, seemed an inventory sheet for the patent medicine industry. Dr. Snoop’s Rheumatic Tablets had a prominent spot, and Hostetters’ Stomach Bitters, and the always popular Dr. Thur-man’s Lone Star Catarrah Cure (“Doubtless one of the most aggravating disgusting and destructive diseases to which human flesh has fallen heir”).

Sprinkled among the truss and hem-orrhoid commercials was the day’s news. Fort Worth skies were cloudy, swept by a twelve mile per hour wind. Charging “intolerable cruelty,” a forty-year-old mother of twenty-seven children petitioned for dissolution of her twenty-four-year marriage. C. W. Post, a one-time Fort Worth resident, was back in town promoting his Grape Nuts as a medical cure for every known disease. Prohibitionists scorned Alice, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, for serving wine in the White House. The Boll Weevils, a baseball team, soon would hold spring tryouts. In St. Petersburg, the Russian emperor warned peasants to stop pestering large landowners. Standard Oil was accused of stifling competition. In the West Texas town of Brownwood, Charles Hale was “terribly burned” when he struck a match to see the innards of his new gas-powered automobile, and at nearby Abilene a pair of cowboys interrupted a ranch dance to fight with pistols and knives – “Two women were slashed right and left, inflicting severe, if not fatal, gashes on their bodies.” For entertainment, there were the Edison Family Theater (’’ Appeals to the Masses and not to the Classes”) and Greenwall’s Opera House with “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,” featuring the original New York cast. The Majestic had live, on stage, “Don Carlos, the lion and dog trainer… seen in a cage with a lion which he has trained to jump from place to place and which he catches hold of and throws across the cage and in fact handles with almost as much freedom as though it were a common tame cat.”

Among the few local advertisements were announcements of sales on “Ladies Dip Hip Corsets, 39 cents” and a “special lot of ladies Union Suits, in gray and ecru, 25 cents.” Butter was thirty cents a pound, paint seventy-five cents a gallon, valentines one cent each and Pullman train tickets to California, twenty-five dollars. F. O. “Painless” Cates charged just fifty cents per extracted tooth.

Readers got all that for two cents, or a nickel on trains and out of town.

Amon sold all ads, seventy-one column inches total, representing a $387.30 income for the fledgling paper. He in fact accepted too many ads. A front page boxed apology read:

The response to solicitations for advertisements was so much greater than was anticipated that it was a physical impossibility for the Star to get out an issue on this date with all the advertisements that should be in the issue in it.

Presumably the absent ads ungrammatically pardoned were more anti-pilesfighters and catarrah curatives.

As a new employee, Amon s first act was to tell everybody how to run the newspaper. He laid down three rules for Colonel Wortham: One, there would be the same rates for all advertisers; two, the circulation would be guaranteed, no mater how small; and. three, the newspaper would indulge in neither contests nor premiums to secure circulation. “The advertiser must use the newspaper because it is beneficial to his business, not because the newspaper grants him special favors,” lectured Amon, “and the reader must subscribe because he is interested, not because he expects to win a contest.” Later, he added a fourth canon: The Star would sell its own national advertising, and save paying agency commissions. Those four rules would make the Star-Telegram the most profitable newspaper in America – “territory considered,” Amon always added when confronted with his paper’s profitability.

To promote the Star, placards were distributed claiming the newspaper was “. . . clean, conservative, conscientious, enterprising and independent . . . with more local news than in any other in the city.” So what, yawned Fort Worth?

That was not an alarming reaction. Fort Worth was a somnolent town in 1906. Forty thousand people lived there, though only five thousand had bothered to vote in the last election. Years earlier, a Dallas newspaper claimed Fort Worth was so lifeless a panther was seen sleeping on Main Street. Packing houses, a natural extension of the stockyards, were the largest businesses. As Amon settled into his new job. Fort Worth had a few fancy stores but far more plain ones, more dirt streets than paved boulevards, streetcars, an in-terurban to Dallas, innumerable saloons, more outdoor privies than indoor bathrooms, more horses than automobiles, a new eight-story skyscraper called the Wheat Building, thirty passenger trains daily and a society composed of too many families on the outer edge of poverty and below the respectability of middleclass.

Fort Worth, at age fifty-six, had a western flavor if little of the taste.

From the beginning, the Star had no future. Without support of large local advertisers, the newspaper could not produce revenue enough to pay its bills. Soon, Amon was pawning his rings with Oscar Wells, cashier of the Fort Worth National Bank, to meet each week’s payroll.

He traded part-interest in his patented telephone directory for a peach orchard near Arlington, midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. During the day he sold advertising for the Star and solicited orders for peaches from grocery stores. After work, he would board a streetcar to the orchard, pick and pack the peaches, and return them to Fort Worth, usually arriving about midnight. He was up again at five a.m. to deliver the fruit before striking out on his advertising rounds.

Carter produced one scoop for the Star. On the morning of April 18. 1906, he was on the Cotton Exchange. The wire operator received a flash that fire and earthquake had destroyed San Francisco. Carter copied the spare details and rushed to the newspaper office. In his wallet Amon still carried a map of San Francisco showing circulation distribution of the Call. The map also displayed pictures of the Ferry Building, Palace Hotel, San Francisco Examiner, city hall and other structures. A cut was made of the map and printed on the Star’s front page beside the meager story written from Amon’s notes. The Star published its first extra. Amon snatched a bundle and dashed into Sixth Street. Later, he hauled a load of extras to Dallas. The Star sold twenty-four hundred copies before the Telegram even learned of the disaster.

The scoop did little to rescue the Star and the newspaper continued to lose money. Amon, however, finally sold W. C. Stripling, Sr. an ad. He did it by pestering Stripling for twelve straight days. Each afternoon Amon met Stripling as the older man left his store. Amon began talking. He talked as they walked. He talked as they boarded the streetcar. He talked as the car took them to Stripling’s home. He talked as they entered the house, talked until dinner, talked through dinner, talked until Stripling told him to leave. Next day Amon was back, talking. Stripling surrendered. He told Amon he would give him an advertising contract if one could be sold to W. G. Burton, owner of the Burton-Peel Dry Goods Company. Amon blitzed Burton. Burton capitulated. The dry goods store contracted for three double pages, to that time the largest department store ad ever published in Texas. The $198.45 paid by Burton, and Stripling’s ads, still did not rescue the Star.

By early 1908, the original $50,000 was gone and the newspaper was $27,000 deeper in debt. Dawson left. He and Carter had never got along. Amon threatened to “knock his block off” in an argument over a proposed special edition romanticizing the West Texas cattle industry. Wortham demoted Dawson to reporter, and he quit. McCaleb resigned to accept a political writing job in Austin.

And the Telegram was trying to hire Amon.

After the Burton ads appeared, C. D. Reimers, the Telegram publisher, asked Carter to become advertising manager of the larger newspaper. Reimers offered $35 weekly, then $50, and finally $75. Amon refused the offers, saying he would not leave Waples and Wortham. Reimers said Amon was allowing sentiment to control his business sense.

“We will put you out of business,” said Reimers.

Angry, Amon retorted, “Hop to it. You can’t get upany earlier or stay upany later than I can, or sell any more advertising.”

The Telegram, of course, could and did sell more advertising. By autumn, 1908, Carter and Wortham knew the Star’s only chance for survival was buying the Telegram, and the only hope of buying the larger newspaper was to pay more than it was worth. But not too much 1 more. They went underground.

Amon enlisted the help of O. P. Thom-as, secretary of the Abilene Chamber of (Commerce. Thomas bid for the Telegram. It is generally understood that Reimers knew from the beginning who really was buying his newspaper but all parties played out the charade to the end. Thomas secured a contract-to-sell for $100,000. The terms were for $2,500 to be deposited on Monday morning, November 16, 1908, balance of $92,500 cash due in ten days. A five thousand dollar note to Goss Printing Press Company was to be assumed by the new publishers.

To obtain the $2,500, Amon went back to Oscar Wells, and left on deposit in Fart Worth National Bank vault “1 diamond ring, 3 31/32 k; I diamond ring, 5/8 k; 2 smaller diamond rings, one diamond and pearl scarf pin.” Amon told Wells if they could not obtain the remaining $92,500 in ten days, he would give up and accept Barron Collier’s New York job offer.

Amon and Wortham again approached Colonel Waples for backing. Waples at first was uninterested but Amon talked until he had the financier’s promise to back the new publishing venture. And Stripling became a backer – now the store owner could see the worth of Amon running a monopoly afternoon newspaper. Among other investors were Burton and H. C. Meacham, another department store owner. Waples grandly offered corporation shares to Amon and Colonel Wortham. Each took ten percent. Waples said they could buy the balance as they wished, at cost plus six percent. Amon, of course, had no money for his ten percent. But W. B. Graham, with whom Amon worked in Chicago, had moved to Fort Worth. Amon borrowed a “piece of swamp land in Fort Meyer, Florida” from Graham and secured his ten percent. Amon was a newspaper owner.

In later years, Reimers bragged that he cheated Carter because the Telegram was sold for twice its worth. Amon replied that the Telegram’s real value was a million dollars. It would seem Carter was correct. The Star-Telegram became a hundred million dollar property.

December 31, 1908. Two o’clock in the afternoon. Editor Jimmy North and his seven reporters awaited the day’s final press run. Carter strolled in. He handed an announcement to North and told him to box it on page one. North read the single paragraph. It announced the Star’s closing. North and the reporters were stunned.

“Boys.” said Carter, “I understand that a new paper will start publication to-morrow from a plant at Eighth and Throck-morton Streets. If you show up there early enough, some of you might get jobs.”

North sputtered that the Telegram plant was located at Eighth and Throck-morton Streets. Carter shrugged, smiled and left.

Ten minutes after the Star hit the streets, a horse-drawn cab arrived in front of the newspaper office. Carl Crow, assistant editor of the Telegram, hopped out, haughtily told the driver he would walk to his destination, the Senate Bar, twenty feet down the street. The Telegram, Crow lamented to North, was ceasing publication. The staff was out drinking. Star reporters joined them.

North later wrote that newsmen, deep into the hazy New Year’s Eve, deduced that the two papers were merging. Next morning, North reported early to the Telegram building. Carter told him he was managing editor. Given the amalgamated staffs, North had enough reporters to cover three Fort Worths, and January 1, 1909, the Star and Telegram (two weeks later, the “and” became a hyphen) became the city’s only afternoon newspaper. There almost was not a second edition.

Early Saturday evening, North put his staff to work, preparing for the paper’s first Sunday edition. Word came that Winfield Scott, a rancher-millionaire who settled in Fort Worth, was hosting a banquet in the Terminal Hotel at Main and Lancaster. North assigned a reporter to cover the party. In a burst of generosity, he told every other newsman within hearing to go along and help. The blanket assignment also sent a couple of off-duty Record reporters who were hanging around. Advertising manager Al Shuman opined he would just “go with the boys and supervise.”

Midnight arrived. Midnight left. North had no story of the banquet. The Sunday paper lay in pieces all over the office. North was angry. Then Shuman threw open the rear door, stumbled in and passed out before North’s desk. Four more reporters entered, weaved to their desks, and collapsed. North, fifty years later, recalled that “all had looked upon the wine when it was red and too often and too copiously.”

Intrigued, North walked to the rear door. He found Hep Blackman, the staff cartoonist, sitting in the alley. Blackman was sobbing. Between sobs, the cartoonist claimed the greatest misfortune of his entire life had befallen him. He threw his arms around North and cried, baby-like, until the managing editor held him at arms length and demanded an explanation.

Hep cried that waiters at Scott’s party were bootlegging champagne at fifteen cents a bottle, and he only had sixty cents. Life was unspeakably cruel, Hep cried. The cartoonist had emptied two of his precious bottles and was half through another. North gently propped Hep against the wall and walked to the street. A second newsman was passed out at the alley’s entrance. Two more sat in the street, singing. North sighed and returned to the city room.

One by one the reporters returned, all except the newsman assigned to cover the party. Scott was an important man in town. The Star and Telegram must have a story.

North roused Shuman, and demanded the advertising manager give him notes pn the banquet. North would write the story. Shuman indignantly replied that he was a member of the management of that newspaper and “not a drunken report-er.” Emphasizing his lofty position, S human slammed a champagne bottle on North’s desk, breaking the glass top. North let Shuman return to his sleep. North systematically awoke and questioned each of his newsmen. None could function well enough to help him.

Wortham arrived. The publisher asked what kind of story the paper would have on the Scott party. “None,” said North, “The reporter assigned hasn’t returned and those that have are too drunk to write.”

“That’s because you did not assign a competent reporter,” snapped Wortham.

“Colonel, I did assign a competent reporter. It’s not a question of competence but capacity,” argued North.

“If he had been competent he would not have gotten drunk.”

“Colonel, I haven’t seen anybody yet come back sober from that party.”

Wortham bristled and sternly informed North he was sober and could write a “hell of a good story” on the banquet. North knew Wortham was sober only because the publisher was a legislative candidate and his opponent, a prohibitionist, also attended the dinner. He asked Wortham to write the story.

“I’ll see you in the bottomless pits of hell before I do it. This”II teach you next time to assign a competent reporter to cover a news event,” Wortham yelled and rushed out.

North sighed and returned to his desk. The night of the fifteen-cent champagne ended. Expended reporters were found on front porches of Fort Worth’s swank-est section, in gutters and along banks of the Trinity River. Hep Blackman was still sprawled in the alley at daybreak, the third bottle empty beside him. Shuman slept away the night on a city room desk. Another reporter is said to have thrown himself in front of a street-car, unaware it stopped running at midnight and had not moved for hours. One newsman was arrested for swinging at a town marshal and another ran through the parlor of the city’s most respected bordello, startling the madam. He was shirtless and barefooted.

The Star and Telegram printed a story of the Scott party on page one of its Sunday edition. Wortham had changed his mind and phoned North enough facts for two sticks of type. The story appeared under a headline about a YMCA banquet. The Y story bore the Scott head. Back shop workers, it seems, learned of the fifteen cent champagne and naturally . . .

The Star-Telegram, corporately and hyphenetically married, survived its boozy honeymoon editions and evolved into a newspaper of stature and grace and power, proving monopoly is an excellent base on which to build, provided one has an Amon Carter.

Amon was ready to promote his newspaper, his town, his region, his state and, of course, himself.

He was ready to invent the cowboy.

And that would establish a lifestyleDamon Runyon one day would title.”Amon in Wonderland.”