Q. We’ve been going to the State Fair of Texas every year for 25 years, and Big Tex has been there the entire time. Does he date back to the Texas Centennial? T.T., Ardmore, Ok.
A. Nope. Big Tex didn’t make his first appearance at the State Fair until 1952, when fair officials decided the annual three-week exhibition needed a mascot of true Texas proportions. Since then, Big Tex has gone through 20 changes of clothes custom-made by the H.D. Lee Co. Incidentally, the fair this year will be held October 9 through October 25. The State Fair musical will be a production of Little Johnny Jones starring teen idol David Cassidy.
Q. Why is it that Houston can expand its city limits at will, devouring helpless suburbs that stand in its way, and Dallas is held prisoner by the likes of Garland and Irving? J.K., Dallas.
A. Houston got lucky. Back in the Fifties, when no one could foresee the growth of the two cities and they both had populations of about 500,000, Houston leaders went on an annexation spree and incorporated almost all of Harris County into the city’s limits. Dallas also annexed large chunks of Dallas County, but it left small farming communities like Garland, Mesquite, and Piano alone. These towns came down with annexation fever in the Sixties and incorporated huge amounts of land into their city limits that they haven’t been able to do anything with until recently. Because Dallas allowed these strong suburbs to sprout, Dallas will never be Houston’s size.
Q. I read in D Magazine recently about a so-called freedmenstown in far North Dallas. What are freed-menstowns, and how were they created? S.J., Pleasant Grove.
A. Freedmenstowns are called such because they were settled by freed slaves after the Civil War. Often, these “freed men” settled together because they wanted to put some distance between themselves and their old masters. In Dallas, half a dozen or so small freedmenstowns were virtually created by law. Freed black men and women were not allowed to live within the city limits after the war ended. The largest and most famous of these settlements-the old North Dallas freedmenstown-still remains near the intersection of Hall and Thomas, an area which in the 1860s was north of the city limits. The North Dallas freedmenstown is now almost downtown and has been protected by city statute from land-hungry developers.
Q. How did the Trinity River get its name? G.D., Grand Prairie.
A. The much-maligned Trinity has been saddled with a misnomer ever since its discovery by Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon two centuries ago. Poor de Leon thought the sluggish river had three branches, so he named it La Santisima Trinidad – The Holy Trinity. Actually, there are four branches, the East Fork, the Elm Fork, the West Fork, and the Clear Fork. The junction of the Elm Fork and the West Fork is just five miles northwest of downtown Dallas and was one of the reasons John Neely Bryan selected this site for his trading post in 1842.
Q. A friend of mine and I are having an argument about the cabin across from the Records Building in downtown Dallas. Is that really the home John Neely Bryan built, or is it just a replica? P.N., Garland.
A. The Dallas County Historical Commission has spent seven years studying the old shanty that now has a permanent home at the Dallas County Historical Plaza. They have concluded that the log cabin is indeed, for the most part, the one-room shack that Bryan constructed for his family during 1842 and 1843. The commission speculates that the cabin was originally built on what we now know as “the grassy knoll.” Early in this century, it was moved to the grounds of the Buckner Baptist Children’s Home on Buckner Boulevard for reasons that have been obscured by history. The orphaned cabin was adopted by the county in the mid-Fifties and placed on the grounds of the Old Red Courthouse. It was moved again 10 years ago to its present location when the Kennedy Memorial and historical plaza were built.