Music of the Night: Today in Austin History

August 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Back in the 1880s, all the most prominent men (and sometimes the infamous) in Austin were firefighters. If Michael Dell had been alive then, he would have been a firefighter. Companies were all volunteer and independent then, and competition among them was healthy.

Austin had been plagued by crime in the 1870s, and Ben Thompson, Austin’s most notorious gambler and pistolero, had been elected City Marshal in December 1880 on the voters’ theory that “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

The voters had chosen wisely. Once on the right side of the law, Thompson rapidly bulldozed the town into order. On August 9, 1881, Thompson, of Hope Hook & Ladder Company No. 2, took the train to Sherman to attend the state firemen’s convention.

And like an episode of Andy Griffith with Barney Fife as acting sheriff, the wheels were soon off the cart.

Whitt Burdett, John Dalley and Tom Morgan, along about 12 o’clock that night, were making things lively down in Guy Town and were having an intensely interesting time. They visited several places, and along about the bewitching hour took drinks in the famous Gem saloon. This had a decidedly exhilarating effect on the trio, and one of them after leaving the saloon drew a musical little pistol and fired it off. This attracted Policeman Evans, who at once set out and overhauled the young men and conducted them to the lock-up. Morgan threw his pistol out of the window while being searched, but the officer saw him and went down and got it. Burdett and Dalley pled guilty to the charge of disturbing the peace the next day and were fined $5 and costs each. Morgan, for carrying deadly weapons, was fined $15 (more than $300 in today’s money) and costs.

Elsewhere that night down in Guy Town, Henry Martin, riding a horse, dismounted in front of Mahogany Hall, and unloosing a 40 foot rope from the pommel of the saddle, retained one end in his hand and entered the house to have a quiet chat with the inmates for a few moments. When he entered, rope in hand, his horse was securely fastened to the other end, but on coming out he discovered that some fellow had approached, and untying the rope, had mounted Martin’s horse and rode off. He was seen some 40 or 50 yards off riding away at a rapid gait. Martin was now minus a horse, and vowed the next time he visited the damsels of the first ward he would take horse, saddle, bridle, rope and all into the parlor and stake ‘em to the piano legs.

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