BEN LONG, Former Mayor Assassinated

5 July 2018 21:34 น. Dallas, Featured

MAYOR BEN LONG’S second term at the city hall, which opened in November, 1872, was faced with an alarming number of urgent urban problems. Dallas was at a turning point in its development. The new board of aldermen—the first to be elected rather than appointed since 1861—not only faced but sought to solve those problems resolutely. As welcome as was the arrival of the first two railroads in 1872-73, citizens saw that mushrooming growth produced by the coming of the Iron Horse had its attendant evils. They were social as well as phy­sical in nature.

BEN LONG, Former Dallas Mayor

           BEN LONG, Former Dallas Mayor

One of the first moves of the new board in 1872 was to instruct the city secretary to get copies of city ordinances in effect in “San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Galveston, Jefferson and Marshall.” It was believed that the experience of older and larger Texas cities in coping with various phases of modern city life could be helpful in the cir­cumstances.

Within a month of taking office the second Long administration had initiated moves to shore up the moral well-being of the commu­nity. One of its first acts was to pass an ordinance “to prevent vice and immorality.” It defined certain crimes and misdemeanors and pre­scribed punishments for them. More specifically, the board in the opening of the new year ordered all remaining houses of ill fame on Main Street closed or removed.

On August 27, minutes of the board show, the mayor and alder­men acted on a complaint that had been lodged against a certain “boarding house, billiard and drinking house on Elm Street near the Presbyterian Church [at Elm and Ervay].” Its dispensing of alcoholic liquors so close to a house of religious worship contravened a city ordinance. The board instructed the city marshal to see that the city ordinance “relative thereto” was rigidly enforced.

Closely allied with moral well-being was the community’s physical well-being. It was in this period that the idea of a city hospital suc­cessfully took root. Dr. F. E. Hughes appeared before the city govern­ing body on January 7, 1873, to propose the creation of such a chari­table institution. He offered the services of himself and two other Dal­las physicians for a year without charge in getting it started. A com­mittee of public-spirited women headed by Miss Douglas Ewell was appointed to raise funds. They reported back with several thousand dollars in cash or pledges; and the board, in receiving it, voted to set aside and add to that amount one-half of all fines levied in the mayor’s court as “a permanent hospital fund.” The hospital was started in a house rented for $25 a month.

Dallas got its first public utilities in this same period. The board gave a franchise to the City Rail Road Company to operate horse- or mule-drawn streetcars on Main between the courthouse and the cen­tral railroad depot. It was the start of the mass transit system now represented by Dallas Transit’s extensive system of bus lines.

Electric power still belonged to the future in 1873, but the city got its first gas utility that year. It was the “Coal Gas Works” fran­chised to James S. Hamilton and associates. Artificial gas extracted from coal served Dallas for many years, lighting its streets before electricity took over the job and serving homes until natural gas was brought into the city in the first decade of the present century by the Lone Star Gas Company.

The makeup of Mayor Long’s second term board of aldermen changed significantly in June, 1873. The resignation of several mem­bers called for a special city election. The outcome of this election saw the return of former Mayor Henry S. Ervay, as well as a number of completely new faces at the city hall. Among newcomers were Alex Sanger, William G. Sterett, and Rev. William C. Young. The latter was the veteran Methodist churchman for whom Young Street is named. Sterett was a newspaper man, later Washington correspondent of the Dallas News. Sanger was the first of the “Corsicana crowd”—the new generation of businessmen drawn to Dallas by the advent of the rail­roads—to enter local politics. Alderman Sanger led the move whereby the board met in the comfortable chambers of the new Dallas Com­mercial Club, forerunner of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. Alder­man Sterett also believed that city fathers deserved the amenities of their office; on July 2, 1873, he moved that the city marshal furnish each board meeting with five pounds of ice “and at least five gallons of water in a cooler.”

As the April, 1874, election approached, the issue of older settlers versus newcomers as candidates flared openly in the contest. It cen­tered chiefly on the post of mayor. Although Long had announced for reelection, a newcomer from Arkansas, Confederate Gen. W. L. Cabell, who had reached the city less than two years before, an­nounced as his opponent. In the election held April 7, challenger Cabe11 defeated Long by 740 to 552 votes. The hold of the antebellum settlers of Dallas on the reins of local government had been broken, and henceforth public office was opened to far more than the members of the first families to settle in the community.

Long later became United States Commissioner for the northern district of Texas, and his assassination on June 23, 1877 was one of the most shocking events in the early history of Dallas.

Commissioner Long had gone to the beer saloon on Austin near Wood, which was run by a fellow native of Switzerland by the name of Hausman. He and Hausman were conferring on a matter of private business when two young men and a woman entered, seated them­selves at a table, and called for beer.

After they had drunk their beer the party rose to leave, without paying. Long intervened to tell one of the young men that he ought to pay for the drinks, since Hausman kept the place as the means of his livelihood. The customer said he would go get the money from a friend. Fifteen minutes later the assassin returned announcing at the door, “Now I’ve got the change. You double-teamed me a while ago, and I’ll play for even.” Whereupon he fired a five-barreled revolver at Hausman, wounding him in the right arm, then shot Long in the left side of his chest.

Staggering to the door and outside, Long made his way to his home several blocks distant where he died shortly afterward. The murderer tried to get away, making for the Trinity River bottoms west of town, but he was caught later in the afternoon by a hastily formed posse. The accused was shot in the course of the pursuit and taken to the city hospital, where he was attended by three physicians, but he also died.

Mayor W. L. Cabe11 visited the scene of the crime in the course of an official investigation. It was clear that neither the assassin nor his victim had ever seen the other before. The murderer was described as “a man about 25 or 30 years of age, 5 feet 10 inches in height, and rather good looking. Some say he was a gambler, some a cattleman and others that he owned the team and express wagon in which he drove up to the saloon.”

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson.