MUSICIANS there were in Dallas, from the early days, notably the fiddlers who have already been mentioned and over the years a company of naturally sweet singers. Players of various instruments also came together now and then to form bands, but there was no especial musical tradition and the first musical figure to impress his gifts upon the town was Professor E. B. Lawrence. Recollection of Professor Lawrence has grown dim, but he seems to have been a person of sufficient vividness to be worth recalling and certainly he is associated with one highly unusual incident in Dallas history.
His title of professor came not from music but from the fact that he established the first business college in the region of which he made a notable success. According to contemporary reports he was a handsome figure of a man, “a good dresser,” one easily to be picked out in a crowd. Bands were his avocation and he organized one of a size and splendor that fairly dazzled the towrn. His college was at number 17 Main Street on the north side of the street between Houston and Jefferson. Here he also had his band headquarters and here it was his pleasure frequently to arrange entertainments where the band could be heard to advantage. One memorable Halloween in the eighteen-seventies, a dance was in full swing in the main hall on the second floor of the college which had been appropriately decorated with bunting and autumn foliage. The band had just begun The Danube Waltzes when horrified dancers discovered that a lamp too close to the decorations had set them ablaze. A few tried to smother the flames while most of the party made for safety outside. Someone remembered the newly organized company of volunteer firemen and ran to give the alarm.
In short order, Dallas Hook and Ladder Company Number One, fourteen citizens of whom W. C. Conner was chief, were on the scene. They had been thoroughly drilled in their duties and knew exactly what to do. They rushed to the nearby cistern, one of a number placed strategically through the town to store water for just such emergencies. They began to pump furiously, but to their consternation nothing happened. The cistern was bone dry. Since the last inspection it had sprung a leak and every drop of its precious fluid had drained away. The nearest water elsewhere could only be the river itself nearly a half mile away. While
the frustrated company looked on helplessly at the spreading flames, Fire Chief Conner showed that resourcefulness of action which was later to prove such an asset to the town.
Nearby a Frenchman, M. Caperon, had a saloon and winehouse, and it was his custom to keep forty or fifty barrels of wine in stays in front of his establishment. Connor remembered these and lead his company to them. In short order the head of a barrel was broken in and a bucket brigade formed. Before the blaze made too much headway the shower of wine did its work and Professor Lawrence’s college was saved. Wine was cheap in those days and probably an indemnity of ten or fifteen cents a gallon satisfied the owner of the casks.
Courtesy, The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John William Rogers. Photo courtesy George W. Cook collection at SMU’s DeGolyer Library. Additional early Dallas Music historical information can be found here.