“I have called Dallas my home since 1870,” said B. F. Sala, 2502 Parnell street. “My father, who was in the theater business, left Galveston in 1869 and followed the terminus of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad from place to place until it reached Corsicana, and on the way, built opera houses at Navasota, Hearne, Bryan, Calvert, Kosse and Corsicana. Sanger Bros. and Padgitt Bros. were in business at Navasota when I first heard of those firms. When we were at Hearne, the International-Great Northern Railroad was being built across the State in the direction of Palestine, Col. Hoxie was general superintendent of that road.
Sala, continued, “My father, who was an actor, scenic artist and impresario, as well as a builder of opera houses, opened theatres and gave performances all the way up from Galveston to Dallas. We came from Corsicana in 1870, two years ahead of the railroad, using a wagon for transportation. My father built a dwelling in the woods on or near the present site of the Union Passenger Station. Our neighbors were Henry and Frank Ervay, Dr. J. W. Crowdus and the father of Tom, Dick and Harry Nelms. I remember we spoke of our neighbor boys as Tom, Dick and Harry. Two years later, when the railroad arrived, we moved to Carter street, the swell quarter of the town and lived near Alex and Philip Sanger, who, for a short time after moving to Dallas, occupied the same house.
“In 1873, my father built a home, a five-room house, at Main and Ervay, on the site of the present Federal Building. A big creek ran where the Sumpter Building is. But, all that locality was in the country then. The nearest business house was Connor & Walker’s drug store, Main and Austin streets. The same year, the two-story building on the northwest corner of Main and Austin streets was erected, the second floor of which was for years the opera house of the town. Joe Leonard, who ran a brickyard, manufactured the brick and erected the building; J. S. Ballard did the carpenter work and my father constructed the stage, painted the scenery and opened the theater with a stock company. The first attraction was ‘The Sea of Ice,’ a famous spectacle in those days. The Field Theater, on the south side of Main street, in the News block, built by Tom Field, was opened with the Crisp Dramatic Company, but I do not remember the date. I do remember, though, that ‘East Lynne’ was the first play given there.
“At the request of the Swiss colony here, my father put on the drama of ‘William Tell,’ with John English in the title role; Charles Strang, as Geasler; my mother, as Tell’s wife, Emma, and I took the part of Tell’s boy, Albert. Mr. English was a wonderful shot and never failed to split the apple. But, really the arrow went above the apple, and the fruit was split with a wire pulled by a confederate behind the curtain. I was, nevertheless, very uncomfortable all the time, for just a few weeks before, I had seen Frank Frain kill his wife by shooting an arrow into her skull at St. Louis. For some time before this accident, I had been playing Albert to Frain’s Tell. This accident brought about an immediate change in the presentation of this detail of the play. Up to that time, the apple stunt had been the real thrill of the play, which had a great run all over the country. But now, the best marksmen became nervous, and no boy cared to be the apple tree. The outcome was the wire trick. But, Frain was a wonderful archer; no doubt, Robin Hood would have welcomed him to Sherwood Forest.
Glimpses the Real Thing.
“But all this imitation hero business was, to me, the merest moonshine, in comparison with the thrill I derived from a glimpse or two of the real thing. As a small boy, about 1874, I got a job in a cigar stand, run by a Spaniard, on the east side of the courthouse square. One day, a man, who immediately attracted my attention, rode up, hitched his horse, and walked across to the courthouse. Presently, he emerged from the courthouse and returned to his horse, where he shook hands with a man, and after a hasty conversation with him, mounted and hurried out of town. That was Cole Younger.
“While my father was building the opera house at Denison for J. McDougal, he made me sleep on the stage to watch the property. Late one night, Mr. McDougal brought two men into the theater and told me to let them sleep on the stage. At 4 o’clock in the morning, Mr. McDougal came back, shook me out of my sleep, and told me to drive the two men in his hack to Colbert’s Ferry, on Red River, four miles north of town. One of the men sat with me, and the other occupied the back seat. When we reached the ferry, the man who sat with me, said: ‘Young man, do you know who I am?’ I said: ‘No, sir.’ Then, he put a stick of dynamite under me, by saying: ‘I am Jesse James,’ and immediately added, ‘This is my brother, Frank.’ He then handed me a brass cavalry spur, saying: ‘You have won your spur tonight.’ In 1885, when Frank James came to Dallas to live, he became my neighbor, on Race street. I called on him at his home one night, and, showing him the spur, which I had kept, and still keep, asked him if he remembered it. ‘Perfectly,’ he said, and added with emotion, ‘that was the last time my brother was ever in Texas.’
Snappy Mounted Carrier.
“I was what you might call the outside, or mounted, carrier of the Dallas Herald, when Mr. Swindell owned the paper. My mount was an undersize prairie donkey. One day, the paper carried great scare headlines over the sensation that the first car over the new street railway line would start from Main and Houston streets the following day. The paper had previously announced that the car would be named for one of the young ladies of Dallas. The Herald crowd put Miss Alice Swindells, daughter of the publisher, forward as a candidate for the honors, and our disappointment was great when the car appeared bearing the name of Miss Belle, daughter of Capt. G. M. [_?___], painted in big letters.
“The car was designed to be drawn by two little mules, but, for some reason now unknown to me, the first car was pulled by an old gray horse, owned by the Captain. One end of the road was at the courthouse, and the other at Harwood street, but later, the track was laid to the Houston & Texas Central Railroad crossing. The beginning of traffic on the street car line made the occasion of a big celebration, the chief feature of which, was an exhibition by the fire department. Responding to a fire alarm, coming mainly from the box in front of the Crutchfield House, the firemen played that the old house was in flames. They opened the underground cistern at Jefferson and Main streets, and started the pump, which was worked by a long handle, by six or eight men. They achieved the amazing feat of throwing a stream of water up to the sill of the second-story window and received the plaudits of the assembled town and country. W. C. Connor, chief of the department, directed the operations of the firemen.
Sala, concluded, “My father served in the Quartermaster’s Department of General Magruder’s command in the Civil War. Before entering the army, he moved his family to Brownsville, and I was born in a tent at Brownsville, during the war. After the war, we moved to Galveston, and lived there, until we started north with the Houston & Texas Central Railroad.”
Original article by W. S. Adair appeared in the Dallas Morning News on March 4, 1923. Article transcribed from microfilm by Jim Wheat for Dallas County Archives. Note: B. F. “Frank” Sala was born in 1861 and died in1926.