Lake Como 1933

Lake Como 1933
Julia "Cricket" Nelson and Charles Cannon 1933

Willburn Family Haying about 1897

Willburn Family Haying about 1897
Willburn Family Haying about 1897. Reuben is the baby in white sitting on the hay bales above the black dog on the photo's right.

Reuben and Ruby Willburn Family Haying About 1936 At Benbrook

Reuben and Ruby Willburn Family Haying About 1936 At Benbrook
Reuben and Ruby Willburn Family Haying About 1936 At Benbrook

Reuben Wilburn And Pancho Early 1940s

Reuben Wilburn And Pancho Early 1940s
Reuben Wilburn and Pancho stacking cordwood to be sold in Lake Como

Ben Littlefield, 103 years; Lake Como About. 1964

Ben Littlefield, 103 years; Lake Como About. 1964
Ben Littlefield, Lake Como About. 1964

Momma Cannon and Club Members, at their own clubhouse about 1940

Momma Cannon and Club Members, at their own clubhouse about 1940
Ist botom row left to right,#1 ?, #2 Mrs.Willie (Momma) Cannon, #3 Mrs. Eula Johnson, #4 Mrs. ?, #5 Mrs. Joe Patterson; 2nd row r., Mrs. Rubye (Crawford) Jones, Mrs. ?, Mrs. Rose Anderson, Mrs. Elaine Goodspeed; 3rd row, Mrs. Louis Brice, Mrs. ?, Mrs. Angus Woods, Mrs. Myrtis Garnet, Mr. ?. Top rows , Mrs. ?, Mrs. ?, Mr. ?; extreme top, Mr. ?, Mr. Rose Anderson, Mr. Levi Jones, Mrs ?. and Mr.?,

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lake Como, Texas, Neighbor To Benbrook

May 4, 2009
San Francisco, California
By Charles E. Cannon
Formerly of
5726 Bonnell Street
Lake Como, Fort Worth, Texas

To my devoted wife Yvonne, and daughter Stephanie, thank you for your wise critiques and the hours of work in editing these short vignettes. You have contributed immensely to a document that expresses the deep emotional ties I have for Lake Como, the oldtimers who lived there, and to a discourse which attempts to convey a colloquial but accurate account of some events from my childhood, as much as memory will allow.

Many thanks to Dena Brown, Reuben Willburn's granddaughter, and her aunt Mrs. Frieda Willburn, wife of the late Reuben Willburn Jr. for contributing the beautiful, priceless family photographs of the Willburns at Benbrook, Texas. My thanks and appreciation also to Patrick, James and Mary Ellen Willburn, and also to Dorothy Willburn (a great Aunt of the above) for their openness to a stranger and their help in making my research a success. Patrick and James Willburn are grandsons of Church Overton Willburn.

Thanks also to James Cass, and Frank Meeks, two other surviving early Como residents. James has visited Como regularly over the years and has kept in touch with the Los Angeles contingent. His memory is superb. Frank never left Lake Como and is still there. C.C.

Visit Warm Prairie Wind's
The Sunshine Special
A short account of Como's beginnings, the names of some of the first settlers and a more accurate history by Rubye Jones.


The city of Fort Worth, Texas was established June 6, 1849[1]. Near Lake Como and Benbrook, the Clear Fork of the Trinity River makes a long curve along the southern edge of its flood plain and up against steep limestone hills and slopes, swinging north for about 2 miles and joining its confluent West Fork[2], and turning sharply east, then north, before veering south again along the city’s eastern perimeter. The resulting topography became a natural defensive position protecting the site’s western flank and it is one of the likely reasons that what is now downtown Fort Worth sits atop a limestone bluff overlooking and jutting out into the Trinity’s flood plain at the city’s northern end.

The communities to the west of Fort Worth have very interesting origins, both recent and ancient. “Recent” pertains to the mid-1800s occupation and settlement by white people[3], “ancient” relates to the geology of the region. [4] "Prior to the arrival of Anglo settlers, large herds of buffalo and members of the Wichita, Caddo, Comanche and Lipan Apache Indian tribes roamed the Benbrook area. Archeologists estimate that the area has been inhabited for some 11,000 years. Indian communities look for the same environmental factors as present communities, with the availability of an adequate water supply being a primary consideration. Undoubtedly, the confluence of the Clear Fork-Trinity River and Mary's Creek provided such a watering place to tribes as they passed through the area on hunting expeditions." (

In 1930 Como lay on the very western edge of Fort Worth’s city limits which ended at Halloran Street. Beyond the next two blocks west of Halloran was rural countryside. Before the golf course was built the prairie went on, uninterrupted, except for a few scattered farms of wealthy landowners. Not much detail is available telling how Como became a semi-isolated black enclave on the fringes of west Fort Worth. Perhaps we can examine certain relevant events and deduce from them clues which will guide us to a plausible explanation.

Fort Worth Floods 1900-1908, 1922
“…It has been many years since the waters of the Trinity have reached such a high stage. As yet no loss of life has been reported but it is reported that possibly some people have perished below this city in the Trinity river bottoms by the unprecidented (sic) overflow…”).

The excerpt above is from an early regional newspaper and it provides some clues of high potential. The Trinity River has flooded periodically for thousands of years, long before humans were here. Usually it is a placid stream, its Clear Fork flowing from the west-southwest and its West Fork flowing from the west and northwest with a high plateau watershed over a hundred square miles in size separating the two forks before they converge at downtown Fort Worth. Rainfall can sometimes be excessive, causing the river to overflow its banks and spread out over its wide flood plain, submerging everything in deep, swift-flowing waters.

The flood-prone steep slopes below the courthouse and the low-lying benchlands on the city’s eastern edge were not places where whites would choose to settle despite their closeness to town. Mrs. Corrine Clemons, who once lived below the courthouse, used to tell stories about some of these floods, how the police would knock on doors in the middle of the night telling people, "Get out, the river is rising." But it is these locations that were left which poor ex-slaves were able to claim. It took years and successive floods before the blacks living here found a racially unrestricted area on high ground that was also affordable and where a community could expand. Lake Como turned out to be that place.

Perhaps it was a combination of two unrelated calamities that made black settlement here possible; the disastrous early Fort Worth floods and the financial failure of H.B. Chamberlain’s speculative amusement park venture in West Arlington Heights.


The African-American community of Lake Como not long ago celebrated its own one-hundredth birthday[5] (July 2006). The actual date of birth is an indefinite moment when the first person of African ancestry erected the wooden foundation posts for his home or moved into a structure formerly occupied by whites. This story spans only fifteen years of history, roughly from 1930 to World War II’s end in 1945. It is only a short snippet of history, albeit a crucial period in U.S. and world history, for it covers the time beginning with the disastrous financial crash of 1929, includes the rigors and trials of the Great Depression, financial recovery and victorious war in 1945. The chaos generated by both events had a great effect on Lake Como’s population as it did universally. The history of the years before and after these covered here will have to be addressed by future research and reporting.

To stand upon the ground in Lake Como is to stand upon an ancient seabed.[6] The fossilized remains are everywhere and in some places a limestone composite more than fifty feet thick. Stoop down anyplace and pick up a piece of stone, examine it, notice the swirls and ridges etched into its surface. Or go out along the old Stove Foundry Road[7] to where the driveway led up the rise to Doc Brants’ house.[8] If there is still access, stand on top of one of the vertical cuts of the roadside. Again examine the rocks at your feet; they are evidence of the region’s earliest living inhabitants, ammonites and little snails that grew here sixty-five million years ago. If it is spring, look among the stems and green leaves of the wildflowers growing out of this mix of prairie topsoil and limestone; see the live snails crawling there now, compare them with the snail fossils that look like small pebbles. These fossils’ live descendants look like they have not changed in sixty-five million years. The experience makes one feel very insignificant.

This was Comanche country and that of other tribes as well. The Chisholm Trail went through here. Lake Como, Benbrook and the whole Trinity-Brazos River watershed had to have also been Comanche territory prior to white settlement. The White Settlement Road going to the northwest out of downtown Fort Worth no doubt marks the incursion by Europeans into Indian territory. Beautiful rolling prairie, as late as the mid-nineteen-forties under cultivation or grazing land remained in many ways much as it was when the Comanche lived and hunted here.

With the spring rains came a profusion of wildflowers―Bluebonnets (Lupine), Winecups, Indian Paintbrush, Evening Primrose, Daisies, Gaillardia (Indian Blanket) and other Texas prairie wildflowers[9]― which after bloom were deprecated as weeds. Easter season was truly glorious. The earth was a natural painted canvas leg deep in the most gorgeous colors. Heavenly spring and early summer days, the sky bluer, the air sweeter and fresher, and the sunshine more comforting here than in any other place on earth. Even the storms were more spectacular in the terrible beauty of their fury.

To Remember a Fort Worth Storm
Spring and summer storms in Texas can be very violent and for those who can appreciate them also quite beautiful. Sometimes on a lovely sunny afternoon Charles’ mother or his aunt Ellen would announce, “There’s a storm coming.” Looking out from the kitchen window over the sink; a little way above the horizon in the north was a very black cloud that seemed to be advancing from the west. It moved fairly fast and its head seemed to turn south toward Charles’ house as it also filled the sky towards the eastern horizon. It was black, black, black, but the sky ahead of it and towards south Fort Worth was bathed in radiant sunlight.

As it drew closer, the clouds forming its head towered up, up, and boiled. Charles watched, fascinated and scared. He watched as its front became even with the electric power lines in the alley behind his house and as the sunlight yielded its radiance to the blackness. Suddenly the storm would strike with all of its violence. The lightning flashed and made zig-zagging streaks across the sky, sometimes flicking and trickling, lighting up the entire sky, and the thunder sounded like there were angels overhead hurling huge boulders across the heavens that collided with other cosmic stones in the distance. It sounded like explosions were right on top of the house. They echoed, and reverberated, and cascaded away into infinity and then were temporarily pacified in moments of silence, except for the roar of rain and hail which pounded the roof. The deluge plunged off the house’s eaves and down Bonnell Street’s gutters headed for Como’s swollen streams in torrents that struck obstacles and surged up more than two feet high. Often these storms were more than Charles could handle, so when the thunder sounded like it had actually hit the roof and the lightning flashes came in such quick succession that they lit up the bedroom brighter than the sun, he would duck under the bed and close his eyes and not come out unless forced out by an adult or the storm had moved on. Sometimes, when there was enough daylight left, the sky would clear and the sun would come out and shine as if there never had been a storm. Later, stars would appear in the night sky, making a million little twinkling lights and the Milky Way scattered itself across the firmament like a trail of white smoke from a prairie wildfire in heaven.

To remember Lake Como is to remember the sounds of a million frogs croaking before midnight in the streams and ponds, the melodious warbling of a mockingbird in the light of a full moon, the first distant rooster crowing at three A.M. and minutes later a nearby response, until the dawn was filled with a raucous chorus celebrating a new day; Ben Littlefield’s mules braying at sunup, the whistle of the Sunshine Special heading for El Paso in the afternoon and Momma Cannon in the backyard singing “Amazing Grace.” These sounds made Lake Como and the surrounding countryside, in early times, a truly unique and special place to live.

Except for a few small patches here and there, these expansive miles of wild beauty where buffalo once grazed, have morphed into housing developments and commercial shops.

The earliest black old-timers, who have remained here into their seventies and eighties or older, are witnesses to an epochal change like that encompassing most of the world; preparations are now underway to drill for oil and gas[10] just across from Como Cemetery. Whether they realize it or not, their personal experience of social oppression, poverty and their struggles to overcome them, their faith in God and the natural beauty of this place combined into one essence to make them who they were and are.

Lake Como Cemetery
(An Internet photograph of a wrought iron gate[11].)

Lake Como Cemetery Elegy

Most of those buried beneath that hard earth
lie in unmarked graves.
Galvanized markers long ago disintegrated.

The names and images of the dead missing
from the conversations of visitors
privileged to walk here now.

The deads' loving kin also lie at rest close by.
Or in other cemeteries far across Fort Worth,
beyond intimate mourning.

All eventually will be forgotten.
But while we who are alive still remember,
let us sing songs of mourning love.

Sing them in the verdant spring.
Sing them in summer’s scorching heat.
And cast plaintive melodies into winter’s cold winds,

November northers that blow across this bare prairie slope
when its tall grasses too have died
and brilliant summer skies turn slate grey.

Sing too, you the dead, sing your lonely notes.
Be present when we also come in death
and welcome us with laughter.

Most Unforgettable Characters
Some were pillars of the Como community, deeply religious men and women of the highest character and integrity; loving, hardworking family men who were the salt of the earth, upstanding women who worked to help support their families, who taught their children by example how to be honest, kind, helpful. These were some of the earliest settlers in Lake Como. Some were simply lovable individuals and gracious neighbors. Most of them, regardless of character or reputation, were witty, full of quick humor that separated them from the average person.

Some men were gamblers, bootleggers and self-described hustlers out to make a few opportunist dollars. A very few would be reduced to taking a life. Their common denominator was poverty and a lack of proper education. However, lack of education did not mean ignorance. Their unforgiving vocations demanded smartness, a quickness, an aggressiveness, and an intelligence comparable to that possessed by captains of industry and politics. They were “the good, the bad, the ugly,” and the beautiful.

Those men and women whose names the author has listed, out of hundreds, were chosen because of some particular memory which has significance to the writer, some told here. And because, like most early residents of Lake Como, with one or two exceptions, they have gone to their reward. So don’t look for them on the sunny side of the sod. And they are unlikely to sue the author for making uncomplimentary remarks.

Lake Como Men―
Uncle Jack Mabry
Lewis Meeks Sr.
Reverend G.W. Burton (Zion Baptist Church)
“Uncle Took”( Mr. Boyd)
Reverend Richard Weaver (AME Methodist Church
Collie Sweeney
Joe Sweeney
William Howard Wilburn, Sr. (Editor and publisher of Lake Como's Newspaper)
Will Owens
Sterling Mays
John Adkins (school custodian)
Orenthus “Baby” Meeks
Ben Littlefield
Eugene "Red" Baker
"Six" Williams
“Stack of Diamonds” Freyerson
Jeff Nelson
“Snokum” Russell
Lawrence “Brokie” Cook
John Douglas
Pop Valentine
Elijah White
Ned Slater
Robert “Kootchie” Marks (consummate caddy and golfer)
“Mummy” Marks
Garland Ross
“Pee Wee” Williams
Douglas McWilliams
“Sonny Gunny”

Lake Como Women
Willie Cannon (“Momma Cannon,” cook for Paul Waggoner, heir of wealthy oilman W.T. Waggoner, and Helen Waggoner, whose residence was in the Texas Hotel in downtown Fort Worth)
Josie Bennett (laundry-woman, she and husband Gus raised cows and chickens)
Viola Richardson (mother of Leon Griffin)
Amelia Littlefield (strong high cheekbones, light-skinned with long dark graying hair below her waist, of black and Indian ancestry)
Sarah Mabry (cook)
Hannah Mae Mays
Eula Johnson
Mrs. Patterson (longtime Como school teacher, teacher at both schools)
Mrs. Stearns/Smith (early principal and teacher when school was on Bonnell and Faron, later married Charlie Smith when Stearns died)
Rubye (Crawford) Jones (teacher at both schools)
Miss Lois Carr (teacher at both schools)
Miss Theis (teacher at both schools)
Mary D. Lewis
Lillie Belle Patterson
Addie Latimer (white school custodian)

About Some Unforgettable Characters
Lake Como had some very colorful characters. The names of many of them appear above. Ben Littlefield, Six Williams and Red Baker were known by everyone and despite their part-time illegal bootlegging operations they were loved and well respected.

Ben was married to Amelia (Littlefield) who had a cow named Blossom, a prolific processor of Como’s prairie grasses and a producer of fine dairy foods. Blossom was a very finicky cow. Stick a finger in her drinking water and she’d refuse to touch it until the trough had been drained and refilled with fresh water.

Ben Littlefield
When Ben was not making “white lightning” with Six Williams, he worked six days a week hauling landscaping soil and whatever other work he could find for his teams of mules and assortment of mule-drawn ploughs, Fresnoes (the forerunner of the mechanical bulldozer used to move loose earth), and wagon. At day’s end he would unhitch the teams, feed and water them, bathe and dress, eat Amelia’s excellent dinner, then stick his 45 Colt revolver under his belt and mount one of the mules to go for a night of gambling. Ben was also a heavy drinker, especially in his later years after Amelia left him. He used to drink with Charlie Smith and Uncle Andy down at Smith’s Barber Shop at the corner of Faron and Bonnell Streets across from where Como‘s grade school used to be. Ben went there in a small wagon drawn by a little long-eared burro. Ben would go inside and drink himself into a stupor while the burro waited, and wait he did, sometimes all day and all night until someone would finally hoist Ben up into the wagon and say “Get up” to the burro who slowly plodded home without human guidance, down to the Stove Foundry Road across from where the golf course ends. Ben’s “live-in” woman would unhitch the critter and put Ben to bed. More than once the animal tired of waiting and went home of its own accord, leaving Ben behind.

Both Ben Littlefield and Six Williams raised greyhounds and a few bloodhounds and they hunted together down in the Trinity’s river bottom at night for raccoons, opossums and other little creatures that no one ever saw unless they were zoologists or they were Ben Littlefield or Six Williams. Some days were spent hunting jackrabbits on the prairie surrounding Fort Worth, sometimes many miles from Lake Como. Men, boys and dogs would be loaded onto the back beds of a couple of trucks and they would set off for a day of high adventure and entertainment. The animals caught would be eaten by friends and neighbors. A mixture of black and Indian ancestry, Ben is said to have lived to be a hundred years old.

Red Baker
Eugene "Red" Baker and his wife were very likely early residents. He was about six feet tall, grizzled and slightly stooped, very light skinned with a reddish hue that betrayed his mixed ancestry. He had a thick mustache, protruding reddish lips and sandy brown hair. He had a loud voice and employed it effectively to communicate his frequent anecdotes.

Red Baker lived diagonally across from Ben Littlefield on the corner of Horne and Bonnell.

His wife was dark brown and a wisp of a woman. Red and his wife to all appearances maintained a peaceful marriage, but one day something happened to break this peace. Early in the morning they began to argue, the argument got louder and angrier, soon they were physically fighting. Both were bloody by day’s end, but by sunset things were silent and people thought that all was resolved. However, not long after sunup they were at it again. Everyone expected someone to be killed but did not intervene. Again they fought all day long, stopping to rest sometimes for an hour or two before resuming the bloody fracas. The third day was a repetition of the two preceding it, but to everyone’s amazement both were still alive when it ended. No one ever knew the reason for this terrible battle. Sometime later, Red and his wife moved away from Lake Como to parts unknown and this episode in the saga of Lake Como was forgotten until now.

Six Williams
Periodically the Texas Rangers came to town and raided the stills of bootleggers, but somehow Ben, Six and Red always eluded arrest. They had friends among the local police and were usually warned ahead of time. Once the Rangers went to Six‘s place up across from where the Blue Bird Café is now to see what they could net. They went into Six’s backyard, and spotting a large tub of fermenting grain, asked Six what it was. He calmly pointed to his pen full of hogs and replied, “Hog mash.” Outwitted, the famed Texas Rangers left the scene empty-handed.

Crissy Nelson
Matriarch Crissy Nelson lived next door to the Cannon family on Bonnell Street with her three daughters and son Jeff. Over time Mrs. Nelson lost her husband, a son, a daughter and a grandson to the violence endemic to black communities, although their murders did not occur in Lake Como.

Mrs. Nelson, “Grandma Nelson,” became a mentor to young Charles Cannon because his own parents were absent most weekdays due to their employment. He regarded her home almost like his own. Mrs. Nelson counseled him as she once had counseled her own son Jeff, who had long since abandoned his mother’s guidance. A habitual dipper of Garret’s Snuff, a most foul powdered form of tobacco, she did her very best to dissuade Charles from smoking cigarettes at age twelve and was a good companion to him despite her seventy-some years of age.

Mrs. Nelson had been widowed years earlier and was supported by her children. In these years there was no social security or pensions. W. Lee O’Daniel[12], Fort Worth Burrus flour mill executive and newly elected Texas Governor, had included in his campaign, promises to do more to help aged and needy people. Charles used to hear Mrs. Nelson lament about her plight, so one day he suggested to her that she write the new governor a letter asking him for aid in obtaining some sort of pension. They drafted a letter, mainly using the words suggested by Charles, and mailed it to the Governor in Austin, Texas. Sometime later Mrs. Nelson had a visit from a social worker that resulted in her being awarded a small pension.

During his extremely popular campaign, O’Daniel visited many localities in person, bringing with him his “Light Crust Doughboys,” a cowboy band, and a motorized wagon fully equipped to prepare freshly baked hot biscuits which were buttered and handed out to the approving crowds. He visited Lake Como on more than one occasion. One memorable event was held in front of Holloway’s Grocery at Littlepage and Goodman streets. Somehow his persona was tagged with the by-name “pass-the-biscuits-pappy." Everyone knew who he was, his election was almost assured.

Jeff Nelson
Jeff and Charles, whom Jeff nicknamed “Smokey,” became close buddies after Charles’ dad’s death in 1940, despite the fact that Jeff already had grown children who lived independently. Jeff was what was known as a “hustler,” a person who had no job and did not seek employment of any kind. He never cursed and never went to church until his last years. When he had not disappeared on one of his gambling junkets somewhere in West Texas, he mainly gambled in the gambling den (the former West End Café) up on the corner of Wellesley and Horne Streets, if he had money for a stake. When he did not have a stake he would devise the tools to acquire funds by obtaining three soda pop tops and bending them so that a little ball or a pea could be slipped under the bend in the middle and easily shifted from under one top to another, for a game that he called “The Greasy Pig.”

Jeff would wait for the high school shuttle bus bringing students home from I.M. Terrell (a school bus finally provided in 1938 for black students) and cajole some of the kids to bet on which cap the “pig” was under. It was almost a one-hundred-percent losing proposition for the kids and Jeff would get enough money to enter the bigger dice game a few blocks away. Although Charles often followed Jeff to the big dice house, he never remained there long or gambled because he knew that this was a dangerous pursuit and an unsafe place to be.

Charles and Jeff made Choc together, a homemade alcoholic brew consisting of fermented dried fruits and copious amounts of sugar, malt and water. Three or four Texas summer days in a five-gallon clay-fired “Croc” pot matured the concoction into a pretty powerful amber-colored beer-like liquid, and if a large piece of ice was added to the container, a very enjoyable and refreshing drink relieved the summer heat. The two spent many afternoons together drinking and talking and Charles and Jeff remained good friends in the years after Charles left his Lake Como home in 1944 to live in California.

Doc Brants, Ernest Allen and the Willburn Brothers at Benbrook
Doc Brants’ river-bottom fields and woods were wonderful places for hunting ducks, squirrels and an occasional ’possum. Every year, when school let out at noon for Thanksgiving holiday, a group of kids would hike down along the Stove Foundry Road just exploring the countryside. Eventually they would end up seeking the pecan trees scattered among the more numerous oaks. A few of the trees produced large soft-shelled nuts to be gathered up and eaten by a nice warm fire.

Doc Brants’ home place was on the north side of the Stove Foundry Road not far from where it intersected the Benbrook Road; it extended all the way over to Camp Bowie Boulevard and the highway triangle where the Trading Post was (the local watering hole for the region’s drinking white men). Doc grew wheat and when harvest time came, he hired day laborers, some from Como, to shock and thresh his wheat. One of Charles’ first farm jobs was for Doc’s wheat harvest.

Charles also worked part of a summer at Ernest Allen’s, the Fort Worth Chevrolet dealer who also had a farm roughly opposite Doc’s place. He raised beef yearlings and pigs. These animals were subject to injuries from fights, especially the pigs, and had to be inspected every other day for flesh-eating worms spawned by flies. Too much time elapsed between discovery and treatment could and did sometimes prove fatal to the animal and even in lesser cases, despite treatment and eradication of the carnivorous worms, the resulting injuries could still be serious. Each animal had to be individually inspected for the slightest cut and have “fly dope” applied to the wound to prevent flies from laying eggs in it. If fly larvae were already present in the wound, eating the pig’s flesh, the wound had to be chloroformed and the larvae removed.

About the time Fort Worth was founded in the 1840s, nearby Benbrook was also being established by white pioneering families. On the river-bottom flood plain along Mary’s Creek and over towards the small farming and ranching community of Benbrook, lived two white brothers, the Willburns, who were direct descendents of the region’s first white settlers.[13] Reuben Willburn and his brother Church lived on side-by-side farms across the railroad tracks on Stove Foundry Road just before it intersects the Benbrook Highway west of the Allen place.

Reuben Willburn was a woodcutter and supplier of heating firewood for Lake Como’s stoves. During the summer months he also was a contract hay baler servicing nearby landowners, some of whom owned extensive acreage passed down from pioneer scions. At times he employed day laborers from Como. He was a customary presence in the community and he had very friendly relations with its people, especially Uncle Jack Mabry, and those he hired. The author knew and worked for both as a youth in the late '30s and early '40s. The experiences of knowing and working for the Willburns helped to prepare the author for the rigors and trials of later life. They are indelibly etched into his memory in love and respect. God bless them.

Reuben ran a hay baling business during the summer months. Charles’ first summers helping harvest were done the old-fashioned way. The hay was cut and allowed to dry, then windrowed with a horse-drawn sulky rake. When time came to bale it, a wide flat buck rake drawn by two horses, Sorrel Top and Popeye, harnessed ten feet apart on either side of the eight-foot-deep wooden-toothed rake, would be guided down the long thin rows of hay until the hay was piled up as high as the horses. The rake was then driven to a stationary hay press powered by a long leather belt placed around the power take-off wheel of the John Deere tractor, and Willburn or his helper, Pancho, would pitchfork the hay into the hay press. Popeye worked on the right side of the buck rake and had to be forced to go near the noisy machine. He was reluctant for good reason; he had some years before lost his right eye in an accident that happened at the hay press.

Sorrel Top was an aggressive horse. He was strong and at times could be very difficult to manage. If he did not feel like going to work in the morning he could be impossible to catch and harness up. Once, his owner, Church Willburn, had to be summoned to catch him. He was forced into his corral by Church, the entrance gate was closed and Church proceeded to beat the animal about its head with the bridle. For a time it was difficult to determine who was going to kill whom. Sorrel Top reared up on his hind legs and lashed out with both front iron-shoed hoofs as Church struck him with heavy blows. After a while Church opened the corral's gate and stepped outside and held the bridle open about shoulder high and told Sorrel Top to “come and get it.” The horse slowly walked forward and put his head into the bridle. He was a very good horse for days after.

This animal could also be mischievous and calculating. During a period when Charles was hauling hay from the large sloping field on the other side of Mary’s Creek, Sorrel Top displayed more of his ingenuity. The road from the field to the barn passed through a fence gate before it turned sharply right, then paralleled the creek where the water was deep before reaching a shallow rock-strewn crossing. Charles would stop the team, get off the wagon, piled high and heavy with baled hay, remove the wire loop securing the barbed-wire gate, pull the gate out of the way, then tell the team, “Get up,” and wait for the wagon to pass through before saying, “Whoa,” halting the wagon and re-closing the gate. Charles would then climb back over the wagon’s rear to his driver’s position. This went without incident for a few times until Sorrel Top figured out how to get his way. As soon as Charles left the wagon and was in no position to see the horses, Sorrel Top would swing his tail high above his rump, getting the reins under his tail and clenching it there so that the driver had no control and he would take off running, sometimes dragging the other unsuspecting horse down on its knees and pulling it and the heavily loaded wagon down the road and into chest-high water where he stopped to cool off. Well, after a few episodes of this, Charles, too, gave him Church’s bridle treatment with the ends of the reins. Sorrel Top became a bit more manageable after that.

Church Willburn was fifty-two or fifty-three years old, a good man not given to foolishness; he had a deep voice, a pleasant but firm demeanor and he behaved and spoke with a confidence that commanded respect. In the field, all the hands drank from the same water can using the same cup. Both Willburn brothers loved their booze and did not shrink from sharing the same bottle, drinking from it with their workers. Once when they were baling hay for Mr. Corn, a Benbrook landowner, the old red-faced man came out into the field and handed them three pints of IW Harper, saying, “Maybe this’ll help you boy’s baaale a little more hay!”

Reuben sometimes would stop at the Trading Post and have Charles go in and purchase a bottle of cheap red wine which Charles didn’t like and didn’t drink. Charles drove the John Deere tractor that pulled the pickup hay baler up and down the windrows. Reuben Wilburn watched the hay go into the receiving bay, its compacting by a mechanical arm, then pressed backward into the press. Then the bales were blocked and tied by two Mexican workers, Pancho and Pete. The tractor’s exhaust pipe was right in front of the driver and its poisonous fumes often blew back in Charles’s face, some days making him dizzy, almost unconscious. Pancho and Pete used to keep large clods of dirt handy to throw, hitting Charles on his back to keep him awake, preventing him from going to sleep and falling off the tractor and being run over by a driverless machine.

Pete, like Pancho, had an ageless look. Short and spare like Pancho, he was also friendly and full of humor―he and Pancho joked a lot. His family still lived in Mexico and he sent money home. Pancho had an engaging smile that exposed his discolored teeth and he wore a sweat-stained felt hat over his full head of black hair. Pete wore a Mexican-style straw hat. The men lived together in a small one-room pine board shack with a dirt floor and a tin roof, a few hundred feet behind the Willburn’s family home and not too far from the creek. One late afternoon as they were baling Mr. Corn’s hay, Pete spied a good-sized armadillo catching insects in the alfalfa that had been disturbed by the baler. He grabbed a ball-peen hammer from the metal top in front of him and gave chase after the animal, quickly catching it and killing it with a single blow to its narrow head. Mr. Corn’s hayfield was very near where the men lived and they always went home for lunch. This day, after the little critter’s demise, the men invited Charles to come home with them to lunch on armadillo. It had been prepared in a thick chili and it was the most delicious meat that Charles had ever eaten.

Early one morning, as Charles climbed into Reuben Willburn’s truck, he was astonished to see a 32/20 revolver lying on the seat between them. He asked Reuben, “What’s that for?”

Reuben replied, “That’s for Pancho, we had a fight and he hit me. He’s gone but if he comes back I’m going to kill him.”

Charles was very saddened to lose Pancho and also to see Reuben in such an angry state. The man had always been friendly and peaceful, ungrudging and helpful. It was the saddest day he’d ever experience while working for the Willburns.

In the summer, Reuben Willburn used to cut oak and other wood for firewood which he sold in Lake Como from a wood yard near Bonnell and Horne. This is where Charles first became acquainted with him. At that time all of Como’s residents used either wood or kerosene to heat their homes in the winter and for cooking year round. There was no gas pipeline servicing Lake Como and for many no electricity either. It was through this enterprise that Reuben Willburn acquired black friends and acquaintances.

It was also during this time that Charles learned of Reuben’s recurring accidents involving his tractor, which Charles would drive a few years later. The John Deere tractor had a power take-off wheel on its left side right by the engine which was in front of the axle and the big wheels carrying the tractor. It was in this vulnerable spot where one stood to crank the engine. Before attempting to start the tractor‘s engine one first examined the gear lever where the driver sat to ensure that the gear was in neutral and not engaged or partially engaged. If either condition was true, then when the power take-off wheel was grasped and turned, starting the engine, the tractor would lurch forward, hitting or running over the person trying to start it. Reuben’s proclivity towards intoxicating beverages and his proximity to farm machinery put him at high risk for serious injury and the inevitable happened more than once. Fortunately, he always survived and only suffered severe bruises and lacerations. He was a very skinny, wiry, thin-haired blonde man of average height. Ordinarily very fair, his exterior had been weathered, beaten, tanned, and toughened by years of exposure and hard work. He was a good man who fathered several children and for whom Charles developed a real love.

The first time Charles ever drove any vehicle except a tractor was when he and Church Willburn were hauling hay and Church needed a truck. Church had purchased a bottle of whiskey that morning and both he and Charles (about fourteen at the time) were feeling no pain. So Church told Charles that they had to go down past the Texas and Pacific shops towards town and rent a truck. Charles realized that there were only the two of them and Church would have to drive his car. Charles asked, “Who’s gonna drive the truck?”

Church drawled, “Why you are!”

They went down and rented the truck. With Charles driving the truck, drunk as a skunk and scared to death, he followed Church the four miles back up Stove Foundry Road to Church’s place. Not many people traveled that road back then and they met no other vehicles on the way back.

It was during this harvest time that Charles first sat at the same table and ate a meal with white people. It was late in the evening and almost dark when Charles finished the day’s work. He lived two-and-a-half miles away over in Lake Como. Mrs. (Cana) Willburn came out and said, “You are having dinner with us tonight and Church will drive you home.” Charles did not know how to react, white people did not eat with blacks and this was very unusual. Both Church and Mrs. Willburn were very gracious and pleasant during the meal and that night made a lasting impression upon Charles. He used to think that all white people were hateful and there were times when he hated them right back, but that night he learned something new, that all whites were not hateful.

Mrs. Willburn loved animals, even the wild ones down in the river bottom. Church once told Charles, “Don’t ever let her know that you hunt down there.” Charles came to know that animal lovers were usually lovers of people too.

Charles saw Reuben last in 1949 on a visit home from San Francisco. He was sitting on Uncle Jack Mabry’s front steps visiting and talking. They were very happy to see each other. Reuben Willburn and his brother Church Willburn remained in the area at until shortly before the 1950s, the family farms were sold and the land is now a housing tract. Freeway 20 encircling Fort Worth has replaced the hayfield above the creek.

Mr. Lewis Meeks, Sr.
Charles’ father, a Pullman porter, died when Charles was twelve. His death left a great empty space in Charles’ life even though his dad was away for most of his childhood. Mr. Meeks lived behind Zion Baptist Church at Libbey and Horne with his wife ’Celia, sons Lewis, Jr. (“Son”), Orenthus (“Baby”), Bob, and daughter “Sis.”

The Meeks boys were caddies at Ridglea. Baby, being the oldest and most assertive, was the leader of a small group of boys that included Walter Weaver, Charles’ best friend. Baby owned greyhounds and a 22 rifle. He enjoyed hunting. Charles’ close friendship with Mr. Meeks, Sr. began as a result of his friendship with Baby.

Lots of people had a need for someone with a truck to haul various things and do jobs requiring manual labor. Mr. Meeks and his sons were very good workers and always in demand. Charles was often included in the work projects. By the time Baby went into the Marine Corps, so many young men had left Lake Como that Charles was left adrift with no real friends near his own age with whom he had common interests. Charles quit school at fourteen, capitulating to his inclination to work, not only because it was necessary but because it was also very satisfying. Son, Lewis Meeks, Jr., was killed in a vehicle collision, driving between Fort Worth and Dallas, not long after he married Florient Bowles. This void in the Meeks’ family and work team nurtured the relationship between Charles and Mr. Meeks. Meeks became a father figure for Charles at a time when he desperately needed one. The man and the boy worked harmoniously together hauling lumber, cement and performing various construction tasks. The two thoroughly enjoyed each other. Charles began to learn the ways of manhood and acquired a work ethic that would last a lifetime.

The elder Meeks and Baby were both dedicated members of Zion Baptist Church and were available for Reverend Burton’s needs at various times, always performing caretaker tasks. Baby and his dad were very close and Charles was happy to be on the periphery of this relationship.

Roscoe Perkins
Roscoe was a delightful friend. He was very light-skinned with tight, curly, brownish-black hair. He was portly and smoked cigars. He usually had two or three tucked into his shirt pocket. Roscoe loved to shoot dice and eagerly got into any crap game he encountered. He also carried a long-barreled 32/20 holstered on his belt when he went out around Lake Como. He was married with one child and his wife was expecting their second. Like all of Charles’ few close friends, Roscoe was much older than he.

The year was 1943 and both worked at the American Manufacturing Company hauling the oily steel turnings from the lathes, which were operated only by whites, to the gondola scrap cars, dumping them there. This company had made oil field machinery before the war but had been converted to manufacture 75 and 155-millimeter artillery shells for the army. Charles and Roscoe worked the graveyard shift. They had to travel by bus to a location diagonally opposite Lake Como on the Northside which sometimes took almost an hour. The bus ride gave them time to be together and talk.

Roscoe also loved to hunt and this common interest is what cemented their friendship. Often they would come home in the morning and go out on the prairie or down in the river bottom hunting rabbits, squirrels, quail, doves, and on a rare occasion, ducks. One day, while down in Doc Brants’ wooded portion of his riverside field, they heard the loud quacks of ducks. Knowing where the ducks were, at the waist-deep cattle tank, they got down on hands and knees and crawled there, unnoticed by the ducks almost to the very edge of the pond. Their plan was to get off one barrel from their double barreled shotguns while the birds were on the water and a second shot as they lifted off to flee. The plan worked perfectly and both hunters felled three or four ducks each. The remaining ducks flew away, but the hunters reasoned that maybe if they were patient and waited long enough, the ducks would return. So they stayed, concealed themselves and waited. It took almost two hours and sure enough, two ducks flew over, circled and then landed on the pond. Roscoe and Charles remained in hiding, not moving and observing the ducks as they swam around. After about half an hour the birds rose and flew off in the direction of the river. Within an hour the whole flock returned, landed and the deception was again rewarded with delicious Teal duck for dinner. This unlikely friendship ended when Charles left for California and became a welder building cargo ships in the war effort.

Several years later, Charles was at his cancer-sickened mother’s bedside as she died. It was a somber, heart-wrenching experience that cured him forever of wanting to kill anything again.

A Narrow Restricted Society
In those years it was difficult for younger people to comprehend how recent slavery had been. Some of the older people had been born immediately after the Civil War and Emancipation. A few Lake Comoans had actually been born slaves. Mother Harper told Zion Baptist Church’s congregation stories of her slave experiences at the annual Nineteenth of June Emancipation Day celebrations, a very happy day with barbequed pork ribs, beef brisket, and all of the trimmings and desserts provided by community women. The congregation was awestruck by her stories and those of others who had been born slaves.

The plight of black Americans in most American communities is a racial conundrum. The origins of social problems are well known and extensively documented, but it is in the functional dynamics of even today’s society that solutions to the legacy of slavery remain elusive and unresolved. Lake Como could easily provide a litmus test for an investigation into the problems arising from race in the United States. Although the corrections won by the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in the exercise of freedoms and opportunities never before obtained by American blacks, much remains to be accomplished. For a large number of black youths today, the most profound improvements can only be realised through cultural changes, intellectual advancement, and from motivations within the black psyche itself. What the catalyst for this will be, is the most elusive mystery of the puzzle.

Before and during the years covered by these vignettes, opportunities for blacks were, with rare exception, nonexistent, no matter how intelligent or well-educated an individual happened to be. There just was no way, zilch, for the black worker to advance beyond the confines set by state and local laws and the white customs which prevailed following the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. The best jobs and social opportunities were reserved for white people and black citizens subsisted at or only slightly above the poverty line, deprived of both social and economic benefits. It is within these confines, where race determined everything, that these stories evolved and must be viewed.

“In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death”
To omit a discourse upon the ever-present darkness lying just below the surface of Como’s collective consciousness would constitute a denial of the obvious. As in so many black communities, murderous violence is too often loosed from its weak restraints. Killings arising from uncontrolled anger, simple malice, hot passion, revenge and plain craziness, sometimes fueled by alcohol and, in more recent years, drugs, cut short many lives. Sudden fatal encounters are a constant threat to young black males and females, whether innocent or involved. No one knows when he or she might become a victim. The forces of social malfunction are in play to such a degree that no interventions to end this fratricide have proved successful.

Everyone in the black community can recite a litany of terrible murder stories; they are unforgettably stamped in memory. In 1940, on Easter Sunday, the day had begun like so many Lake Como Easter Sundays before, warm, splendidly sunny, beautiful, peaceful, the prairie wildflowers in their full glory. That afternoon, three Como youths were proceeding down Bonnell Street when an automobile occupied by adults from the Northside drew near. For some totally irrelevant reason, inflammatory words were exchanged and threats were made. The occupants in the car were alleged to have displayed guns. There had always been a certain amount of rivalry between Lake Comoans and Northsiders, but it had never produced the kind of horrible violence that occurred that Sunday afternoon.

Two of the Como boys were brothers, and they went home and told their father what had happened. He and his sons armed themselves and went after their antagonists, finding them in the vicinity of Crook’s cow pasture somewhere between Blackmore Street and the Stove Foundry Road. A running gunfight ensued; when it was over the Como father and one son had been seriously wounded, the other son was killed, and all of the Northsiders had also been seriously wounded and one killed. The father of the third Como boy wisely prevented him from joining his friends, possibly saving his life. The surviving family was reported to have moved to Oklahoma.

The Texas And Pacific Railway (the TP)―Round House And Engine Repair Shops
The railway engine repair shops and switching yards[14] were located near and adjacent to the southeast corner of Lake Como community on the south side of the Stove Foundry Road. Some of the men of Lake Como were employed by the TP through the 1950s and possibly later and saw the demise of those magnificent steam locomotives after WWII’s end and their replacement with the introduction of the diesel locomotive. Men like Como residents Gus Bennett and Grigsby Baker (both deceased) performed the heavy manual labor maintaining the railroad’s equipment. Mr. Bennett came from Marshall, Texas early on, first living on the Southside, moving to Como in the mid-1930s. Grigsby Baker had Baby Meeks as an apprentice in the shops upon his discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps at the war’s end. Baby retired from the TP many years later.

Dozens Of WWI Steam Engines
When WWI ended there was no use for the hordes of steam engines built to haul the nation’s war supplies. Dozens of these huge engines sat lined up in rows end to end in the TP’s repair facility[15] until the very late 1930s when they began to mysteriously disappear. Obviously someone knew we were going to war soon and those engines would be needed again. By about 1941-42 they were all gone, refurbished and pressed back into service hauling troop trains and the machinery of war.

A Re-Icing Stop For Cold-Storage Trains
Also along this stretch beside the old Stove Foundry Road (now West Vickery Blvd.), immediately west of the shops was the TP’s icing facility for the eastbound Pacific Fruit Express.[16] Trains stopped here to replenish the ice in the insulated boxes on the ends of the produce-carrying boxcars. Young men from Lake Como helped restock these cars with ice to complete the eastward journey.

Railroad Switching Yard
The switching yard with its humping operations[17] was here too; and especially during the war years the yard was busy 24 hours a day breaking up arriving freight trains, switching cars bound for different locations onto a host of other parallel tracks and making up altogether new trains. The wee hours of the morning resounded with the chooo, chooo, chooos of the switch engine in quick succession, then silence and next a bang! bang! as cars were uncoupled, pushed over a hump in the tracks and silently rolled unaided before slamming into the end of a train being made up. Any new resident of Lake Como had to develop a quick tolerance for the noisy switching operations or move. The sound of the two a.m. westbound passenger train was comforting as was the rattle of incoming freights from the direction of Benbrook. Before the railroad converted to oil burners, neighborhood women used to grumble about the coal soot in the train smoke soiling clothes drying on the line. The smoke often formed a long, low black plume the entire southern length of the community, as trains worked their way up the grade and past Benbrook.

The U.S. Cavalry, Horses And Caves
In the early 1930s to about 1936 there was a National Guard Cavalry unit whose horses were stabled near the end of Montgomery Street where it intersected the Stove Foundry Road. These cavalrymen used to ride their magnificent horses through the streets, alleys, and across the many wide-open spaces between houses in Lake Como. The maneuvers usually took place in the spring and always provided a great spectacle as certain units posing as friend or enemy chased each other in and around the prairie spaces of Lake Como. There were pack mules laden with mountain howitzers and sometimes a horse-drawn caisson and artillery piece. It has been reported that in 1936 this unit was dismounted and sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to become an armored tank unit.

During the First World War this whole area was an army training base called Camp Bowie,[18] encompassing thousands of acres of land. There are stories about soldiers who were shot as deserters being buried in lost graves in Lake Como. One mysterious place allegedly connected to Camp Bowie definitely did exist and evidence of it was still visible into the mid-1930s. A cave or tunnel below ground was roughly where Bryant-Irwin Road now crosses over West Vickery Blvd which is just south of Lake Como Cemetery. The cave/tunnel originally continued directly south through railroad right-of-way evidenced by a hole opening into the vertical bank on either side of the railroad track. It was said the section on the Lake Como side was a cave containing lumber.

Meat Packing Houses And Stockyards
Swift and Armour operated two large packing plants[19] adjacent to the Northside stockyards well after the end of WWII. These two enterprises employed many African-American workers resulting in steady employment and decent wages for the times. The 1930s depression years were extremely difficult for everyone, especially black Americans. Many endured constant hunger and were ill-clothed and housed. However, those who had jobs in the railroad industry or in meat packing lived with some degree of comfort and security. This was true of the citizens of Lake Como who were fortunate enough to be employed in these particular industries. They were able to pay the rent or the loans on their homes, to buy wood fuel for the heater and kerosene for the lamps. Some even had electricity and a telephone; the more fortunate either were buying or owned an automobile. These employers[20] represented a substantial economic base and lifeline in all of the region’s communities and Como was no exception.

The Stove Foundry
The foundry was located at about Montgomery and Stove Foundry Road (Vickery Blvd), close to the TP shops. It was one of those early factories with long overhead drive shafts and wheels powering many machines connected to it by wide leather belts. The author was inside once with his father as a very young child. It too must have undoubtedly employed more Como men as laborers than the person we were there to see.

Public Schools
Lake Como’s early and perhaps its first public school was located on the corner of Bonnell and Faron Streets. Mrs. Gertrude B. Starnes was the principal, her husband the school janitor. The classes went to the sixth grade. Mrs. Theis taught first grade, second grade, Mrs. Donavan, who did not live in Como. Third grade, Miss Bryant; fourth grade, Mrs. Ruby Jones; fifth grade, Mrs. Joe Patterson, who lived in the first house on Wellesley Street and east of Arthur’s Store; and, sixth grade, Mrs. Stearns who was also the principal. For a time Mrs. Jones was seriously ill and unable to teach. Miss Carr (later Mrs. Wooten) replaced her before becoming stricken herself with typhoid fever, suffering a very long illness. All were excellent teachers, imposing strict discipline on their students, no messing around allowed. They were very dedicated women who loved their work and their students.

Students graduating from Como’s grade school in the earlier years might have gone to Gay Street School on Baptist Hill before continuing on to high school at nearby (old) I.M. Terrell. Until 1938 students used regular public transportation to go across town, because there were no school busses.

Como school had no men teachers until the school was relocated in 1936 as part of a WPA project[21] to its location up on Halloran, Goodman/Libbey. At this time, some white schools were replaced by new schools. Four older buildings from white school locations were moved all the way across town from the Northside on heavy timbers and rollers and placed on the new Como site on Halloran between Goodman and Libbey. Both of the buildings from the Bonnell/Faron site were also moved to the new site and refurbished. It was then that Como received its first men teachers. They were Mr. Thomas, Mr. Bonner and Mr. Jacque as principal. All were excellent teachers and strict disciplinarians.

Every year at summer’s end, as school was beginning, some of the poorest Lake Como residents would leave for the “cotton patches,” taking their children with them to pick cotton and enrolling them in school only after the cotton harvest was over a month or two months later.

Como’s Churches
The principal church at the time was Zion Baptist Church,[22] founded at Horne and Libbey in 1909, where it remains today. It was pastored by Reverend G.W. Burton for many years, a deeply religious man of imposing stature.

Over the years, Zion Baptist Church has undergone several renovations. A memorable one, about 1932, was when Uncle Jack Mabry, Mr. Ramsay (no relation to John of the Holiness Church) and other men made an enlargement of the church adding a concrete baptismal under the altar. Prior to this time baptisms were conducted in the river. Reverend Burton, the candidates, and church members would get into automobiles, drive down to the Stove Foundry Road and park on the shoulder, then walk a distance to the river where the ceremony took place. Wearing a long white vestment, Reverend Burton would direct the entry of the candidates into waist-deep water where he would say something like, "I now baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, amen." The person would then be totally immersed under the water three times. Hymns and praises to God were sung at this happy occasion. After the renovation baptisms were done in the church.

An AME Methodist Church was at Prevost and Bonnell.

The Church of God In Christ that all referred to as “The Holiness Church” or “Holy Ghost Church,” was located on Goodman, east of Prevost. This church was a rollin’, rockin’, shoutin’ assembly and their services continued late into Sunday night, past midnight into early Monday morning. Along with the standard piano, there were slide trombones, one movingly played by Mr. Ramsey, the father of John Ramsey and his numerous siblings. Sounds from tambourines, saxophones and other instruments wafted melodiously across Como‘s valleys and hills and into the bedrooms.

Zion’s services ended on Sunday nights around ten. So more than a few of Zion’s younger members would leave that church as its services were ending and walk down to the Holiness Church and stand outside under its open windows on hot summer nights (there was no air conditioning then), enjoying the fabulous music and the spectacle of women and men moved by the spirit of God, dancing and flinging their bodies all over the place. Monday morning at school some kids would taunt the children of the Holiness members, telling them, “Man, your momma or your poppa was sure cuttin’ up last night!”

In 1940-41 the Bishop of the Archdiocese of which Fort Worth was a member, had a mission to expand the Catholic faith into communities hitherto void of Catholic persuasion. He constructed a new church at the top of the Bonnell hill above Angus Wood’s store and two priests began the task of converting Lake Comoans to the Catholic faith. Catechism classes resulted in a few converts but the practice never caught on with Como blacks and the church was closed and sold after seven or eight years.

Another church was located on Houghton Street near and above the lake’s end. Lake Como’s churches performed the same functions as black churches all do over the U.S., even today. They were the centers of community governance and protest when needed, and were the institutions through which black Como communicated its messages to the white power structure. Como churches were and remain “the Stones that The Builder built.”

Pullman Porters And Dining Car Waiters
Sidney Cannon was a Pullman porter on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas’s “Texas Special,” operating between Fort Worth and St. Louis. Mr. Cannon belonged to that elite group of railway workers[23] who in the first half of the 20th century occupied a coveted niche in employment for African-American workers. He and Pullman porters James A. Baker and Louis Goodspeed had their homes in Lake Como. Trains in those days were the only way to go and the sleeping car provided the ultimate comfort in rail travel. Travelers were pampered by these black servants in spotless uniforms. A passenger’s every wish was attended to with grace and respect, whether deserving or not. The rewards for good service were usually very generous. Pullman porters were the envy of the black working class because they and their families had one of the highest standards of living of all black workers.

The same was true for dining car waiters. Buddy Greer was a very enterprising dining car waiter. He owned a home on Goodman Street in Lake Como across from the school and subsequently built another in the 5800 block on Bonnell where he moved. For the enterprising black worker, real estate was almost a sure-fire winner. Any blacks who could obtain credit from the banks, especially black railroad employees, who were considered a good risk, could invest in real estate.

Chauffeurs, Cooks, Janitors And Housekeepers
After the Pullman car porters, dining car waiters and packinghouse workers came the tier of personal servants to the wealthy white residents of Rivercrest, Westover Hills and Forest Park. Some were dedicated, longtime servants who had earned, by their honesty and loyalty, the status of adopted kinship, or something just short of that. Blanche Baker enjoyed such an intimate relationship as a de facto member of the Jewish Klarr family, partners in Wolfe and Klarr, Jewelers and Pawnbrokers.

Sarah Mabry, wife of Jack Mabry, worked as a cook and housekeeper for the Garrett family in Westover Hills. A native of Louisiana, she spoke with a slight Creole accent. She had a long, intimate, although sometimes testy, relationship with the Garretts.

Some of the men who lived in Lake Como were employees of the richest white people in Fort Worth. They worked as chauffeurs, butlers, and groundsmen, often a combination of all three. Men like B.B. Massey had years of employment in the black service industry as chauffeur and gardener.

These workers might not have earned as much as Pullman porters or dining car waiters, but many did enjoy a certain appreciation, and yes, for some, even love, from their employers, so that they too obtained a measure of security well above that of the less well-positioned black worker who lived in Como.

Mr. Haley, the brother of Alex Haley, author of Roots, was employed as a custodian at the Fort Worth Continental National Bank for many years. He was also one of the first community leaders in Lake Como, and he and his sons were highly regarded, a credit to the community.

And there were the many typical, very cheaply paid black workers, the partially employed and the non-employed who were below even Lake Como’s low poverty level. These were the families with only bread and grease gravy for dinner, no shoes to wear to school, a shirt beautifully starched and ironed in front but with no back. It was not uncommon to see these people walking the five miles each way from Como to downtown and back to save the dime carfare.

Electric Streetcars
Fort Worth had a transportation system during those years that would be the envy of many modern cities. Electric streetcars ran down the divided median on Camp Bowie Boulevard, past the Lena Pope Orphan Home out Beyers to Merrick and terminating at Camp Bowie Boulevard. In the early 30s a tall landmark steel water tower[24] was erected on the triangular plot next to the streetcar stop. From there a cramped little shuttle bus carried passengers down Prevost and around the southeast end of the lake up the Houghton Street hill to the concrete and rock gas station run by Dave Harrold. Next, it went one block further up to Arthur’s Grocery Store, turning around there. In later years, as Lake Como grew, the bus route was revised and extended, the first time about 1933 or 1934 to Woods Store on Bonnell. Later, to accommodate Como’s expanding population, it made a complete loop of Horne, Bonnell, and Prevost to Camp Bowie.

Lake Como’s black population owned few automobiles and largely depended on the streetcars for transportation to and from downtown, even though gasoline only cost between eleven and thirteen cents a gallon at Orn’s CONOCO gas station at Horne and Camp Bowie Boulevard. The streetcars were big, heavy electric vehicles, somewhat smaller than the bigger Interurbans running downtown between Fort Worth and Dallas. They made a light rumbling sound as they went along. The control mechanism was a horizontal lever and sometimes it made a click when the operator advanced or slowed down the speed. To alert automobiles and pedestrians, it had a loud bell that pulsated with a rrrddnnnng-ing sound.

Riding these conveyances was a humiliating ordeal for Como’s blacks. Racial segregation laws mandated that blacks sit in the back of the car and whites in front. Since Lake Como was beyond the end of the line at Camp Bowie Boulevard, few whites boarded at its terminus. Blacks were the first to board the emptied streetcars. Usually there was a crowd of blacks already on board, seated and standing, before an appreciable number of whites had boarded at Stop 15, a small shopping center on Camp Bowie at Hulen. (Stop 15 probably got its name in 1917-1918 when stops were numbered on the line through the army camp spread out along its route.)

Charles Cannon was about three when one day he got on the streetcar with his mother en route to the city near Stop 15. He always went to find a seat while his mother paid her dime fare. The back of the car was filled with Como blacks and some were standing but there were still plenty of seats left from the car’s middle to the front. Charles skipped down the aisle and sat in an empty seat next to a white woman. His mother approached with a very angry look on her face. She grabbed him by the right arm, yanking him up and out of the seat so hard that he thought his arm had come out of its socket. This would happen one more time before he got the message.

All of the streetcars had little metal loops above each seat on the window post and a narrow wooden sign with the letters ”WHITE” painted on the side facing the front of the car and “COLORED” facing towards the rear. The signs angled out inside the curved roof above the seats and were placed in the metal loops by the operator who kept an eye out for times like this. He would move the wooden sign when he thought the "COLOREDs" had occupied all of the seats that they should be allowed to have. It did not matter how many seats were available, the little sign was placed wherever the car’s operator wanted it to be. Often the car would be crowded with “COLORED”s three-quarters of the way, but more than half of the seats would still be empty.

Mud, Mud, Mud
Arthur’s Store was at the northeast end of Como, at Wellesley and Prevost streets. If a person lived at the diagonal opposite end of Como, the southwest end, say at Littlepage and Blackmore, this would be a mile or more to walk. Of course, then there were fewer houses and one could cut across whole blocks not using any streets to walk on. Uncle Took, who walked everywhere, always cut across. Besides, back then the streets were not paved and during the winter and spring rains they quickly became impassable bogs in many spots, So, even if you were driving an automobile it would be left in the vicinity of Arthur’s Store or somewhere along Horne Street (which was well maintained to Bonnell Street), and you’d walk home in a pouring Texas rainstorm amid clapping, rolling thunder and frightening lightning, floundering with each step in the black prairie mud. Automobiles would sometimes get mired in the mud up to the axles.

About 1934, the City of Fort Worth began attempts to improve Como’s streets. Work crews dumped truckloads of fill on the lowest street locations, especially where streams crossed streets or were actually part of the street. The earth was then graded by a tractor-pulled grader and compacted with a giant iron-wheeled roller. This machine’s engine used gasoline and every morning when the operator started it up, there would be a loud explosion, a backfire louder than a cannon being fired. The iron compacting wheels were six feet in diameter, and 16 to 20 inches wide, and a solid iron wheel about three feet in diameter and four feet wide in front. The operator pulled or pushed a long lever that extended up from the machine’s floor to make it go backward or forward, and the roller groaned loudly as if it were being punished. The machine also had two large wheels that rotated on either side of its engine. The neighborhood children were fascinated. Over the years, in many places, Como's streets have been raised several feet or more.

During the next two or three years, the first electric streetlights and natural gas lines were installed. Prior to this period, many Lake Como homes had no sewers and people used outdoor toilets at the rear of their backyards. A scavenger, an older black man who wore a long, dark, filthy coat, went up and down the alleys driving a horse- or mule-drawn metal tank wagon, stopping at each privy to hoist the waste bucket up to the opening on top, dumping its contents inside and replacing the bucket back under the privy’s seat.

Early on, it was in the vicinity of Wellesley and Merrick that the density of homes and people were the greatest. There were few if any vacant lots within blocks of Arthur‘s Store with the exception of numerous acres of unfenced land which were evidently an extension of the lake’s property and were a part of southernmost Arlington Heights. In the approximately three-quarter-mile-long Wellesley/Bonnell-Merrick/Horne Street rectangle was probably where most of the first black residents’ homes were built. It was from this nucleus near the lake’s southeast end that the community began to radiate out to its future confines between Lancaster Freeway/Camp Bowie on the north, and Stove Foundry Road (now Vickery Blvd.) on the south, on the west to one block west of Littlepage. Some virgin prairie blocks existed east of and along the entire length of what would become Ridglea Golf Course in 1934-35. Before and during the early war years a portion of the aforementioned land strip directly across from and west of Lake Como Cemetery served as a landfill-dump used by both white and black. In the mid-1930s a few acres of this land between Bonnell and Goodman were usurped by local people scavenging gravel and topsoil to sell as landscaping materials. What the hell, the dirt was free and times were very hard!

The Last Insult
Sometime near the end of the 1940s or early ’50s, development began on the narrow, long, one-mile-plus strip of virgin prairie land that lay between Lake Como’s black populace and Ridglea Golf Course. A White-Only middle- or upper-middleclass housing tract was envisioned and constructed. White paranoia reigned and a concrete brick wall[25] 10-or-so feet high was constructed to form a mile-long barrier between black Lake Como and white Ridglea. It was similar in appearance and purpose to the Berlin Wall and the wall that the Israelis have built to separate portions of Israel and Palestine. Of course, blacks in Lake Como were furious; the monolith was an ever-constant, highly visible reminder of the racial underclass that black Como represented, to themselves as well as to those who lived on the other side of the wall. Protests ensued and eventually the wall was removed and tensions diminished, leading to what later became an acceptable but distant level of relations between the two segregated communities.

People of other races, including whites, are now acquiring the comparatively cheap real estate in this previously all-black community, irrevocably changing the composition of its population and culture, sometimes in the face of black resentment.

A White Living In Lake Como?
The eastern perimeter of Lake Como constituted an irregular boundary defined by a thin wooded strip along the stream that emptied the lake. On the stream's opposite side was a six- or seven-acre field that produced a beautiful stand of corn.

In this little, rather isolated corner of the Lake Como community, lived an older man whom the author suspects was white. He lived with, and was possibly married to, a black woman (both interracial marriage and cohabitation were outlawed) and they had at least one grown son. Mr. Jack Suarez (sp) was one of the two independent icemen who served the community. He certainly looked like a white man. He was almost bald, diminutive in stature and blue-eyed. He was a good man. There was never any problem regarding his relationship reported by either the white folks or the black folks. Mr. Hickman was the other iceman, a black person and likely one of Como’s earliest inhabitants.

Just up the south side of the Bonnell hill above Woods’ Store and Mr. Hickman’s little icehouse was a two- story building that housed the barbershop where Mr. Tennyson cut hair with a couple of other barbers. Stack (Stack-of-Diamonds) Freyerson(sp) ran a gambling dive on the floor below after the gambling dive in the little “shotgun house” on Kilpatrick Street near Horne and across from the Haynes’ home burned down. Stack was always well dressed and true to his nickname sported diamond rings on his fingers. He was blessed with a gift of talking that complemented his appearance.

House Fires
In the early days when Como had no natural gas pipelines, residents used wood purchased by the cord (the destitute purchased a few sticks of wood at a time) and kerosene for cooking and heating. House fires were commonplace as kerosene was used for everything from stove and lamp fuel to topical applications for sore muscles and cures for the common cold. “Coal oil,” as kerosene was called, was a very inflammable fuel and any of it spilled near an open flame caught fire and immediately engulfed a wood frame house.

A house fire at night was a horrifying event. There were no streetlights then; Lake Como was unlit at night except for the few houses with electric lights and the ubiquitous “coal oil” lamps shining dimly through the windows. Neighbors would be alerted by screams and yelling started by the sight of bright roaring flames piercing the night sky. The bright reddish glow of sparks and fire towering high into a sky encapsulated in darkness, accompanied by the sounds of fire trucks coming from Camp Bowie Boulevard, and racing up Horne Street was a fairly common occurrence.

Sometimes it seemed the wait was interminably long before the responders could be heard. As they raced up Horne Street, turning towards the hydrants closest to the fire, you could hear the reassuring sounds of the truck’s “brrump-brrump----brrump-brrump” pulsating engine as the fire crew quickly dropped the hoses from the truck’s rear at the fireplug and then stretched them along the street to the fire.

A good guess could be made about whose house it probably was because everyone knew everyone else and where everyone lived. A terrible feeling gripped you, as if that family’s loss were your own. Most people had no insurance and their losses of personal possessions would take time and financial sacrifice to replace. A few families had the misfortune of having multiple fires and few if any actually owned the house they lived in; many rented from a two white absentee owners, Mr. Trentman[26] and Mr. Murchison[27]. The latter landlord could be seen monthly driving around Lake Como in his little sedan, knocking on the doors of his tenants to collect the rent. Colloquially referred to as “Old Man Murchison,” he was not a young man, probably in his fifties, smallish in stature. He always wore a suit and hat. Of course, in the hot summers he dressed in shirtsleeves.

It is not established whether Trentman and/or Murchison were investors in the H.B. Chamberlain venture that created the lake and the pavilion in the late 1880s and early 1890s. According to media reports, all three men were involved in businesses in Denver, Colorado during this time. Their holdings in Lake Como may have been acquired as a consequence of the Chamberlain venture and/or its failure.

J.A. (“Uncle Jack”) Mabry
Uncle Jack Mabry was one of the earliest settlers in Lake Como. He lived at the corner of Horne and Fletcher Streets. Uncle Jack chewed Brown’s Mule Tobacco between his missing teeth. He was a very skilled carpenter and bricklayer and during the ’30s worked repaving downtown Houston Street with bricks. A treasured member of Zion Baptist Church at Libby and Horne streets, he would walk up the hill with his bible on cold winter evenings to light the wood heating stove before the prayer meetings. He told exciting, interesting stories and was not judgmental despite his deep Baptist faith. Uncle Jack Mabry recalled when there was a wolves’ den just off the corner of what is now Bonnell and Halloran. When Momma or Poppa Cannon invited him over for a cool can of Pabst, he never refused. He was also an excellent gardener. The author used to climb over his backyard fence and steal his delicious onions to eat raw. If there is such a thing as a Baptist saint, it was Uncle Jack. He ranks as one of the most wonderful and delightful people that ever lived.

The Lake
The area around the lake was fenced off with barbed wire for many years and the citizens of Lake Como were forbidden to trespass on the property. A few privileged whites were permitted to fish in the lake. The only time Lake Como residents got any fish from the lake was after severe spring thunderstorm runoffs caused the water to overflow the spillway at its southeast end. Large fish would escape in the overflow and be stranded in shallow pools below the dam. John Ramsay and a few others would wade into the pools and muddy up the water to such a degree that the fish were distressed, they surfaced, and were easily caught.

Not far below the dam a sewer entered the stream bed that drained the lake. At various intervals there were access man holes where it was possible to enter the sewer. Half buried and made of concrete about five or six feet square in size, it followed the watercourse down to and under the Stove Foundry Road, under the TP’s railroad tracks to an outfall above the river and the Como boy’s favorite swimming hole; not the one where baptisms had taken place. Como boys used to enter the sewer at the first manhole and walk its entire length of almost a mile to its end at the river.

Cow Pastures

Lake Como had two dairies, one just off Horne at about Humbert, extending to the Stove Foundry Road. An African-American family named Crook operated it for a good number of years. Alexander Hayes tended the cows, and made hay at the appropriate times in a cultivated portion just east of Horne Street and bordering the Stove Foundry Road. The Crooks were among the first black families in Como.

The other was Wright’s dairy, operated by a white family, which early on occupied an area from Horne to what is now Bryant-Irwin Road on the east and west, respectively; and Houghton and Camp Bowie Boulevard defining the south and north boundaries. All of this area is now developed housing and a part of the general community. “Poppy” Wright became very close friends with Douglas Phillips, an African-American youngster about his own age who lived across the street from the family dairy. This dairy had a mean bull that was only appreciated from the safety beyond the barbed wire fence that surrounded the pasture.

Barnstormers, The Wright Brothers (No Relation To Wilbur And Orville)
The two white men were barnstorming biplane pilots. Each had what was probably a World War I surplus- type airplane and they used to conduct little air shows on the prairie directly on either side of Horne, south of Camp Bowie. Rides were five dollars per person; of course very few people in Lake Como could afford a five dollar airplane ride. The author suspects that they might have been members of the dairy family but is unsure.

Charles Cannon, then about four, was fascinated with airplanes, like many of the children, as planes were comparatively rare in those days. If one flew near, the children would look up, point, and yell “Airplane!” They’d watch until it flew out of sight.

The first and only time Charles heard his dad swear in anger was on a Sunday afternoon when one of the pilots was selling airplane rides from a location along Horne Street, across from where Mr. Moffat would later move his family and start a gas station. As the craft sat idling, Charles pestered his dad to let him fly. Exasperated, his dad finally relented. They climbed into the airplane and sat in the seat in front of the pilot. Charles sat in his dad’s lap and the airplane took off, made a lazy turn, and the pilot told Mr. Cannon to “hang on to him real tight.” At which point he did a loop de loop and scared little Charles out of his mind. He started screaming and crying, further angering his already furious father. Mr. Cannon screamed at the pilot, “You dirty son-of-a-bitch, get this plane back on the ground right now!” Charles was surprised at the language his dad directed at this white man. The black crowd was very amused, because Mr. Cannon was still in a rage upon leaving the airplane.

Henry Woods
Directly across Horne street just west of the lake was another expanse of prairie where the aviators also staged some of their Sunday afternoon flying. Once in order to generate a bigger crowd the flyers publicized an event that would star one of Lake Como’s own doing a parachute jump. Henry Woods was hired to make the spectacular leap for five dollars. Today five bucks might seem like a pittance to risk one’s life for, but back then five dollars was nothing to sneer at. Today it will only get you a really good loaf of bread and a quart of milk; back then for five dollars you could fill the entire back seat of a car with groceries and have a few pennies left for cigarettes, which incidentally were one cent each. This fact did not escape Henry, so after some preliminary buzzing around, out came Henry buckled up in a white parachute.

He was a tall man, then probably in his late twenties and slightly stoop shouldered. It should have been no surprise that he was solicited and chosen for the jump. He was also a gambler and being a gambler around communities like Como required a certain amount of bravery; it was not for the faint hearted. Henry climbed into the airplane and it took off and climbed quite high until he looked like a little doll when he stepped out onto the wing. The airplane was directly above the crowd when Henry let go and jumped. It was almost unbelievable; here is someone that you know jumping out of an airplane. Everyone was quiet and holding their breath while Henry was falling. He fell for a ways and suddenly the parachute billowed open and he drifted down to shouts, applause and laughter from the crowd and landed close by. Many ran and embraced him. He was now a local hero.

For many days after the boys would make toy parachutes using pieces of cloth attached to strings with a rock tied to the other end. The rock would be tucked inside the cloth and thrown as high as human strength could loft it, it would reach its zenith and tumble back down opening as it fell, to boys yelling “Henry Woods, Henry Woods!” Some boys used to climb on top of fences and sheds or any place they could jump off of with reasonable safety, yelling “Henry Woods, Henry Woods, Henry Woods!"

It was on a lovely late spring or summer afternoon that the airplane belonging to one of the Wrights went into an unrecoverable spin and crashed a few blocks east of Horne Street, beside Camp Bowie Boulevard in horrific flames, killing the pilot. The other brother kept flying, eventually acquiring a later model biplane which he kept staked down next to a house on Camp Bowie Boulevard near where Bryant-Irwin Road crosses today.

T. Lionel Moore or Teola Moore
In 1935-36, Lake Como was shaken by police raids on inhabitants’ homes. The police were trying to apprehend a black fugitive named T. Lionel Moore, who they claimed had shot and killed a white policeman. Moore was said to have been running away and took his shot backwards over his shoulder. The policemen were terrified; they accused Como’s citizens of hiding Moore. If no one was at home, they broke in to search. Some would make the homeowner crawl up into the attic looking for Moore because they were afraid to stick their own heads up there. It is uncertain if Moore was ever apprehended, but there are rumors that Moore was a Mason and was aided by them to escape to Chicago.

Kites And Prairie Wildfires
Lake Como was a fabulous place for boys to grow up. Its prairies, meandering streams and wooded Trinity River river bottom with camping spots and refreshing swimming holes made for an idyllic environment.

Como’s youths were fortunate to live on Fort Worth’s outskirts. Neither the Southside, Northside, Baptist Hill or Tresevant Hill offered as much clean, wholesome fun to active youngsters. The advent of March always brought with it ferocious winds that at times threatened to blow you off your feet. It could sweep across the prairies, bending the grasses in waves and causing the eyes to water. But it was ideal for flying kites.

Where the sloping ground rose up and past the boggy stream and crawdad holes from Houghton to Fletcher Street’s western crest was the place where neighborhood boys gathered to fly kites. The winds usually blew from the south, making this spot perfect for launching their homemade kites. Split pine members, trimmed and strung at the ends with string from wrapped grocery meat packages, made a good frame for brown butcher paper to be attached with homemade flour paste. Finnie Rufus Jenkins, Rufus Harris, James and Riley Henderson, Walter Weaver and Charles Cannon all came to fly kites here. Baby Meeks, Como’s marble champion, was also the champion kite flyer. He was quick and as tough as nails and nobody beat Baby; he was a champion in everything he did. His kites flew the longest and the highest. He was the first to discover the limits of kite height; it did not matter how long the string was, the kite would not go any higher. His kites sometimes flew over and past Camp Bowie Boulevard; the white boys in Arlington Heights would ride their bicycles over to the Como launching site to see whose kite that was.

Prairie Fires
Texas summers are very hot; ask anyone who lives there. By mid- to- late August, despite having gotten a few summer rains, the prairie became parched and its beautiful wildflowers became unrecognizable, brown, bent-over, stiff, dry stems. The neighborhood’s peaches had already been stolen before they were fully ripe by bored Como boys, who now, frustrated by having little excitement in their lives, would resort to more extreme measures for entertainment.

Stripping to the waist, some boys barefoot and in shorts, they would gather newspaper and matches to set fire to the prairie. First, though, they equipped themselves with heavily water-soaked cloths to fight the fire, preventing it from attacking neighborhood fences and houses. Sometimes the fires were accidentally started, but usually they were consequences of the dangerous mischief of unsupervised boys at loose ends. Sometimes the firetrucks came and sometimes not, probably because no one felt threatened enough to call them.

These fires were not without some benefit. As they slightly toasted the seeds of last spring’s sleeping wildflowers, opening their tough outer covers they created enhanced conditions for greater bloom and beauty in the spring to come.

Caddies, Colonial, Rivercrest, Ridglea And Z Boaz[28]
Ridglea Golf Course was constructed about 1935. Situated west of and along Bryant-Irwin Road, it was an 18-hole course sculpted out of rolling prairie. Originally, beautiful wooded vales between limestone hills covered its southern end next to the Harry Brants estate[29] along the old Stove Foundry Road. Seventy years have seen its ridge-line roughs developed into palatial homes, paved streets and wooded lawns. Golf carts have almost certainly replaced the African-American caddies who once lugged heavy bags of golf clubs over this hilly terrain. In the 1930s golfers paid “A” class caddies seventy-five cents for an 18-hole round and thirty-five cents for nine holes. Younger, ten- and twelve-year-old “B” class caddies got fifty cents and twenty-five cents. Many of the caddies promptly lost this pittance in dice games, trying to parley it into something more substantial.

Lake Como caddies had a choice of four courses to choose from and some caddies alternated between two or three of the choices while some stuck with a favorite. This is where youngsters learned a lot of things that they would have been better off not knowing, such as how to shoot dice, curse, and to discover what is in between the covers of porno comic books.

Raymond Gafford[30] (white) was the Ridglea[31] Pro then. He played with the best of them, Ben and Roy Hogan. This author caddied for him on a few occasions. John Douglas (black) was the caddy master for all of the caddies. God bless them all.

Dust Bowl[32]
The sky was a dirty reddish-gray all summer for three straight years. It was hard to comprehend at first. No rain meant no blue sky. It was a little similar to winter when the Northers blew and the sky was an impenetrable slate gray. But, now was not winter, it was summer! People on Lake Como’s hills were used to looking over and across the Trinity River’s Clear Fork to Fort Worth’s Southside rise where South Main Street went. In the summer’s setting sun the storied factory window lights luminesced like rows of brilliant crimson rubies.

That was before winds whipped up dense clouds of fine dust from way up in Kansas and out on the west Texas plains and scattered them in the air between Como and the blue sky. Dust was everywhere, covering everything, as if the grasshopper plagues of ’34 and ’35 had not been enough.

Crawdads, Ghosts, Fossils And Pecan Trees
Lake Como was indeed a blessed place. There were streams traversing its shallow valleys from its West- side hills, meandering mid-block and across unpaved streets, curving and twisting their way past limestone bluffs hiding ammonite fossils[33] thirty inches wide. Every few hundred feet of stream was punctuated by teeming crawdad ponds, like the one that began west of Halloran and ran down along Goodman Street and angled across the corner at Kilpatrick Street by the Haynes' house. (What fun to plunge in after the little crawfish as they scooted away backwards. No matter that you were wearing your brand-new Easter seersucker suit. You were already a mess, a little more muddy water wouldn‘t make any difference.)

This same Kilpatrick corner was a place feared by some of the locals, especially the youngsters. Directly across Horne Street beside Mrs. Hamilton’s store lived a married couple in the two-story house, the Womingtons (sp), both ministers. Late one morning Reverend Mrs. Womington started screaming loudly, Reverend Mr. Womington had suffered a massive heart attack and died. Not too much later rumors began to circulate that the house was haunted.

Charles Cannon did not give the reports too much credit until one day Uncle Jack was at his house and told the Cannons that he had seen Mr. Womington’s headless ghost one stormy night as he was returning home from Zion Baptist Church. Uncle Jack reported seeing the apparition more than once, as did Newt Henderson, who independently reported seeing the headless ghost under similar stormy conditions, and both were very familiar with the deceased, sober, truthful men not given to loose talk.

Booker Royburn(sp), a neighbor who lived on the west side of Hamilton’s Store, also had this story to tell. The widowed Reverend Mrs. Womington had to attend a religious meeting out of town. Booker had been doing some work around the house for her so she asked him to stay there while she was away. He did stay for a few nights. He said that late one night he was awakened by Mr. Womington’s ghost who asked what Booker was doing in his bed and told him that he must leave. When Booker was asked if he left then and there, he replied, “No, but I’m not staying there anymore at night!”

A few of the Como boys who went to Zion Baptist Church had a similar concern. When leaving church to go down to the Bonnell drugstore or beyond, they would stand on the corner of Libbey and Horne, mustering up strength to get past the haunted corner. Then they would accelerate, running down the Horne Street hill as fast as racehorses, reaching top speed at the dreaded corner. Fleeing past the haunted house, they wouldn’t stop to look back until they had safely reached Bonnell Street.

Some years later a Como school-kid and his family moved into the house. When asked if he or his family had ever encountered the ghost, he said nothing had ever happened.

The Bluebird Café and “Bull” Dawson’s Zoot Suits ( --see endnotes)
The Blue Bird Café at Horne and Wellesley streets whose owners for many years were Vance and Vi Grant, who began business in a retired Fort Worth Traction Company streetcar that was moved onto a site a few doors east of, but near its present location on the corner. Originally a food-only café with a juke box it gained in popularity despite a lack of room for dancing. It was during the early forties that Vance and Vi built the establishment where it is today.

The Blue Bird was the hangout for Lake Como’s residents, young and old especially during the war years. There was a beautiful waitress, Aileen Toles (sp) , whose good looks captured the attention of all of the guys. There were times when the barbeque was great and the juke box blared out Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Lunceford, Nat King Cole, a little Ellington, some Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and many other jazz greats of the time. Friday and Saturday nights the place was always packed. On summer evenings Como’s young men made the corner outside the café their gathering place and much happened there, good and bad.

These were the days of “Zoot Suits,” and the pre-eminent figure in the neighborhood was Marshall “Bull Dawson” Dixon, a dark chunky guy, with a very witty gift for gab. “Bull” contrary to his nickname’s implication was a generous outgoing person who possessed a lot of humor that easily found a way to be expressed. “Bull Dawson” was the most creative man in Black Fort Worth’s style scene. His Pants, often pin stripped in soft colors were the tightest at the cuffs, the baggiest in the thighs with a long chain down to his knees. His shirts were exquisite, worn with wide colorful ties under a knee-length coat with wide lapels, that was split part way up the back. He wore a wide-brimmed felt hat that sported a long feather on the left side. His long pointed Florsheim shoes were always shined to gleaming perfection. The fashion setter for young black Fort Worth, when Bull Dawson went up to the Blue Bird or to the South Side, he was untouchable.. He was also a fantastic dancer, everybody jitter-bugged then and he was tops.

Agrarian Exodus
By 1939 the dust had cleared from the skies and other strange things were happening. Suddenly more and more African-American strangers were appearing on Lake Como’s streets, and, even more disconcerting, they talked funny. These newcomers were black and yet they were not like native Lake Comoans at all. Where were these country Negroes coming from and why were they here? Would they stay or move on? A change was occurring in the rural farm areas. People who had spent their lives as tenant farmers and hired help for large landowners were either being forced off lands which were to be mechanized (the mechanical cotton picker), or they were voluntarily leaving to seek better jobs in an economy fast recovering from the ’29 crash. All these country people were changing Lake Como. They went about building houses on formerly vacant lots, and in some cases, the last remaining patches of prairie. You couldn’t cut across those empty spaces anymore.

California And Colorado Freedom
As the new country people moved in and occupied vacant areas and blocks, much of which had formerly been so free and beautiful was fast becoming more alien. Long-time Como citizens also had been craving changes in scenery and culture. Periodically, children would not appear at school, or worse, a grownup would come and collect a kid, saying that they were leaving for California immediately. Others went to Colorado. Denver must have had as many people emigrating from Lake Como as Los Angeles had. The train from Fort Worth to Denver at one time was called the Freedom Train.

WWII Bombers
Work began on the Consolidated Vultee Plant around 1939; it too provided much needed employment for a number of Como residents. Someone knew we were going to be at war with Germany and Japan, so along with many other things Texans started building warplanes on the shores of Lake Worth. As soon as the bombers were built, men had to be trained to fly them. And where should they be trained? Where they were being built, of course. Not long after training started, people in Lake Como and the surrounding countryside were being awakened around dawn by the heavy drone of aircraft engines warming up. Later in the day there might be close formations of eighteen heavy B-24 bombers flying only 500 feet above Lake Como. Yes, things had certainly changed.

Like all U.S. communities, Lake Como contributed its share to the military during WWII; all branches had members from Como. Lee Arthur (“Sticks”) Baker and Willie Parker became the first commissioned army officers from Lake Como; both served in the Italian Campaign. Baby Meeks and Odell Dean served in the Marine Corps. Their distinguished service would lay the groundwork for Como’s future servicemen and women to receive promotions to much higher military rank.

The twentieth century has expired and along with it the oldest and longest lived of the early African-American settlers of Lake Como. Survivors are few. Their and their ancestors’ struggles have given these old timers a unique identity and a connection to a heroic past. All were poor people who had survived terrible social and economic onslaughts, but took extraordinary pride in what Lake Como meant to them, and what it impelled them to be, in spite of crushing poverty.

What Lake Como will become is now in the hands of others. Many of Lake Como’s older houses, some hardly shacks then and no more than that today, are being razed, new homes and multi-storied apartments are being built. Open prairie vistas have given way to tree-lined avenues, and flowing crawdad streams to lawns and asphalt pavement. Residential housing occupies all of the area between Camp Bowie Boulevard\Lancaster freeway and the old Stove Foundry Road. The lake and its land is now a park open to everyone. There are few if any burials in Lake Como Cemetery. Families take loved ones miles away, southeast of Fort Worth, to newer burial sites. At Benbrook, on the plateau above the river's bottom lands, a portion of Highway 20 that encircles Fort Worth has eliminated Mr. Corn's hayfield. Below, where the creek was, the Willburns' and Ernest Allen's farms are now a tract of houses and paved streets. Doc Brants' wheatfields are covered over by a combination of commercial shops, offices, and homes. The Trading Post at Camp Bowie's end is gone, in its place a highway interchange. The Texas and Pacific's (now, Union Pacific's) railroad tracks remain, as does the Stove Foundry Road (now West Vickery Boulevard). The cold blue northers and violent thunderstorms still come and go, as always.

Old Lake Como is no more.
The old-timers and their heirs are bereft,
icons of a vanished age
like the “Wichita, Caddo,
Comanche and Lipan Apache,”[34]
the Armadillo, the Wolf, the Buffalo, the prairie wildflowers;
and all things present now, will also pass away.
Only the snail will endure.

Texas blackland prairies (NA0814)

Conservation Status
Habitat Loss and Degradation
…By the second half of the nineteenth century, row crop agriculture was well established in the Blackland Prairie. By the middle 1920’s more than 80% of the original vegetation had been lost to cultivation (Bland and Jones, 1993). In the second half of the century urbanization continued to reduce the remaining prairie. Today less than 1% of the original vegetation of the Blackland Prairie remains, in scattered parcels across the region (Smeins and Diamond, 1983). Most of the remaining Blackland Prairie survived by virtue of the value of the cattle forage that it produced. Over the past century, annual hay crops were taken from a majority of the prairie remnants. This practice continues today. Annual mowing, with and without the addition of fire provided valuable disturbance. However, it is possible that long-term mowing at the same time of year, while not shifting overall composition, has changed the numeric relationships of the species. The greatest portion of remnant prairie is found in the northern part of the main belt, where hay production was an important agricultural business…

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Fort Worth, Texas
Lake Como, Fort Worth, Texas,-96.840491&sspn=0.007462,0.015235&gl=us&ie=UTF8&near=Fort+Worth+Texas&split=1
Ridglea and Lake Como, Fort Worth, Texas

Upon Worth's death, General William S. Harney assumed command of the Department of Texas and ordered Major Ripley A. Arnold to find a new fort site near the West Fork and Clear Fork. On June 6, 1849, Arnold established a camp on the bank of the Trinity River and named the post Camp Worth in honor of General Worth.

Early map. Confluence of Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River below the northern downtown bluffs.
The confluence of the Clear Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity River and its floodplain below the courthouse at downtown’s north end today, 2009.

[3] H.B. Chamberlain Investment Co.
Written by Wini Klein:“The Como neighborhood, about five miles west of the Fort Worth Central Business District, lies on the western border of Arlington Heights, and includes six original surveys made between 1854 and 1874.The H.B. Chamberlain Investment Company of Denver, Colorado, built the Lake Como dam in 1889. The area included a beautiful recreation resort with pavilion, casino and amusement rides, and was named for Como, Italy. A power plant was also constructed on the lake to furnish power for the street car line which provided transportation between the lake and Ye Arlington Inn, on the present corner of Merrick and Crestline.In 1894, the Inn burned down and the Chamberlain Investment Company failed in the financial panic of 1893, forcing them to sell the resort.”

Prior to the arrival of Anglo settlers, large herds of buffalo and members of the Wichita, Caddo, Comanche and Lipan Apache Indian tribes roamed the Benbrook area. Archeologists estimate that the area has been inhabited for some 11,000 years.1 Indian communities look for the same environmental factors as present communities, with the availability of an adequate water supply being a primary consideration. ndoubtedly, the confluence of the Clear Fork-Trinity River and Mary's Creek provided such a watering place to tribes as they passed through the area on hunting expeditions.

Lake Como’s 100th Anniversary―Founded in 1905­―Arthur’s Store 1907
‘Lake Como, Texas’
Publication: Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News)
Publication Date: 12-FEB-06
COPYRIGHT 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Byline: John Gutierrez-Mier (817) 390-7155
Copyright (c) 2006, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

Journal of Paleontology―The report on the Albian Stage (Lower Cretaceous)
The Cretaceous Period (145.5 to 65 million years ago, when Lake Como’s fossils were living creatures).

[7] University of Texas BulletinNo. 1931: June 1, 1919THE GEOLOGY OF TARRANT COUNTYBy W. M. WINTON AND W. S. ADKINS
Plate 2. Fig. 1. Airplane view of top of Goodland limestone, Benbrook, Texas (Locality described by Taff.)

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[8] Plate 2. Fig. 2. Goodland limestone, Stove Foundry Road [Vickery], 4 miles west of Fort Worth. The base of the telephone pole is the Upper Salenia horizon.
[The same view today?]

[9] Texas wildflowers April In Texas

March 18, 2008
Ridglea North: $10,000 bonus, 25 percent royalty
Monnigmiddle―2 A letter circulating in the Ridglea North neighborhood says Davis Land Services, a broker for Chesapeake Energy, is offering property owners bonuses of $10,000 per acre and a 25 percent royalty for a term of three to five years for leases.

Lake Como Cemetery
Cemeteries Index for Lake Como Cemetery

…His band was originally called the Light Crust Doughboys. Notable musicians such as Bob Wills got their start with O'Daniel. After the Doughboys split up, O'Daniel formed the Western Swing band Pappy O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys. The new group was named after O'Daniel's Hillbilly Flour Company… …In 1938, he ran for governor of Texas as a Democrat. O'Daniel's campaign hailed his flour and the need for pensions and tax cuts…

[13] Number: 5815Marker Text: Many of the individuals buried in this pioneer cemetery are descendants of Edward Willburn (1805-82) and his wife Nancy (Overton) (ca. 1811-87), immigrants from the upper South who settled here in the 1850s. The earliest marked grave, dated 1867, is for the infant child of William and Cassandra (Williams) Willburn. Also interred here: Rachael M. (Wilburn) Snyder, donor of property for a church, school, and cemetery in Benbrook; Church Willburn, a cowboy on several cattle drives in the 1860s; Civil War veterans; and other pioneers of southwestern Tarrant County. Texas Sesquicentennial 1836-1986
[14] The Texas and Pacific Railway Company (known as the T&P) was created by Federal charter in 1871 with the purpose of building a southern transcontinental railroad between Marshall, Texas and San Diego, California.

Westside rail yards 1930. From the Jack White Collection of Historic Photos
University of Texas, Arlington

At the time the company was organized by the Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific in 1906 the relatively small tonnage of perishables moving to eastern markets was handled by a limited number of cars owned by private interests. Pacific Fruit Express started its operation with 6000 refrigerated cars. By mid-1955 it had nearly 39,000 refrigerator cars in service. Included were 337 mechanically operated "super-giant" refrigerator cars designed to serve the frozen food industry. Starting in 1951 mechanical icing machines were being installed progressively at a number of major terminals―Hearne, Texas was included in this installation.
Cutaway view of early refrigerator car

Fort Worth Union Pacific humping yards, formerly Texas and Pacific Railway

1917 Call to arms (Historical anthropology and reconstruction; highly skilled blacks from Lake Como like Uncle Jack Mabrey must have been employed in the construction of Camp Bowie)
At one time as many as 3,500 carpenters were working at once on the camp, building acres and acres of barracks, barns, gas warfare houses, ammunition magazines, hospitals, warehouses and a railroad spur. The camp was ready by December 1, 1917. The physical size of Camp Bowie ranged from White Settlement Road to Stove Foundry Road, and from the Seventh Street viaduct far to the west. A large cavalry training center was located at Camp Bowie.

A History of the Fort Worth Stockyards
For the drovers heading longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth, which was soon known as “Cowtown” and had its own disreputable entertainment district several blocks south of the Courthouse area that was known all over the West as “Hell’s Half Acre.”

When the railroad finally arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock. This prompted plans in 1887 for the construction of the Union Stockyards, about two-and-one-half miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. It went into full operation about 1889.
Aerial Photo of Fort Worth’s Northside Stockyards

[20] Early Employers and Economies,+Texas&cd=20&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-aWithin three years after the start of packinghouse operations all seemed to turning up roses (sic) for Fort Worth’s industrial development. In 1906 a total of seven businesses employing 137 opened, increasing manufacturing and industrial capitalization to between $9,000,000 and $10,000,000 and the annual production value to $40,000,000. A major portion of that investment came from twenty-two large firms with twenty-five or more employees. That list included eight heavy industries, such as steel and brass foundries; four furniture or construction material manufacturers; three grain mills; three food and beverage producers; two cotton oil mills; one oil refiner; and one producer of consumer goods. Fort Worth’s five largest employers (the packinghouses lay outside the municipal limits) were: Texas Brewing (175), Fort Worth Furniture (150), Burrus Mills (125), Fort Worth Machine and Foundry (100), and Fort Worth Iron and Steel (90).15 In 1907 a $50,000 glass factory scheduled to employ 250 men and 70 boys, the $100,000 Gin Manufacturing Company, a $50,000 building for the Roofing and Manufacturing Company, plus six smaller projects ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 brought the total factory count to 167. In 1908 the Bolt Works, which had opened in 1904 at the terminus of the Hemphill Streetcar line, expanded and added rolling mills to become Texas Rolling Mills, one of only two steel companies in the Southwest.16

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a relief measure established in 1935 by executive order, and was redesigned in 1939 when it was transferred to the Federal Works Agency. Headed by Harry L. Hopkins and supplied with an initial congressional appropriation of $4,880,000,000, it offered work to the unemployed on an unprecedented scale by spending money on a wide variety of programs, including highways and building construction, slum clearance, reforestation, and rural rehabilitation. So gigantic an undertaking was inevitably attended by confusion, waste, and political favoritism, yet the‘pump-priming’ effect stimulated private business during the depression years (audio clip, 87k) and inaugurated reforms that states had been unable to subsidize.

(Sources: Encyclopedia of American History, 7th Ed., Jeffrey B. Morris and Richard B. Morris, eds., 1996. The Oxford Companion to American History, Thomas H. Johnson. 1966)

Zion Missionary Baptist Church

Brotherhoods Of Color―Black Railway Worker
History 313:The History of African Americans in the West Manual - Chapter 7 The Black Urban West, 1880-1940
Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Chap. 10
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Black Urban West, 1880-1940 This chapter includes vignettes which describe the experiences of black western urbanites, who, outside of Texas and Oklahoma, were the majority of African American westerners by the turn of the century.

Camp Bowie water tower erected about 1932

Ridglea vs. Lake Como Mile-Long Brick Wall

[26] (Harry Carl) Trentman Company,_Texas
By 1944 Trentman Company and the Johnson Campbell Company began building homes. The owners of the private water system sold it to Texas Water Company. The community incorporated as a village on March 16, 1946.[3] In the late 1940s the city had around 90 people.[4] In 1949 the city petitioned to be relabeled as a city after reaching 500 citizens; on April 8 of that year the village was relabeled as a city...

[27] From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Clinton Murchison, Sr. (April 11, 1895 – November 1969), was a noted Texas-based oil magnate and political operative. He was also the father of Dallas Cowboys owner Clint Murchison, Jr..
Murchison had had numerous business concerns that included not only oil but construction and real estate, a pirate radio station (Radio Nord) off the coast of Sweden and other ventures.

(Author’s note: It is uncertain whether this Clint Murchinson, Sr. is the same person who owned real estate in Lake Como during the 1920s and 30s and whom he witnessed many times collecting payments from tenants. He would have been 35 years old in 1930. The author remembers a man who seemed to be older at the time, at least in his fifties, but the last name is the same.)

Black Caddies and Golfers
“In the late '50s”…Clemons said, “One day we tried to pay green fees at Z-Boaz Golf Course. They refused to take it. We threatened to bring (grass-eating) mules and goats to the course if we couldn’t play.”

Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial

1950s a Special Time for Colonial and Hogan

In 1952 Fort Worth's Raymond Gafford threatened to steal Hogan's local bragging rights before collapsing in the 36-hole finish and losing a five-shot lead. Rain had postponed the second round. Colonial's famous plaid jacket was introduced this year, along with the tradition of making a first-round "feature threesome" of Hogan, the defending champion and the defending low amateur. (This required modification in '53 and '54 since Hogan was the defending champ! The reigning runner-up played in this case.)

Ridgelea Real Estate and Golf Course_History

The Dust Bowl or the (sic) was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1931 to 1939. The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation or other techniques to prevent erosion.[1] Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had killed the natural grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

[33] 5. Fig. 1. The large ammonite, Schloenbachia sp. J. [Mortoniceras], which characterizes the Fort Worth limestone.

No formal endnote:
A zoot suit (occasionally spelled zuit suit) is a suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing was popularized by African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italian Americans, and Filipino Americans during the late 1930s and 1940s.


Corrections and changes to text:
07/02/2009_ "Mr. Swallery" changed to "Mr. Jack Suarez."
07/11/2009_Additions to to acknowledgments.
07/14/2009_Re: Mr. Haley, Fort Worth National Bank changed to Continental Bank.
07/18/2009_"Red" Baker Changed to Eugene "Red" Baker
07/29/2009 Names of, Sterling and Hannah Mae Mays, early settlers added to list.