Seen above is Capt. Ira Harris, Jr., in 1904. (From a Washington, D.C., newspaper.) The grave marker photos are from Findagrave.com. Wearing his Confederate uniform, is Col. Marcellus Pointer.
The following essay is the intellectual property of the webmaster. It represents both original research and original writing, interpretation and analysis. All rights reserved.
I've come upon new information, namely the testimony of Ira Harris, Jr., at the inquest the day after the gunfight. He testified that he did not believe that Marcellus Pointer fired any shots that day, and that it was his opinion that Rosser and Obenchain each fired three shots. He added one or two other items of interest, all of which is enough to prompt me to rewrite the relevant parts of this essay. TB
A few minutes after 11am on September 4, 1878, Dr. Joseph W. Calder, general manager of the Dallas & Wichita Railroad, stopped by the Dallas County sheriff's office and asked to be sworn in as a deputy. He told the sheriff that he had been having trouble with bridge burners and wanted legal authority to arrest any he caught. The previous night, he had taken his shiny revolver to a gunsmith to have it cleaned and loaded. Once deputized, Calder could legally carry a firearm. He may even have carried this one in the Civil War, for the transplanted Pennsylvanian had served in the pro-Union Nevada territorial militia from 1864 until his resignation the following year. Captain of a cavalry company that saw little action, Calder had also served a term in the Nevada territorial legislature. Where he came by his money is not known, but upon arriving in Dallas in 1870, Calder was able to rent the Guillot mansion for 100 dollars a month, payable in gold. He lived in the house for less than two years, then moved into a hotel in the business district.
How he became known as “Dr. Calder” is a mystery, but in November 1872, as president of the original D&W, he made one of several speeches at its groundbreaking ceremony. Such oratory was premature, for the Panic of 1873 halted work on the line, which then went bankrupt. Yet in February 1875, the line was resurrected by an optimistic state legislature at Austin. After a year of surveying, grading and bridging, the city bought out J.W. Calder's interest in the company for 30,000 dollars. However, by June 1876, the struggling commuter line was facing its second bankruptcy, allowing Calder to play the white knight.
When Captain Calder came to its rescue, the Dallas & Wichita Railroad was little more than a fanciful drawing on the map. While some track had actually been laid, the company's state-imposed deadline of reaching Denton by mid-April 1876 had come and gone. By court order, the assets of the railroad, which mostly consisted of right-of-way land granted by the state, were to be sold at auction on July 4, 1876. Just one day before that, Calder agreed to pay off its debts. Under a reorganized charter, the new deadline became the Denton County line, to be reached by June 1, 1878. A tree stump, a little over nineteen miles from the line's Dallas terminus, marked the spot. The incentive to meet that deadline was a 50,000 dollar bonus put up by the city. That came to half the amount voted by the city council, with the remainder to be paid once the line reached Denton. To put it plainly, the City of Dallas was unwilling to fund track laying in advance, forcing the D&W to raise its own capital during economic hard times.
While the little rail line had lofty ambitions, hoping to one day reach the Gulf of Mexico, it originally did not even own a single engine. Not surprisingly, the June 1 deadline came and went, the stump was still miles away, and a contract for providing cross-ties and fastenings went unpaid. Meanwhile, the directors had contracted to deliver the mail to Denton County, which they had no hope of reaching. Such difficulties, complicated by strings attached to the funding of the line, kept the D&W perpetually in debt and behind schedule in construction. With a rented engine pulling the cars, the first train finally ran in January 1877. Yet passengers were riding those cars and paying fares for the privilege. Pushed to the limit of its capacity to turn a profit, the company spent the 1500 dollars a month it earned as fast as the money came in. It may be no coincidence that January 1877 also marked the election of a new board of directors for the line, including J.W. Calder. If he had made no enemies during the D&W's bankruptcy days, he would find no shortage of them on the current slate of directors.
Having made enemies, Calder also had scores to settle, for he was not gunning for bridge burners when he had himself deputized on that sultry September day in 1878. He was instead hurrying to catch up with a group of men headed for a showdown, for the D&W board of directors was rife with partisan bickering. Republicans on the board had been pro-Union during the Civil War, while the Democrats had taken the Confederate side. Allied with the latter was Dr. Silas Reed, veteran Union surgeon from St. Louis, the one anomalous Democrat. In 1869, Reed had been nominated for the post of surveyor general of Wyoming under President Grant, but rumors of graft and malfeasance soon hounded the doctor. Grant had believed the charges and eventually let Reed go, only to reinstate him later. Subsequently called to testify at congressional hearings investigating corruption in the Grant administration, the spry old surgeon did nothing to undermine Grant. Instead, he used the hearings, as well as letters to the press, to defend his own tarnished reputation.
Reed owned two iron foundries in St. Louis. However, since the two companies that originally supplied the D&W with rails went by different names from those owned by Reed, his involvement with the railroad's suppliers remains unclear. Meanwhile rumors circulated that Dr. Calder was embezzling the railroad's funds, while Reed's partisans let it be known that he (Reed) was the one who was capitalizing the line's halting progress toward the stump. Democrats on the board of directors, while they did not like Reed, could find absolutely nothing good to say about J.W. Calder. “No way to run a railroad” could easily have been coined to describe how the two opposing factions went about the make-or-break business of reaching Denton, all the while fighting it out in both the courts and the press.
After Calder had been bought out, a somewhat mysterious outsider was elected president of the line. “Colonel” Malcolm Henderson, about whom little is known, was at the same time involved with the failing Texas Trunk line. Canadian by birth, married and the father of four children, Henderson would play a key role in the little railroad's murky financial dealings. To supply the D&W with rails, Henderson snubbed the St. Louis foundries (and no doubt Dr. Reed) by bringing in Captain Ira Harris, Jr., a short, burly board member whose honesty was legendary. Harris, 35, married and the father of two children, was a ten-year veteran of the navy, while his father had been a powerful senator from New York. An Annapolis graduate, young Ensign Harris took a rifle bullet in the leg during the amphibious assault on Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865. (Clara Harris, who had been in the box with President Lincoln at Ford's Theater the night he was shot, was the young naval officer's sister.) First mention of Harris as a member the board of directors also dates to January 1877.
Malcolm Henderson was ousted during that meeting. To replace him, the board voted in Captain W.H. Gaston, a wealthy investment banker. Henderson's unsatisfactory progress in building the railroad was to blame, for no more than twelve miles of track had been laid during those first two years. Yet Henderson never appeared to be short of funds while he was president. He even claimed once to have arranged for well over a million dollars in bonds, issued by a London firm. However, to pay Ira Harris for the iron rails he provided, Henderson had given him a promissory note, backed up by bonds issued by the D&W. Because Gaston and his vice president, Marcellus Pointer, were both Southern Democrats, a disgruntled Henderson would naturally line up with Calder and the Republicans.
At the time of the push toward the Denton County line, Captain Harris was vice president and general manager of the Kansas Rolling Mill, located in Rosedale, a suburb of Kansas City. The firm recycled old iron rails to furnish the tracks that Henderson laid. Its mill turned out 125 tons of rail per day, as well as 25 tons of other iron products, in two shifts, employing between 250 and 300 workers. Henderson, still under contract, often employed anywhere from 100 to 250 workers to survey the road, grade it, build bridges, and lay the tracks.
During those times when funding was unavailable, the question of using convict labor was even discussed in the press. The incredibly slow progress that had plagued Henderson's crews not only generated heated controversy, but even heavy sarcasm from the members of the fourth estate. Suitably chastised, Calder and Henderson went to war.
Taking advantage of the skills of a Mr. Stevens, the company's civil engineer, the Republican faction hatched a plan to seize the D&W's only working train. Pulled by a run-down engine rented from the Texas & Pacific, the locomotive was described as small and given to fitful starts and stops. Yet this little engine pulled flatcars that carried both rails, cross-ties, spikes, work crews and even ticket-holding commuters. To take possession of the train required a masterpiece of military precision, carried out like a guerrilla raid in the dead of night. In marked contrast to the company's inability to meet ordinary construction deadlines, any such action necessarily involved adhering to a tight schedule. In an operation that would have done Jesse James proud, the "Calder-Henderson gang," as it was called in the newspapers, literally hijacked the train.
On its routine run from Dallas to the end of the line and back, on March 15, 1878, the train stopped for the night. Reed, who often rode the train, then went to bed. While he spent the night at Carroll's Mills, the uncoupled engine laid over at Trinity Mills. In the wee hours, the Calder faction achieved a complete surprise, replacing the conductor, the brakemen, and all other employees deemed loyal to Reed. Come morning, they steamed the engine back to where the cars were loading, then gave the engineer strict orders to leave the unsuspecting Reed behind. Picture him, clothed in his nightshirt, perhaps a lantern in one hand, waving frantically as the train puffed away, lit up by the red glow of J.W. Calder's rising sun. Once underway, the hijackers intimidated the passengers into paying fares to the new conductor, at pain of being forced to exit the train if they refused. There was some ineffectual grumbling, but no violence, for Calder's men had arrived in great enough numbers to overpower any possible opposition. However, Colonel Noble, of the Texas & Pacific, compelled the hijackers to return his (Noble's) engine to the irrepressible Dr. Reed, once the train reached Dallas. Then Reed obtained an injunction allowing him to keep running the engine until the matter could be heard in court in the upcoming June term. Dr. Calder, however, would not wait until June to make his next move. A brilliant move, it would also prove to be as fatal as a spike driven through the heart.
The image is not as far-fetched as it might seem, for wooden cross-ties were needed to lay under the 56-pound rails. Along with them came the fastenings through which the iron spikes were driven, once the tracks were laid down. The D&W had bought these on credit when Ira Harris signed a promissory note to Marcellus Pointer and A.T. Obenchain. Payment of the note would come due when the D&W reached the stump on the Denton County line. By the time that happened, Dr. Calder was back in business. Because the work on the D&W was funded by bonds, both Malcolm Henderson, the railroad contractor, and Ira Harris, the iron manufacturer, were left holding promissory notes backed by those bonds. No one but Calder was actually pocketing any money. He had done that, so the newspapers alleged, by voting himself 30,000 dollars in stock dividends payable out of railroad income. These dividends had been voted at secret meetings attended only by Calder and his cronies, meetings deemed legal due to a convenient loophole in the railroad's charter. Yet as long as Silas Reed continued to ride the train, the fares collected for hauling passengers and freight were his to disburse. Calder needed a better plan than a thwarted hijacking if he wanted to shut down Reed once and for all. He needed something just as bold and audacious, yet undeniably legal. Whether the plan was something he came up with on his own is not known, but what he did next was both bullet-proof legal and as effective as firing at point blank range.
Rather than haggle over who had the right to use the rented engine, Calder executed his flanking maneuver during the last week of May. Claiming that the D&W was in danger of defaulting on interest payments to its creditors, perhaps even sliding down the steep grade toward bankruptcy, he obtained a federal court order that placed the company in receivership. Because Ira Harris was the D&W's biggest creditor, the court named him receiver. Harris then appointed Calder general manager, making the split in the D&W's leadership official. Calder accomplished all this by going straight to the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, bypassing both state and federal courts in Texas. This one-two punch completely floored the Reed faction. W.H. Gaston, at the time serving as president of the D&W, never saw it coming. The papers were served on him at a meeting of the board of directors, and the resulting shock sent him, Dr. Reed, and the rest of the Democrats reeling. Colonel Noble took back his engine, while Calder forcibly took possession of Reed's available cross-ties. Captain Harris then authorized Calder to purchase two engines and a passenger coach.
No one on the city council seemed willing to do more than adopt a wait-and-see attitude. As long as lawsuits were pending, the aldermen were not about to let go of the funds they held. Though the Democrats on the board of directors fought back, they had already been out-generaled. Captain W. H. Gaston, an ex-Confederate officer who would one day go on to become the City of Dallas's first millionaire, determined to bring suit himself in Atlanta. Gaston and Reed petitioned the court to have Harris removed as receiver, on the grounds that the D&W was never in danger of default. The Democrats were even so bold as to allege that no bonds had ever been issued by the railroad itself. Judge Woods ruled otherwise, adding that Reed and Gaston had never put up any of their own money to save the railroad. Calder, on the other hand, owned at least 60,000 dollars in company bonds, while the Kansas Rolling Mill, managed by Harris, owned another 192,000. The Democrats suffered their next defeat when the Dallas city council flatly refused to turn over the bond issue funds to them, on the grounds that the Harris receivership left in doubt the question of who really was running the railroad.
With Gaston and Reed effectively neutralized, Calder's crews sprang to life and reached the stump on June 16, 1878. They then organized a festive excursion to the end of the line, complete with orators, refreshments and a band. Crowds of celebrants were content to make the twenty mile trip on flatcars in the blazing sun. Even though all this took place some two weeks behind schedule, Calder was paid the fifty thousand dollar bonus. Left out of this popping of corks and clinking of glasses were three ex-Confederate officers who had nothing to celebrate. Marcellus Pointer, vice president under W. H. Gaston, along with partners Alexander T. Obenchain and Robert S. Rosser, had supplied cross-ties and fastenings to Malcolm Henderson's work crews. Henderson had presented Ira Harris with a promissory note to cover the cost of his iron rails, while Harris had in turn given a note to the Confederates. Unfortunately for the latter, those cross-ties had already been laid down in the effort to reach the stump, the work having been done entirely on credit. Lacking a fresh infusion of capital, all work on the railroad ground to a halt.
In 1878 cash was a rare commodity. The Panic of 1873 had at one time halted, not only all work on the D&W, but much railroad building in America. A worldwide depression lasting for years had been the legacy of the panic. Apparently desperate for cash, Pointer, Rosser, and Obenchain began putting pressure on Harris to pay up on the note he had signed for delivery of the cross-ties. The bill was said to be “substantial,” and as long as it remained unpaid, further progress toward Denton was impossible. Meanwhile, Dr. Reed went to court to recover 3000 dollars from Harris and Calder over their seizure of what cross-ties he still had on hand in May.
Whatever Dr. Calder had done with the original 50,000 dollar bonus, the Dallas & Wichita Railroad had expended every cent of its capital and every ounce of its credit. No laying down of track could proceed until Pointer and company were paid, and it was this angry group of subcontractors that Ira Harris now had to placate. No more city bond money would be available until the line reached Denton, thus one can only imagine how Calder justified the money he was said to be pocketing. No evidence of any actual cheating ever surfaced, either by Calder or his enemies, still Ira Harris probably genuinely believed that he had been shorted by the Confederates when they delivered the cross-ties. In August 1878, his stubborn refusal to pay the bill in full would be the match that lit the fuse. As for J.W. Calder, he had that shiny pistol ready for action, and he had even been overheard threatening to use it.
While all this was going on, the City of Dallas was facing upcoming elections. Running for sheriff was William Moon, and the controversy surrounding the D&W would take its toll on Moon's margin of victory. Because the politics of the city was essentially the politics of the Civil War in microcosm, the troubles of the doomed railroad took place in a Dallas divided into two opposing camps. The railroad “war” generated enough controversy to enliven the pages of the Dallas papers, along with the Galveston Daily News. Meanwhile, papers in the Northern states would carry stories which badly garbled the names of some of the principal actors, once the trouble started.
As temperatures soared that summer, so did the tempers. Overshadowing everything in the public consciousness was the fear that somehow the yellow fever outbreak of 1878 might reach the city. No cases had been reported, but because both the origin and spread of the disease were as yet unknown, rumors and suspicions kept everyone on edge in a city already caught up in the heated rhetoric of a post-Reconstruction election. Things were bound to get out of hand.
After the brief excursion into hijacking, what had been a contest confined largely to the courts or to public relations campaigns in the press, now took on a deadly aspect. After refusing to pay the Confederates the full value of the note they held, Captain Harris made a counter offer, which they refused. Harris, back home in Kansas City, determined to meet Pointer and friends in person, but on his own turf, the office of the D&W, his usual haunt when conducting business in Dallas. Arriving on September 3rd, 1878, Harris gathered his party together for a show of strength. Calder, for his part, had his gun cleaned and loaded by a gunsmith, then asked for a deputy city marshal to keep an eye on the Confederates. Meanwhile, a meeting was arranged with Pointer's party, the creditors having been told that Harris would settle up with them at 11am the following day. The kind of settlement Harris seemed to have in mind required back-up, something he had no shortage of when the appointed hour finally arrived. He had even received a threatening letter signed"Poin," which turned out to have been forged by Obenchain. Nevertheless, Harris did not think it necessary to carry a weapon.
Harris and Calder waited at the office of the D&W until well after 11am on the day in question, but their adversaries failed to show. The two then decided to go look for them at Pointer's office on Elm Street, a few blocks away. Harris took only two railroad officials with him, saying that if he brought a larger party, the Confederates might get the wrong idea. Calder excused himself, claiming he had some urgent business to attend to, then went straight to the county sheriff's office. His timing could not have been better, for outlaw Sam Bass had recently been killed in the area. Members of the Bass gang were still being hunted down in Denton County, with Texas Rangers even making use of the D&W for transport from Dallas to the end of the line. Under such circumstances, Calder's request to be deputized aroused no suspicion.
Once Calder caught up, if the deputy city marshal is included, the Harris party numbered five men. When asked what he thought might happen once they got to Pointer's office, Harris replied, “either we'll lick them, or we'll get licked.” The men then moved toward an iron pillar, just east of the corner of Elm and Market streets, directly in front of Rosser's hardware store. Apparently not as game for a showdown as Calder and Harris, Stevens, the man who had engineered the train hijacking, lagged behind. Alongside him walked a D&W office employee named McCarty.
Not content to be bullied into settling, the Confederates had other ideas. Making use of an alley, Pointer and friends waited near the back entrance to Rosser's hardware store, covering the Harris party's route. It was the same route Calder always took from his digs at the Windsor Hotel to the office of the D&W, at that time located in the old Masonic building at Houston and Carondolet. If Harris was planning something other than a simple, hard-nosed bargaining session, the Confederates seemed to be planning an ambush. From their vantage point, they would be able to see anyone approaching the intersection of Elm and Market, no matter from what direction. Calder, coming from the direction of the courthouse, joined Harris a minute or two before he, McCarty, and Stevens reached the iron pillar. With the deputy city marshal hovering in the background, apparently unwilling to intervene, a violent confrontation seemed destined to explode at any minute.
Even now, there was still time for talk. Yet every word said from here on would have to be carefully chosen, softly spoken, and calculated not to offend. At least the noonday sun would be high overhead, not glaring directly into their eyes. Tension mounting, Harris and Calder walked right past Rosser's store without seeing the Confederates. A momentary confusion came over them, and they seemed unsure what to do next.
“Here they are now!” Harris heard one of his backups announce. It was more of a warning to lookout than a simple statement of fact. The lurking Confederates had just cut Harris and Calder off from Stevens and McCarty, both of whom were still bringing up the rear. Harris and Calder now had to face about and backtrack, thus the momentum of the Harris party, once bent on confrontation, seemed to stall. Diplomacy was the proper course of action now, given that unseen men might either remain hidden or suddenly emerge from hiding to bolster the ranks of the seething Confederates.
“Good morning, gentlemen. I was just coming to see you,” Harris said cheerfully. As Pointer closed in, Harris put out his hand. Pointer took it, and the two shook hands as if nothing was wrong. While Harris greeted Pointer, Calder turned to face Rosser and Obenchain, both of whom were now stationed near the iron pillar. They seemed content to let Pointer do the talking. As a staff officer for General Joseph Wheeler, Colonel Pointer had been wounded five times during the Civil War. The most severe of those wounds were responsible for the cane he now used.
“We have some business to talk over, don't we, Colonel?” Harris continued.
“Have you come to settle our account?” Pointer demanded to know.
“Isn't your office on this block? Wouldn't you prefer to settle this business there?" Harris replied.
“Do you intend to settle up for the full amount?” Pointer was not about to be charmed into making concessions. He repeated his demand to know if Harris intended to settle by paying the full amount.
Harris sized up his man, shook his head and said just one word, but it was enough. “No.”
“Then we'll settle it right here!” Pointer snapped.
“Why should we pay for goods not delivered, Colonel? If you want full payment, then deliver the balance of the ties. What do you say to that?”
“I say you are damned little thief!” Pointer spat back at him.
Angered by the insult, Harris struck Pointer in the nose with his bare fist. The colonel swiftly retaliated by slashing with his cane, as if it were a cavalry saber, striking Harris one or two staggering blows. The hotheaded Confederate was just about to land another blow when Calder seized the moment. Ignoring Rosser and Obenchain, his hand went for the pistol concealed under his coat.
Someone shouted “Look out!” causing Pointer to turn away from Harris. Having had enough of caning, a stunned Harris dodged in the direction of a wagon parked in the street. Then he saw it, too. Someone barked at Calder to put the gun away. It was Rosser, moving to cut off the pistol-packing schemer before he could get to Pointer.
“Don't pull that gun!” Rosser bellowed, who had already drawn his own gun. Then came more shouting, drowned out by two nearly simultaneous shots.
Pointer, caught by surprise, backed out of the line of fire and into Rosser's store. An unarmed Harris wasted no time. Having brought only bare fists to a gunfight, he rolled under the parked wagon, while Calder and Rosser continued to exchange fire.
“Shoot the son of a bitch!” Rosser shouted. He had cause to be excited, for Calder's first bullet had barely missed its mark, clipping Rosser's lapel. A better shot, Rosser's first round had hit Calder in the stomach. Obenchain then coolly fired the second round into Calder, hitting him in the hip, dropping the twice-wounded victim to the ground. Calder might have survived his wounds had Rosser and Obenchain been satisfied. Though there would be more shots fired, yet not everyone joined in the fray. The first blasts of gunfire had been enough to send Stevens ducking for cover in one of the nearby stores, while McCarty sought safety with Harris under the wagon. What the deputy city marshal was doing during all the mayhem, other than standing by dumbfounded, is not a matter of public record. J.W. Calder, for his part, was down but not out.
Lying prone, Calder managed to raise his gun in the air and get off two more shots, but they went wild. Calder's third shot had shattered the glass window pane of Rosser's door. Though not dead yet, the writhing victim soon would be, for Rosser and Obenchain each fired another shot into his twitching body. After that, Rosser took up where Pointer had left off with Harris. The Texas timber tycoon retrieved his walking stick, then attempted to whack a semi-conscious Harris, still hiding under the wagon. With Calder far more than adequately subdued, Rosser seemed bent on finishing off the defenseless Harris as well, if only he could get his hands on him.
“That will do!” said Pointer, grabbing Rosser's arm. Motioning for Obenchain to follow, Pointer calmly turned away from the dead man and his gun-shy companions. Just as calmly, the partners then started for Pointer's office, as if to complete an interrupted transaction. As the smoke cleared, the deputy marshal took a deep breath, stepped over Calder's lifeless body, and sprang into action. Pursuing them into their lair, he promptly placed the culprits under arrest.
In all, nine shots had been fired. Six of them hit Calder, the final four wounding him in the leg, the groin, and the temple. Most of the dead man's wounds were to his right side, indicating that, as he struggled vainly to re-position himself in the street, he was hit broadside. Zinging bullets had ripped through fabric, flesh and bone along the entire length of his unprotected body. In return, the late, lamented had gotten off only three shots, doing no more damage than putting a nick in Rosser's lapel, shattering some window glass, and sending bystanders scurrying for whatever cover they could find.
Finding no further advantage to be gained from evasive action, Ira Harris collected himself, and with a little help from his friends, stumbled over to the sheriff's office to swear out a complaint. It had taken the Dallas & Wichita Railroad six years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and countless man-hours to lay twenty-odd miles of track. Then, in a few furious seconds, it had taken no more than a walking stick, three pistols and a few ounces of gunpowder and lead to kill off both the railroad and the man who birthed it.
Sheriff Moon gave the defendants special treatment. Because they were his friends, he put them up in the jailer's room, rather than behind bars. Citizens who favored the Calder faction were incensed, and many of them would cast their votes against Moon in the coming election. Deputy U.S. Marshal W. M. Anderson, a close friend of Calder's, fanned the flames set by conspiracy theorists with his talk that the shooting had been a politically-motivated assassination.
The election held that fall would greatly impact the trial. City prosecutor George A. Aldridge successfully ran for district judge, then had to recuse himself from the case. A.T. Watts, not involved in the election and known to be impartial, was appointed special judge. In August 1879, nearly a year after the shooting, the case was finally called. Rosser failed to appear, and his bond was voided, while the other two defendants declared themselves ready for trial. Because of Rosser's absence, Colonel Pointer's attorneys were able to ask for a severance, and it was granted.
Both sides assembled high-powered legal teams, with the family of J.W. Calder bringing in additional lawyers to assist in prosecuting the case. The defendants' legal team included General W. L. Cabell and Judge Fearn, the best that money could buy. The stratagem of asking for a severance—that each defendant be tried separately—proved to be one of the best moves made by either side. Pointer, the last man to fire a shot, would be the first to stand trial, and if acquitted, would be able to testify in Rosser's defense, knocking down the dominoes one by one.
After a sensational five-day trial in a packed courtroom, the jury retired at sunset on August 31, 1879. In just twenty-five minutes, they returned with their verdict. The colonel had acted in self-defense, for Calder drew first. In rejecting the prosecution's theory that Calder had been shot down in a premeditated ambush in the streets, the jury paid special attention to a most damning piece of evidence. At a meeting in Boston, attended by Malcolm Henderson and several other persons connected with the company, Dr. Calder had sworn, “Once I'm appointed general manager, if Obenchain and Pointer try to interfere with the way I run this railroad, I'll shoot off the top of their heads!”
While Rosser awaited trial, new hope of finishing the line, at least to Denton, was infused into the company by a telegram stating that funds for the line had been raised in New York. There was no truth to it. A bogus story, circulated in the Texas papers in December 1879, quoted a “Capt. Pointer” as saying that “Col. M. Henderson” was in Boston, where he had purchased two engines for the line, along with rolling stock. That the line would be finished, with the work proceeding with all due haste, was regarded as “a fixed fact.”
Marcellus Pointer was probably not behind the false intelligence that induced new investors to throw still more good money after bad. He would never have referred to himself as “captain,” when his official rank had been full colonel in the final days the Civil War. Most likely someone else gave that story to the papers. Pointer and Henderson were on opposite sides in the railroad war, and the contractor would have had no reason to wire Pointer with any sort of news. Silas Reed was soon elected president of the D&W, and Pointer treasurer, in perhaps the most hollow victory the colonel had seen since the days he and General Wheeler had attacked and destroyed Union trains during America's bloodiest conflict.
Pointer testified at Rosser's trial in November 1881. A week of heated testimony reached fever pitch when one of Rosser's lawyers cast aspersions on the manhood of prosecutor Seay. The indignant barrister's response was to threaten the defense attorney by brandishing a heavy law book at him. Judge C.F. Tucker then sternly dressed down both lawyers in open court, fining the defense attorney twenty-five dollars. The lecture had the desired effect, and needless to say, the spectators and the press were agog. Seay had to back down, because, as the defense rightly asserted, the prosecution had no witnesses to back up the claims of a conspiracy against Calder. Judge Tucker even went so far as to rescind the twenty-five dollar fine. Rosser, too, was acquitted, and before the year was out, the state dropped the charges against Obenchain.
Some echoes were heard long after the guns fell silent in the war over the Dallas & Wichita Railroad. In March 1879, Dr. Calder's nephew had his body exhumed and reburied in Pennsylvania. As if the deceased might be a candidate for sainthood, the newspapers were appropriately reverent. Calder's body, buried in an air-tight metallic casket, face visible through a glass window, showed only the slightest decay—a little discoloration under one eyelid.
In December 1881, the D&W was bought out by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (the “Katy”) for 20,000 dollars per mile. Jay Gould then had the line completed to Denton, so that in 1890, the new D&W boasted 37.62 miles of track. There were other railroads in Texas with even less.
In 1883, Marcellus Pointer became the land agent promoting the sale of 1,500,000 acres of “good grazing land” along certain Texas rail lines. As if acting out of a sense of irony, or perhaps even a sense of history, the colonel advertised this fact in the Boston newspapers. Boston had at one time been home to J.W. Calder, as well as many a radical Republican.
Ira Harris faced his own bankruptcy once the Bessemer process was perfected in the years following the gunfight. Recycled iron was dangerous, accounting for numerous train wrecks due to its tendency to warp. Once steel rails became cheap and easy to mass produce, the Kansas Rolling Mill was doomed. Harris took on various government jobs, eventually becoming a port inspector based in New York City. His legendary honesty drew fire from ship owners who wanted less stringent inspections, while his performance in the Spanish-American war brought about an inquest. While towing a captured Spanish vessel during a major storm, Harris, who had volunteered for service in the war, had to cut the prize loose or lose his own ship. The Spanish ship sank, but Lieutenant Commander Harris was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
Timber baron R.S. Rosser, whose booming tent city in Kauffman County would one day be named after him, managed to stay out of trouble and keep his name out of the papers from that day on, so much so that he is not even a footnote in the history of Texas. As for Marcellus Pointer and A.T. Obenchain, both their houses would burn to the ground within a few short years, in each case eliciting only a few lines in the local papers. Neither story mentioned the gunfight, nor was it ever brought up in the press during the seemingly endless legal battles these two engaged in with various colorful characters throughout the 1880s and '90s. Pointer would travel to Cuba, spend a year there, come down with yellow fever and survive, then go on to unsuccessfully volunteer his services for the war with Spain in 1898.
Today, all that is left of the little railroad that couldn't is a restored depot in Carrolton, Texas, while the Calder House, now a museum in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, still stands. It is probably the only reminder of the gunfight in Dallas that does. Joseph W. Calder is buried on its grounds, while his memory is celebrated in local lore as a man who was gunned down in the streets of Dallas by a gang of ex-Confederates who wanted to steal his railroad. When Calder's nephew Frank, also living in Dallas, tried to settle his uncle's estate, he found that it was 16,000 dollars in the red. Not only that, but because Rosser's trial had yet to occur, a shiny, but quite deadly, piece of evidence was still being kept by the city.
“I wish I could get that revolver back from those fellows,” Frank wrote to one of his uncle's creditors. Once he'd reburied J.W. Calder's mortal remains in his native soil, Frank turned his back on Texas. His letters that have survived show that he lacked the funds to continue prosecuting the case, that he reluctantly had to dismiss the lawyers he had hired, and that he never did recover that shiny pistol that got his uncle killed.
Source material for this essay was taken from contemporary accounts in the Galveston Daily News and the Dallas Herald. Dozens of newspapers were also scrutinized using Gale Group's 19th Century Newspapers, through the website of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The relevant census material from 1870 and 1880 was also consulted, as well as Civil War compiled individual service records, and genealogical data from Marcellus Pointer's family. Other sources include the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, the Handbook of Texas Online, the Portal to Texas History, photocopies supplied by the Dallas Public Library, along with websites dealing with court cases involving the Dallas & Wichita Rail Road as well as its charter. The author would also like to thank the Equinunk (Pennsylvania) Historical Society for the book Once Upon A Memory, The Upper Delaware, Vol. III, and photos of J.W. Calder's grave. Additional useful information came from Jim Wheat's Dallas County Texas Archive website, which included a newspaper article from 1927 giving a brief history of the D&W, though it failed to mention the gunfight. It should also be noted that Capt. R.S. Rosser, though he served in an Arkansas cavalry regiment, was originally a Virginian. His brother was General Thomas Rosser of the Virginia Cavalry. Finally, though Alexander T. Obenchain was said in his obit to have served in a regiment of Virginia infantry, no record of any Confederate service exists for him. Although he belonged to a Confederate veterans organization in Dallas, he listed no regiment, leading this writer to conclude that Obenchain, who was past the age of conscription in 1862, simply "fudged" his resume. He is not to be confused with Colonel Alfred T. Obenchain, an inexperienced military martinet who was shot to death in a fracas with his own disgruntled men somewhere on the Texas frontier in 1863.