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The “Dallas Spirit”

The Dallas Spirit was the name of an aircraft flown by Capt. William P. Erwin in the 1927 Dole Air Race, also known as the Dole Air Derby, and entered in a second competition, the Easterwood Race, intended to run from Dallas to California to Hawaii and finally to Hong Kong. Typical of construction at the time of transition away from biplanes, it was a monoplane (single wing) characterized by a high wing and conventional landing gear. It was a “tail dragger” which meant that when it came to rest, it sat on the two forward wheels under the wing and a tail wheel. The design somewhat resembled Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. The Dallas Spirit’s wingspan was 48 ft., and the 225 hp. air cooled Wright radial engine could allow it to achieve a top speed of 126 mph. and cruise at about 105 mph. Its wings were painted silver and its body was painted green.

Swallow-Monoplane-NX914-Dallas-Spirit
(Image credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The aircraft was manufactured by the young Swallow Airplane Company, founded in 1920 and situated in Wichita, Kansas. Erwin had arranged for the aircraft to be built on credit. If he were to win the race, the Swallow company would recoup its costs out of part of the prize money. In addition to Swallow’s backing, according to an excellent 1959 article (1) by Ted Dealey, other sponsors included J. Perry Burrus of Burrus Mills, Karl Hoblitzelle of Interstate Theaters, E. Gordon Perry of Perry Motor Company, C. R. Miller of Texas Textile Mills, Phil T. Prather of Prather Cadillac Company, Julius Schepps of Schepps Bakeries, Otto Herold of Oriental Laundry, Fred F. Florence of Republic Bank of Dallas, W. H. L. McCourtie of Trinity Portland Cement Company, R. A. Crawford of Lone Star Gas Company, John W. Carpenter of Texas Power and Light Company, C. W. Hobson of Love Field Properties, E. R. Brown of Magnolia Petroleum Company, Walter Prehn of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and George B. Dealey of the Dallas News and Dallas Journal.

Along the way, the Dallas Spirit suffered two mechanical failures. The first occurred in Texas and required repairs to the fuel system. Erwin returned to Dallas and restarted his trip to California. The second occurred after the aircraft left Oakland in the race and was a massive tear in the fabric believed to have developed from an access hatch that had been cut into the surface under the navigator station. The aircraft returned to Oakland where the damage was repaired. By the time the latter repair was completed, the race had been won by Woolaroc, a Travel Air 5000, and second place had been won by Aloha, a Breese-Wilde 5 Monoplane. Two other airplanes were thought to have crashed at sea and of the remaining three aircraft, two had crashed on takeoff at the start and one developed engine trouble and returned to Oakland. The Erwin/Eichwaldt crew were encouraged to remain in Oakland and abandon the effort, but on August 19 they elected to go on. Equipped with a borrowed radio, they were going to attempt to reach Hawaii and then continue on to Hong Kong, if at all possible. A large reward had also been offered for the two lost aircraft, which also could have been a financial motivation for Erwin, but he was quoted as saying that if the situation had been reversed, the other flyers would have searched for him. Two radio broadcasts were made indicating flight difficulties. The first told of the aircraft having recovered from a spin but that it was continuing on. The second was an SOS, reporting yet another spin. The latter broadcast cut off abruptly when the aircraft was thought to have crashed into the Pacific, at that point possibly 650 miles from Oakland.

The Dole competition awarded first place and second place prizes of $25,000 and $10,000, respectively. The Easterwood prize (Dallas to Hong Kong) was never claimed. The loss of the Dallas Spirit was economically severe enough to cause the Swallow Aircraft Company to go into receivership and the company was sold.

Erwin’s widow was given $5,000 by W. E. Easterwood, Jr., the organizer of the Easterwood Race, out of what would have been the prize money.

A scale model replica of the “Dallas Spirit” was built and is on display at Dallas’ Frontiers of Flight Museum. Also, there is an urban legend(2) in which the missing aircraft was said to have landed at a Hebron, Texas airstrip in 1966, thirty-nine years after it disappeared in the Pacific Ocean.


For further reading about the Dole Air Derby, please see https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/oakland-field/


(1) Dealey, Ted (July 1959). “‘The Dallas Spirit’: The Last Fool Flight”. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly.

(2) https://carrolltonconnection.com/urban-legends-the-last-fool-flight-of-the-dallas-spirit-lands-in-hebron-texas/

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Posted by on November 26, 2020 in aviation

 

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King Fisher, Outlaw and Lawman

John King Fisher was born in what is now Collin County in 1854 to Jobe Fisher and and the former Lucinda Warren who died when King was two years old. Jobe remarried Minerva Coffee in 1855 and she helped raise King and his brother and the three children born to her and Jobe. Minerva died in 1868 and Jobe followed her in death two years later in 1870, both in the Goliad, Texas area. In the 1870 census, King was 17 years old and was listed as living with a Anna Damron Fisher, his grandmother who was 70 years old, along with several of his siblings.

When King was still a teenager, he was accused of stealing a horse. Fisher is believed to have eventually served some time in jail for this event but was later pardoned. He is then thought to have engaged in ranching for a while. Fisher was also known for being quick with a gun and there are various accounts of his ability in gunfights. When King was in his early twenties, his name began to be mentioned in Texas newspapers as an outlaw. One such report in the Dallas Daily Herald issue of March 12, 1876 related “On the night of the 7th, one King Fisher, a noted desperado around Fort Duncan, with a party of men, went into the town of Fort Duncan, and fired indiscriminately into the dwellings of the citizens. The fire was returned and one of the outlaws killed. Colonel Shafter, of the United States army, at the request of the citizens, marched into the town with twenty-five men, and the desperadoes left.”

A few months later, this paragraph was posted in the Austin American-Statesman on June 7, 1876, “King Fisher’s Crowd Captured – The Adjutant General has received information that Capt. McNelly last Sunday captured King Fisher and ten of his men and turned them over to the sheriff of Maverick county. The men are said to be noted desperadoes and outlaws.” Their specific crimes were not mentioned. One week later the same newspaper reported that the men had been released on bond at Eagle Pass.

More information was provided by the Austin American-Statesman on June 20, 1876. The article said that two brothers named Smith were captured in Atascosa county and charged with having operated along with Fisher in association with the [John Wesley] Hardin gang. Two days later, the Galveston Daily News reported further developments on the charges, stating that King Fisher’s men had “enclosed pastures of two or three thousand acres; that they robbed citizens, shot into dwelling houses, and killed whoever interfered. Fisher himself has killed nine men within less than a year.” The article continued to say that at the time of their arrest, the gang was in possession of seven to eight hundred head of stolen cattle and listed several more complaints against them including raids with Mexican bandits, horse theft and other crimes.

There are accounts of numerous other trials, none of which ever produced a conviction. At some point soon thereafter however, King Fisher is known to have abandoned his former criminal ways and become a normal citizen, by all appearances. He had married and began to operate a ranch near Uvalde. Fisher was hired as a deputy sheriff in Uvalde County and in 1884 had also decided to run for the office of sheriff. He had a reputation of being an effective lawman though as things developed, he did not serve in that capacity for very long.

Image credit: findagrave.com

On a business trip to Austin in 1884, Fisher and a former associate named Ben Thompson had taken a train for a side trip to San Antonio and were out for the evening. The San Antonio Light reported on March 12, 1884 that the pair were at the Vaudeville Theater to see a scheduled review. They had a drink at the bar and took their seats for the performance. While in the theater, they engaged in conversation with two proprietors and security guards of the establishment. One of the other individuals, a man named Foster, had a grudge against Thompson. At some point, the conversation got heated with Thompson allegedly calling one of the other individuals (Foster) by derogatory names as they began to walk down the stairs. A gunfight ensued resulting in both Thompson and Fisher receiving mortal wounds and at least two of the other individuals receiving light to serious injuries. Fisher and Thompson both died at the scene. There were cries for the arrest of some of the survivors, but no arrests were ever made.

Fisher had married the former Sarah Elizabeth Vivian in 1876 and the couple had several daughters. When he died, King was not quite thirty years old. Sarah Elizabeth would survive him by more than sixty years. After King’s death, his remains were first interred on the ranch before they were removed to Pioneer Park in Uvalde.

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Posted by on November 19, 2020 in biography, outlaws and crimes

 

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Charles Ponzi and His Connection to Texas

People may recognize the word Ponzi as part of the term “Ponzi Scheme” but may not know where it originates. Charles Ponzi was born Carlos Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi on March 3, 1882 in Lugo, Italy. Ponzi would say that his family once had a lot of money, but by the time he was born, they had fallen on hard times. For a while he worked as a postal worker, but was able to get accepted into University of Rome in Sapienza, though after four years, he had no funds and no degree. At that time Italians were emigrating to the United States sending back stories of a wealthy country where one could become financially successful. Ponzi decided to seek his fortune in America, arriving at Ellis Island with $2.50 in his pocket, he said.

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Posted by on November 5, 2020 in biography, outlaws and crimes

 

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Arthur “Dooley” Wilson

Arthur Wilson was born in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. There is some question about his actual date of birth, but it is often shown as being April 3, 1886 with his mother’s maiden name being Lamkin and his father’s name being Wilson. In some accounts he is shown as being younger, but in the 1900 federal census, he is listed as being fifteen, living south of downtown Tyler with his mother Manda Wilson and brother George. Accounts of his early life often state that by age twelve, Arthur was performing in minstrel shows and that his nickname was adopted in the 1920s from his performances singing an Irish tune “Mr. Dooley.”

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Posted by on October 29, 2020 in biography, black history, entertainers, films

 

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William Mosby Eastland

William Mosby Eastland was born in Kentucky on March 21, 1806 to General Thomas Butler Eastland and the former Nancy Mosby. William was one of at least about six siblings, mostly males, born to the couple before Nancy died in 1814. Shortly afterward, his father remarried and at least three more children were added to the family. The Eastlands were a military family. As he came up through the ranks, Thomas Butler is known to have served as Army quartermaster in Kentucky before William was born. Prior to the War of 1812, the family relocated to White County, Tennessee where they apparently remained until Thomas Butler died in 1860.

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Posted by on October 22, 2020 in biography, texas revolution

 

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