Nothing was more synonymous with the early days of Fort Worth than Hell’s Half Acre, the famous cattle trail roadside stop with everything at a red light that appealed to weary cowboys in need of a break, including, but not limited to, saloons, gambling and brothels.
I don’t have the data in front of me, but it is assumed that few people closed in Acre during its first years of operation. And not because of their Yelp reviews or their Better Business Bureau status.
With its notoriety came a not so great reputation for the primitive town.
For example, a benevolent northern intruder named Rutledge Rutherford, writing for a national publication, called Fort Worth the dirtiest city in America, citing, of course, its notorious neighborhood of disrepute.
“Here, among the slums too vile to describe, where the slums of the world are clustered, and where the meaning of the words ‘morality’ and ‘decency’ are not known, there exists a state of affairs which is truly threatening for the whole nation.
In these parts, it’s called a jerk.
That’s not to say there weren’t problems there. Pistols held by voluntary trigger fingers were as prodigious as the ladies of the night.
The gospel industry was booming as preachers sought to save souls and end debauchery. Bill Fairley of Star-Telegram years ago told the story of the sheriff or police department replacing Msgr. Robert Nolan to protect the property of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, now the Cathedral of the Diocese of Fort Worth, which bordered the district of Acre.
This story, however, is little known and involves a mysterious stranger whom the police picked up in Acre on the late afternoon of October 5, 1897. A policeman named “Smith”, according to the Fort Worth Register, found Fred Miller “considerably under the influence of alcohol”. Constable Smith drove Mr Miller to the police station to allow him to “calm down”.
In Fred’s possession, according to reports, was a watch, a duffel bag of some kind, and a dog named Guess, who was locked up with his master.
Fred told police investigators his occupation was “pedestrian”.
It’s true, he insisted, and not only was he a walker, but the world champion long distance walker.
He had proof of it, he said, in the travel bag, from which he started pulling stuff. Among the items was a heavy gold medal, which was engraved:
“Police Gazette Trophy / Long Distance Pedestrian Champion / Fred Miller / September 5, 1891 / Record 13,316 miles / Presented by Richard K. Fox, owner of the Police Gazette.”
Also in the bag were two travel journals. Its contents proved that Fred – no matter his current state of one or six too many – was who he claimed to be.
On the first page of each was an introduction signed by Richard Fox, the owner of the Police Gazette, certifying that Miller left the magazine’s New York offices on April 24, 1897, to travel by train to Pittsburgh, and from there on foot to El Paso.
“It is recommended as a courtesy to all,” Fox wrote, “and all who wish are asked to make a note in the books.”
The diaries contained a large number of dated and signed entries by people who encountered Fred at various locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas on his journey.
the Police Diary — the official name of the publication was the National Police Journal — was a New York-based, nationally distributed magazine dating back to the 1840s. As its name suggests, the magazine marketed itself as journalists dedicated to policing and crime issues. In truth, it was more dedicated to what is more commonly associated with a tabloid, including the most sensational and sinister sex stories, as well as celebrity gossip.
And Guinness book of the world record-like bits, like the march from Pittsburgh to El Paso.
Fred Miller was probably killing two birds with one stone.
The story illustrates how big the world was in 1897.
Fox had agreed to pay Fred $1,000 if he could return to the Police Gazette offices in New York by February 15, 1898. Fred began his journey on April 24, 1897.
In today’s dollars, $1,000 is more than $30,000.
Fred even had a manager accompanying him. A teacher. Hurst” always traveled before Fred to see “that he arrives and departs well in every town along the route”.
His papers showed he had traveled 13,316 miles in the past two years and 18 months. In fact, he was also carrying a journal showing walks back and forth from San Francisco to New York; New York to Jacksonville, Florida, and back; New York to Denver and back; New York to Portland, Maine, and back and now this one.
It’s no wonder he wants a bit of “playtime” in Acre. He needed to sit down a bit and let his hair down.
In reality, Fred was no stranger at all.
The Fort Worth police would have known all of this if they had opened their newspaper three days before.
In today’s edition, there was a story about Fred stopping in Arlington, just down the street. Of course, in those days, Arlington might as well have been El Paso without a car, let alone Highway 80, 30 years later, or the Turnpike.
“The only excitement of the week was the arrival of Fred Miller, the world champion in walking,” said the Register reported, “and his dog Guess.”
Fred’s next stop was Fort Worth for a few days of “recreation”.
Ho-ho-ho. It turned out that Fred had a little too much free time.
But, in Fort Worth, he had to show off his gold medal, which had been awarded to him as a world champion walker. This story also noted that Fred made a living by selling the photographs he took along the way.
Let your imagination run wild with the contents of Fred’s Instagram account and what he might have shown from Hell’s Half Acre before Johnny Law met him.
It’s unclear if his encounter with the Fort Worth police caused Fred to be delayed and cost him his $1,000 salary.
Dave Kunst from Minnesota is the first verified person to have traveled the entire world, not counting the oceans of course. He did it in four years, from 1970 to 1974, and, like Fred, had a letter of recommendation he carried with him, this one attested to by US Senator Hubert Humphrey. Kunst also had a book to sign on his way and a mule to carry camping supplies.
Kunst also got into some trouble during her trip, but it didn’t end so well. His brother John, a traveling companion, was shot dead by bandits in Afghanistan. Dave finished, however.
History has lost track of its eccentric, long-distance walking predecessor, Fred Miller, but it was worth getting to know him almost 124 years later.