about every day a reporter for the afternoon Austin Daily Statesman
walked from the newspaper office to the Driskill Hotel to see if anyone
of interest happened to be staying there.
Whether the hotel manager routinely allowed the reporter to scan the
guest register or whether the scribe merely hung around the lobby
keeping his eyes open and ears alert would be conjecture at this late
date. However he got his material, he wrote a column called "In Hotel
Corridors... What People Have to Say Who Are Here, There and Everywhere
in General." (Most reporters did not get bylines in the 19th century,
so who the journalist was is not known.)
During the second week of January 1891, the reporter encountered at
the Driskill a striking character, an older gentleman with very long,
snow white hair and an unusually lengthy beard that was equally as
white. Despite the man's apparent indifference to good grooming, he
otherwise was impeccably attired in the dark suits of the time and
carried himself in a stately manner.
Several other man had gathered around the man, who was clearly entertaining
them with a string of anecdotes. The reporter listened in.
The man turned out to be Judge Anthony Banning Norton of Dallas, who
had been staying in the Capital City for the last several days. Norton
had served as a district judge in Dallas,
later becoming postmaster and later still, he had been appointed U.S.
Marshal for the Northern District of Texas. Earlier, he had been a
newspaper editor. Now he was retired.
"The judge is a noted character throughout the state," the reporter
wrote, "not only for his talent and wit but his many peculiarities..."
In the 1850s, the reporter learned, Norton had edited an Austin
newspaper called The Southern Intelligencer. Later he served in the
Legislature and in 1860 newly elected Gov. Sam
Houston named him state adjutant general.
But neither he nor Houston held office long. Houston
resigned in March 1861 after refusing to declare his allegiance to
the Confederacy. The Ohio-born Norton left Texas only a few months
after the beginning of the Civil War that he and Houston did not support
and stayed gone until the conflict ended.
Thirty years later, standing in the hotel lobby, Norton could find
some humor in recalling those troubled times. In particular, he regaled
his audience with a story illustrating how words alone could lead
to violence, or at least the potential for bloodshed.
"We used to have a little excitement in Austin
once in a while," Norton began.
When he was editor of the city's Southern Intelligencer, he said,
his newspaper competed with, and often argued vigorously with, Texas
State Gazette editor John Marshall. The Gazette editor advocated secession.
Norton did not.
"We were always fighting each other through our pages," the gentleman
from Dallas continued. "I
don't remember what it was now, but I said something about Marshall
that got next to is skin, and the following day I received a challenge
to fight him a duel. It will not be necessary to add that I accepted
Unfortunately for the two editors' plans to fight to the death, word
of their pending encounter got out. Since dueling was illegal in Texas,
law enforcement intervened and both parties were forced to post peace
bonds. Accordingly, despite their differences, the pair agreed to
have it out with each other at a place where there was hardly any
law-north of the Red River.
"We were both anxious to kill each other," Norton continued, "so we
finally agreed to go to the Territory [future Oklahoma]...and there
get satisfaction. The day was set and seconds chosen."
Norton and his second made the long ride north to the selected meeting
place. Soon after they arrived, Marshall's designated second (dueling's
rough equivalent of a wedding's best man) and several of his friends
arrived not long after.
"Well," Norton continued, "we expected [Marshall] would show up soon,
so we all sat down on the prairie and talked of the war, swapped lies
and became real good friends ere long."
Both parties waited several more hours but Marshall apparently had
pressing business elsewhere. He stood up the man he had challenged.
"Marshall and I never met after that," Norton said.
Not a bad storyteller himself, the reporter waited to the last paragraph
of his column to explain why the judge had such unusually long locks
and facial hair.
A fervent supporter of Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay, who ran unsuccessfully
for President multiple times, Norton had vowed in 1844 that he would
not shave or cut his hair until Clay occupied the White House. Clay
never succeeded in his efforts to become commander-in-chief, so Norton
kept his word. When he died at 72 in Dallas on Dec. 31, 1893, his
hair was still long. "Never has razor touched his face...nor scissors
clipped his hair," the Dallas Morning News said.