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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Six-Shooter Junction

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

With its twin, castle-like turrets and high-arched entrances the Metropole Hotel stood as Waco's version of Austin's stately Driskill Hotel.

The Metropole, built within five years of the Driskill, saw as much or more history than the capital city's famous downtown landmark. Unfortunately, there's one big difference between the two hostelries.

When it opened as the Pacific Hotel at 4th and Franklin streets in 1882, it was the finest guest house in Waco, complete with the city's first elevator. And given that Waco had six rail lines and ranked as the nation's largest inland cotton shipping point, the ornate 150-room, five-story brick hotel did a flourishing business in the heart of a city that still bills itself as being in the heart of Texas.

"We were generally full up," long-time owner J. W. Moore recalled in a 1928 newspaper interview. "The curb used to be lined with wagons and buggies left standing there when the owners unhitched the horses and stopped at the Pacific…"

In the 1890s, choice rooms cost $2.50 a night, a rate that included three hot meals a day.

"I specialized in good meals," Moore said. "Steaks from Kansas City...and hot biscuits."

The hotel was convenient to the city's various railroad stations and railroad employees, as well as those traveling for business or recreation, liked to stay at the Pacific. Austin short story writer O. Henry said the Pacific saw as many honeymooners as Niagara Falls.

But all was not pacific in and around the Pacific.

C. T. Fowser, a Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad conductor, was one railroad man who liked the Pacific. Waco wasn't on his normal run, but in the winter of 1892 he came to town on what one newspaper called a "pleasure trip."

Shortly before 11:30 p.m. on January 23, it became apparent that Fowser had taken pleasure in one too many drinks. The wife of the hotel's owner at the time came downstairs to tell her husband that an intoxicated guest was creating a disturbance on the second floor.

O.W. Buck went upstairs and, as the newspaper put it, "remonstrated" with Fowser. Words failing to sidetrack the rowdy railroader, Buck slapped him soundly on the face. Taking offense at that, Fowser pulled a pistol. Luckily for Buck, the weapon went off before the booze-addled conductor intended it to and the bullet went into a light fixture.

Buck ran partway downstairs and then jumped off the railing to get to his office and secure his gun. Sprinting back up the stairs, Buck put four bullets into the still-armed Fowser. Despite his wounds, the conductor managed to shoot Buck. Fowser died; Buck recovered.

That shootout amounted to mere bird shot compared with the gun play that stunned Waco five years later. On Nov. 19, 1897, G. B. Gerald and newspaper editor J.W. Harris began blazing away at each other at 4th and Austin streets, the shots easily heard at the nearby Pacific Hotel. At least the two men did not overly burden the local judicial system, since each died of his wounds. But as the newspapers put it, the shooting "created quite a sensation" in Waco.

Everyone knew that both victims in that impromptu duel had essentially been stand-ins for the principals in the big fight to come, a clash between the nationally known editor William Cowper Brann, who published an acerbic if well-written monthly called "Brann's Iconoclast" and whoever finally decided to kill him. That turned out to be Tom Davis. To greatly condense the issue, Brann had been particularly critical of Waco's Baylor University in his publication, and Davis was a loyal Baylor defender.

The situation finally came to a head on April Fool's Day 1898. This time, the shooting started right outside the Pacific. Again, neither of the combatants lived to face trial. Brann killed Davis outright but soon died of his wounds.

Thanks to those well-publicized shootings and others, the home of Baylor University and numerous churches became known as Six-Shooter Junction. In fact, the standing joke was that when passenger trains approached Waco, the onboard ticket punchers would call out, "Waco, 20 minutes for dinner; walk a block and see a killing." Another version holds that conductors liked to say, "Waco, Texas, get your guns!"

Of course, the Pacific was more than a large bullet backstop. Traveling salesmen, called drummers in the day, stayed there and displayed their merchandise in one of the hotel's meeting rooms. The hotel hosted the annual meeting of the Texas Confederate Veterans in 1894 and numerous other conventions and political events, including a speech by presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

The hotel even saw its share of humorous happenings, including a delightful hoax that the Waco Times-Herald fell for. When a spring hailstorm pounded the city, two gentlemen with a great gag in mind hurried to buy a couple of blocks of ice. Sneaking them back into the hotel, they artfully chipped away at the frozen squares to transform them into basketball-size spheres. Then they hurled them from their room to the sidewalk below. The two phony hailstones were heralded in the next day's Herald as amazing, record-size works of nature.

Back to what distinguishes the Metropole Hotel from the Driskill is that the Austin hotel, built in 1886, remains in business. The Metropole stood for 55 years, but fire gutted it on Valentine's Day 1936 and the venue for a half-century's worth of Waco history was gone.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July 11, 2018

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