With so much being written and said about the two presidential candidates these days, it might be a good time to talk about a Denison visit from a U.S. President way back in 1874. It is doubtful that either of the current candidates will make stops here, but several presidents have set foot in town.
One, our own Dwight D. Eisenhower, didn’t visit while he was in office, but he made three trips to town — to see the town of his birth in 1946, while he was on the campaign trail in 1952 and to dedicate the Denison High School auditorium when it was named Eisenhower Auditorium in 1965.
President Ulysses S. Grant spent the night here on Oct. 11, 1874, while on his way to Oklahoma for a “speaking.” The column was supposed to have come from The Denison Times, he said, but to my knowledge there never was a “Times” here. I have heard of Grant being here many times, but back in 1992 I received a newspaper column from then County Judge Lee Jackson of Dallas speaking telling about President Grant’s visit.
Judge Jackson was looking for information on Grant’s visit here and had called the Chamber of Commerce, where Anna McKinney told him of our early day newspapers on file.
As luck would have it, a bound volume from 1874 of The Daily News was available and dated Oct. 10, 1874, there was an article headlined, “The Presidential Party,” on page three.
The article told of a St. Louis dispatch of the states to be visited by President Grant who was to be accompanied by General William T. Sherman, commanding general of the U.S. Army. They were to leave St. Louis with a New York party, as guests of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company, for a visit to the Indian Territory just across Red River. They were to come as far into Texas as Denison.
That article was published on Saturday and the next edition was on Monday, Oct. 12, 1874, where another short article on page three told about the group of distinguished persons arriving in Denison about 11 o’clock Sunday night. Others among the group were Grant’s wife, General Phil Sheridan and R.S. Stevens of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad.
Newspapers in that day didn’t get excited in their writing about very much. Today, a visit from that distinguished group would probably have been on page one and possibly the banner headlined story, not a very small, one column story on page three.
Grant came to Denison at the invitation of Stevens, who wanted him to see the “beautiful country lying along the line of the MK&T Road in the Nation.” The group spent an hour in the morning riding over the city, then returned to the train and left for the north.
A separate article under the “brief” column said the President had “a ruddy countenance, an indication that he enjoys a good cocktail. As a gentleman remarked this morning, he looks as though he was well preserved.”
This leads to a statement made by Dr. Edward H. Phillips in a talk at the Grayson County Historical Society on Dec. 12, 1989, that during his visit to Denison President Grant climbed the steps leading to the New Denison Educational Institute’s roof during the tour of the city. From that high position, he complimented Denison on taking a step forward in the cause of learning.
Dr. Phillips said that Grant and Gen. Sherman visited local saloons for a few hours before boarding the train to leave the state. Dr. Phillips cited the Denison Daily News on July 17, 1976, for that information.
Judge Jackson said he was a little surprised that Grant came to Texas because he was pretty unpopular here at that time – the height of reconstruction.
Evidently he wasn’t unpopular with everyone because another short article said that as the presidential party was boarding the train, an aged woman rushed up and kissed Grant’s hand “most affectionately.” The article continued that this was the signal for “a grand rush on the part of Grant’s radical admirers, and the President was compelled to submit to a general hand squeezing. When the train started, a faint attempt was made at a cheer. Two voices were heard to sing out “Hurrah!” when somebody exclaimed “Shut up.” A few laughed, and the train slowly moved off.”
A couple of days later an article told of Grant speaking at Caddo in the Choctaw Nation, where the party was met by members of the Council and the Chief, who welcomed him in his native tongue.
Grant stepped to the rear of the platform of the car and made a five-minute speech saying he was pleased to see so many indications that the citizens of the rich country around him were beginning to devote themselves to husbandry, and urged the importance of growing more cotton, corn and wheat and the raising of stock. Wonder what Grant would think of the progress that the Choctaw Nation has made during the last 138 or so years.
DONNA HUNT is a former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.