Hail to the Chief

In the winter of 1991, Coppell resident Phillip Umphres was serving as Assistant United States Attorney in the Dallas office.  Among his many duties, Phillip served as first point of contact for the Secret Service when the President of the United States visited the area.  That is how, on December 19th, he found himself part of the official convoy bringing President George H. W. Bush to Cafe 121 in Coppell.

The President was visiting the area to sign a transit bill aimed at producing jobs and revamping the country's highway systems and mass transit.  The bill was signed near State Highway 360 and then the President "spontaneously" invited local construction workers out to lunch.  The group proceeded to Cafe 121, a little pink diner located at the corner of N. Coppell Rd and 121.

Umphres recalls that the parking lot quickly filled with official vehicles and that much of the convoy was forced to park beyond a neighboring trailer park.  As the President ventured inside to eat, the  Secret Service set up an armed perimeter around the restaurant to ensure his safety.  

Phillip initially opted to remain outside, and recalls that a young Coppell boy, presumably playing hooky from school, approached one of the Secret Service agents.

"What's going on over there?" he asked, looking at the cafe.

Drawing himself to his full height, the agent responded with gravity.

"Son," he said, "the President of the United States is in that building."

At this, the wide eyed boy looked straight at the agent and uttered an expletive.  Thus was the Commander in Chief welcomed to the City of Coppell.


An Executive Order

As mentioned last week, President George H. W. Bush once ate at Coppell’s Café 121 in the waning days of his Presidency.  After writing the story, it was brought to my attention that Bush is not the only President to have visited the eatery.

According to one local, Bill Clinton also dined at the restaurant.  The visit took place well before his Presidency and even before he began campaigning.  No fanfare surrounded the stop and it drew little notice.  In fact, the evidence suggests that the future President came with no intention beyond ordering and eating his lunch.  But for a handful of locals who happened to recognize Clinton, it seems likely that memory of the visit would have been lost to time.

In these days of rampant partisanship, perhaps we need the return of this diner, apparently capable of bringing both political parties to the table.


Old Soldiers Never Die

On February 10 of 1906, the Grapevine Sun newspaper ran a notice marking the death of Confederate Civil War Veteran William George Henslee.  He was residing in the Gentry community, located in the southern portion of present day Coppell, at the time of his death.

During the Civil War Henslee served in a cavalry unit known as Co. C, Taylor’s Regiment Mounted Texas Rifles.  The company was later referred to as the 22nd Texas Cavalry.  A muster roll written in 1863 records that Henslee was owed fifteen dollars because he used his own gun in the service.

Henslee was friends with prominent Coppell resident Burrell B. Howell, himself a veteran of the Confederate Army.  The two frequently discussed their wartime experiences.  One can easily picture the two old soldiers sitting on a porch, dreaming of diving “once more into the breach.”  Howell later served as a pallbearer at Henslee’s funeral.

Unfortunately, when Mrs. Mary Henslee applied for a Confederate widow’s pension in 1929, her application was denied due to a lack of evidence that her husband had served later than 1863.


The Thanksgiving Fire of 1949

Beginning in 1927, Coppell had one consolidated school which sat on Southwestern Boulevard.  It was known as the Coppell School.  The school served grades one through eight, with children completing their high school education in neighboring towns.

On the evening of November 24, 1949 a fire started in the Coppell School house.  Students and teachers had gone home for the Thanksgiving break.  No one was injured, but the building was destroyed.  Coppell’s volunteer fire department would not be formed for another nine years, and the cause of the blaze was never determined.

Students finished the term by attending classes in Carrollton schools.  

In 1950, a new schoolhouse was constructed in Coppell.  Builders utilized the existing foundation and created an 8000-square-foot structure. Long-time resident Barbara Lee recalls that the community rallied together for the recovery effort.  Citizens offered up their time and talents toward rebuilding.  Local men laid the boards that created the gym floor.

In 1959, the Coppell Independent School District was created, beginning the school’s transition to a twelve grade system.  In 1967, the Coppell School was renamed Pinkerton Elementary School, the name it retains to this day.



Santa Claus Comes to Town

The Ledbetter Farm sat on 200 acres of land between Coppell and Carrollton, in the area that is now Valley Ranch.  The farm was founded by Electer E. Ledbetter, a native of Alabama, who moved to the area in 1916.  

Joyce Ledbetter, now Joyce Webb, was the granddaughter of Electer.  She lived a half mile from the Ledbetter house with parents Buren and Pearl.  

“As a very young child,” Webb says, “I was often asked to recite ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ at the Ledbetter home Christmas Eve.  I was very good at memorizing poems, and I can still remember most of the poem today.”

The first Christmas on the farm that she can recall was in the early 1940s.

The entire family had gathered at Ledbetter farm on Christmas Eve.  While celebrating, Joyce heard Santa’s sleigh passing over the house.  She ran to her father and asked to go home to see the gifts that Old Saint Nick delivered.

“You were probably too mean this year to get any toys," her father said.

Despite her purported naughtiness, he allowed her to return home.

“It was so foggy,” Webb said, “that we had to drive slowly so that we would not miss our house, which set back a little from the road.”

When she entered the house she found that Santa had come, leaving a blue eyed doll with “real” hair and a multi-color cardboard dollhouse.

“I took my new doll back,” Webb says, “to show my Dad that I had been good all year after all.”                                                                                                                                 12/04/2015

Little Girl Lost 

On November 13th of 1985, two-month-old Mallory Elizabeth Sutton disappeared.

In the early afternoon, 20-year-old Jennifer Sutton left Mallory with a new babysitter.  The sitter’s name was Sue Miller, though she was known to Sutton as Bernice Kelly.  

Around 3:30 p.m., Sutton called home.  She had only been gone for an hour and a half, but no one answered.  Concerned, Sutton contacted her mother and asked her to stop by the house.  She then left work and rushed home.  The baby and a number of the baby’s belongings were missing.

Police attempted to contact the sitter. They called the phone number that she provided to Sutton, only to find that it was the number of a Houston area answering service.

A search was immediately launched. Lt. Jack Foley of the Coppell Police Department headed the investigation, with help from Det. Ted Hayes, and under the direction of Chief of Police Tom Griffin.  Nationally, the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children aided in the hunt.  Images of baby Mallory were disseminated across the country, even appearing on an episode of Good Morning America.

The Good Morning America broadcast lead to the break that police needed.  A Houston woman called authorities, reporting that her friend had recently returned from a trip to Dallas with a baby  resembling Mallory.  The friend, Susan Miller, was eventually tracked to Tampa Bay, Florida where she was apprehended with an unharmed baby Mallory.  

On Monday, December 16th, Mallory Sutton returned to Coppell with her mother and grandmother. In a town of 15,000, it is hard to imagine that anyone experienced a merrier Christmas than the Suttons.


The Pinkerton Christmas Spectacular

The Christmas pageant is a well established part of the holiday mythos.  Every year, children the world over recite the Christmas story while dressed as shepherds, angels, and wise men.  They sing carols and popular holiday songs while parents watch with unrestrained pride.  

For Janis Arthur, born in 1957, Mrs. Faye Pinkerton’s annual Christmas Show remains one of her strongest memories of the holidays in Coppell.  The show was held in the old gym at Coppell Elementary, now known as Pinkerton Elementary.

“We practiced one day a week for several weeks,” Arthur says. “We sang all the favorites, funny and religious.  The high school choir performed also, and there were other solos and skits.”

Mrs. Pinkerton, who taught music and choir for grades one through twelve, directed the show.  Arthur recalls that Mrs. Pinkerton would mouth the words to the songs as she conducted.  

At the beginning of the show the performers entered the darkened gym carrying burning candles.  White paper doilies protected their hands from the dripping wax.  Each student was dressed in their finest.  They also wore red capes with white bows that were provided for the performance.

“I'm sure these had been worn by many students before us!” Arthur says. “We really felt special because everyone in our small town was there.   I can't tell you that we sounded great, but we sure felt important that night!”


A Visit from St. Nicholas

Members of the Wheelice and Ruby Wilson family have celebrated Christmas in Coppell for seventy years.  The couple moved to town in 1945, shortly after Wheelice returned from service in World War II.  Three children soon followed.  Wheelice “Pete” Wilson Jr. (pictured playing in the snow) joined the family in 1947.  Bill followed in 1953 and Janis, the youngest, arrived in 1957.  

Pete recalls the holidays as sumptuous family affairs.  Trips were taken to McKinney to visit his grandparents, former Coppell residents Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Harlin.   

“Christmas feast was made up of fried chicken, ham, turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, the inevitable green beans with crunchy onions on top, macaroni and cheese,” Wilson says, “all the staples that any normal kid should eat – plus pies!  Cherry, apple, apricot, chocolate, lemon, and pumpkin.”

Christmas morning was spent in Coppell.  Evidence of jolly, old St. Nick was everywhere. Gifts lay scattered about the living room.  Stockings were stuffed with walnuts, oranges, and apples.  One year, Pete swears he almost caught Santa at work.

“I remember one very early Christmas morning,” Wilson says,  “It was still dark outside.  I sneaked into the living room and I clearly saw Him flying away from our window.  I still choose to believe that, had I walked in five minutes sooner, I could have given Santa a Christmas cookie.”                                               


A Light in the Darkness

The children of Cecil and Mary Dobecka shared many Coppell Christmases through the 1960s and 1970s.  For the most part, they were filled with the little joys that make up Christmas.  They recall stringing popcorn garlands for decoration, attending midnight mass at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, stockings full of fruits and nuts, and family gatherings on Christmas Day.  They even recall the peculiar odor of a Coppell Christmas, a mix of smells that wafted from the Ottinger family pig farm and the Eby’s chicken farm.

The most memorable of these Christmases came in 1967.  In October, a short two months before the holiday, Cecil Dobecka, Sr. was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Mary was a stay-at-home mother and the medical expenses began to take their toll on family finances.

Coppell was still a small town, with a population of just over one thousand residents.  Cecil was well known.  As a carpenter, he built many homes in the community.  As a city councilman and volunteer firefighter, he offered his time and safety to his neighbors.  This life of service was, in part, repaid that Christmas.  The Dobeckas recall that both friends and neighbors came together, donating money to cover Cecil's medical expenses.  

Doctors allowed Cecil to spend Christmas at home.  He passed away four days later.  Nearly five decades have gone by, but Shirley, Pamela, Paula, and Cecil Dobecka Jr. still remember how the Coppell community lived out the spirit of Christmas, acting  as a light in the darkness for their family.                                                                                              


Some Gave All 

In the fall of 1944, The Carrollton Chronicle ran an article under their "News From Men in the Service" column.  At the top of the article is the image of an American Minuteman.  He clutches a rifle in hand, his plow beside him on the ground.  The American Flag stands behind the soldier.  A somber headline sits beside the image.  It reads, “Carol Kirkland Dies From Wound Rec’d in Germany.”

Kirkland was a Coppell native.  The child of John and Edna Kirkland, he was born January 13 of 1914 and grew up in the house now known as the Historic Kirkland House, located in Coppell’s Heritage Park.  He attended Carrolton High School, where he lettered in multiple sports, graduating in 1932.  At the time of his death, he left behind a wife, Katherine, and a five-year-old daughter named Beverly.

The article states that no particulars were given relating to the cause of death.  However, an old cardboard box stored in Coppell’s First United Methodist Church holds the rest of the story.   Filed away in the box is a letter addressed to Kirkland’s wife.  It details, with regret, how Kirkland was mortally wounded by machine gun fire while attempting to capture a hill in the Huttgen Forest, near Heistern Germany.

Kirkland was laid to rest in the American Military Cemetery at Henri Chapelle, Belgium.  He received the Purple Heart for his service and the gratitude of those he left behind and all who came after him for his sacrifice.


Eyes With Pride

On November 7 of 2008, Yousef Malallah stood on the sideline of Buddy Echols Field.  He was dressed in a stunning white band uniform with a silver sash across his chest.  A gold medal hung around his neck.  

It was Senior Night at Coppell High School.  The voice of Middle School Band Director Joey Ashbrook boomed from the loudspeaker.

“Put your hands together,” Ashbrook said, “and come support those fighting Cowboys to victory tonight as the band plays the CHS fight song, led by Senior Assistant Pit Captain Yousef Malallah...”

Malallah strode purposefully up the steps of the drum major’s podium.  He raised his hands.  His eyes gleamed with intensity.

The moment was years in the making.  Malallah, born with Down Syndrome, dreamed of leading the band.  He practiced conducting on the sideline during each marching performance.  The problem was, only a drum major could “officially” conduct.  

Band director Scott Mason encouraged Malallah to apply for drum major his sophomore and junior years.  Though he was not selected, Mason had a plan for his passionate student's senior year.   He contacted the Malallah family and proposed that Yousef lead the band on Senior Night.

Malallah conducted with military precision.  An occasional smile cracked through his steely expression.  When the song ended, he cut the music off with an exuberant flourish.  The crowd roared in approval and began chanting Malallah’s name.  

After each performance the band stands to attention proclaiming that they hold their eyes with pride.  With the help of Scott Mason, Yousef Malallah showed Coppell what those words truly mean.


 A Labor of Love 

In 1989, St. Ann Catholic Parish was still a fledgling congregation.  Founded in 1984, the church spent its first five years meeting in the old Methodist church building in Old Town Coppell and later in a school gym when the congregation grew.  Groundbreaking on their current location was held in 1988, with the first Mass being held in the building the following year.  Working on a budget close to zero, members improvised to make the church a home.

When Linda Beste found a dilapidated swing set behind the old Methodist church building, she brought her 72-year-old father, the son of a carpenter, out to assess the damage.  From his wheelchair, he declared the redwood salvageable, so Beste loaded the piece into her van and hauled it home.

With no blueprints, Beste placed a call to the manufacturer requesting a catalog with a picture of the set.  When it arrived she used the image as her guide and set about the restoration in her garage.  By the time she finished she had caught pneumonia from the cold, restored the swings set, and for good measure sewed an awning, all to create a playground for the new building.

Through similar stories of sweat and grit, St. Ann became the largest parish in the Dallas Diocese of the Catholic Church.   


Baptists in the Outfield

Baseball holds a special place in American history.  From its somewhat mythical beginnings with Abner Doubleday in 1839, to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947, the game is woven into our national identity.  It has even played a role in the story of Coppell.

According to old timers, a baseball game was held at the opening of Grapevine Springs Park in 1937.  At the time, a baseball diamond sat on the southern park grounds.  The first game featured a squad from Coppell versus a team from Grapevine.  The Coppell team emerged victorious.

Lifelong resident Barbara Lee recalls that baseball continued to be played at the park through her youth.  Sunday afternoons the community would gather for games, pitting a team of Methodist women against Baptist women.  Families brought fried chicken and freezers of homemade ice cream.

It must be left to the reader’s own prejudice to decide which church squad was superior.                                                                                   


Bonnie and Clyde

From 1932 to 1934, the notorious Bonnie and Clyde engaged in a spree of violent crime across the Central United States. By the time law officers ambushed and killed them in Louisiana, their gang had murdered at least nine people, including two officers in the Grapevine/Southlake area on Dove Road.

Though the pair never committed crimes in Coppell, they still have ties to its story. During their time in North Texas, the two frequented the Grapevine urea. They were known to have associates living near present day Southlake. and members of their gang robbed a Grapevine bank in 1932.

According to the late Floyd Harwell, longtime Coppell resident and barber. Bonnie and Clyde sped through town one day. The pair raced down Bethel Road while pursued by the police. Their tires left ruts in the grass in front of the old Methodist church building.

They were gone as quickly as they arrived, high tailing it for the Oklahoma border. It is doubtful they even gave our sleepy, little town a second thought, but for those living in town it was at day they would never forget.


The Cowboy Mafia

In the 1970s, a group of marijuana smugglers known as the "Cowboy Mafia" operated throughout the United States. The group’s modus operandi was to travel from Columbia to Texas before storing their product at a variety of ranches across the state.

When the group was finally dismantled, government authorities fingered Texas millionaire Rex Cauble as the financial backer of the operation.  Cauble was well known throughout the state as an oilman, honorary Texas Ranger, founder of Cutter Bill’s Western Wear, and owner of the legendary race horse Cutter Bill.

In the trial that followed, Cauble was convicted and sentenced to prison. In addition, the government seized the majority of his financial assets. Until his death in 2003, Cauble denied any wrongdoing.

Though there is nothing to indicate that Coppell held any connection to the drug smuggling, it does have a connection to Cauble. Wagon Wheel Park, known at the time as Wagon Wheel Ranch, was owned by Rex Cauble.

Though a small town for most of its history, this was not Coppell’s first brush with notoriety, nor would it be the last.


The Legend of Julia Bullock

In 1869, Washington Curtis Bullock and his wife Caroline buried their ninth and youngest child. Her name was Julia Caroline Bullock.  The inscription on her headstone notes that she was two years, eight months, and four days old at the time of her passing.

It is unclear what caused J u1ia’s death. Records of the time are few and available family history merely notes the date. The family buried Julia on a back portion of their land, part of 280 acres purchased by the family in 1866. lt was land that Washington

Bullock described as a "paradise" filled with an abundance of trees, berries, and fruits.

The land around Julia’s grave eventually became a family cemetery, known today as the Historic Bullock Cemetery. Over 40 residents have been laid to rest on the grounds. The most recent burial occurred in 2002 after the passing of Mary Evelyn Cozby Mobley, the great granddaughter of Washington Bullock.

The cemetery remains open to the public. It sits nestled in a cul-de-sac on Washington Court in the Red Hawk Development, near the intersections of Denton Tap and Bethel School Road.


The Forgotten Champions

Emblazoned on the water tank in Old Town Coppell are the names and dates of state championships won by Coppell High School. Conspicuously absent, however, is mention of the school’s first championship.

In 1976, Coppell competed in the prestigious UIL One Act Play competition. The play was Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” directed by Coppell graduate Wheelice Wilson Jr. The starring roles were performed by Janis Wilson and Michael Jackson (though not Michael Jackson of musical fame). The play was awarded first place and Jackson received the competition’s top acting honors.

For good measure, Wlson and the drama department repeated the feat in 1977. The school’s production of Neil Simon’s "The Odd Couple" took first place and Wilson’s future brother-in-law Mike Arthur was awarded the Samuel French Award as best actor. In addition, Coppell’s Todd Freeman and Yancey Arthur were named to the All Star cast. Susan Corbin and Lisa Jackson received Honorable Mentions.

In successive years. Wilson and his theater students had set the bar for every Coppell team that would follow.


The Rodeo Comes To Town

In the 1960's, Coppell achieved some minor fame, due to the Coppell Junior Rodeo. Numerous local newspapers covered the event, and it was even featured in one national publication, a remarkable degree of success given that it was the brain child of an eight-year-old boy.

Mitch Waters, son of City Councilman C. T. Waters, developed the idea along with friend Robert Connally.  With the help of Waters father and local dairy farmer Sam Lesley, the two succeeded in establishing the rodeo at Wagon Wheel Ranch, where present day Wagon Wheel Park is located. After two years, the event moved onto Waters’ family land where the Golden Triangle Mobile Home Park is now located. A stadium and grandstand were built and the rodeos were held twice a month from May to September.

Waters continued to compete in the rodeo, as did a host of other well known Coppell residents. The list of those involved reads like a Who’s Who of Coppell in the 1960’s. The Dobeckas participated, as did the Cozby family, the Lees, the Harwells, and many others.

One young cowboy to compete was John Smith, who later became a professional musician and a news anchor for WMDT in Maryland.  He recalls riding bulls eight or nine times, but never completing a full ride. After one particular fall found him the butt of the rodeo clown’s jokes, Smith walked away. Still, more than forty years later Smith can sense the impact that the Coppell Junior Rodeo had on his life.

“I enjoyed the rodeo,” Smith said. "It’s where I really learned to appreciate girls in tight jeans."


Medlin Kills Last Buffalo

According to historical archives, the last wild buffalo in Coppell was killed in 1856 by Denton County resident Hall Medlin. It did not go quietly.

Local history records that wild buffalo used to roam the Grapevine Prairie, gradually drifting away as the area grew. On the day in question, Medlin was hunting in Grapevine Springs when he spotted a buffalo bull. According to one report, Medlin was on a horse, though another indicates that he was lying hidden in the grass. Medlin fired at the bull but did not kill it outright. The enraged animal charged, goring the hunter before falling over dead.

Accounts diverge again concerning the severity of the wounds.  According to the book History and Reminiscences of Denton County Medlin was disemboweled by the act, while another source records him as "nearly disemboweled."

Against the odds, Medlin survived. He lay in the park until the next day when help arrived, and he went on to live another 27 years.


First Airplane Lands

In the 1920s, at the height of the jazz age, barnstorming became a popular form of entertainment.  Individual pilots and flying circuses toured the country, performing stunts and offering rides for a minimal fee.  Increased air safety regulations caused the practice to fade by the 1930’s, though some pilots continued the practice into the 1940’s.  During this time the most popular barnstorming plane was a bi-plane known as the Curtiss JN-4, popularly known as the "Jenny."

A photograph in the archives of the Coppell Historical Society shows a "Jenny" surrounded by curious Coppell residents. A note on the back reads, "First airplane to land in Coppell, up toward the railroad." According to the late Martha Jo Cozby, the plane landed in a pasture and offered rides on a Sunday afternoon in the 1940’s.

For a fee of $5.00, Martha Jo "slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies."


Boy’s Ranch Battles a ‘Blue Norther’

John Smith was 12 years old when a judge sent him to the Roy E. Childres Memorial Boy’s Ranch in Coppell. During his stay, he attended Coppell schools and earned his keep tending livestock and crops on the ranch farm. Smith recollects that one summer afternoon a "blue norther" swept through the area, threatening a crop of hay the boys harvested. Smith and the other boys ran into the storm to cover the bales with tarps. The rain gave way to hail, but they would not be deterred. Wet hay would rot and could not be sold.

The boys worked into the night and returned home covered in bruises, only to find that the storm knocked out the electricity in their dorm and shattered the windows on the northern side of the building.  

Despite the hardship, Smith recalls that he and the other boys felt nothing but pride. The crop had been saved.


Stoney and the Money Belt

Stoney Kirby was known by some old—timers as a difficult man.  He lived in a hovel by an old cottonwood tree across the street from the old Coppell post office, which was located in present day Old Town.

Local men often gathered beneath the tree to play dominos and Kirby was a regular member of the games. He was known to have a number of curious personal habits. James Harlin, who was a boy at the time, recounts that Kirby would allow his dog to lick his dishes clean rather than the more traditional form of washing.  

When Kirby died, he was taken to the Foust Funeral home in Grapevine where it was discovered that he was wearing a money belt stuffed with $55,000.  With no living relatives, the money was inherited by the state and the story of Stoney’s wealth was left to our imagination.


Death in the Sanctuary

Prior to 1984, Coppell’s Methodist church sat at the northwest comer of Coppell and Bethel Road. It was a small, wood frame building, with a white exterior. Inside, the church had five or six rows of wooden pews, a pulpit, and a choir chancel. Church Historian Fred Conger relates that the chancel was so small that the knees of choristers bumped the Pastor’s legs when he stood at the pulpit.  

"The floors were wooden," Conger said, "with small gaps between the boards with an open dirt area underneath, so cold, heat or smells could come up easily."

Conger recalls that one summer the church was plagued with a putrid smell. For weeks, members and trustees searched for the source.  Eventually it was discovered that an armadillo had crawled under the building to die. One unlucky member had to crawl under the church and drag the carcass out.  

Since the critter died in church, did it die in a state of grace?  

"No." Conger wryly replied, "It died in the state of Texas."


A Grand Celebration at Grapevine Springs

Carolyn Frank was a resident of Grapevine, but made a small cameo in the story of Coppell. In 1937, Carolyn was in sixth grade.  She would later become a dance instructor, as well as an employee of the Grapevine School District, but on June 15 she played a starring role in the dedication of Grapevine Springs Park. The celebration was attended by hundreds of locals.  

According to a local newspaper, businesses in neighboring Grapevine closed for the event. Descendants of pioneer families came to the park in a covered wagon. Many wore period dress from the 1840s.  Carolyn, along with fellow student Ruth Walker, dressed as an Indian and performed a dance. Mrs. Madeleine Hemley sang an "Indian Love Call" and a group of 40 students performed a dramatic reenactment of the treaty negotiated by Sam Houston and local Indian tribes on the park grounds in 1843.

It was such a spectacular event that it seems a pity to point out that the treaty was  actually signed at Bird’s Fort, six miles north of Arlington.


Huckster and Charlatans

In the 19th and early 20th century, traveling medicine shows became a common part of rural American life. Itinerant hucksters with suspect credentials traveled from town to town pitching their patent medicines and miracle cures. The salesmen often billed themselves as "Doctor" or "Professor." They sold items with names like Mugwump, Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, and Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment.  

The shows featured vaudeville-style performances. Between acts, the fast talking salesmen would stand at the back of their wagon to hawk their product, offering outlandish guarantees. Among the promises made were cures for digestive problems, colic, venereal disease, and even cancer. The elixirs were low on medicinal value but high in alcohol content. Some even contained cocaine and opium.  

Coppell was not immune to these clever con artists. In a 1989 interview with Wheelice Wilson Jr., Coppell native Mary Evelyn Mobley (born 1911) mentioned that medicine shows were seen in the Coppell of her youth. According to Mobley, the shows were held at the comer of Bethel and South Coppell Roads.

It is unclear if any Coppell residents became faithful customers or what magical elixirs they may have bought. Who knows? Perhaps somewhere in town there sits an old bottle filled with a cure for the common cold, or the gift of external youth.


Jamestown – The City that Wasn’t

In 1965, the incorporated town of Coppell was barely a decade old. A lot had happened in those 10 years. A volunteer fire department and the Coppell School District had been created. A faction of citizens angry about town expansion had forced a vote to de-incorporate in 1964, though the measure failed.  

Arguments continued which revolved primarily around proposed bonds and the expansion of city services. In 1965 and 1966 the town de-annexed two portions of land north of Sandy Lake Road. Residents of the de-annexed area attempted to form their own city under the name of Jamestown. The effort was blocked by the City of Coppell.

Residents in the Jamestown area claimed that the de-annexation had occurred to affect the outcome of an upcoming vote, while the City maintained that the residents had previously requested the action. The issue was brought to court and in 1968 the de-annexation was eventually ruled null and void, reuniting the briefly-lived Jamestown colony with Coppell proper.

Fortunately, this was the last time that issues of growth and development would cause de-annexation controversy in the town.


Coppell Historical Society ◊ P.O. Box 1871, Coppell, TX 75019 ◊

Shaun Jex is a longtime resident of Coppell, a Coppell High School graduate, and a member         of the Coppell Historical Society.  He is the author of a new book, Legendary Locals of Coppell.         A member of First United Methodist Church of Coppell and active in a number of ministries, he         writes regularly for the church’s newsletter on topics ranging from history to contemporary         church life and community.  This series is one Shaun is doing for the Coppell Citizen’s Advocate.

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in the Coppell Citizens Advocate and on our web site.

If you have questions or comments on any of our stories, send them to the same email address.

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A Community of Faith

The 1980s were a time of massive growth for Coppell.  At the beginning of the decade, the town’s population hovered around four thousand residents.  By the end, it would be approaching seventeen thousand.  WIth this sudden expansion came the need for more houses of worship with an increasing number of denominations reflected in the town’s populace.

In 1989 Rejoice Lutheran Church and Church of the Apostles came to town.  In many ways their stories followed similar arcs.

Pastor Ken Hovland was asked by the Evangelical Lutheran Church to begin a new faith community in Coppell.  After moving to town, Hovland set about going door to door inviting people to worship.  Early services were held at Lee Elementary and members arrived early and stayed late to transform the school into a church and then back into a school again.  

Church of the Apostles began as a mission church sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas.  A group of Episcopal parishioners from Carrollton began the work of planting the church.  Before a worship space was found, members met in each other’s homes for Bible Study and services.  Eventually, formal services were held and like Rejoice Lutheran Church, the congregation found itself “tenting” in space offered by a Coppell school.

In 1996, Rejoice Lutheran moved into its current location on Sandy Lake Rd.  Two years later, Church of Apostles moved into its permanent home on MacArthur Blvd.  Nearly three decades later, both congregations continue to serve the town, thanks to the hard work and faith of those early church families.


The Trail of the Octopus

The history of the motion picture dates back to the 1890s, with the first true motion pictures beginning in 1900.  The first successful permanent movie theater was the “Nickelodeon” in Pittsburgh in 1905.  Before long cinemas were opening across the United States and serving as a popular past time.  

Coppell was home to several movie theaters.  In an interview conducted with Pete Wilson, Jewel Kirkland recalled that in 1918, movies were shown in a vacant store owned by Tom Harrison.  For a time they were also shown in a makeshift tent theater with bleacher seats.  Later, they were shown in a store on the corner of Bethel and Coppell Road.

One particular movie stood out in Jewel’s memory.  It was a silent film serial titled “The Trail of the Octopus."  The film was a mix of suspense and mystery in which master criminologist Carter Holmes and the hapless Ruth Stanhope search for nine daggers that will help solve the mystery of the “Devil’s Trademark.” The film featured kidnappings, sorceresses, a Devil worshipping cult, and the mysteries of ancient Egypt.

One can only imagine how the sleepy, little farming town reacted to so much mayhem and derring-do.  


The Woodmen of the World

In 1890, Joseph Cullen Root founded the Modern Woodmen of the World, a fraternal benefit organization, to “clear away problems of financial security for its members”.  The group offered life insurance to its members, setting up “camps”, or local chapters, in towns across the country. 

A camp was founded in the City of Coppell, though the exact date of its founding is unclear.  A map dated between 1915 and 1930 shows that the Woodmen owned a two story lodge building which sat at the corner of Bethel and Coppell Rd.  The map states that the Woodmen met upstairs, while the bottom floor was home to a grocery store.

Until the 1920s, Woodmen were provided with a grave stone monument as part of their membership.  The markers varied in appearance, with some resembling tree stumps or stacks of wood, while others were simply marked with theWoodmen’s crest.

Several of these monuments can still be seen at Coppell’s Bullock Cemetery.  The grave of G.T. Bullock (died 1917) and that of T. Bryan Mcgee (died 1918) are both marked with Woodmen headstones.  Nearly 100 years since the Bullock and Mcgee have passed, but these markers continue to fulfill Joseph Cullen Root’s desire, “to give honorable burial to our sacred dead.”

The Church Pianist

Erma Hazel Ihnfeldt was born in in Lewisville, Texas in 1916 to William and Susie Underwood.  In 1933, she married Arthur Ihnfeldt.  The two were married for 39 years before Arthur’s passing in 1972. Their home throughout the years was the little white house on the corner of Sandy Lake and Lodge Road, which was recently moved to Coppell’s Heritage Park.  Even after Arthur’s passing, Erma remained in the house before finally moving to Arkansas in 1999.

For many years, Ihnfeldt worked as receptionist for Dr. Tom Chandler in neighboring Grapevine, but many remember her best as the longtime pianist of Coppell’s First United Methodist Church.

Fred and Judy Conger recall that Ihnfeldt was serving the church as pianist and treasurer when they first came to town in 1980.  

There was a chancel area that was up about two steps and the piano was on a side wall of the area,” Fred Conger relates. “The whole chancel area sloped from the front to the back by several inches.”

Because of the slope, any time Erma played she was forced to stick her left leg out and dig it into the floor to keep from sliding off the bench.  It is an image that, over thirty years later, still makes the Congers smile.

Today, as the town of Coppell takes steps to forever preserve her home, it is pleasant to think a bit about the woman who give the building its story.


The Tragedy of T. Bryan McGee

Minnie McGee and her husband Bryan were prominent members of the Coppell community after the turn of the century.  Minnie was a descendent of the Bullock family and was remembered for riding her horse side saddle and for working as a teacher in town.  Fewer memories of Bryan remain, and in many recollections he is merely referred to as “Minnie’s husband.”  

After Minnie and Bryan married, the two operated a drugstore and soda fountain that sat on Coppell Rd.  Resident Pete Wilson recalls that the building was still standing when he was young.  In a footnote to Historical Society records he described the store.

“It was an elaborate building, with large plate glass windows on either side of double doors, with some stained glass surrounding the plate glass,” Wilson said, “It was quite a long building with a high ceiling. It had steep concrete steps in the front.”

One day in 1918, Bryan was working in the store when a CO2 canister at the soda fountain exploded.  According  recollections by resident Mildred Cherry, the explosion was so great that it decapitated Bryan, sending his head rolling across the drugstore floor.  There is some reason to doubt the veracity of these grisly details, as they are not from eye witness account, but it is certain that Bryan was killed in the explosion.

Minnie would go on to live another 56 years after her loss.  Today, the two are buried side by side in the Coppell’s Historic Bullock Cemetery.

Parrish Battles Polio

Polio was one of the terrors of daily life through the first half of the Twentieth Century.  In the United States it reached its peak in the 1940s and 50s.  Each summer, it would sweep across the country.  Children were especially vulnerable to the disease.  Through the years thousands of children were crippled, and many died from the infection.  

Coppell was not immune to the dreaded virus.  Wanda Parrish Blair records that, as a child, her husband Howard Elgie Parrish came down with polio.  It was the summer of 1940 and Parrish was 10 years old.  

Parrish was taken to the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.  While there he received extensive therapy and an operation was performed on his hip.  The doctor told Parrish’s parents that he would never walk again.

While at the hospital, Parrish alternated between walking with crutches and using a wheelchair.  He would not leave the hospital until 1942.  Before sending him home, doctors fitted his shoe with a wooden block that was shaped into a five inch sole.   

Over the years that followed, Parrish continued to work with his leg.  He became a star pitcher for Carrollton High School. Despite the crutches, Parrish threw a number of no hitters for the team.  By his sophomore year the crutches were gone, and by his senior year so was the block.  

In 1950, Parrish walked across the graduation stage in a pair of brown dress shoes.

Prater Makes 'Firey' Jump From Dam

Few people in Coppell still remember Walter Prater, who was known as a "rough boy" from the "wrong side" of town, but for one day in 1922 Walter was a celebrity.

The Carrollton Dam was built in 1912 on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.  It was intended to control flooding on the east side of town, but quickly became a favorite location for swimming and picnics.  One Sunday in particular drew hundreds to the spot.  Newspapers and circulars had advertised an act of daring to be performed by the 19-year-old Prater.

According to resident Clayta Harwell, Prater stood at the top of the dam and was doused in gasoline by friends.  He was then set on fire and jumped from the bridge into the waters below.  After emerging from the water, he waved to the crowd.

For his performance as a human torch, Prater was awarded between $25 and $50.


The Henley Family Farm

When Patti Smith moved to Coppell in 2003 she never dreamed she was returning to her roots.

While researching family history, Smith came across her great, great grandfather’s death certificate.  Written in neat cursive, the paper recorded that one Charles E. Crook, originally of Jackson, Mississippi, died on August 29, 1938 at 11:30 p.m. in Coppell.  

The discovery lead Smith on a hunt that uncovered a 40-acre family farm, which once sat at the corner of present day S.H. 121 and Sandy Lake Road.  The property was purchased by Crook’s daughter, Margaret Crook Henley, and her husband Charles Henley in 1933.  It served the family as a weekend getaway from the hectic pace of life in Dallas.

Charles Henley made his living as an insurance salesmen, while Margaret’s primary vocation was homemaker, raising the couple’s two children.  She occasionally performed seamstress work and even taught dance classes.  The passion for dance ran in the family.   Margaret’s daughter Margie eventually left the sleepy world of Coppell to work as a professional dancer in New York.

Old family movies reveal that a house, barn and water tower were built on the property.  The Henley’s also had a fondness for riding and kept a number of horses on the land, which remained in the family until 1968.

For Smith, these discoveries have spurred a passion for uncovering her family story, as well as for the town they called home.

The Bells of St. Ann

Each Sunday morning the bells of St. Ann Catholic Parish fill the air with their call to worship.

The parish bought the bells in 1997 from McShane Bell Foundry, the oldest bell maker still in operation in the United States.  At the time of purchase the church was told that the bells were 100 years old.  

Despite being purchased through McShane, the bells were actually manufactured by Van Duzen, a foundry whose roots stretch back to 1837 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

A Van Duzen Bell Company catalog published in the 1920s gives insight into the manufacture of the bells which now hang at St. Ann.

“In the manufacture of our bells we use the old German sweep or pattern,” the pamphlet said, “which enables us to furnish a bell of a certain tone at from fifty to two hundred pounds weight less than our competitors.”

There are four bells in the St. Ann church towers.  Three small bells reside in the western tower and one large bell in the east.  The full peal of bells weighs a total of 3,850 pounds.

From 1997 until 2001, the bells remained with McShane foundry, as diocese complications delayed the construction of the new St. Ann church.

Today, the bells can be heard prior to each service of mass, after funerals, and on other special occasions, their bright peal giving voice to the soul of the city.

Roughing It in the Public Library

As construction continues on Coppell’s William T. Cozby Library it is interesting to look back on the origins of Coppell’s library system.  While the new renovations promise to make the library a monument of learning and technology, it was born of much humbler roots.  

The town’s first public library was created in 1974 thanks to the passionate efforts of city councilman Bob Hefner.  It was located in a small, white house built near the turn of the century and stocked with books from Hefner’s personal collection.  

A pamphlet written for the library’s 25th anniversary relates the primitive conditions that existed in those early days.  Antifreeze was regularly poured into the toilet to keep it from freezing.  Once, the bathroom flooded and the water froze to the floor.  The staff was forced to chip away the ice.  

Remarkably, Coppell continued to use the facility for 12 years.  It was not always easy, but few staffers questioned the effort.  They were committed to the vision of a library system put forth in plain terms by Councilman Hefner.

“Every town needs one.” Hefner said, “Every town uses one.  Coppell must have one.”

Band of Brothers

The game was a drubbing.  A 12-2 blowout called in the fifth inning to spare Lamesa High School any further embarrassment.  It was almost an anti-climax when compared to the baseball games preceding it.  

The 1995 Coppell Cowboys Varsity Baseball team, led by Coach Dave Curliss (called Cur-babe by former players), defeated Southlake at the District level.   The Cowboys then won their first playoff game against Midlothian by executing a squeeze play in the bottom of the seventh.  The semifinals were against Nederland and took every bit of effort the players had, requiring them to come from behind to win.  Sean Smith, now an English teacher at Coppell High School, stroked a bases-loaded double late in the game to seal the win.

In comparison, the championship game seemed like batting practice for the boys destined to bring Coppell its first athletic championship.

Steven Seeley, a coach at Coppell Middle School East, was a pitcher on the 1995 squad.  Over twenty years later, it isn’t the championship that he remembers most clearly, but the camaraderie of the team. 

“My fondest memories are of practices and bus rides,” Seeley said. “Whether it was the witty banter and everyday tom foolery during practice or hearing Alan ‘Rook’ Roberts make his battle cry when we played ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ on the bus— we were a group of friends (almost brothers) who got to play a sport together.”

The Origins of the Carrollton Dam

On January 22, 1912, the City of Dallas opened bids to build a dam on the Elm Fork branch of the Trinity River.  Two days later, the contract was awarded to M.S. Hasie of Dallas, Texas.  Hasie was a former clerk-turned-bridge-contractor, whose name was used in a 1909 Popular Mechanics Ad for a company called “International Correspondence Schools."

“M.S. Hasie, of Dallas, Texas, was a clerk earning a small salary,” the ad said. “He wanted to better himself and took the I.C.S. way of doing it.  He is now a bridge contractor doing a business of $200,000 a year....If you want to secure promotion make the same start these men did….”

The project would become the Carrollton Dam, which sits on the border of Carrollton and the City of Coppell.  The Coppell Historical Society cites flooding along the east side of  town as a primary cause for the dam, but it also appears to have been motivated by a desire to provide a reliable source of water for the City of Dallas during drought seasons.

According to the Municipal Journal And Engineer Journal published in November of 1912, the project was completed in October and cost approximately $30,000.  The Journal says that the main wall of the dam was 150 feet long and 20 feet wide and would impound 400,000,000 gallons of water.

Dallas municipal archives reveal that in 1915 Hasie sued Dallas for failing to pay him $800 of the agreed upon $27,000.  The City countered that Hasie had not completed the project and left the City to finish the work.  Despite being in violation of the contract, the courts ruled in favor of Hasie.  

It seems those I.C.S. courses really did pay off.

The Adventures of Starman and Flasher

The 1950s began an era known as the Silver Age of comic books.  In 1954, a book entitled “Seduction of the Innocent” was published by Fredric Wertham.  The book warned of the harmful effects of comic books and led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which acted as a censoring body in the industry.  The result was the creation of campier, good-natured comics, like the Amazing Spider Man and the Fantastic Four.  Adult interest in the genre waned, but children’s interest soared.

Coppell residents Pete Wilson and Jimmie Harwell were two such children.  Wilson was a superhero fanatic, subscribing to dozens of comic magazines.  Harwell was an artist with a fascination for horror stories and muscle-bound heroes.  Together, they decided to create their own comics.

“We used manilla drawing paper,” Wilson said. “The slightly yellow, rough paper that came in packages– and either colored pencils or crayolas.  Tracing through the manilla paper wasn’t always easy, so at my request and following my plans, my father built me a light box.  It was a box with a light bulb in it with a plexiglass cover.  The light was strong enough to shine through the manilla paper and whatever comic book cover we were plagiarizing.”

They renamed the characters and gave them new stories.  Among their creations were Starman and Flasher, the later being a name that the Comics Code Authority would undoubtedly have frowned upon.

“We never realized that Flasher could have a double meaning.” Wilson said, “It didn’t matter.  No one saw our comics anyway.”

The Troop Trains

In the 1920s and '30s, the nation’s railway system began to see a decline in usage, as automobile ownership increased across the country.  Dirt roads were increasingly giving way to paving, with Coppell’s last mud road being converted to gravel in 1942.  It was a time of transition for both the nation and the little north Texas town that grew up around the Coppell Depot.

This decline was granted a temporary reprieve with the advent of World War II.  Gasoline rations sent people flocking to the rails.  The industry also proved vital to America’s military, with most U.S. troops being carried across country by train.

Ray McDowell, who started in Coppell schools in 1936, recalled  troop trains passing by the school.  In an short essay written for the Coppell Historical Society, he states that the school’s principal, a Mr. Fuller, always gave the students three minutes to get to class when the lunch or recess bell rang.  

“The exception was when the troop trains came by,” McDowell said. “We were allowed to go to the back of the playground and wave and yell at the soldiers on the train.”

The railroads would prove vital to the American success in World War II, but it also proved to be the swan song for the industry’s dominance.  Automobiles and aviation were the future.  By the 1950s, train service would cease completely in Coppell.

Crush Davis and the Coppell Copperheads

From 2004-2011, the Coppell Copperheads were the dominant force in the Texas Collegiate League of Baseball.  Over the course of those seasons, the team won four championships, a feat which still stands as the most by any team in the league despite the Copperheads ceasing operations in 2012.

Several league records set by individual Coppell players still stand.  In 2004, Centerfielder Matt Young set the single season record for walks, earning 44.  The same season he set the record for most stolen bases, swiping 39 over the course of the year. Pitcher Jess Todd holds the league single season record for strikeouts, notching 85 in 2006.  

The most notable alumni of the Copperheads was power slugging first baseman Chris “Crush” Davis, now of the Baltimore Orioles.  Davis, who went on to set the single season home run record for the Orioles, is credited with playing in two game for the Copperheads.  In those two games he recorded a single hit.  The hit took place in the first game of the season, on June 6, against the Denton Outlaws.  Davis pinch hit in the top of the eighth inning and singled before advancing to second base on an error and eventually scoring.  He came to the plate again in the 9th inning and struck out.

That same year, Davis began his journey to the Major Leagues, joining the Texas Rangers farm system with the Class A Spokane Indians.