Irish Immigrant Established Major Industry
An Irish immigrant who lived to become somewhat of a legend used to sit on the sidewalk in front of the Palestine Salt & Coal Company office on Spring Street. He was a bearded man. A stranger might have thought him a person of no importance.
He was, in fact, a reputed multi-millionaire, Mayor of Palestine for some 13 years, "founder of " the major local manufacturing business before which he sat and boss of an empire of sorts.
He was the late A.L. (Barney) Bowers.
Of the myriad stories about him, one which might be incapable of confirmation seems verified by circumstances in a general way. It could not be wholly confirmed because the principals involved long have been dead.
The International-Great Northern and the Texas & Pacific railroads were racing for a princely land grant prize to be the first with gleaming rails thrust into Fort Worth.
Brawling Irish fugitives of the Potato Famine, thrown into the I-GN thrust from Palestine's railhead base, had pushed the twin steel snakes westwoard to the Navasota River. There in flood and muck, the frenzied bridging task smoked and melted into futility. Men's backs and hearts were broken there.
George Gould, it was, they say, who rode out to the Navasota to see why the rails were not shoving forward.
On a fine horse the capitalist sat near the gorged stream, watching men sweat, men crawl beaten and cursing and quitting, out of the mire to lie stolidly on the bank.
Gould's eyes spotted a young face. That squirt, he observed, seemed the only one capable of getting things done -- the only one with reason and cairn in the whole overstaffed war on the river.
"Send that young man to me," Gould signaled a subservient.
When the sweating Irish lad stood dripping in the presence, Gould asked, "What's your name, fellow?"
"If you were in charge here, Bowers, could you get this bridge built?"
"That I could. I would have the work going from both banks. I would tether rafts midstream to drive piling."
Gould called to his lieutenants. "Put Bowers in charge of this job. If he does it well, he's the new bridge and building superintendent of this whole railroad."
And so it was. In gratitude for his proficient handling -- and for bossing the successful push to Fort Worth -- Bowers was promised and received his choice of a private industrial stake. He chose salt and coal and received the backing to establish his industry.
That's the gist of the word-of-mouth account of how this Irish immigrant became a capitalist and a moving force in the affairs of Palestine.
Bowers remained for many years after the construction phase as bridge and building superintendent for the railroad.
The plant of Palestine Salt & Coal Company was located on a salt dome in the western part of Anderson County. Salt in solution from deep wells was dehydrated with soft coal fuel from a mine on the same property. For many years this was virtually the sole salt supply for Texas and other Southwestern States. This writer has seen the packages with the pig as a trademark on sale in such remote and unlikely markets as a copper mining town, Ray, in the sun- seared saguaro-spiked brown mountains of Arizona.
When Bowers became mayor, he had solid support from the many bridge and building employees and for many years he seemed unbeatable in local politics.
During his tenure many of the macadam street paving projects in Palestine were consummated.
He financed the establishment of the Palestine Press by C.C. Woodson and J.S. McBeath. After Bowers' death, his "estate disposed of his interest in the newspaper, which later was merged in ownership with The Herald.