Way back in 2014 the Austin Street Truck Stop opened and Denton was pretty excited that we had a place for food trucks to park near the Square. Well, have you ever heard that saying “there’s nothing new under the sun?” Denton had a place on the square for a food truck back in the 1890’s. Well, that is using the term food truck loosely, it was actually a food wagon.
In the April 15, 1956 edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle William Edward wrote a column about the Bradshaw Chili Con Carne Diner. (You can read the full article at the end of this post.) On a side note, it was Mr. Edwards who consolidated the Denton Chronicle and the Denton County Record to form the weekly newspaper, the Denton Record and Chronicle in 1899.
In the article he describes the chili wagon:
“Probably twenty feet long, eight or ten feet wide, and high enough to provide headroom for patrons of six feet or taller. For light and ventilation it had glass windows on the sides, and there was an opening in the front through which the driver handled his team. At the rear was a door… and Inside was the chili bar extending the full length of the room, behind it a walkway for use in serving the guests with a concoction of ground meat, much grease, beans (optional), chili peppers and other condiments. Scattered along the bar for those who wanted their chili “red hot” were bottles of “pepper-sass” that were the concentrated essence of hotness. At the front end was the stove on which the food was kept warm with its smokestack protruding through the roof.”
While the “house on wheels” was originally pulled by two horses from Mr. Bradshaw’s home in southeast Denton to the square, it didn’t take too long before the chili wagon “became a permanent if somewhat unsightly fixture just outside the hitching chain at the southeast corner of the courthouse yard.”
And apparently the chili was pretty good and the price was right. Mr. Edwards wrote, “You could get a good-sized bowl with either crackers or light bread on the side for a nickel. But if you were really hungry – and what growing boy wasn’t- for a dime you could get a “big bowl” that was a full meal for even the hungriest.”
So who was this Mr. Bradshaw and what happened to the chili wagon? In the article Mr. Bradshaw was not given a first name and Mr. Edwards stated he was not sure when the chili wagon disappeared from the square. Of course, I had to see if I could find more information.
My starting point in the search was the 1900 U.S. Population Census. (You can access this via familysearch.org or though the library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition.) I searched for any Bradshaws in Denton in 1900. Among the results was an entry for M.H. Bradshaw, 58 years old, from Virginia and under the Occupation column it read “Restaurant Pro”, which I interpreted to mean “Restaurant Proprietor.”
Mordecai Hawkins Bradshaw was born in Virginia in 1841 (or 1843, depending on the source) and married Mary E. Wimberley in Lafayette, Mississippi on June 30, 1873. They had five children; Mordecai, Ophelia, John, Lawrence, and David. The March 14, 1901 issue of the Denton County News reported his death on page 4. “CITY PHYSICIAN’S REPORT – DEATHS. March 7, M. H. Bradshaw, aged 57 years; apoplexy.” Mr. Bradshaw and other members of his family are buried in Oakwood cemetery
While the only mention of a restaurant I found was in the census, there was another clue I had the right person. Mr. Bradshaw’s daughter, Ophelia Bradshaw, married Asbury Goodson Price. The article by Mr. Edwards mentions that Mr. Bradshaw had a relative, Goodson Price, who sold tamales. As for the chili wagon, one can only imagine that it was put out to pasture after Mr. Bradshaw’s death.
And one last-side note- it seems that Bradshaw Street in Southeast Denton was named after this family.
Emily Fowler Central Library