TRADE DAYS HISTORY
No one knows precisely when First Monday began. Pick up just about any magazine today and chances are you’ll find a story about First Monday. One thing is certain … The event is and had been in a state of continual change for probably over one hundred fifty years. It started out as “Trades Day”… a one- day occasion that took place on the first Monday of each month. Today it is known as “First Monday Trade Days” and takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the first Monday of each and every month of the year. There are several versions of how the Trades Day came into being. One being that First Monday was the day the District Judge arrived and convened his court. Since most of Van Zandt County was open range at that time, a state law required that all stray horses be brought into Canton and auctioned to the highest bidder. These horses had been picked up on the range and boarded by the farmers until the day of the auction. People came from all around to participate, and this became known as “First Monday Trades Day,” sometimes called “Horse Monday.” Soon the people were bringing their own horses to sell or trade, and as the years passed, they began to bring their excess crops, such as fresh produce, grain, and sugar cane syrup.
Another version claims that during middle nineteenth century, this trades day became an important custom to the rural people. With poor means of communication, people would wait until “First Monday” to come to Canton to see their relatives and friends, to make business arrangements, and to get the local news. During the election years, the politicians would center their campaigns around “First Monday.” This event would accumulate more people of the county together at one time than any other function of its time. As the years passed and the population of Canton increased, the crowds at “First Monday” increased too– all without any planning or organization — just naturally. The trading area was on the streets. People would stroll up and down, trading, visiting and transacting their business. The townspeople began to look on the event with disdain, dreading the filth and confusion that cluttered their city. They finally passed a city ordinance prohibiting trade in the streets, but to no avail; the law could not be enforced. The crowds were too large for the small city to disperse. The only hope the city had was hopefully the custom would finally “play out” as had most of the other trades days in Texas. This did not come about. In the 1930’s when the importance of the horse began to decline, it was thought that “First Monday” would vanish.
There appeared about a ten year void in Texas between the horse-raising era and the tractor era, and out of state horse traders began to bring in horses to supply this void. Horse buyers from all over the state began to attend “First Monday,” and the crowds got larger and larger. It became known state-wide as the place to buy a good “bronc.” Then, in the 1940’s, as the tractor came in and horses declined, hog trading took its place. Feeder pigs were raised locally, and soon they gained the reputation of being the cleanest and finest pigs sold anywhere — cholera free. Buyers came in from all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to buy these fine pigs. Dogs were also a commodity. At first, farmers would bring in strays and unwanted offspring; then the hunters started bringing their hound dogs. Soon the whole town was saturated with hound dogs, some selling for as much as $500. “First Monday” now became known all over the Southwest to dog fanciers as “Dog Monday.” One could see anything from a Russian Setter to two types of specialized squirrel dogs (one to hunt gray squirrels and one to hunt fox squirrels). After the event, many of the worthless dogs were released, and Canton found itself flooded with stray dogs; it was soon necessary to hire a dog catcher. By 1950 the crowds were approaching the 5,000 mark, and space became a problem. One homeowner, a woman who owned a double lot, began patrolling her property with a broom to keep the people off. Finally, one trader offered to rent space from her. Then she started renting her entire area. Soon she was making $75 to $100 every “First Monday.” Eventually other homeowners did the same. One widow was offered twenty-five cents for the use of her bathroom, and soon this was a big business too. As space became a premium, the traders began to arrive on Sunday in order to get the best space first. This created more serious problems. The churches began to complain about the congestion and activity on the Lord’s Day. Sanitation became a big factor. These people had to stay over night in their cars and trucks because there were not adequate facilities in the small town. It was soon apparent that a city police force was needed to control and maintain order among these visitors. In the early 1960’s, a man was bitten by a dog and died of rabies. A city ordinance was passed prohibiting dogs. The townspeople thought this might stop the trades day. It didn’t. An individual bought three acres of land and began to have the dog trade there on his property. The city did require that they all be vaccinated and kept leashed or in a pen.