CANTON, Texas – On your average day in Canton, you’ll find nearly 4,000 Texans making their way of life here in East Texas, but every single month there are four days things get a bit crazy in Canton at what is known as First Monday Trade Days. So crazy that the little town swells to the seventh largest city in Texas!
Linda Boston has been in charge of this monthly chore of bringing together all these people and all this stuff for the past 20 years, but the story of the First Monday Trade Days goes all the way back to the 1850’s when people from all over Van Zandt County would congregate around the courthouse. It was on the first Monday of the month that the local judge would hold court and those proceedings, which occasionally involved a few hangings, drew big crowds. That crowd started to trade stuff.
“They traded a dog for a gun,” Linda said while listing trades made at the court proceedings. “They traded many different things. We’ve heard they traded some husbands and wives, but we don’t know about that.”
By the 1960s the trade days moved from the square to 5 acres of land known as the main gate. The biggest change involved the days First Monday Trade Days is held. It’s not on Monday anymore.
“People’s lives really changed,” Linda explained. “The Monday part got dropped as far as the trading, but it’s still our marker day. It’s still what we call first Monday trade days.”
Today, you’ll find just about everything under the sun here when it comes to stuff. As Linda says, “The list would be shorter of what you couldn’t find here.”
So what’s the weirdest thing Linda has seen out here? Bed pan guitars. Like I said, you can find just about anything here.
When encountering unique finds in Canton, all signs point to Dollar Debbie.
“If Dollar Debbie is not here, we’re on the phone calling Dollar Debbie to ask her if anything’s wrong,” Linda said.
Dollar Debbie is known for her painted wooden signs that used to cost one dollar. Today, they’re up to five dollars.
“Somebody said, ‘Does the wood talk to you until you put it on there?’ I said, ‘No. Wood don’t talk to me,’” Dollar Debbie said with a laugh.
She’s been coming to Canton, every month, all the way from Arkansas, for 30 years.
“I put my daughter through college doing dollar signs, and now she’s almost 50,” Dollar Debbie informed us. “It’s like coming to a vacation camp where you really have a good time. You don’t write home to Mom, ‘Come get me!’”
With sayings like,” I only drink beer on days that end in Y,” “tornado evacuation plan – grab a beer and run like hell,” and “we don’t’ skiny dip, we chuncky dunk,” her zany signs are a small part of what Canton is all about. She seems to encompass the spirit of the sale with a smile.
“I want to see people laugh,” Debbie said. “Everybody’s too serious, and when I grew up everybody was laughing and having a good time.”
Smokey Sarvant is another hawker with a good humor that’s been here since the late ‘60s. He specializes in old objects, generally made of metal, earning him the nickname Iron Man.
“I like the people,” Smokey says. “I like the handling of the merchandise. Some people call it junk, but it was Grandma and Grandpa’s old junk. Like the old blacksmith sets, and old Model T, Model A parts, and car parts, things sold, primitive collectables, furniture, big wooden ol’ nice boxes, all that kind of stuff. Everyone says, ‘well, when are you going to retire,’ I say, ‘Well, I retired three months ago,’ I said, ‘I put some new tires on my truck.’”
Smokey and Debbie are just two of thousands of vendors selling their unique goods at this massive monthly market and they’re the epitome of why it’s fun to come here.
While seeing the inordinate amount of stuff is mind-boggling, running into the people who have made Canton what it is today makes a walk amongst the clutter well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“Where else can you go and find the diamond in the rough, antiques, plants galore, and then something to wear to your cousins wedding next month?” Linda pointed out. “It’s just all here in one place. All you got to do is look.”