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A Texas Original!
By Richard F. Selcer
Texas A&M University PressCopyright © 2004 Texas State Historical Association
All rights reserved.
FRONTIER BEGINNINGS (1849–1853)
IT WAS 1849 AND GEN. ZACHARY TAYLOR ("Old Rough and Ready") was the twelfth president of the United States. The long-simmering sectional dispute was heating up over the issue of western territories added as a result of the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The nation's attention was on California as thousands of Americans, soon to be known as "Forty-niners," joined the gold rush. National expansion was the order of the day as Minnesota Territory was formally organized, and New Mexico and California were in the process of organizing territorial governments. There was talk of a filibustering expedition to liberate Cuba from the Spanish yoke, and the U.S. government was reaching out to the Hawaiian monarchy to sign a treaty of amity and commerce. In April the first west coast mail arrived in New York City via the Central American crossing, and on May 13, stagecoach service began from St. Louis, Missouri, to San Francisco, California. One troubling development: deadly cholera was sweeping the country. There were fifteen deaths in Kansas City in early April rising to ten per day after April 25. In Texas, the epidemic raged unchecked among recently arrived U.S. troops as well as Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, and other Indian tribes. The disease was no respecter of rank or race.
On the distant frontier of north Texas, Maj. Ripley Arnold of the U.S. Second Dragoons was on assignment to establish a new post on the defensive line that guarded the state's settled regions. The northern anchor of the army defensive line at the time was Fort Graham on the Brazos River. He located a good spot about sixty miles farther north, near the confluence of the Clear Fork and West Fork of the Trinity River in May 1849, then returned with Company F of the Second Dragoons on June 6 to begin construction. Eight weeks later they were moving in. The new post was located at latitude 32° 47? north, longitude 97° 25? west. The location's appeal was obvious: "a high, healthy locality surrounded by rich fertile land." For military purposes, the high bluff had a clear view of the surrounding countryside for miles in every direction. He named it "Fort Worth" in honor of the late Maj. Gen. William Jenkins Worth, a Mexican War hero and the department commander of Texas who had died of cholera on May 7.
While Arnold's dragoons constructed the post atop a bluff overlooking the Trinity River, they camped in a nearby stand of live oaks. The men were able to occupy their new quarters in August, though construction would continue for months to come. In October a company of U.S. infantry marched up from San Antonio to join the garrison. There were never more than about seventy men at Fort Worth at any one time during its four-year existence, and usually far fewer.
The purpose of Fort Worth was Indian defense; that meant the double duty of protecting the settlers against the Indians and the Indians against the settlers. A better way to describe its mission was keeping peace on the Texas frontier. The nearest sizable settlement of whites was at Dallas, some thirty miles to the east. But Anglos were beginning to settle the area at such places as Denton, Grapevine, and Johnson's Station (Arlington). Fort Worth would prevent those settlers from trespassing on Indian Territory and the Indians from raiding the scattered white settlements. At the end of 1849 Tarrant County was created by the legislature, named for old Indian fighter and current state legislator Edward H. Tarrant.
The Indian population of north Texas consisted of the warlike Comanche and Wichita, plus the peacefully inclined Tonkawa, Waco, Caddo, Ionie, and Anadarko tribes. Taken altogether, their numbers were never more than a couple of thousand, even counting women and children along with warriors, a fact confirmed by Lt. Col. W. G. Freeman, who visited Texas in 1853 on an inspection tour. In 1843 ten tribes, not including the Comanche, signed a treaty with representatives of the Republic of Texas agreeing to stay west of a line running north to south a few miles west of modern-day Fort Worth. Thereafter, the only Indians that most settlers in the area saw were those who came to trade or beg. The outpost on the Trinity was never under serious threat of attack, although one local tradition describes a Comanche war party that got within shouting distance around 1850. That tradition, however, is far less credible than the recollections of Sgt. Abe Harris who was a member of the garrison in 1850 and later stated that there had never been any Indian attacks on the little post. Rather, the Indians came to barter and beg, usually for food and horses. The wily tribesmen were not above pilfering on occasion, nor would they have hesitated to kill any white person found alone and unarmed, but they never challenged the garrison for control of the area. On the contrary, most were fearful of being pushed off their hunting grounds westward onto the lands of the Comanche.
The last Indian raid into Tarrant County was in June 1871, when Comanche warriors chased John P. Daggett and John B. York over the prairie without catching them. Prior to that, the last Indian depredation in the area occurred on a Sunday morning in March 1869, when a band of Kiowa and Comanche killed some livestock on Marine Creek about three miles north of town. They were pursued by a hastily raised posse but escaped into the Cross Timbers. That summer, newspapers reported "the whole [frontier] country is swarming with these red devils," but Fort Worth was not directly threatened. The last time a band of Indians was seen by the locals was October 1884 when some one hundred dispirited Tonkawa passed through on a train bound for the Indian Territory.
Native Americans had ceased to be a threat to the advance of white civilization and become a curiosity, soon to be an object of pity. By the turn of the century, a Fort Worth resident was more likely to see a Chinese on the street than a Native American. The 1910 census counted only thirteen Indians in the city's population of 73,3127. The only Indian that was regularly seen around Fort Worth was the magnificent half-breed Comanche chief Quanah Parker who lived on reservation land in Oklahoma, but was a frequent celebrity visitor to the city. The annual Stock Show Exposition trotted out Quanah and some of his tribesmen every year to be a part of the show. In 1907 Parker and his wife were invited to come down as the special guests of the Fat Stock Show board. After Quanah died, Fort Worth forgot about its Indian heritage, much less any living Indian members of the community, until 1957. In that year, a federal relocation program brought in hundreds of Native Americans from Oklahoma and resettled them in a Dallas housing project. The goal was assimilation into the nation's predominant urban culture, but its chief accomplishment was to spark a reverse migration of Indians into the area.
By the end of the twentieth century, the Indian population had risen to more than 30,000, representing 110 different tribal groupings and spread across two counties. They constituted only 0.5 percent of the resident population of Fort Worth, the smallest of any ethnic group tabulated in the 2000 census, but for the first time in 150 years, they are beginning to feel a sense of unity. In 1997, a small group of activists founded the American Indian Community Council of Fort Worth, modeled on the successful Urban Intertribal Center of Dallas. A like-minded group of students at UTA founded the Native American Student Association to honor their heritage, fight ignorance and stereotypes, and, no small concern, win government scholarship money. The local community is still small and largely unrecognized, but they are trying to change that by celebrating Native American Heritage Month (every November since 2000), publishing a quarterly newsletter, and creating an American Indian Center in Euless. Another sign of their growing sensitivity and assertiveness was the founding of Indian Citizens Against Racial Exploitation ("ICARE"), which in 2001 successfully protested the display of a shrunken Indian head by the Museum of Science and History.
In the early years it was a good thing for the settlers that the threat of Indian attack was so low. Fort Worth was only a "fort" in the strictest military parlance; it was never a walled bastion. The place was surrounded by nothing more secure than a rope-line fence and guarded by one small mountain howitzer. The garrison spent most of their time hunting game, drilling, and tending the government-mandated vegetable garden. There was no nearby town to "hoorah" during off-duty hours, and there were few local farmers' daughters. Catherine Arnold served as a kind of "den mother" for the garrison. Drinking and desertion were chronic problems although neither ever got out of control. Major Arnold ran a tight ship.
After four years, the frontier line of settlement and the U.S. Army line of defense both passed Fort Worth by. Settlement had moved westward and a new defense line had been established stretching from Fort Belknap on the north to Fort Clark on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. Major Arnold was reassigned to Fort Graham, where he was killed September 6, 1853. Meanwhile, the troops of the Second Dragoons and Eighth Infantry were scattered to other frontier postings. Eleven soldiers in all were left behind, interred in the cemetery near the live oak stand where Arnold and company first encamped, to be forgotten by both the army and the community in the years that followed. Fort Worth was officially slated for closing by "Orders No. 50" issued at department headquarters, Corpus Christi, on August 20, 1853. A caretaker guard stayed around a few weeks to finish closing things down, but officially Fort Worth was being deactivated. In time, the army so completely forgot about it that in 1890 the Adjutant General's Office was forced to contact local citizens to get accurate information on the establishment of the post back in 1849.
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THEN AND NOW
Fort Worth's Most Historic Cemeteries
In 1850 the tiny military garrison on the bluff was forced to start a post cemetery. Less than a mile from the fort, beneath a stand of live oaks, they found a good spot, on land owned by Dr. Adolphus Gouhenant The first occupants were not soldiers but two of the Arnold children, Willis and Sophie. The little plot soon grew to three acres and became the final resting place for eleven soldiers who died of disease or accident. There were no combat casualties among the Fort Worth troops. In 1855 Major Arnold himself was re-interred there, two years after being killed at Fort Graham, Texas.
Until 1870, the little graveyard was known simply as "the Old Burial Ground." When additional acreage was donated by Baldwin Samuels and it was designated Fort Worth's first public burial ground, it was renamed "City Cemetery."
Over the years, it received the remains of such founding fathers as General Edward Tarrant and Ephraim Daggett (the "Father of Fort Worth"). After 1861, it became the burial ground for some seventy-five Confederate veterans and at least twenty prostitutes, only one of whom (Mollie Wright) can be identified today.
In the 20th century it underwent another name change, to Pioneers Rest Cemetery, by which it is known today. The last unsold plot was purchased in the 1920s, and the last new interment took place in 1993. The best estimate today is that there are over 1000 early Fort Worthers resting under the green sward at 626 Samuels Avenue.
Less than two miles from pioneers Rest is the city's second-oldest cemetery, Oakwood, known today as "the Westminster Abbey of Fort Worth" because of the presence of so many legendary names from the city's past. Located at 701 Grand Avenue overlooking the Trinity River, it started with 20 acres donated by John Peter Smith in 1879. In its early days Oakwood was divided into three sections: 1) City Cemetery for white Protestants; 2) Trinity Cemetery for blacks; and 3) Calvary Cemetery for Catholics. Over the decades Oakwood grew to 62.5 acres. It is still privately owned and still open for interments despite having some 22,000 current residents. Among its most famous are black millionaire William McDonald, shootists Luke Short and T. I. Courtright, and Medal-of-Honor recipient Harold Carswell.
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There was some talk of making Fort Worth a supply and remount depot for garrisons farther west, but in the end it was decided to completely abandon the site, turning it over to the local settlers. Those settlers were part of a small civilian community that had grown up in the shadow of the post during its four years of existence. As soon as the army pulled out, they moved into the empty buildings on the post, turning them into a dry goods store, hotel, saloon, schoolhouse, and several private residences. The former parade ground became the "public square" and site of the future county courthouse. No title was transferred; no money changed hands; it was simply a case of "squatters' rights." That clutch of cabins on the bluff formed the beginnings of a real town. The lack of secure communication and transportation links to the outside world and the shortage of solid structures were compensated by the spot's strategic location, good climate, and resource-rich surrounding country.
No more than one hundred settlers, including some veterans who had mustered out of service at Fort Worth, stayed on after the troops pulled out, and that number grew but slowly in the next decade. They did not have a physician until Dr. Carroll Peak came over from Dallas with his family in 1854. Around that same time, John Peter Smith opened the first (private) school in the former post hospital. Sheriff John B. York took over the daunting job of maintaining law and order in the 877 square miles that was Tarrant County. Wagon trains came to town, but many of them stayed only long enough to stock up on supplies before moving on westward.CHAPTER 2
THE LEAN YEARS (1853–1876)
THE TWO DECADES AFTER 1853 were lean years for the little community. Early on, it was clear that Fort Worth without its U.S. Army patron would need some kind of edge over other settlements in the area if it were going to survive. Wood, water, and grass were not enough. The residents set their sights on getting the county seat designation for Tarrant County. Their only competition was Birdville, some ten miles to the northeast. The communal battle raged through two elections and some electoral shenanigans before Fort Worth finally won the county seat designation. In the end, the deciding factor may have been the whiskey served at the Fort Worth polling place or the fifteen votes imported from Wise County. Fort Worth won the election by a scant thirteen votes, putting the town on the map for the first time. The bad feelings lingered for many years, and in 1860 the legislature had to intervene to settle the issue once and for all. So Fort Worth progressed from being a military post to being an administrative seat.
Being designated county seat was more than just an honor; it brought the construction of a courthouse (started in 1857) and the expansion of business activity on the public square which soon became known as Courthouse Square. Population growth outstripped housing during these years, so it was a common sight to see recent arrivals camped in their wagons on the outskirts of town waiting for their homes. Another growth milestone came in 1857 when regular stage service commenced to Fort Belknap and Dallas, then to Jacksboro the following year. The stage picked up and dropped off passengers and mail at Steele's Tavern on the square. It was mail, not passengers that paid the bills on long-distance stagecoach lines. Fort Worth would eventually become a stagecoach "hub" for north Texas, but the process would take another twenty years and the coming of the railroad to make it happen.
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THEN AND NOW
The present Tarrant County Courthouse is the fifth "permanent" county administrative building to occupy "Courthouse Square." Historically, the courthouses had a short life expectancy as they either burned down or the county outgrew them. The building you see today was designed by the noted architectural firm of Gunn &&&; Curtis and constructed between 1893 and 1895 at a cost of $408,380. Tarrant County voters were so outraged by such extravagance that they turned all the county commissioners out of office at the next election.
It was built of native red granite taken from the same quarry that provided the stone for the Texas state capitol. The style is Renaissance Revival, in four stories topped by a copper dome and cupola. Over the years, the courthouse was remodeled and updated, including the crowning insult, a jarringly modern Civil Courts Building attached to the west side of the building in 1958. (It was later covered over with a trompe-l'oeil-style facade more in harmony with the courthouse.) The building was finally honored by being designated a Texas Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1970). Between 1982–1983 it was completely renovated using public funds.
Excerpted from Fort Worth by Richard F. Selcer. Copyright © 2004 Texas State Historical Association. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
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