After the Ranger's abandoned Bird's Fort, Hamp Rattan
joined Captain Gilbert and James J. Beeman and their families to reoccupy
the structure and make it their home. Rattan had been with Tarrant at
Village Creek and with Bird at the building of the fort in 1840. Indians
had burned off the grasses, driving away the game and forcing them to
send a wagon to the Red River for supplies. Facing starvation, Rattan
and other new occupants, Solomon, Silkwood and Webb, rode out in search
of their returning supply wagon. Near the present day town of Carrollton,
they found a heavily laden honey bee tree. While gathering the honey,
Rattan was killed by attacking Indians. The survivors returned fire
and killed one Indian then retreated to Bird's Fort. An unmarried man
was dispatched. He found the wagon and led it to the place where they
picked up the body of Rattan, still being guarded by his faithful dog.
Silkwood died of exposure from his journey. Rattan and Silkwood were
buried in coffins made from a wagon bed. These graves were among the
first in Tarrant County.In early 1842, the fort's survivors were enticed
by a visitor, John Neely Bryan, to join him at his settlement near Spring
Branch. Their relocation gave Dallas first victory in the long-running
rivalry between Tarrant and Dallas counties.
The following is an essay by Dallas historian Gerald Harris,
who, along with a group of his colleagues, are spearheading an effort
to establish a hiking/bicycle trail through the original site of Bird's
View from Bird's Fort Location
Photo courtesy of Gerald Harris
Why Fort Bird (therefore also Grapevine Springs) is Important
Neely Bryan (as his friends and acquaintances called him)
first visited his bluff overlooking the Trinity Three Forks in 1839
when there were a lot of Indians in the area. He went back to Van Buren,
Ark where he is listed in the 1840 Crawford County Census. When he returned
to his bluff in November 1841, it was with the intent of opening a post
for trading with the Indians but found none so only then he started
thinking about laying out a city, a process in which he had some form
of contact in Van Buren.
What happened to the Indians was Fort Bird. Prior to the
Village Creek Battle on May 24, 1841 in what is now part of the boundary
between Arlington and Fort Worth, the Village Creek Valley was home
to the largest concentration of Native Americans in Texas. In two prior
punitive expeditions in 1938, Texas Militia failed to locate the villages.
In 1841, Gen. Edward H. Tarrant and his Militia captured a lone Indian
who revealed the exact locations of the Village Creek settlements. The
next day, the Militia galloped into the southernmost village with little
opposition and burned 225 lodges because the warriors were out hunting.
Captain John B Denton took some men and continued up the creek until
they ran into opposition and Captain Denton was killed and the Texans
were routed. Tarrant learned from prisoners that the villages along
the creek were home to over 1,000 warriors so he quickly withdrew. In
July 1841 Tarrant returned with 400 men but found the villages deserted.
Regrettably, the Indians at Village Creek were peaceful Caddos, Cherokees
(among whom both Houston and Bryan and lived), and Tonkawas. While they
might not have been totally innocent, they were generally peaceful farmers
and hunters and might have made great trading partners with Neely Bryan.
The troublesome Comanches and Lipans were further west.
After the May battle, Tarrant ordered the construction
and garrisoning of a fort near the site to protect the extreme northwest
corner of the Texas frontier. A good defensive position was found with
a crescent lake protecting the front (which faced the Village Creek
area) and both sides leaving an open opportunity to retreat to Fort
Inglish (Bonham), the nearest settlement toward the Red River. Maj.
Jonathan Bird and a hundred volunteers of the Fourth Brigade of Texas
Militia built and occupied the fort by September of 1841 thus preventing
Neely Bryan from having any Indians to trade with; so, instead, he hired
an experienced surveyor, J. P. Dumas, to lay out the town and he named
it for his friend, Dallas. A promoter, Neely gave lots to early people
who would promise to stay and build a town. In the spring of 1842, Neely
went to Fort Bird and persuaded several families and some single men
to move to his bluff. The group included his future wife, Margaret Beeman.
In Feb. 1843, Neely and Margaret traveled four days each way to be married
at Fort Inglish.
Under the Texas Constitution, the president served for
3 years and could not succeed himself. The 1st (36-38) and 3rd (42-44)
Presidents of Texas were (was) Sam Houston who had lived among the Indians,
had had an Indian wife, spoke several Indian dialects (as did Neely
Bryan who was 17 years younger but born in eastern Tennessee within
a hundred miles of where Houston was living with the Cherokees) was
very pro-Indian in policy. Lamar, the 2nd (39-41) President was totally
opposite believing that the only good Indian was a dead one did everything
he could to shove all Indians out of Texas or to exterminate them. In
his first term, Houston had dispatched James Pinckney Henderson to Europe
to gain recognition for Texas from all foreign countries especially
England and France. In his first term, on 3/1/37, Texas had petitioned
the US President and Congress for Annexation; but on 7/9/38, Congress
adjourned without action so on 10/12/38, Texas withdrew the petition.
In his final term, Houston's key concerns were Foreign
Affairs, Indian Relations, War with Mexico (who had occupied San Antonio
again), and Annexation to the USA. He sent Henderson and Van Zandt as
representatives to the US government especially for the subject of annexation.
Given the above circumstances, it is easy to understand why for months
he had sent messages to Indian friends proclaiming a "Grand Council"
at Fort Bird at the full moon in August 1843. Months in advance, Houston
sent Indian Commissioner Joseph C Eldridge out to bring the Comanches
to the Fort Bird Grand Council. Eldridge received rough treatment and
the Comanches did not show up. Houston treated Eldridge roughly for
having failed to bring them in; but in later years, Houston made up
for it by getting Eldridge appointed assistant paymaster in the US Navy
where he served with several commands including Commodore Oliver Perry
in opening up Japan and in expeditions for laying the Atlantic telegraph
When Houston arrived at Ft. Bird in the Trinity River
bottoms, several tribes showed up but did not want to go near the garrisoned
fort fearing a trap. Houston moved the negotiations and camping six
miles to Grapevine Springs possibly also due to fewer mosquitoes, better
water, and better breeze with more large shade trees for protection
from the summer heat. While at Grapevine Springs, in addition to negotiating
with the Indians, he was still having to deal with Foreign Affairs,
War with Mexico, and Annexation to the USA. In fact, before the treaty
was signed, he had to go back to the Texas capitol leaving his Indian
Commissioners to finish the job.
After several weeks back at the capitol, Houston sent
his Annexation representatives a policy statement which has recently
been added to my website at:
basically telling the US it had one shot at getting Texas
as a state, now or never. That one Texas/USA Policy paper is worth going
to that website to read. England and France had jointly undertaken to
guarantee the protection of Texas from Mexico and any other country
if Texas would just promise to not be annexed to the USA. If this policy
statement was not developed while at Grapevine Springs, it certainly
could not have been far from his mind the whole time. After the Bird
Fort Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed at Fort Bird on Sept.
29, 1843, Houston started motions toward a Treaty of Peace, Friendship,
and Commerce which was signed at Tehuacana Creek on Oct. 9, 1844. Eight
tribes signed both treaties-Keechi, Waco, Caddo, Anadarko, Ioni, Delaware,
Cherokee, and Tawakoni. Two tribes signed only the Bird's Fort Treaty-Chicasaw
and Biloxi. Three tribes signed only the Tehuacana Creek Treaty; Comanche,
Shawnee, and Lipan. Full texts of both treaties are on the web site
mentioned above. While similar in format and verbiage in several areas,
the details of the 22 articles of the Tehuacana Creek Treaty are substantially
different than the details of the 24 articles of the Bird's Fort Treaty.
Main difference is focus on Commerce on the later treaty. Also on the
web site are letters authorizing gifts to be given to the Indians (especially
the Comanches) to get their attendance.
Now, just suppose, that Lamar had not wanted to exterminate
the Indians or Militia had not been sent out for that purpose, or Tarrant
had not run into that lone Indian, or the villages along the creek had
not been attacked, and Fort Bird had not been built? If Neely Bryan
had indeed been too busy as an trader to spend any time planning an
town; or if Mexico had killed or captured Houston before annexation
and replaced the government with one of its own; or annexation itself
had not taken place; what would Dallas be like today? Would thousands
of Indians be living in Mid cities? Would Spanish be the predominant
language? Maybe yes; maybe no; but certainly it would be different.
Photo provided by Gerald Harris
Bird's Fort Treaty
Site of Bird's Fort
Arlington (Tarrant Co.)
FM 157, 1 mi N. of Trinity River near Arlington
In an effort to attract settlers to the region and
to provide protection from Indian raids, Gen. Edward H. Tarrant of
the Republic of Texas Militia authorized Jonathan Bird to establish
a settlement and military post in the area. Bird's Fort, built near
a crescent-shaped lake one mile east in 1841, was the first attempt
at Anglo-American colonization in present Tarrant County. The settlers,
from the Red River area, suffered from hunger and Indian problems
and soon returned home or joined other settlements.
In August 1843, troops of the Jacob Snively Expedition
disbanded at the abandoned fort, which consisted of a few log structures.
Organized to capture Mexican gold wagons on the Santa Fe Trail in
retaliation for raids on San Antonio, the outfit had been disarmed
by United States forces.
About the same time, negotiations began at the fort
between Republic of Texas officials Gen. Tarrant and Gen. George W.
Terrell and the leaders of nine Indian tribes. The meetings ended
on September 29, 1843, with the signing of the Bird's Fort Treaty.
Terms of the agreement called for an end to existing conflicts and
the establishment of a line separating Indian lands from territory
open for colonization.
(Photo from the book, The Men Who Wear The Star, by Charles M. Robinson,
Negotiations began at the fort between Republic of Texas
officials Gen. Tarrant and Gen. George W. Terrell and the leaders
of nine Indian tribes. The meetings ended on September 29, 1843, with
the signing of the Bird's Fort Treaty. Terms of the agreement called
for an end to existing conflicts and the establishment of a line separating
Indian lands from territory open for colonization. Houston proposed
commissioning three trading houses, one at the forks of the Trinity,
a second at Comanche Peak and a third at the Old Mission on the San
Saba River. He sent out agents to inform the chiefs of the tribes
that he requested their presence at a powwow in the fall of 1843,
at Bird's Fort. They were told he would distribute presents and negotiate
terms of peace.
One party of agents, under Joseph C. Eldridge, located
a Comanche camp where they were received by the wives of Chief Pa-hah-yuca,
who was away on a hunt. After a week (during which the camp was moved
twice), the chief returned and gathered a council of a hundred warriors
to consider Eldridge's proposal. During the council, Eldridge and
his party were held captive, but they could hear the warriors angry
rejection as they recalled the fateful Council House Fight of 1840.
For over a day it seemed to the captives that they would soon be tortured
and murdered. Fortunately, Eldridge had brought a token of good will,
two captive Comanche children. Their return swung the mood of the
warriors to conciliation and the chief sent Eldridge and his group
back to Bird's Fort with an agreement for a future meeting, the exact
time to be arranged. When Eldridge returned, Houston had already left
Bird's Fort. He had met on the 29th of September and signed a treaty
with representatives of all the major tribes except the Wichita and
The terms included the understanding that from the forks
of the Trinity on a line to the southwest to Menard, the western side
would be red man's hunting ground, while the east would be the white
man's farm land. Beyond the border was "Where the West Begins."
Only authorized delegations, such as teachers, blacksmiths, and licensed
traders, could cross into Indian territory. Trading posts would be
built along the line; property belonging to one side found on the
other side would be restored to its proper owner through post officials.
These ceremonies were the high point in the history
of the fort. Captain Bird and his men found the fort uninhabitable
soon after it was built four years earlier. A band of Indians burned
the grass around the fort causing a lack of game and forage. Though
it was reoccupied time and again, the winters and the Indians always
proved too severe and more than a few lives were lost. Captain Johnson
built his fort to the south about ten miles soon after the treaty
was signed. Often referred to as Johnson's Station, it succeeded where
Bird's Fort had not, providing pioneers with end of the trail necessities
to settle their new homes.