The Establishment of Fort Worth

Sam Houston

Texans were divided on the issue of statehood. Pioneers wanted all the border protection they could get but generally were against surrendering control to any government, much less one as distant as Washington on the Potomac. Many Texans believed if there was to be an alliance with a distant power, it should be Britian, who coveted San Francisco and offered expansion of Texas territory to the Pacific.

Andrew Jackson

Acquiring Texas had long been one of Andrew Jackson's dreams. He sent his protege, Sam Houston, there in 1832 to cool the Indians in the name of the United States. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans could hardly sit still for a British Texas. He spurred another protege, James Polk, into the presidency on the platform of immediate Texas annexation. Liberal conditions included the U.S. delivery of cash, soldiers and forts while Texas retained all it's public land, the right to fly it's flag at the same height as the stars and stripes and divide itself into six states. That is, assuming of course, there could ever be an agreement on which state would get the Alamo.

It was the public land issue that caused the United States trouble in its negotiations with the Indians. It promised but couldn't deliver Texas soil to the Comanches nor could anything do much to curb western expansion. A decade before when Houston was confronted with a Comanche request for a permanent border, he sadly shook his head and said, "If I could build a wall from the Red River to the Rio Grande, so high that no Indian could scale it, the white people would go crazy trying to devise a means to get beyond it."

On December 29, 1845, Texas became a state, sparking a war with Mexico. As the armies moved to the south, the frontier was left unprotected and the governor ordered new Ranger companies to protect the settlements. Companies were sent to Bryant's Station, about eighteen miles south of today's Temple, Torrey's Trading House near today's Waco and stationed at the trading house at Marrow Bone Springs. Captain Andrew Stapp's company from Collin County took charge of the Marrow Bone Station. He subsequently split his force, ordering William Fitzhugh to establish an outpost on the Elm Fork of the Trinity, about ten miles south of the Red River. (An 1852 Peters Colony map indicates the outpost to be about three miles southeast of Gainesville off of Farm Road 372.) Stapp's men were ordered to maintain contact with Fort Washita, located near Durant, Oklahoma about forty-five miles northeast of Fitzhugh Station. Enlistments ran out in February of 1847 and the reorganized company was given to Fitzhugh, along with a promotion. He sent part of his men thirty miles south to Hickory Creek where they built a post on the edge of Denton. (The Peters Colony map shows the Hickory Creek Station about one mile northeast of Pilot Knob or about two hundred yards southwest of I-35W crosses Hickory Creek.)

In the summer of 1847, Lieutenant Colonel Peter H. Bell was overall commander of the Ranger companies on the frontier including Middleton Tate Johnson's, who were stationed near Torrey's on the Brazos and Captain Shapley Ross', who were ordered to establish a post on the North Bosque, fifteen miles above Torrey's. In January of 1848, Johnson was ordered to move his company to Marrow Bone Springs which they renamed Kaufman Station but was widely known as Johnson Station. Indian agent Neighbors argued against these moves because along with a lax policy, they encouraged white settlement far to the west. (Dillingham Prairie in southern Jack County was first cultivated in 1847.) In May of 1848, Captain John Conner led his company to Smith Station on Richland Creek, about four miles west of today's Milford. Early in 1849, most of the companies were mustered out and the army was to station dragoons in their place. Colonel Johnson claimed Marrow Bone Springs, as the last of the Peter Colony contract had expired. He xfexpressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that the army was only manning Torrey's and Conner's Station, which left him and countless other settlers on the northwestern frontier unprotected. The army responded by agreeing to establish Fort Worth.

Following are highlights from the book, Fort Worth, A Frontier Triumph, by Julia Kathryn Garrett. She was a legendary history teacher at Arlington Heights High School and an invaluable figure in the preservation of Texas History.

    With the Mexican War over, the Federal government turned its attention to Texas, the new state annexed on the eve of the war. The treaty of annexation stated that the United States would assume control of Indian defense in Texas. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which had concluded the Mexican War, the United States had agreed to prevent American Indians from marauding into Mexico. To comply with these agreements Uncle Sam ordered, in 1849, a cordon of eight forts to be erected in Texas beyond the line of settlement, and to be garrisoned by regular troops of the United States Army.

    The projected line of defense was to enter Texas to the north and east of the 98th parallel and proceed in a southwesterly direction to the Colorado and Guadalupe rivers and thence west to the Rio Grande. Assigned to the duty of locating these forts was General William Jenkins Worth, stationed in San Antonio in command of the Eighth and Ninth departments of the army, which included the vast areas of Texas and New Mexico.

    In February, 1849, General Worth had commissioned Major Ripley A. Arnold to use companies F and I of the Second United States Dragoons to found two of the forts in the chain. The eastern end of the cordon of forts was to begin, in the words of official instructions, "somewhere near the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River," and extend southwestward to the Rio Grande.

    By April 17, 1849, Major Arnold had established one of the forts-Fort Graham, one mile east of the Brazos in Hill County. Now he was ready for the next post, which must have a strong, strategic, and healthful site. So with a detachment of dragoons, he proceeded to Mary le Bone Springs with a letter addressed to Colonel Johnson from General Worth. The general wanted assistance, and Johnson was the man he knew could best advise Major Arnold for the new site. Johnson in a masterful and lengthy letter to the supreme military authority in Washington, D. C., had voiced the discontent of settlers because of lack of defense and the gravity of the situation on the frontier.

    Projects are outlined and men act. From Mary le Bone Springs on an early May morning of 1849, men of good will rode together to find a site for a fort "somewhere near the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River." The party was comprised of Major Arnold's escort of blue uniformed dragoons and Colonel Johnson in command of Rangers: Henry Clay Daggett, W. B. Echols, Simon B. Farrar, and Charles Turner.

    A controversy had disturbed historians. Was Major Arnold in that party which selected the location of the post? Peak stated that "Colonel Johnson and four of his rangers accompanied the major to the camp site," and Simon Farrar, who accompanied Colonel Johnson wrote in 1893, "We started in company with Major Arnold's command up the Trinity River in search of a place to locate the regular troops." Who could better describe the epoch-making event than Farrar since he was there and the only one who has left a written record?

    …It is out of my power to describe the grandeur of the wild and beautiful scenery of the place where the grand city now stands.… After staying about a week at Johnson's Station, we started in company with Major Arnold's command up the Trinity River.… We passed through and across timbers, crossing the different creeks as best we could, through a wild, beautiful country inhabited only by Indians, wild mustang horses, innumerable deer, wolves and wild turkey.

    About three o'clock in the evening we halted in the valley east of where Fort Worth now stands and killed a deer for supper. We could have killed many more but did not wish to be encumbered with them. We passed our first night near Terry Springs east of Fort Worth later to be known as Cold Springs where we enjoyed ourselves with jokes, etc., indifferent to Indians, wolves, and all the wild enemies of white men.

    Next morning Col. Johnson, Major Arnold …started to locate the barracks. We went west until we reached the point where the Court House now stands, there halted and reviewed the scenery from all points and I thought it the most beautiful and grand country that the sun ever shone on and while we were at that place in view of all advantages of a natural point of defense, and our late experience at Monterrey, wherein the strategic action of General Worth had so terribly defeated the Mexicans, we there, in honor of that grand old hero, named the point Fort Worth.

    This chosen site was on the property of Colonel Johnson and his partner, Archibald Robinson. There was no quibbling about price. Johnson and Robinson were settling a frontier. They gave the land to the United States government for use until the post should be abandoned; at which time, it was to revert to the owners. The post was to have the military rating of a camp, not a fort. However, five months after the founding of the camp, it was awarded the title of a fort.

    Dragoons and Rangers had completed a momentous mission. Surely that day, as the small band stood there in the stillness, someone captured the significance. Their action meant something-it was a beginning, a break with a period of uninhabited wilderness, an opening of a prairie empire; it would unloosen forces from which would be born a great city.…

    Rifle shots clapped with ear-piercing sharpness cutting through the heavy silence on June 6, 1849, to climax the raising of the United States flag of thirty stars at the forks of the Trinity. A military ceremony in good form for the records of the War Department in Washington had taken place. The Second Dragoons, Company F, United States Cavalry under the command of Major Ripley Allen Arnold had formally begun the establishment of the military post called Camp Worth.

    Tired but happy soldiers, amazed by the beauty of the country, were pleased with the location of their new camp. In the coolness of a live oak grove northeast of the present courthouse square and near what is known as Pioneer Rest Cemetery, the dragoons found that nature had met man's every need. Three-quarters of a mile away cold water gushed from the south bank of the Trinity, which never lost its coolness under the thick shade of great oaks and giant pecan trees. They called it Cold Springs. Throughout all seasons the supply of cold water never failed even when the streams of the Clear and West Forks were reduced to stagnant pools during the hot, slow summers.

    This spring was to provide the source of drinking water later when settlers moved in, and until they could dig wells. Later still, it served as a recreation resort for picnics and Fourth of July celebrations up through the turn of the twentieth century. By 1949, a hundred years from their discovery by the dragoons, only a faint bubbly trickle remained due to the south bank being denuded of trees. A road and a bridge leading to this location still bear the name Cold Springs.

    Weary, worn soldiers, on that evening of historic June 6, made their beds almost as early as the thousands of wild chickens that came to roost in the nearby trees. Dragoons would sleep away their exhaustion. From June 4 to 6 they had been on the road from Fort Graham, over fifty miles away. Many creeks had been a problem to cross with mule-drawn vehicles loaded with twelve-pound bras field guns, six-pound brass field guns, Springfield smooth-bore muskets, Harper's Ferry sharpshooter rifles, army smooth-bore percussion pistols, one six-pound howitzer, a small mill, carpenter and blacksmith tools, camp equipment, food rations, and medical supplies.

    It did not require a bugle to awaken the dragoons at sunrise on June 7. The squawking of a thousand wild chickens as they left their roost in the trees at the break of day, brought the dragoons from their sleep to begin months of unremitting labor. Major Arnold, the only officer with the company that June, had to bear over much. There was the duty of operating efficiently a military post with the problem of keeping the soldiers well; for this camp, though in a beautiful location, was not in a healthful one. Situated in the lowlands and heavily timbered, mosquitoes swarmed, causing illness. This in turn contributed to meager manpower to construct the necessary buildings.

    Nine days after camp had been made, Major Arnold revealed his discontent. The post was not taking form rapidly enough in his eager vision. He needed help. From the archives of the War Department, we learn that he wrote to Major General Roger Jones, the adjutant general of the United States, on June 15, in a testy mood and underlined words for emphasis.

    …The major's June report did not bring immediate relief. Mail was slow. The nearest post office was "Dallas, thirty-five miles to the east, more than a full day's journey." In mid-August, the War Department received the major's testy report.

    Lack of manpower was not the only trouble, but the problem of rations. In another letter, the major informed the adjutant general on July 30, 1849:

    … Now permit me to say, that his being a Frontier Post, near sixty miles from any other Post; and a considerable distance from settlements that all entertainment necessarily falls upon the officers of the Post. Many Citizen Gentlemen are traveling through this Country, who cannot always provide themselves with all that they need; and who gentility and necessities call loudly for our Hospitality.

    I think that I may safely assert that the Comdt. Officer of this Post will be obliged to entertain more Persons, than the Comdt. Officer of any Atlantic Station.

    Double rations were granted Camp Worth by the War Department.

    …Fall came. On October 6, there was excitement in Camp Worth. Company F, Eighth Infantry, two officers and thirty-nine men under the command of Captain Robert P. Maclay and Second Lieutenant John Bold, joined Major Arnold's garrison. Lonely dragoons welcomed the arrival of much needed help, as well as men with new stories. And the infantrymen had good stories to tell. They had come from inhabited country "on the Steamboat Jack Hays up the Trinity as far as it was navigable," then overland through the Trinity Valley to relax in the pleasurable abundance of Colonel Johnson's plantation. A new burst of energy took hold of the men. Building of the fort went forward. More trees were cut in the little forest on the banks of the Trinity. Sergeant Abe Harris, a veteran of the Mexican War with a good record, commanded the group of infantrymen cutting the trees. Talented as a cabinetmaker, he knew good wood. His skill was pressed into service in building the officer's quarters. By late fall, the handiwork of the dragoons and infantrymen was established.

    Camp Worth was a sight to gladden the wayfarers as they rode into the West-an assemblage of log buildings with their ever freshly whitened walls in regular lines rising from the knee-high grass. Over all, floated the Stars and Stripes. A fort and the American flag in an ocean of prairie were heartening.

    Looking west, the soldiers saw the West Fork of the Trinity meandering toward them to join the Clear Fork beneath the fort where the waters ran almost bank full, clear as crystal and swarming with fish. On the west and north horizons "buffalo herds grazed but did not come near the timber" which outlined the rivers. Soldiers off duty, if good fishermen and hunters, were not at a loss for amusement.

    Facing the soldiers' barracks and distant some two hundred and fifty feet south, were the officers' quarters, consisting of three houses. Arnold occupied the center building. Each house had two rooms separate by a runway or porch. Officers, facing the south, looked out across the Grand Prairie where today are the busy streets of Main, Houston, and Throckmorton. To the southwest they looked where now are Trinity and Forest parks and saw the Clear Fork cutting through the prairies in a winding path heavily outlined by trees. Gazing eastward, they beheld the East Cross Timbers interlaced with the creeks called Village and Sycamore.

    The eastern boundary of the quadrangle consisted of long lines of stables with their backs to the present Tarrant County Courthouse. The hospital, quartermaster, and commissary offices completed the enclosure on the west facing out upon what is today the Ripley Arnold Housing Center. An ample parade ground in the center of the quadrangle covered the space now called Belknap Street. East of the center stood the flagstaff which Abe Harris had made by joining two of the tallest cottonwoods he could find with an iron band. This flagpole stood where today, on the Tarrant County Criminal Courthouse grounds, stands a granite monument marking the site of this military post.

    Outside the quadrangle, warehouses containing quartermaster commissary stores were on a line with, and west of, the officers' quarters. Supplies in these warehouses were freighted by oxteams of the post from San Antonio, headquarters of the United States Eighth Military District. Still west and north of the commissary warehouse on present-day West Belknap, was a sutler's store-a shop licensed by the government to operate on the premises of military posts or nearby, in order to provide the soldiers with extra frills. George Press Farmer, the first sutler, opened for business two months after the garrison was established.

    The Trinity River, Cold Springs, and a well dug by the soldiers under Major Arnold's direction, provided the fort with water. This first well was ninety feet deep and was located in the center of present Houston Street opposite the west entrance of the Tarrant County Courthouse.

    In the winter of 1849 Camp Worth was completed, the last in the chain of eight federal forts. It stood a lone sentinel fifty-four miles about Fort Graham in a somewhat northerly direction. By 1850, an excellent road skirting the western edge of the lower Cross Timbers was etched by travel between the two military posts.

    On November 14, 1849, there was an event over which to rejoice. The War Department lifted the military post from the rank of a camp to that of a fort. And the city of today cherishes this award by continuous use of the name and by jealously preserving its military heritage. That year closed auspiciously. Christmas day was the climax. Second Lieutenant Samuel H. Starr of the Second Dragoons arrived with a detachment of recruits and remained at the post the following year. Another officer, First Lieutenant W. F. Street, Eighth Infantry, had already joined Company F the previous October. These troops of dragoons and infantrymen constituted the garrison from that date until April 6, 1851.

    …Major Arnold commanded the outpost of Fort Worth at the age of thirty-two. Six feet tall, slender, graceful, gray eyes, a dominant forehead topped with auburn hair, a good chin and a mouth set in purposeful lines-he had the bearing of youth. Youthful strength with power drive, he was symbolic of the trait that would dominate Fort Worth's city pioneering.

    …It is not to be denied that Fort Worth was a wilderness outpost. But the major, the Frenchman, and the soldiery made it a vibrant center with the niceties enjoyed by affluent city dwellers. There were dinners when gentlemen of men came to see the country; or when officers of the United States Army came on tour of inspection. And during Fort Worth's existence as an army post, military men of distinction were visitors: "Lieutenant Colonels Wm. J. Hardee, George H. Thomas, Robert E. Lee, Earl Van Dorn, John B. Hood and Fitzhugh Lee." There were times when the entire garrison gave festive parties, inviting the settlers.

    By 1850, according to Margaret Ann Loving, there were about a half-dozen double log cabins near the fort, pioneers who had arrived in December of 1849. These families were headed by Archibald Robinson, Archibald Franklin Leonard, Press Farmer, W. R. and Samuel Loving, and Henry Daggett. Within riding distance were a few other families; and in the words of a young non-commissioned officer, Abe Harris, some of these families had pretty daughters who made him sigh, referring especially to the girls in the Wright Conner and Elijah Farmer cabins, west of the fort.

    For the parties, tables in the commissary quarters were heaped with the best that the military larder could provide. The guests ate and danced their way through the evening. If it were summer, Mrs. Arnold was in residence and acted as hostess. It was said that she was a beauty with a queenly carriage, a well-educated mind, and possessed a voice unusually winning, impressing those whom she met. Since her husband was frequently called to Washington, Mrs. Arnold made homes both in the capital and in frontier posts. In winter, Mrs. Arnold, with a Negro maid, usually remained in Washington for the schooling of the five children: Sophie, Willis, Catherine, Nannie, and Flora. In summer, they joined the major at his military post.

    The Arnold children discovered that their sojourn at Fort Worth was equally as educational as at the national capital. There were nature lessons, even to the domestication of the wild animals, one of which was the pet antelope of Kate. When he strayed away, he was rounded up by the jovial Sergeant Major Harris. Doctor Gounah taught them music, language, and how a gentlewoman sat a horse and rode with grace. There were playmates. And like all pioneer children on the frontier, they played within sight of their parents and under certain restrictions, one of them being "they were never to cross the parade ground of the fort." These playmates were Margaret Ann Loving and the three daughters of the "post surgeon" Standifer-Castera, Eliza, and Julia Caroline.

    When the dragoons came to build Fort Worth, Doctor Standifer had left his wife and three daughters in the home of Colonel Johnson at Johnson's Station until he completed a home close-by the colonel's in which he established his family with four trusted slaves. On most Fridays, he journeyed to Johnson's Station to spend weekends with them. Mrs. Standifer died at Johnson's Station in January 1851; after which time, the doctor resigned his post at the fort.

    A fort, like a house which knows great joys, does not escape its share of sorrow. In the first summer of 1850, Sophie and Willis Arnold were stricken in death. About a mile northeast, the children were laid to rest in land donated by the major's friend, Doctor Gounah. The two small graves were walled up with rock and capped with a sandstone slab bearing the date 1850. Time has made slight inroad against this tribute of the major's love. Today, one may find this tomb in the extreme southeastern portion of Pioneer Rest Cemetery, skirting the main driveway. Nearby are two graves of unknown soldiers who had also died in the year 1850.

    …The day after Major Arnold had been killed at Fort Graham, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel William Grigsby Freeman, assistant adjutant general, paid an inspection visit to Fort Worth while Major Merrill was still there. Dated September 7, 1853, the report follows:

    The company had only fatigue clothing of the old pattern, but some of the men wore sky blue, instead of the dark blue jackets. They were armed… with musketoons, sabres, and Colt's revolver pistols. They were reviewed as foot, but inspected and required to exercise both as horse and foot. The clothing, though not new, was in good order and generally well fitted; the arms and accoutrements clean and, except the musketoons, serviceable… The horses (60) are all serviceable, and in finer condition than those of any mounted troops in Texas. Their equipments were also neat and well preserved.

    In the manual, marching and sword exercises, dismounted the company showed a fair degree of proficiently. In the saddle they acquitted themselves very handsomely, marching with accuracy by twos, fours and company front at a walk, trot, and gallop; skirmishing as dragoons on foot and as mounted foragers; and leaping the bar and ditch with great spirit and a perfect mastery of their horses. It was evident that much attention had been given to this part of their instruction.

    I was gratified to find it was the solitary exception throughout my tour… the guardhouse… without a prisoner. But Major Merrill informs me that most of his men belong to the temperance society and that he ha rarely occasion to confine any one of them… I found the discipline and police of the post excellent. A fine garden of eight acres is cultivate by the men…

    No Indians have visited the post since last autumn, except a small party of Caddoes and Ionies.

    The report was not all praise: there was also place for progress. He did not approve of the mail service. Waco was the post office for Forts Worth and Graham; therefore, each week a wagon express travelled fifty-six miles to Fort Graham for the mail. "The nearest towns or villages are Dallas with 350 inhabitants, thirty-eight miles east; and Birdville and Alton with a population of fifty each, distant nine and thirty-five miles respectively." And his next remark did not commend the fort for good business. The post was located "on a disputed tract of land," for which "nothing had been paid either for rent or the timber cut for fuel." This was the last military report on Fort Worth. Nine days later the dragoons moved out.

    In dusty, dry September, the dragoons headed north across the sun-browned prairies, while wagons heavy with artillery and all the equipment of Fort Worth trailed behind. They were moving to Fort Belknap. It was September 17, 1853. The history of Fort Worth as a military post had ended for a time. Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson and Archibald Robinson were again proprietors of the land.

    …Fort Worth had served its purpose form 1849 to 1853. The flag, sound of bugle, clatter of cavalry, click of guns, and boom of cannon were gone; but the abandoned army post did not become a ghost fort on the prairies. Home-builders were gathering about it, while a few families found shelter within its walls. They were the inheritors of General Worth's and Major Arnold's good design for living. With labor, care, and faith Fort Worth would make a victorious transition from a military post to a “Fort Town.”