North Texas History from the Battle of Stone Houses to the Establishment of Fort Worth

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Tarrant County, Texas

Within a year of the Battle of Stone Houses, other Ranger companies entered the Trinity Valley. Captains Sloan and Journey brought their Fannin County Rangers in the spring of 1838. In the fall, General Jonathan Dyer, commander of the Red River County Rangers (volunteers), led his men to the Indian village on the upper Trinity where they engaged a band of Caddos and killed six warriors while suffering two wounded in their party. Also in early October of 1838, eighteen of twenty-five surveyors were killed in an Indian attack near the site of today's Dawson. Later that month, General Thomas Jefferson Rusk coordinated a three-prong attack on the Trinity bottoms.

Historian Clay Perkins states that the expedition was "weakened by diversions to other areas and lack of food for men and horse."

Perkins continues in his book, The Fort in Fort Worth:

Mirabeau B. Lamar succeeded Sam Houston as president of the Republic of Texas on December 10, 1838. He wanted to drive the Indians out of Texas, and he authorized a series of expeditions to clear all the Indians from the republic. In the summer of 1839, Texas militia drove the Cherokee Indians from east Texas. As the Indians were pushed out of east Texas, whites began to move into the Three Forks region. Surveyors were working in the area by 1839. However, they were liable to being attacked and killed at any time.

    To protect whites advancing from the east, the Texas Congress voted to establish a line of forts to defend what was then the western frontier. The line would stretch from the Nueces River in the south to the Red River in the north. To connect the frontier forts, a military road would be needed. Construction of the "Military Road" began in August 1840, when about two hundred infantrymen under Col. William Cooke marched north from Austin. The expedition crossed the Brazos at the Waco village and continued north to the Trinity, following the approximate route of today's Interstate Highway 35 and 35 East.

    They crossed the Trinity near Dallas, and made their way to the Red River. Cooke and his men established outposts at the Cedar Springs crossing (in today's Dallas) and on the Red River. The Red River post (a few miles west of today's Denison) was named Fort Johnston, probably in honor of Albert Sidney Johnston, Lamar's Secretary of War.

    President Lamar's campaigns made east Texas safe for settlers, but bankrupted the treasury. In the spring of 1841, the Texas Congress disbanded the army. Cooke's soldiers returned to Austin for discharge. Although the forts were abandoned, the road became an important route for pioneers. Settlers could travel directly from Austin to the Red River for the first time. The fight would now be left up to the local settlers.

Brigadier General Edward Hamilton Tarrant, whose men called him "Old Hurricane", led less than one hundred men from Fort Johnston to Village Creek, where they engaged a larger Indian force but retreated after Captain John Denton was killed. Tarrant returned to the battle site in July with four hundred men but found the Indian villages had been abandoned. He ordered Major Jonathan Bird's company to construct a fort in the area. Bird chose a spot to the north on the Trinity near the south end of Main Street in present day Euless. The Rangers soon abandoned the fort after discovering it was built on land that belonged to the Peter's Colony and the major was not reimbursed for his expenses. Settlers remained until the next summer. (More Bird's Fort) In 1845, Isaac Spence and a partner obtained the rights to open a trading house on the Trinity. A.G. Kimbell and partner had previously established a post somewhere between Fort Worth's hospital district and the Botanical Gardens, which was operated for about a year by Edward Terrell and John P. Lusk until they were temporarily captured by hostile Indians. In September, Spence reported to officials in Austin that Ranger Colonel Smith and two Indian chiefs helped him select the site called Marrow Bone Spring.

    …the most suitable place for the Trading House and the one where all the Indians wish it to be placed. I have put up a House 36 feet long by 16 feet wide with a frame roof, covered with two foot boards nailed and enclosed with half logs as pickets fastened together in a substantial manner, I am putting up some other necessary outbuildings for our convenience comfort and security all of which I am having enclosed with strong and substantial pickets.

Indian Territory Map
Map from the book The Fort in Fort Worth by Clay Perkins

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 west edge of present-day Denton. (The Peters Colony map shows the Hickory Creek Station about one mile northeast of Pilot Knob or about two hundred yards southwest of where 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 expressed 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.

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