The Fort in Fort Worth was formally established on June 6, 1849 by Brevet Major Ripley Allen Arnold, commanding officer of: Company "F" 2nd. U.S. Dragoons. The fort was eventually located on the bluff overlooking the junction of the Clear and the West Forks of the Trinity River. The Dragoons would be joined by a company of infantry in October. The mission of the units at the fort was to protect the settlers east of a line that ran from the Red River south and then west to the Rio Grande, and to protect the Indians west of the line. The mission was performed primarily by a monthly patrol that went north to the Red River and back, and by escorting various parties along and to the west of the line. It was the northern most fort along this line in Texas.
The fort was named for Brevet Major General William Jenkins Worth, a hero of the War of 1812, the Second Seminole War and the Mexican War, who had been the Commander of U.S. forces in Texas, before dying of cholera. It was established after Worth's death by order of Brevet Brigadier General William S. Harney, commanding officer of the 2nd Dragoons.
It was a small post, initially laid out to house one company of about 50 men, but was often occupied by more. No permanent buildings were built, and the soldiers constructed the cabins and shacks in which they and their horses lived. During the life of the post, there was constant tension between the dragoons, who were mounted and made the monthly patrols, and the infantry who usually stayed behind and built the buildings. Most of the time, both dragoons and infantrymen were ill with malaria and other diseases, so the post was always short handed.
Major Arnold, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a hero in both the Second Seminole and the Mexican wars, was a southern gentleman and was at home with the plantation culture, which began developing in the area. His wife brought the first piano to the bluffs. He was known as a congenial host and a stern disciplinarian. Two of his younger children were the first people to die at the fort. Eleven soldiers at the fort who died of disease would follow them over the years. At various times two other West Point Graduates would command the Fort in Fort Worth. They were Brevet Lieutenant Colonel James V. Bomford, and Brevet Major Hamilton Merrill. A total of 13 West Pointers served at the fort during its four plus year existence.
Despite some myths to the contrary, there were no major encounters
with Indians at or near the fort. Initially, the men who served at the
fort were combat veterans of the Mexican War and a number of them had
received awards for valor. They were armed with the first six shot revolvers
to be issued to the Army, so they had superior firepower as well as
combat experience. The only confrontation that might have occurred was
aborted when Major Arnold fired the fort's 12-pound mountain howitzer
toward a group of protesting Indians.
In the summer of 1853 the Indians had been pushed west, and the Fort of Fort Worth was too far from the front lines, so it was ordered closed. The main body of dragoons left the fort in mid September 1853, and the last contingent departed just before Christmas. Citizens from the little village, which grew up around the fort, moved into the abandoned buildings, and it became the seed for a city. The fort's buildings became a clinic, a school, a store, a hotel and a tavern, as well as residences.
A number of the soldiers received their discharge while at the fort, and settled in Fort Worth and became leading citizens. So, while the soldiers and buildings of the fort have passed away, the seed they planted and the spirit they left remain as much of our heritage as longhorns and oil. A display of the weapons, equipment and uniforms, including a rocking chair left at the fort,7 is open in the History Room at the Tarrant County Courthouse. It is among the best pre-Civil War displays of military equipment in the nation.
A thoroughly researched book about the fort and the military situation in north Texas from 1837-53, by Dr. Claude Clayton Perkins is now available for only $29.95 plus tax and shipping and handling. It can be ordered from The Cross-Timbers Area Heritage Publishing Corporation, 1520 Scot Lane; Keller, TX76248 email [email protected]. Color drawings, of the fort based on the official quartermaster general's report in 1853 can be ordered in any size from the same company, or purchased directly at the Stockyards Station Gallery in the Fort Worth Stockyards.