History of Fort Worth, Texas

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General Worth by Mathew Brady
US Army 1850's winter and summer uniforms. Tarrant County Courthouse display.
US Army 1850's dress uniforms

The history of Fort Worth, Texas, in the United States is closely intertwined with the history of northern Texas and the history of the Texan frontier. From its early history as an outpost and a barrier against Native American threats, to its later days as a booming cattle town, to modern times as a corporate center, the city has changed dramatically, although it still preserves much of its heritage in its modern culture.

In January 1849, U.S. Army General William Jenkins Worth, an admired veteran of the Mexican-American War, proposed building ten forts to mark where the west Texas frontier began from Eagle Pass to the confluence of the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River. Worth died on 7 May 1849 from cholera [1] and General William S. Harney assumed Worth's position and ordered Major Ripley A. Arnold to find a new fort site near the confluence of the West and Clear Forks. On 6 June 1849, Arnold established a post on the banks of the Trinity and named it Camp Worth in honor of the recently passed General. In August 1849, Arnold moved the camp to a north-facing bluff that overlooked the mouth of the Clear Fork. The US War Department officially granted the name "Fort Worth" to the post on 14 November 1849.[2]

Pioneers began to settle in the area around Fort Worth even though Native Americans were still a considerable threat. In the process of relocating the camp to the bluff, Arnold found George "Press" Farmer living there and allowed him to open the first sutler's store. Other early settlers were Howard W. Peak, Ed Terrell, George W. Terrell, and Ephraim M. Daggett. When a new line of forts was built further west, the U.S. Army evacuated Fort Worth on 17 September 1853. The settlers decided that with no one there to argue with them, they could take unopposed possession of the fort site. John Peter Smith opened a school in 1854 to twelve students; Archibald Leonard and Henry Daggett started the first department stores. Julian Feild opened a flour mill and general store in 1856 and the Butterfield Overland Mail and the Southern Pacific Stage Line used the town as their western terminus on the westward journey to California.[2]

In 1855, a battle over the placement of the county seat erupted. Since 1849 the county seat had been Birdville, but in 1855 Fort Worth citizens decided that the honor of county seat belonged to their town. After a long fight, Fort Worth gained the title in 1860 and construction began on a stone county courthouse. After a delay due to the Civil War, the courthouse was completed in the 1870s.[2]

Fort Worth had slaves in its antebellum period. In 1860, Tarrant County had 5,170 whites and 850 slaves. When the question came to secede from the Union, most citizens were for secession, and Tarrant County voted for disunion with the North. The effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction nearly wiped Fort Worth off the map during the 1860s. The city's population dropped as low as 175 and food, supply, and money shortages burdened the citizens. As the War's effects began to fade, so did the city's hardships, and it gradually began to revive itself into the 1870s. By 1872, William C. Boaz, William Henry Davis, and Jacob Samuels opened general stores. In 1873, Khleber M. Van Zandt established Tidball, Van Zandt, and Company, which became the Fort Worth National Bank in 1884. Barrooms like Tom Prindle's Saloon and Steele's Tavern welcomed many travelers. In 1876, future Denver, Colorado crime boss, Soapy Smith arrived in Fort Worth and began his criminal career operating his famous soap sell confidence tricks on the unwary. At this time weekly newspapers abounded, including the Fort Worth Chief and the Democrat. Schools reopened gradually after the war, and in 1869 Randolph, Addison, and Ida Clark taught six students in a local church.[citation needed]

Barrooms, a school, and newspapers did not mean much economically other than sustainability — it was the cattle industry that really boomed Fort Worth into "Cowtown." Fort Worth was a good resting point for cowboys driving their cattle to Abilene, Kansas. Many northern cattle buyers established headquarters in Fort Worth, and new business including Pendery and Wilson's Liquor Wholesale, B. C. Evans dry goods, and Martin B. Loyd's Exchange Office set up shop in the city. In 1873 Fort Worth was incorporated with a mayor-council government, and W. P. Burts became the city's first mayor.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ WORTH, WILLIAM JENKINS from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2006-08-10.
  2. ^ a b c FORT WORTH, TEXAS from the Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2006-08-10.