The Year Was 1876: The Mail, Mules, and Murder in the Cowpen

1876 daily standardThe year was 1876. Texas A&M University opened; Anheuser-Busch began marketing Budweiser. The end of Reconstruction was still a year away. The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was five years away. In Fort Worth, City Marshal Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright was eleven years away from his contretemps with Luke Short. Fort Worth was still a frontier town: Streets were not paved; homes did not have electricity, running water, telephone. Articles from the Daily Fort Worth Standard show in more detail what life was like in Cowtown during America’s centennial year.

1876 birds eye view smallFort Worth’s population had dwindled after the Civil War (Mayor Burts in 1874 said the population was six hundred) but began to increase after the Texas & Pacific railroad finally reached town on July 19. By 1880 the population would be six thousand. This D. D. Morse bird’s-eye-view map of 1876 looks toward the new Texas & Pacific tracks on the horizon, a mile south of the courthouse (which burned in March of that year).

76 10-16 colored cavalryA supply train led by Sergeant Parker of the 10th Colored Cavalry was in town from Fort Concho (San Angelo) with baggage bound for the Black Hills, possibly as part of the Black Hills War, one battle of which had been the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June.

76 10-16 womenIn this snippet the Daily Standard’s syntax may confound, but its sentiment is clear: Even in 1876 there was something about Fort Worth women. Note the reference to Fort Worth as the “City of Heights,” a nickname that, like “Queen City of the Prairie,” has not survived as well as “Cowtown” or “Panther City.”

76 10-3 sangersSanger Brothers had not been in town long but was already expanding its clothing department.

76 10-19 mail car dfwsOn October 19 the Daily Standard announced that soon the mail between Fort Worth and Dallas would be delivered by train, not by stagecoach—yet another advance in the standard of living wrought by arrival of the railroad. Wired communication had arrived in 1874 with the telegraph, but Cowtown was about to get the frontier’s version of wi-fi: ho-co (horseless communication).

76 10-21 panelIn this panel of October 21, (1) the effort to bring mule-drawn streetcar service to Fort Worth had developed a hitch in its giddy-up. However, that service would begin on December 27. (2) You don’t see the terms relict and consort used much anymore to mean “widow” and “wife of a living man.” Husband Jesse Jones would, in fact, be a living man for another forty years. Notice that the obituary does not say where Mrs. Jones was buried. No need to. There was only one cemetery: Pioneers Rest. (3) The Texas & Pacific “turning table” (turntable) was finished, replacing the wye, a triangular configuration of tracks that allowed a locomotive to reverse direction.

76 10-21-23 milk murderOn October 21 and 23 the Daily Standard reported a murder that occurred on the Clear Fork as two farmers were milking in a cowpen.

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