Names in the News: In the Beginning Was a Fort Named “Worth”

On May 7, 1849 Major General William Jenkins Worth died of “the dreadful scourge” of cholera in San Antonio.

worth dead 6-16-49 northern standard

News traveled slowly in those days: Five weeks after General Worth died the June 16 edition of the Northern Standard of Clarksville, Texas reprinted a news report that had appeared in the Western Texian of San Antonio. (Newspapers relied on an exchange system: They gathered and disseminated news by exchanging copies of each issue with each other by mail.) General Worth was buried in San Antonio but later reinterred in Manhattan. Worth Street in Manhattan is named for him.

One month after General Worth died, Army Major Ripley Arnold, accompanied by Texas Ranger Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson and a few soldiers, scouted the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River and selected a site on which to establish an Army fort in northern Texas. The fort would be part of a line of military outposts stretching along the frontier to protect white settlers against Indian “depredations.” On June 6, 1849 Major Arnold, with the raising of Old Glory on a flagpole northwest of today’s courthouse, established the Army’s Camp (soon to be “Fort”) Worth and named the camp in honor of General Worth, his former commander.

Gen._David_E._Twiggs_-_NARA_-_528455William Jenkins Worth was born in New York in 1794. President of the United States at the time: George Washington. Worth fought in the War of 1812, the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842, and the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 (see below). (Mathew Brady photo of General Worth from Wikipedia.)

Now let’s back up a few years. Below is a collection of newspaper clippings—some of them first-person accounts—about the fort, the town, and some of the people who were here at the git-go. These clips, in their aggregate, might serve as the book of Genesis for the fort named “Worth.”

This report in the July 14, 1841 Austin City Gazette is a letter written to Republic of Texas Secretary of War Branch Archer. It relates details of the Battle of Village Creek fought on May 24 between General Edward H. Tarrant, Captain John Bunyan Denton, and other soldiers against Tonkawa, Caddo, and Cherokee Indians living in a string of villages along Village Creek near where today’s Lake Arlington lies.

 This hard-to-read clip from the October 7, 1843 (during the Republic of Texas) Red-Lander newspaper of San Augustine reads:

“Correspondence.
Washington.
Sept. 23d, 1843.
A. W. Camfield:
Having received instructions from Generals Terrell and Tarrant, Indian commissioners, Mr. Eldredge left here on the 20th for the neighborhood of Bird’s Fort, in company with Colonel Tom J. Smith. Nothing has been heard from the commissioners since I last wrote you.
Yours, S.”
 

Some context: The aforementioned generals George W. Terrell and Edward H. Tarrant, Indian commissioners of the Republic of Texas, had instructed J. C. Eldredge, superintendent of Indian affairs for the republic, to go from Washington (not Washington, D.C. but rather Washington-on-the-Brazos, the capital of the republic) to Bird’s Fort (in present-day north Arlington). Traveling with Eldredge was Thomas Smith, a Texas Ranger and Indian agent. Again news traveled slowly: By the time this article appeared in a newspaper, Tarrant and Terrell had already negotiated the Treaty of Bird’s Fort on September 29, 1843. The treaty was intended to end hostilities between white settlers of the republic and several Indian tribes. The republic sought such a treaty in part because of the Battle of Village Creek in 1841.

Birds fort treaty tslac

Page 1 of the treaty reads:

By the President of the Republic of Texas
Proclamation
To all and singular to whom these presents shall come, Greeting:
Whereas, a treaty of peace and friendship between the Republic
of Texas and the Delaware, Chickasaw, Waco, Tah-woc-cany, Keechi, Caddo, Ana-dah-kah, Ionie, Biloxi, and Cherokee tribes of Indians, was concluded and signed at Bird’s Fort, on the Trinity River, on the twenty ninth day of September, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty three, by G.W. Terrell and E.H. Tarrant, Commissioners on the part of the Republic of Texas, and certain chiefs, Headmen and warriors of the tribes
of Indians aforesaid, on the part of said Tribes; which treaty is, in the following words, to wit:
A Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Between the Republic of Texas,
and the Delaware, Chickasaw, Waco, Tah-woc-cany, Keechi, Caddo, Ana-Dah-kah, Ionie, Biloxi, and Cherokee tribes of Indians, concluded and signed at

(Photo from Texas State Library & Archives Commission.)

Article I of the treaty reads: “Both parties agree and declare, that they will forever live in peace and always meet as friends and brothers. Also, that the war which may have heretofore existed between them, shall cease and never be renewed.”

That peace didn’t come to pass, and six years later Texas, by then part of the Union, was deemed to need more forts, one of which was Fort Worth.

General Tarrant, for whom the county is named, was also a soldier and state legislator. He was born in South Carolina, fought under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, fought at the Battle of Village Creek in 1841. He is buried in Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

Middleton Tate Johnson, born in South Carolina, was stationed in the Hill Country in 1847, the Houston Telegraph reported. He later established Johnson’s Station in present-day south Arlington as a cotton plantation, ran for governor, is said by some historians to have donated the land for the Tarrant County courthouse in 1861. Johnson County is named for him.

In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, the Houston Telegraph reported that General  Worth had captured the city of Puebla, Mexico. Worth had been second in command to General Zachary Taylor at the beginning of the war in 1846. After the war Worth was placed in command of the Army’s Department of Texas in 1849. Major Arnold took command of Company F of the Second Dragoons after the war and was ordered to Texas to establish a military post “at or near the confluence of the West Fork and the Clear Fork of the Trinity River.”

frontier 1849This map shows the line of forts along the western frontier in 1849-1852. Note that much of Peters Colony lay west of the frontier line. (Map from University of Texas Libraries.)

In July 1849 the Clarksville Standard published this notice soliciting bids from vendors to supply Army forts, including the new Fort Worth, with “articles of subsistence.”

Soon after establishing Fort Worth, Major Arnold reported that, contrary to some claims, all was quiet on the northern frontier, the September 20, 1849 Houston Telegraph reported.

post return splitpost return sidewaysThis is a post return filed by Major Arnold in November 1850 showing the composition of his troops, soldiers discharged or transferred, and so on at Fort Worth. I have both split the horizontal form and rotated it to make it larger and easier to read on a monitor. Arnold reported thirty-four privates in the Second Dragoons and thirty-three in the Eighth Infantry, no deaths or wounded, thirty-seven serviceable horses and two unserviceable, three desertions, no farriers or blacksmiths, three buglers, one drummer, and one fifer. (The 1850 federal census, which includes the population of the fort, is here.)

The Galveston Weekly Journal of 1852 reported that Major Hamilton Merrill’s Company B of the Second Dragoons was to replace Company F at Fort Worth. Major Arnold and Company F would move to Fort Graham (Hill County).

In this 1853 epistle to the Clarksville Standard the letter writer mentioned Frank Jordan’s encounter with a bear near Fort Worth.

In this letter to the Nacogdoches Chronicle a soldier described the journey from Johnson’s Station in present-day south Arlington to Fort Worth (crossing Sycamore Creek) just as the Army abandoned the fort on September 17, 1853. Major Merrill and his men moved first to Fort Mason in the Hill Country and then to Fort Belknap as the line of the frontier shifted westward. Texas Ranger Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson was helping General Thomas Jefferson Rusk (for whom Fort Worth’s Commerce Street originally was named) survey a proposed Southern Pacific rail line to El Paso. The “poor Denton” mentioned was minister and soldier John Denton, namesake of the city and county, who was killed at the Battle of Village Creek on May 24, 1841. 2-9-54 saledgerThe San Antonio Ledger of February 9, 1854 quoted the Dallas Herald as reporting progress in laying out the town site of Fort Worth after the Army had left in 1853. Some historians say Middleton Tate Johnson owned land where the fort was.

Civilians such as John Peter Smith, Julian Feild, Ephraim Daggett, and Dr. Carroll Peak would make good use of the fort’s buildings after the Army abandoned it.

The Texas State Gazette reported the killing of Major Arnold at Fort Graham in 1853 and his subsequent reburial in Fort Worth in 1855. “Col. M. P. Johnson” surely is a typographical error referring to Colonel M. T. Johnson, who was indeed a Mason.

By 1856 Fort Worth had made “considerable advancement,” reported these visitors, who waxed ecstatic about the new town’s “delightful and picturesque scenery” and its “generous and hospitable people.”

And who were these admiring visitors?

Why, they were editors of the Dallas Herald newspaper. Seems the intercity feud had not yet started in 1856.

But we can only speculate as to why those Dallas editors “borrowed some clothes” from Bob S.

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2 Responses to Names in the News: In the Beginning Was a Fort Named “Worth”

  1. Ramiro says:

    Good article Mike. I see whee the solicitation for subsistence provisions included that they had to be Texas produced. Also liked the map of the location of the various forts.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Ramiro. Interesting to read accounts of events when they were just news, not yet history. That is indeed an excellent map showing forts now largely unremembered, at least by us up here at Fort Worth. And it shows how huge the Peters Colony land was.

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