“Take a Look Around, Rip. See What You Started?”

Today Fort Worth takes a deep breath and blows out 165 candles on the cake. The city also unveiled a statue of the man who 165 years ago established the Army fort that the city grew from. So, today I made a pilgrimage to Pioneers Rest Cemetery to commune with the spirit of Major Ripley Allen Arnold. . . .

arnold stoneMajor Arnold’s grave is near the southeast corner of the cemetery. To conjure the old soldier, I whistle a few bars of “Reveille.” Suddenly a wisp of fog rises from the large rock that covers Major Arnold’s grave. As I stare, the fog becomes flesh. There atop the rock stands Major Arnold himself. He stands rigidly at attention, the tip of his right forefinger touching the visor of his plumed cocked hat. He is wearing a double-breasted blue frock coat, blue trousers, and an orange sash. His black boots are polished.

“Good morning, Major. This is your big day. Congratulations.”

[Bewildered, looking down at me, then around at his surroundings, then back at me.] “‘Big day’? ‘Congratulations’? Who are you?”

“I am a resident of Fort Worth.”

“Balderdash. You’re no soldier.”

“No, sir, not that Fort Worth. The Fort Worth you established for the Army was abandoned on September 17, 1853. Fort Worth is a city now, Major.”

[Looks around at the other tombstones, remembering.] “Ah. It’s coming back to me now. In fifty-two Company F of the Second Dragoons was transferred from Fort Worth to Fort Graham. The last thing I remember, in fifty-three Dr. Steiner, the Fort Graham physician, was pointing his Colt at me. And the oath he swore was most un-Hippocratic. He fired, and . . .”

arnold dead clip“You were hit four times, Major. The Texas State Gazette on September 10, 1853 reported your death, just a week before the Army abandoned Fort Worth. You were only thirty-six years old.”

[Processing this news.] “So . . . I am dead. [Fatalistic.] Well, so be it. Death is a way of life for the soldier. But you say I am in Fort Worth, now a city. Why am I not buried at Fort Graham?”

arnold remains clip“You were. But on June 30, 1855 the Texas State Gazette reported that you were moved here to Fort Worth. Your fellow Masons Middleton Tate Johnson and Adolph Gounah were among the men who had your body moved and reburied next to your two children. Remember: Dr. Gounah had Sophie and Willis buried here in 1850.”

arnold kids PR“Here they are, right beside you, Major.”

[Stares at two stone slabs.] “Little Sophie, little Willis! My babies. [Chin trembles, but then soldierly bearing prevails.] Now I remember. We lost them to cholera, same as took General Worth.”

[Looks down between his feet.] “What is this huge rock atop my grave? I’ve been staring up at it for several years now.”

arnold plaque detail“That’s a fairly recent improvement. Your original grave covering had fallen into disrepair some years ago. So, this chiseled rock was installed. See the plaque inset in the rock? That depicts you and your troops. This cemetery, as you may recall, is about half a mile from where you and your troops camped at Live Oak Point near the cold spring while building the fort on the bluff. This cemetery is also about a half a mile from where you built the fort those 165 years ago.”

“One hundred and sixty five . . .” [With a clatter of the scabbard on his left hip, Arnold sits down on the rock, places a hand on the rock at each side to steady himself.]

“This is the twenty-first century, Major. It’s 2014. You look good for a man of 197.”

[Marvels.] “One hundred and ninety-seven. [Remembering.] But you said something about ‘big day’ and ‘congratulations’?”

arnold statue fullarnold 2 plaquesl“Today is June 6, the anniversary of the day you raised Old Glory at Fort Worth in 1849. That makes today the city’s birthday. And this morning you were honored as the founder of Fort Worth. Your statue, cast in bronze and twelve feet tall, now stands on a stone pedestal at the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River, just below the bluff where you and your men built the fort. A big crowd was there to see you unveiled.”

[Epiphany.] “You know, this morning I had the strangest feeling that all eyes were on me. I figured it was just a dim memory of addressing the troops.”

arnold fort plaque“There’s more, Major. Up on the bluff a plaque commemorates the fort where it stood.”

[Gazes at photo, remembering.] “We had just finished Fort Graham in April of forty-nine and were ordered up here to establish an outpost on the Trinity. Oh, the summer sun was merciless, and I equally as merciless as I worked the men. But they bent their backs to their task, and the wood chips flew.” [Looks back at the photo of the statue.]

“I must say, Major, the statue is an excellent likeness of you, don’t you think? We don’t have many photos of you.”

“Photos?”

“Daguerreotypes. Like your friend Dr. Gounah made.”

arnold face[Stares at photo of his bronze face, unconsciously runs his hand over his cheekbones and chin whiskers.] “Twelve feet tall, you say? Bronze? A statue to honor me? I don’t know what to say. When I was at the Point in the thirties, there were some statues of our great military leaders. But I, I am—was—just a humble soldier, posted to the frontier. Just an outpost. There was just a smattering of settlers here when I was . . . alive: Uncle Press Farmer, Ed Terrell, Henry Daggett, Archie Leonard.”

arnold settlers plaque“In fact, Major, the 1850 census counted fewer than seven hundred settlers in the entire county.”

you are here“But now, Major, Fort Worth alone has more than 740,000 people. That’s more people than your entire home state of Mississippi had in 1850. You and I are where the X is on this aerial photo. Fort Worth stretches for miles in all directions around you now. See what you started?”

[Trying to comprehend.] “Seven hundred and . . .” [Sways, almost falling off rock.]

1850 census muster roll“Steady, Major. Your statue has been a long time coming. You remember Abe Harris? He served under you here at the fort.”

[Squints, trying to remember.] “Harris . . . Sergeant Harris! Good man. Born in England, as I recollect.”

pr harris monument 2-22-05 tele“Leicestershire, 1825. You have an excellent memory, Major. Abe Harris rose to the rank of colonel in the Civil War. As this February 22—”

[Puzzled.] “Halt! What do you mean, ‘civil war’? How can there be a civil war?”

“It’s a long story, Major. Let’s come back to that later. Now, as this February 22, 1905 article in the Fort Worth Telegram shows, Colonel Harris began campaigning for a public monument to honor you.”

arnold harris grave“Colonel Harris is buried right over there near the cemetery entrance. His headstone is very weathered now. He has been dead ninety-nine years.”

“Good ol’ Abe. I must go say hello . . . [Jumps down from rock, starts to walk, falters.] Ohhhhhhhh. I think I’d best stand at ease. It’s been a long time since I used my legs.”

“You’ve been ‘asleep’ for 161 years, Rip. You were only thirty-two years old when you raised Old Glory at Fort Worth on June 6, 1849. There were thirty stars on that flag. Today Old Glory has fifty stars.”

“Fifty!”

“The last one added was for Hawaii.”

“Hawaii?”

“You might know it as the ‘Sandwich Islands.’”

“But those islands are over three thousand . . . [Suddenly Major Arnold cocks his head and listens. A low rumbling grows louder. Arnold instinctively touches his right hand to the hilt of the sword in the scabbard on his left hip. He watches in wary amazement—as if witnessing the transit of Venus—as a diesel locomotive appears and skirts the rear of the cemetery. He stares at the locomotive and doesn’t speak until it has passed from sight.] Upon my soul, I feel a bit light-headed. Overwhelmed, in truth. Everything you have told me, everything I have seen seems fantastic, beyond the ken of man, living or dead. [Suddenly suspicious.] And look here, reputed ‘resident of Fort Worth,’ how is it that you know all this information about me anyway? How did you get that image of this reputed colossal city of seven hundred thousand as if seen by the angels from the very heavens? How did you get that colorful image of that statue of me? Even Dr. Gounah himself with his daguerreotypes could not work such magic.”

“Nothing to it these days, Major, with the Internet, a satellite, and a digital camera.”

[Baffled.] “In-ter-net? Sa-tell-ite? Di-git-al?”

“Maybe you’d better lie back down, Rip, and I’ll explain. You see, . . .”

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This entry was posted in Cities of the Dead, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Heads Above the Crowd, Life in the Past Lane, Public Art. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “Take a Look Around, Rip. See What You Started?”

  1. Steve A says:

    Excellent post. When will Ripley’s statue be unveiled?

  2. Genevieve Shockley says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I loved the symbolic breaking of ether to hear you talk to the past.

    Do it again!

  3. Congratulations Mike, another masterpiece in the works.

  4. Delores Cain says:

    Mike, you are a genius. In all of your articles & pictures, I felt as though I was there. You are remarkable in your journey of Fort Worth, past, present & hopefully future. I enjoy everything you write. I have a lot more reading to do & I just had to tell you how much I enjoyed this article. Thanks a million, Mike.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Delores. I did put more thought than usual into my conversation with the major.

  5. Sharon Ligon Moore says:

    Excellent! Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I loved your artistic approach as having a personal conversation with Major Arnold. My great great grandfather Col. Abe also had 2 young children die during that time while married to first wife Margaret Connor. I would love to know what additional information you may have on him. Thank you again. Sharon

  6. Clara Wallace Ruddell says:

    Excellent information about The Major. An absolutely amazing job of research.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Clara. I did put a lot of effort into that one. And now we have a grand new statue (even if the walk back up the bluff is a killer).

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