“We took no heed of his dying prayer.
In a narrow grave we buried him there.
In a narrow grave just six by three
We buried him there on the lone prairie”
The “him” of “The Dying Cowboy” ballad could apply to three males in this story of early Fort Worth—males of three generations of a family who were buried nineteen years apart “there on the lone prairie,” each of the three males earning a “first” in Fort Worth history.
But for one of these three males, “a narrow grave just six by three” feet would have been far more spacious than necessary. And his “first” was a sad distinction: A boy was only eighteen months old when he died in 1848 and was the first person buried in the York family cemetery.
Just northeast of the stockyards and south of Northeast 28th Street, freight trains rumble past each other, metal on metal screeching, on two tracks. A strip of no-man’s-land 150 feet wide separates the two tracks. In that narrow strip, in an oasis of trees between an aluminum foundry and an auto salvage yard, lies little Mitchell Cemetery.
Under one of those trees lies the unmarked grave of the infant York.
Also buried in Mitchell Cemetery, in another unmarked grave, is John B. York, father of the baby boy. More later on John B. York and his first.
Only two original tombstones in little Mitchell Cemetery have survived time, vandalism, and encroachment by railroads. This tombstone is incomplete. The hand engraving includes the word Anderson and may refer to Mrs. E. O. Anderson, who was buried in the cemetery in 1867.
The only complete original tombstone is that of Seaborne Gilmore, who was grandfather of the infant York and father-in-law of John B. York. York’s wife, Julia, was Seaborne Gilmore’s daughter.
In 1848, when the York and Gilmore families settled three miles north of the Trinity River and began homesteading, there was no Fort Worth—military or municipal. There was only prairie. And the prairie came in just one flavor: lone.
This detail of an 1895 county map shows the York and Gilmore surveys east and northeast of the confluence of Marine Creek and the Trinity River. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
In 1850 came the “first” of the York infant’s grandfather: Seaborne Gilmore was elected Tarrant County’s first county judge. Gilmore was listed as a farmer, age fifty, in still another first: Tarrant County’s first census in 1850.
According to another daughter of Seaborne Gilmore, Martha Gilmore Mitchell, Judge Gilmore presided over the 1856 election in which Fort Worth took the county seatdom from Birdville. The election was hotly contested, sometimes with shots of whiskey, sometimes with shots of lead.
“While my father counted the votes he could hear the reports of pistols on the outside,” Martha Mitchell later told the Star-Telegram. (In 1923 Martha Mitchell, who was born in 1849, claimed to have been the first white child born in Fort Worth.)
The 1850 census showed John B. and Julia York to have another son, William, who was eleven months old. John, a farmer, was twenty-five. Julia was twenty-three.
In 1852 John B. York was elected Tarrant County’s second sheriff. York had previously been a deputy under Tarrant County’s first sheriff, Francis Jourdan. York was re-elected in 1854 and elected to a third term in 1858.
Fast-forward to 1860. In north Texas the Civil War was foreshadowed by an outbreak of violence: arson, lynchings. In Tarrant County two suspected white abolitionists were hanged by vigilantes. One of those lynching victims was William H. Crawford.
Fast-forward to April 1861. The war had just begun. William Crawford’s widow Mary had accused Charles Turner of taking part in the lynching. In an open letter printed in the Dallas Herald on May 15, 1861 Turner denied taking part in the lynching (although he “most heartily” endorsed it). In another open letter, Archibald Young Fowler came to the defense of Turner but in doing so apparently implicated himself: Fowler wrote that he had been a member of a “committee” that had spied on Crawford and a slave of Turner in order to determine if Crawford was going to encourage the slave to run away to a free state. Note the last sentence in Fowler’s letter: He wrote that Charles Turner was not present when Crawford was hanged.
Did Archibald Young Fowler know that Turner was not present because Fowler himself was present?
Archibald Young Fowler was an attorney. And a well-placed one: His wife, Juliette, was sister of Carroll Marion Peak, the town’s first doctor. Fowler was even law partners with John Peter Smith. Both men were members of Masonic lodge 148, the town’s first.
Fowler advertised in the Dallas Weekly Herald in 1861.
Archibald Young Fowler was inordinately well outfitted for life in a frontier town: In addition to his law degree and his Masonic membership, he carried a Bowie knife.
And he had a temper.
Fast-forward two months. On July 20, 1861 a barbecue and a military review of Confederate troops were held at the Cold Springs, a popular community gathering place east of Samuels Avenue. The cool water of the springs was popular on that hot day. Impatient, A. Y. Fowler did not wait his turn in line at the springs. John B. York , who was again serving as sheriff, was present. York ordered Fowler to skedaddle to the back of the line. Fowler was humiliated.
A month later, on August 24, John B. York was downtown when Destiny—in the form of A. Y. Fowler—stepped off the curb at the intersection of Motive and Opportunity.
The details of what transpired between York and Fowler have been obscured by the passage of time and by the bias of those telling the story: Descendants of each man blame the other man. Local historians Oliver Knight and Julia Kathryn Garrett trace the trouble between the two men to Birdville-Fort Worth animosity over the county seat issue. Probably the most objective and detailed reconstruction of the facts is in Written in Blood (Volume 1) by local historians Dr. Richard Selcer and Kevin Foster.
Fowler, in the company of his nephew Willie, was downtown when he encountered Sheriff York. Fowler drew his Bowie knife and attacked York, stabbing him repeatedly. York managed to draw his Colt pistol and shoot Fowler. Willie then leveled his gun—a double-barreled shotgun—and shot York. Then Willie ran to fetch a doctor. That doctor was Carroll Peak, the brother of Fowler’s wife. Dr. Peak, Selcer and Foster write, helped Willie get out of town. The family story is that Willie joined the Confederacy and died in the war.
Dr. Peak helped Willie, but he could not help Fowler and York. Both men died.
Archibald Young Fowler was buried in Dallas.
John B. York was buried on the lone prairie, next to his infant son in little Mitchell Cemetery between the railroad tracks.
The State Gazette of Austin reported the double killing.
Via a letter from Tarrant County the Civilian of Galveston received news of the killings and of Native American “depredations.”
John B. York’s first was as sad as his son’s: John York was probably the first Tarrant County law officer to die in the line of duty.
John Peter Smith was among those who signed this tribute to fellow Mason Archibald Young Fowler, which appeared in the Dallas Weekly Herald.
Julia York and Juliette Fowler were pregnant when their husbands met downtown on that hot August day in 1861. The York infant who died in 1848, had he lived, would have been thirteen years old when his father was killed.
Postscript: In 1890 the Dallas Morning News printed this report. (Contrary to the report, Francis Jourdan, not John B. York, was Tarrant County’s first sheriff.) The report shows that little Mitchell Cemetery was already feeling the pinch of progress by 1890.
There was no more lone prairie.
In 2016 the tombstone of Seaborne Gilmore (left) was joined by two new markers.
Descendants erected memorials honoring Sheriff York and his infant son.