Ephraim Merrell Daggett: The “Grand” Father of Fort Worth

He was a member of an elite group: the Fort Worth street gang—those pioneers who have a street named after them.

He would not become a resident of Fort Worth until he was forty-four years old—middle age for a man of his time. But he did so much for Fort Worth that newspaper editor B. B. Paddock, in his multivolume history of Fort Worth, called Ephraim Merrell Daggett “the father of Fort Worth.”

Daggett was born on June 3, 1810. Still living on that date were Jefferson, Napoleon, and Beethoven.

Daggett was born in Canada eight miles from Niagara Falls, moved to Indiana in 1820, traded with Native Americans at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) in 1833, moved to Shelby County, Texas, in 1840 for his health (he suffered from rheumatism). When two feuding factions in Shelby County clashed in the Regulator-Moderator War (or “Shelby County War”) in 1842-1844 over land swindling, fraud, and cattle rustling in east Texas, Daggett was a Regulator. (Shelby County also sent us Middleton Tate Johnson and Captain Charles Turner.) In the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 Daggett fought under Texas Ranger Captain John Coffee Hays. During the Battle of Monterrey in 1846 Daggett, along with Ripley Arnold, fought under the command of General William Jenkins Worth.

The Texas State Gazette clip above shows that by 1851 Daggett was back in Shelby County, where he was being “spoken of” as a candidate for the House of Representatives.

Daggett had visited the Army’s Fort Worth after its establishment in 1849. He began to buy land here while he still lived in Shelby County. But in 1854 the peripatetic Daggett moved to Fort Worth with his family and slaves, five years after his brother, Henry Clay Daggett, and Archibald Franklin Leonard had opened the first business in Fort Worth.

In the fort-turned-village E. M. Daggett put down roots—roots that grew ever deeper as the village grew into a town, the town into a city. In 1853, near the intersection of today’s Bluff and Houston streets, Daggett converted the abandoned fort’s stable into the nascent town’s first hostelry, complete with dirt floor.

In 1856, this Dallas Herald clips shows, Daggett was part of a group trying to procure fresh drinking water for the new town.

daggett 56 bbq

Also in 1856 Daggett helped organize the annual Fourth of July celebration at the Cold Springs east of Samuels Avenue.

Daggett used his influence as a former state legislator representing Fort Worth to help secure Fort Worth’s selection as county seat in 1856. This 1858 Texas State Gazette clip shows that Daggett was among city leaders working to get the town’s first courthouse built. These civic leaders promised the state that if the county seat were moved to Fort Worth from Birdville, the citizens of Fort Worth would build a new courthouse at no expense to the county.

In 1857 Sam Houston was in town campaigning for governor. He spent the night with the Daggetts, who lived on a plantation whose house was located near where the convention center is today. The leg wound that Houston had received at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 had never healed and bothered him that night. Daggett washed and dressed Houston’s wound, using the silver wash basin of Houston’s old adversary of 1836: General Santa Anna. Daggett had confiscated the wash basin while chasing Santa Anna after the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War.

daggetts additionDaggett’s plantation covered much of what would become south downtown.

daggett mason 1870In 1870, when Masons of Middleton Tate Johnson’s Fort Worth lodge moved his body from the state cemetery to the Johnson family cemetery in Arlington, Daggett was on the committee, along with William Paxton Burts and Joseph Christopher Terrell, that drafted a resolution honoring Johnson. Daggett had been a member of Fort Worth’s first Masonic lodge when it was chartered in 1855.

Daggett also was instrumental in luring the Texas & Pacific Railroad to Fort Worth in 1876, donating ninety-six acres south of town for the T&P station and track. So civic-minded was this Canadian in his adopted city that when Fort Worth incorporated in 1873, the city council voted to have Daggett’s likeness placed on the city seal. Cowtown pioneer Joseph Christopher Terrell described Daggett as “grand” physically (275 pounds), morally, and mentally. Historian Julia Kathryn Garrett wrote that a Native American, when introduced to Daggett, said of him: “Too big for a man, not big enough for a horse.”

daggett death 4-19-83

daggett graveEphraim Merrell Daggett died in 1883. He was attended by Fort Worth’s first mayor, Dr. William Paxton Burts. Clip is from the April 19 Gazette.

Ephraim Merrell Daggett is buried, fittingly, in Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

Fort Worth’s Street Gang

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