The Boy on the Bluff: Native Son

On March 2, 1939 one of Fort Worth’s earliest residents and earliest historians died.

Howard Wallace Peak was a bona-fide from-the-git-goer: Howard’s parents, Dr. Carroll Peak and Florence Peak, had moved to Fort Worth from Dallas in 1853. Dr. Peak was Fort Worth’s first doctor. Florence Street downtown is named for Mrs. Peak. After the Army abandoned its Fort Worth in 1853, Howard Peak was born in the garrison building in 1856. Howard’s birth increased the population of the civilian settlement of Fort Worth from sixty-seven to sixty-eight. In 1857, shortly after Howard’s birth, the Peaks built a small frame home where the parking garage of the Renaissance Worthington Hotel stands today at Houston and Weatherford streets. It is said that Native Americans used to come to the back door of the Peak home to see baby Howard. They believed that his red hair gave him supernatural powers that were transferred to those who touched it. The Native Americans, Peak recalled, “would take me up in their arms and swing me around, much to my delight, if to the discomfort of the terrified mother.”

As a teenager Howard Peak began a long career as a drummer—a traveling salesman. At first he traveled by horseback and then by horse and buggy. In addition to his samples, he carried a Bible, a flask, soda crackers, a tin of sardines, and a pistol. He recalled that drummers were always welcome in towns because they brought with them news and gossip from surrounding towns. Drummers were the Facebook of their time.

This announcement appeared in the Dallas Herald in 1874. The enterprising Howard W. Peak, Esq. was eighteen years old.

Nine years later Peak was still on the road, as this 1883 Fort Worth Daily Gazette brief shows.

Howard Peak later also operated a downtown store that sold stoves and safes. He sold the Ward brothers, Bill and John, a safe when they opened the White Elephant Saloon in 1884.

Peak was active in the state association of traveling salesmen, as this 1905 Dallas Morning News clip shows.

Howard W. Peak was a good salesman. He sold enough to build this house on Elizabeth Boulevard in 1912 soon after Ryan Place opened.

In 1929 Peak wrote a book about his years as a drummer.

peak story coverPeak also wrote The Story of Old Fort Worth, an account of early Fort Worth, and occasional columns on Fort Worth history for the Star-Telegram. He also lectured on Fort Worth history in the public schools.

Among the early people and places that Peak recalled were ox freighter John White, Frenchman’s Well, the Chisholm Trail, the Cattle Exchange Saloon, and the Cold Springs.

peak first boy 1936In 1936 Peak was moved to set the record straight about one detail of Fort Worth history. Over the years various historians and genealogists have claimed that various people were the “first boy,” “first girl,” or “first child” born in Fort Worth.

In this Star-Telegram article Peak said he was the first and only boy born in the old fort. He said he “was not even the first child born in the old fort” but named no names.

So, who was the “first child born” in Fort Worth?
Peak in his The Story of Old Fort Worth and Julia Kathryn Garrett in her Fort Worth: A Frontier Triumph say Susan Ann Farmer, daughter of from-the-git-go settlers Press and Jane Farmer, was the first child born in Fort Worth. Peak says Susan Ann was born here in 1852. Garrett says Susan Ann was born “in the original limits of old Fort Town” in a cabin owned by Archibald Robinson, who, Garrett wrote, was “part owner of the land on which the fort was built.” (Historians also debate Robinson’s ownership of that land.)
But the 1850 census lists Susan Ann Farmer as three years old and born in Tennessee. The Farmers did not reach Fort Worth until 1849. The Farmers were camped on the bluff when Major Ripley Arnold and his men arrived. So, Susan probably can claim at most the title of first white child to live in Fort Worth.
When Florence Peak—wife of Dr. Peak and mother of Howard—died in 1922 at the age of eighty-nine, the Star-Telegram referred to her as “the oldest resident of Fort Worth” and wrote that “her first two children, the late Clara Peak Walden [born 1854] and Howard W. Peak Sr. [born 1856], were the first children born at the post.”
That would make siblings Clara and Howard the first and second children born in Fort Worth. Clara was born January 4, 1854. (On May 15 Susan Ann Farmer’s brother Jacob David Farmer was born a few miles southwest of what was then the city limits.)

To further muddy the nativity waters, the obituary of Henry Clay Daggett in the Dallas Herald said that Daggett’s wife Sarah in 1852 gave birth to the “first white child born in Tarrant County.” And in 1923 Martha Mitchell, who was born in 1849, claimed to have been the first white child born in Fort Worth.

By 1939 that “first boy” of Fort Worth was eighty-two years old. On March 2 he died.

When Howard Wallace Peak Sr. was born in 1856, he had increased Fort Worth’s population from sixty-seven to sixty-eight. When he died in 1939 he decreased Fort Worth’s population from about 177,000 to 176,999. Howard Peak is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, just across the river from the bluff on which once stood the garrison building where he was born.

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6 Responses to The Boy on the Bluff: Native Son

  1. Gabrielle Dandridge Peak says:

    I am the great-granddaughter of Howard W. Peak, daughter of Howard W. Peak,III, sister of Howard W. Peak, IV,of San Antonio, TX. I do appreciate the history and photos that you have published about my family. Yes,I have photos of my several generations of my family and great-grandfather.Thank you so much for keeping this Peak family history alive in the Fort Worth/Dallas area.

    • hometown says:

      The first seventy years of Fort Worth history were just day-to-day life for your great-grandfather. What tremendous changes he witnessed.

  2. Hollis Gentry says:

    I would like to know if photos of Howard W. or Florence Peak survive?

    • hometown says:

      Hollis, considering that he lived well into the twentieth century and was a well-known public figure, I suspect photos (perhaps the original of the image I have posted) survive, maybe at the FWPL or UTA Library, which has the Star-Telegram photo archive.

  3. Gabrielle Dandridge Peak says:

    I am so glad to see information published about my great-grandfather,Howard W. Peak,Sr. All my life,my father,Howard W. Peak III told me such interesting stories about “Daddo” as he was called.I’ve read “Ranger of Commerce” several times as his anecdotal style of writing was so interesting and humorous.I am proud to be a member of such an illustrious family started by my great-great-great grandparents , Jefferson,Sr. and Malvina Reser Peak.

    • hometown says:

      Ms. Peak:
      Your ancestors were certainly among the most prominent of Fort Worth’s first families, and Howard Peak, being the first boy born here, was certainly in a position to remember Fort Worth’s earliest history. Not many people get to literally grow up with their hometown.

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