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

Happy birthday to us! Today—June 6—Fort Worth takes a deep breath and blows out the candles on its birthday cake—all 171 of them. On this date in 1849 Major Ripley Allen Arnold raised Old Glory over a new Army outpost on the north Texas frontier and established the fort that this city would grow from.

So, this morning, before the dawn’s early light, I made a pilgrimage to Pioneers Rest Cemetery to commune with the spirit of Rip. . . .

arnold stoneMajor Ripley Allen Arnold’s grave is covered by a huge rock and located near the southeast corner of the cemetery.

To conjure the old soldier, I stand beside the rock and whistle a few bars of “Reveille.” Suddenly a wisp of fog rises from the rock. As I stare, the fog takes shape and 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 in a well-practiced salute. He is wearing a double-breasted blue frock coat, blue trousers, and an orange sash. His black boots are polished. From his left hip hangs a sword in a scabbard.

“Good morning, Major. And congratulations. This is your big day. In fact, this is a big day for all of us in Fort Worth.”

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

“I am a resident of Fort Worth.”

“Balderdash. You’re no soldier of the fort I commanded.”

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

[Looks around at the other tombstones and then down at the “1817-1853” engraved on the huge rock that covers his grave. And he remembers.] “Ah. It’s coming back to me now.  [He stares intently.] The last thing I remember, it was that very year: 1853, Fort Graham. Dr. Joseph Murray Steiner, the fort physician—and a thorough blackguard, I hasten to add—was pointing his Colt at me. And the oath that doctor swore was most un-Hippocratic. He fired, and . . .”

arnold 53 death

arnold dead clip“You were hit four times, Major. The Texas State Gazette on September 10, 1853 reported your death.”

[Processing this news.] “So . . . I am dead. I had feared as much. [Fatalistic.] Well, so be it. For the soldier death is a way of life. But you say I am in Fort Worth, now a city. Why am I not buried at Fort Graham, where I died?”

arnold remains clip“You were, Major. But in 1855, as the Texas State Gazette reported on June 30, 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“There they are over there, Major, right beside your grave.”

[Stares at two nearby stone slabs covering a double grave.] “Little Sophie, little Willis! My babies. [Chin trembles briefly, but then soldierly bearing prevails.] Now I remember. We lost them both to cholera.”

[Looks down between his feet.] “What is the reason for this huge rock atop my grave? I’ve been staring up at its underside for a good many years now.”

arnold plaque detail“This rock is a fairly recent improvement, Major. 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 while building the fort on the bluff in 1849. This cemetery is also about a half a mile from where you built the fort on the bluff 171 years ago.”

[Repeating.] “One hundred and seventy-one . . .” [With a clatter of the sword on his hip, Arnold sits down on the rock, places a hand on the rock at each side to steady himself.]

“Yes, Major. This is the twenty-first century. It’s 2020. But I must say you look good for a man of two hundred and three.”

[Repeats in awe.] “Two thousand twenty . . . [Holds out his hands, first palms down and then palms up, and looks at them.] Two hundred and three years old.”

[Hastening to brighten the tone of the conversation.] “Major, do you remember this?”


“‘Come fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row

[A broad smile of recognition spreads across Rip’s face. He begins to wag his head in time.]

“To singing sentimentally we’re going for to go;

[Rip, haltingly at first, then with confidence, begins to sing along.]

“In the Army there’s sobriety, promotion’s very slow.

“So we’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, oh!”

[By the chorus Rip is in full voice.]

“Oh! Benny Havens, oh! Oh! Benny Havens, oh!

“We’ll sing our reminiscences of Benny Havens, oh!’”

[Laughing and slapping his knee so hard that his sword rattles.] “By the saints, sir! How that takes me back. Benny Havens! Bless his soul and his bottomless keg!”

“You do remember, Major! As you recall, Benny Havens operated an off-limits tavern that was popular with West Point cadets, yourself included.”

[Chuckling.] “Many a cadet’s legs carried him from his barracks to Benny Havens more steadily than they carried him back to his barracks. Ahem, as you say, myself included.”

“Not to mention Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Jefferson Davis. They all went to Benny Havens as West Point cadets. In 1838 your friend Lieutenant Lucius O’Brien of the 8th Infantry stopped at West Point to visit you on his way to join his regiment. You took him to Benny Havens, and he liked it so much that he, along with you and two other cadets, wrote the song ‘Benny Havens, Oh.’”

[Self-deprecatingly.] “Oh, it was Lucius’s song, although in those days I did enjoy tinkering with a tune. I may have helped a little.”

arnold benny havens“The cadets at West Point still sing your song, Major. There are considerably more stanzas now than when you and Lieutenant O’Brien let the ink dry on the first five.”

[Somber, remembering.] “Lucius was killed in 1841 during the Seminole War in Florida.”

“West Point cadets added a stanza to your song to honor O’Brien:

“‘From the land of death and danger—

“From Tampa’s deadly shore,

“Comes up the wail of manly grief,

“O’Brien is no more.’”

[Swallows hard but then shakes off the grief.] “Rest in peace, sweet Lucius.”

“That year, 1838, you graduated from West Point.”

[Chuckling and shaking his head.] “Thirty-third in a class of forty-five, I must confess, sir. I have no one to blame but myself. [Winks.] And Benny Havens.”

“After graduation in 1838 you were assigned on July 1 as a second lieutenant to the First Dragoons in Florida—to fight in the same Seminole War that would claim Lieutenant O’Brien. But the next year war had to yield temporarily to love: In August of 1839 you married your childhood sweetheart, Catherine Bryant.”

[Yearning.] “Kate! Dearest Kate. An angel upon this Earth if ever there was one. We were wed on her fourteenth birthday. Her parents disapproved. We eloped.”

[Looking down at the ground, eyes glazed.] “Dearest Kate. I wonder what became . . .”

“Catherine died in 1894, Major, in Waco.”

[Repeats dumbly.] “Died. . . . Eighteen ninety-four. From the time my life ended, hers ended forty years in the future. [Rebounding.] That means a long life. I hope it was a good one. My dearest Kate. I trust she did not long mourn my death.”

“For the rest of her life, Major, she cherished your sword and uniform.”

[Rip stares but does not speak.]

arnold 41“As a young soldier you rose quickly through the ranks. Soon after your marriage you were promoted to first lieutenant.”

arnold 43 florida“You were cited three times for bravery against the Seminoles in Florida and brevetted to the rank of captain.

“Then came the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.”

“You were brevetted to the rank of major in May 1846 for your performance in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. Later that year you fought under General William Jenkins Worth at the Battle of Monterrey.”

[At the mention of General Worth, Rip instinctively raises the tip of his right forefinger to the visor of his hat.]

“In 1847 you fought under General Winfield Scott at the Battle of Molino del Rey and the capture of Mexico City.”

[Closing his eyes as if to better “see” the battles.] “Yes. It all comes back to me now. Florida. Mexico. So many battles, so much blood, so many good men fallen.”

“After the war you were given command of Company F of the Second Dragoons and sent to northern Texas to establish a military post. In the summer of 1849, after locating a site for the new post near the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River, you and your men hacked that post out of the wilderness, and on June 6 you raised Old Glory over that post. Your former commander, General Worth, had just died of cholera.”

[Rip’s nostrils flare.] “General Worth! No finer soldier ever pulled on a pair of boots.”

“In fact, Major, so high was your regard for General Worth that you named the new post after your former commander.”

[Remembering.] “But looking back now, it seems I did not hold my command here long.”

arnold 49“You arrived in 1849 and withdrew in 1852. Perhaps due to the presence of you and your men, the frontier of northern Texas was pretty quiet during your command here. You reported as much in 1849 soon after the fort was established.”

arnold 52 quiet“And again in 1852, as you neared the end of your command at Fort Worth. By then the line of the frontier had shifted, and you and Company F of the Second Dragoons moved to Fort Graham.”

[Remembering.] “Now I recall. Then came that serpent, Dr. Steiner, and . . . but earlier you said something about ‘big day’ and ‘congratulations’?”

“Indeed, Major. Today Fort Worth—the city of Fort Worth—celebrates its birthday 171 years after you raised Old Glory at the Army fort.”

arnold statue fullarnold 2 plaquesl“Major, you are honored today as the founder of the city of Fort Worth. Since June 6, 2014 your statue, cast in bronze and twelve feet tall, has stood 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.”

arnold fort plaque“And there’s more, Major. On the bluff a plaque commemorates the fort where it once stood.”

[Hands Rip a photo.] “Here, look at this.”

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

“I must say, Major, the statue is an excellent likeness of you, don’t you think? Today we don’t have many photographs of you for reference.”

[Puzzled.] “Pho-to-graphs?”

“A photo is like a daguerreotype. Like the daguerreotypes your friend Dr. Gounah made.”

arnold face[Stares at the 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, there were some statues of our great military leaders. But me? I am—I was—just a humble soldier, posted to the frontier. Just an outpost. And a short-lived one in the wilds of Texas at that. 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 enumerated fewer than seven hundred settlers in the entire county.”

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

[Stares at photograph, trying to comprehend.] “Seven hundred and . . .” [Sways, almost falling off rock.]

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

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

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

[Puzzled.] “Halt, sir! 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 newspaper shows, in that year 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 105 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. I feel as if I’m walking home from Benny Havens.”

“Quite understandable, Major. You’ve been ‘asleep’ for 167 years, Rip. You were only thirty-six when you died. You were only thirty-two 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.”


“The last one added was for Hawaii.”

[Puzzled.] “Ha-wa-ii?”

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

“Sandwich Islands? Yes. But those islands are over three thousand miles . . . [Suddenly Major Arnold cocks his head and listens. A low rumbling grows louder. Defensively, 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 slowly skirts the eastern edge of the cemetery on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe track. 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 souls 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, . . .”

[Dazed but nodding assent.] Rip lies down on the rock that covers his grave and prepares to listen. As he lies down, he begins to softly sing:

“‘Come fill your glasses, fellows, and stand up in a row

“To singing sentimentally we’re going for to go . . .”

The song “Benny Havens, Oh” at YouTube

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