The first white settlers in Dallas County owed a great deal to Gen. Edward H. Tarrant, as did those who settled some thirty miles to the west in the county that was named for the general. It was on May 24, 1841, that Tarrant headed a company of seventy Republic of Texas soldiers who expelled the last group of Indians living in the Dallas—Fort Worth area. (John Neely Bryan would arrive six ‘months later at the site of his future town of Dallas.)
The so-called battle took place on the date in May on Village Creek (now within the city of Arlington). It is commemorated by a granite Texas Centennial marker near the crossing of the creek by the old main route of Federal Highway 80.
The Indians, largely Keechis, lived in a scattered settlement of thatched huts along the creek from its mouth on the Trinity River to its rise several miles to the southwest in the area now inundated by Lake Arlington. Tarrant’s men were mostly six months’ enlisted Rangers. Most of them were from Northeast Texas, including Lamar County, which Tarrant called his home at the time.
The battle was more of an armed raid by the horsemen along the creek, and at its triumphal end it was seen that twelve redskins had bit the dust, although the spring rains had turned most of the dust to mud. None of the Rangers were killed in the encounter itself, but one of Tarrant’s scouts, the former Methodist circuit-riding preacher John B. Denton, lost his life in the fight. Upon its creation later, Denton County would be named for him.
Tarrant was an American frontiersman out of the eighteenth century. He was born in 1796 in North Carolina but reared from infancy in Tennessee. He grew up with a fondness for fighting, without regard for the color of the enemy. He had fought with Andrew Jackson against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, and had served later in Old Hickory’s campaigns against the Indians. Emigrating to Texas on the eve of the Texas Revolution, he fought for its independence and then served as representative in the Second Congress of the Republic of Texas. He next returned to military life, serving as a general officer for the Republic, the position he held at the Battle of Village Creek in North Central Texas. When the Mexican War broke out, Tarrant promptly joined up to serve with Zachary Taylor in Mexico.
Tarrant had moved to present Ellis County, then a part of Navarro County, in 1845 before the war with Mexico. He took up a large plantation three miles from the present town of Italy, building an antebellum mansion on it. He preceeded Judge T. A. Ferris, who several years later moved from his old home at Jefferson to a new town located near the crystal clear waters of Waxahachie Creek, some thirty miles south of Dallas.
Once more a legislator, this time in the Third Legislature of the State of Texas, Tarrant voted in 1849 for the creation of two new counties out of Navarro. One was Ellis County, in which the general lived. The other county, created December 20, 1849, was named for Tarrant. (The United States Army on June 6 of that same year had established a camp of Dragoons, later termed Fort Worth, in honor of Gen. William J. Worth of Mexican War fame.) Waxahachie was named the county seat of Ellis County on its organization. Tarrant became closely identified with the community. He was an early-day member and worshipful master of Waxahachie Masonic Lodge No. 90.
The choosing of a permanent county seat for Tarrant County was drawn out and tempestuous. The general took no part in the controversy. Birdville had been chosen temporary county seat, but the legislature ordered an election in 1850 to decide between Birdville and the slightly larger town of Fort Worth.
“Had the election been untrammeled,” wrote B. B. Paddock, pioneer historian of the county, “Birdville probably would have remained the seat of government. The citizens of Birdville charged—and there seems good reason for the charge—that the selection of Fort Worth was brought about by the votes of Sam Woody (first settler in adjoining Wise County) and members of his family.” The legislature ordered a second election in 1859. This time Fort Worth won by 584 votes to the 301 votes for some point “nearer the center” of the county. “And thus the vexed question,” added Paddock, “which has cost the lives of some and the expenditure of about $30,000, was settled for all time.”
As he approached the portals of old age Tarrant grew restless on his Ellis County plantation and longed to go on the warpath once more against the redskin. The blood of the old warrior boiled over repeated reports of atrocities on the northwestern frontier of Texas as the decade of the 1850s neared its end. He became convinced that it was necessary to organize an expedition to cross the Red River into Oklahoma Territory and smash an Indian conspiracy against the Texans. Thus he moved on a temporary basis to Fort Belknap between Fort Worth and the Red River, the better to organize his warring project.
The August 7, 1858, issue of the Dallas Herald, predecessor of the Dallas Morning News, carried sad news of the old Indian fighter. Under the heading, “Death of General Tarrant,” it said:
The Belknap stage driver informs us that this distinguished veteran is no more. He died a few days since at the residence of William Fondren in Parker County, where he had been sick for several weeks from an attack that seized him while en route to his home in Belknap. His family had joined him [at the time of his death]. When seized with the disease that carried him off, he was projecting and organizing a campaign against the Indians beyond the Red River, a measure he believed was necessary for the protection of the frontier.
The editor of the Herald, James Wellington Latimer (for whom Latimer Street and Expressway were named in Dallas) wrote: “General Tarrant was the type of the pioneers of the country—simple, true, generous, brave and noble. We have lost a friend, the country a patriot and his family a protector. Peace to his ashes.”
The sixty-two-year-old veteran was temporarily buried in Parker County after his death on August 2, 1858. A year later his remains were moved for reburial near his plantation home in Ellis County. There they remained until 1928 when, at the insistence of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and citizens of Tarrant County, they were moved for final interment in Pioneer Rest Cemetery in Fort Worth.
Courtesy Dallas-The Deciding Years-A Historical Portrait by A. C. Greene.