Thursday, August 13, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.1 – Early Cowtown Society - Settlement

One might wonder how we 10-11 year old Texans, growing up in mid-20th century Ft. Worth, managed to find ourselves out on the front lawn of the East Side’s  Meadowbrook Elementary School one evening wearing bright white sports jackets, dancing the minuet with pretty little girls wearing, delicate light lace and tulle party dresses with ruffle sweetheart busts, nipped waists, lace overlay and super full cupcake poof circle skirts, made up of one lace layer with attached tulle cascading ruffles, one layer of tulle and fully lined with taffeta material.”
Scarcely 50-years before that evening on the Meadowbrook lawn, our hometown had just gotten its first paved downtown street and the Wrights had just begun their ventures skyward in a Wright Flyer.  To imagine there was a deep tradition of high society soirées for which we were preparing, was wrong.  Until only a few decades before our time, most of our ancestors made their living from tough jobs and working the land.  Fancy soirées, such as those in which we began to participate in the early 1960s had not been a multi-generational tradition.  I think they may have actually gotten their start sometime in the late 1930s, perhaps in conjunction with the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration.  There was certainly a large pavilion hosting frequent dances at Casino Beach on Lake Worth by this time.

Ft. Worth’s social history isn’t very deep and is probably best explained by a cursory look at the principal contributors to the city’s growth; a few people and their occupations.  As youngsters, we probably got a brief look at the last days of the parochial nature in which a lot of small to medium-size cities conducted their variously unique, yet significantly similar “social orders” after WWII, after which things got a lot larger and our options expanded.

The term, Cattle Barons, is a general nod to the area’s more industrious, earliest Texas settlers that flowed into the new Republic after it gained its independence from Mexico.  Since this early Texas history is varied and largely unrelated to my EHHS “social order” exploration, I'll mention a few of our earliest settlers only in the context of noting their contributions to the development of Ft. Worth itself.  Their contributions started the process of setting down the initial premises for our notions of  “polite society” almost a century later.

The 1833 Map - This is the earliest map I’ve found showing good detail of Texas just before Independence--have a look, it's a large map.  Just 3-years before this map was published, some of my early ancestors put down stakes in Arkansas, just across Red River where they opened a couple of taverns to serve the flow of newly arriving Texas pioneers bound for Austin’s Colony.  Their location is marked on the map, as are the approximate locations of (future) Ft. Worth and an arrow marking the point where the famous cattle drives would cross Red River about 30-years later.  Note that the crossing shows a then known trail leading to it from the northwest....most likely an ancient Indian crossing.

1850s - Dan Waggoner (1828-1903) was one of the first settlers in our area of North Texas and his arrival was described by another writer thusly….

“In the 1850s, he moved from Hopkins County to Wise County, Texas with his son, an African slave, six horses and 242 Longhorn cattle.  They settled on Catlett Creek, near Decatur.  The land was 'open range' when they first arrived.

In 1856, he purchased 320 acres of land near Cactus Hill, and moved his family there.  He later purchased more land on Denton Creek, seven miles east of Decatur.  Each time, the whole family moved with him.  Over the next three decades, he purchased more land in Wise County as well as Clay County, Wichita County, Wilbarger County, Foard County, Baylor County, Archer County, and Knox County.

Waggoner's landholdings became known as the (535.000 acre) 'Waggoner Ranch.'  With his son Tom, he also owned five banks, three cottonseed oil mills, and a coal company.

In 1883, he built the Waggoner Mansion, also known as 'El Castile', in Decatur, where he resided with his family.” 

“El Castile” is still standing but has been uninhabited for years.  As time passed, his son Tom Waggoner and his offspring would make a lasting impact on early Fort Worth by constructing several large homes in Quality Hill and River Crest…more about him later.
 ***  ***  ***

Khleber M. Van Zandt (1836 – 1930) arrived in Fort Worth in August 1865 and found "a sad and gloomy picture," as the town had a population of only 250 people and lacked "even a saloon." 

He began a dry-goods business that succeeded and allowed him to participate in other business endeavors. In 1875 he organized the Tarrant County Construction Company, which built the Texas and Pacific roadbed from Dallas to Fort Worth. In 1874, with John Peter Smith, James Jones Jarvis, and Thomas A. Tidball, Van Zandt organized Tidball, Van Zandt and Company, forerunner of the Fort Worth National Bank.  According to his biographer, he was a typical Texan, "one of the quiet men who built homes, . . . engaged in business, promoted towns, . . . opened schools, and enforced law and order."  (The page at left is from a c.1914 special publication entitled "Makers of Fort Worth" showing a contemporary bio - good read)

Van Zandt built several homes over the span of his long life, one of which was a small farm plot on which the Ft. Worth Cultural District stands today.  His last residence was a fine, large home befitting his later life stature as the prosperous banker.  It sat on the land just east of and straddling the West 7th Street bridge, as you approach the city’s 7th St business district…right where I got pulled over for my first ($10) speeding ticket as we motored briskly over the bridge after a date on the west side.

...more in Part 2


Anonymous said...

The Mayfete photo is of the EHHS class of 1964 when they were leaving the 6th grade at Meadowbrook Elementary. I believe the young man directly in front of the spotlight is Jim Ward.

Gus said...

It is the Class of '64.

SS said...

What fun to read the description of the girls' dresses as they danced the minuet on the lawn of Meadowbrook Elementary with their dates in white sports coats! Loved seeing the picture of the Casino Ballroom from the 1930's. So interesting to read about Dan Waggoner and KM Van Zandt, who each had significant contributions to Ft. Worth! You really have a way with words, Gus and I enjoyed this so much! Can't wait for Part 2!

Gus said...

Took that description from a posting offering for sale a "retro" fifties formal dress...three lifetimes would not have been enough for me to come up with those words on my own. However, Girl #3 mentioned "tulle" in one of her recent communications, thus once again (after all these years!) introducing me to a vocabulary word I had never before encountered. So, I was pretty confident that the newly found description was probably credible.

Gus said...

All those names in the blog have long been a disconnected jumble in my mind for as many years as I can recall. The challenge is one I try and simplify and boil the story down to little more than essentials that convey the story, but avoid the ever enticing tangential journeys along the way. Great history teachers like Billy Sills had the gift.