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John Neely Bryan, Founder of Dallas

Founding of the Metroplex: Arlington, Texas (Part 2 of 2)

During the period of around 1842, another visitor to the Bird’s Fort was a man named John Neely Bryan. Bryan had come to the area originally in hopes of opening his own trading house. However, as a result of this new treaty, his plan did not work since his location was east of the proposed new boundary. John Neely Bryan now had thoughts of building a town at his site, which was located roughly 25 miles east of Bird’s Fort. Over the next couple of years he would continue to make trips between his property, Bird’s Fort, and other fledgling communities, recruiting settlers to join him in building his new town, which was later named Dallas.

After discovering that the fort was built on land belonging to the Peters Colony land grant, the Rangers soon abandoned Bird’s Fort in 1843. Additionally, the Major was not reimbursed for his expenses incurred while building and maintaining the fort. Settlers remained in the area around the fort until the next summer. Things were not very pleasant for those who chose to remain due to the lack of food and unbearable winters. The Indians continued to be a menace; they had burned off the grasses, running off all of the wild game. They left when Sam Houston would not honor the settlers’ land claims, for they, too, were located in the Peters Colony Land Grant.

Terms of the Bird’s Fort Treaty called for the establishment of a line populated by forts and trading houses separating Indian lands from territory open for colonization. President Sam Houston proposed commissioning three trading houses. In 1845, Isaac Spence and a partner obtained the rights to open a trading house on the Trinity. This would be known as Trading House number One.

In his letter dated September 9, 1845, Spence reported to officials in Austin, “I have stopped at what is called the Marrow Bone Spring in the Lower Cross Timbers. About two or three miles from the West Fork of the Trinity River, the same place where a council was held with Indians some two or three years ago. Col. T.I. Smith went with me to the spot in company with two Indian Chiefs and pointed it out as the most suitable place for the Trading House and the one whom all the Indians wish it to be placed. I have put up a House 36 feet long by 16 ft. wide with a frame Roof Covered with two foot boards nailed and enclosed with half logs as pickets fastened togather in a substancil manner.”[sic] He further stated, “My object has been, and ever shall be to conduct the business intrusted to my charge in such a way as to strengthen the friend ship between the Indians and the white man.”[sic]

On December 29, 1845, Texas became a state, sparking a war with Mexico. As the armies moved to the south, the frontier was left unprotected. The governor ordered new Ranger companies to protect the settlements. Captain Andrew Stapp's company from Collin County took charge of the Marrow Bone Spring Station. In January 1848, Capt. Middleton Tate Johnson was ordered to move his company to Marrow Bone Spring, which was renamed Kaufman Station but was widely known as Johnson Station. Johnson was also placed in charge of Indian Trading Post No. 1.

For his service during the Mexican War, Johnson was awarded "immigrant headrights" to 640 acres in part of Navarro County that later became Tarrant County. Early in 1849, after leaving the military, Colonel Johnson claimed the Marrow Bone Spring area, as the last of the Peters Colony contract had expired. He soon developed a plantation near the spring where his many slaves raised hundreds of acres of cotton and other crops. His land holdings continued to increase to thousands of acres in the surrounding area.

The settlement that grew up around his plantation was commonly known as Johnson's Station. With its trading house and other resources, it succeeded where Bird's Fort had not, providing pioneers with end of the trail necessities to settle in their new homes and thrive. As well, the station provided provisions to those continuing further west on the Butterfield stage.

Col. Johnson soon expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the fact that countless settlers on the northwestern frontier were left unprotected. The army responded by establishing a series of new forts in the territory. In February 1849, General Worth commissioned Major Ripley Arnold to found two of the forts in the chain. The eastern end of the cordon of forts was to begin, in the words of official instructions, "somewhere near the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River."

By April 17, 1849, Major Arnold had established one of the forts, Fort Graham. With a detachment of dragoons, he proceeded to Mary le Bone Springs (Marrow Bone Spring) with a letter addressed to Colonel Johnson from General Worth. Arnold gave Johnson a letter of introduction from Johnson's Mexican War friend, Gen. William J. Worth, asking for help selecting a site for an Army post and fort on the Trinity River. The general wanted assistance, and Johnson was the man he knew could best advise Major Arnold about the new site.

After staying about a week at Johnson's Station, the group departed from Mary le Bone Springs early one May morning in 1849. The party was comprised of Major Arnold's escort of blue uniformed dragoons and Colonel Johnson in command of Rangers Henry Clay Daggett, W. B. Echols, Simon B. Farrar, and Charles Turner. They camped for the night, probably northwest of where the present-day town of Handley is located. Early the next morning, the group of men rode to the area of the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River.

The chosen site was on the property owned by Colonel Johnson and his partner, Archibald Robinson. There was no quibbling about price. Johnson and Robinson were settling a frontier. They gave the land to the United States government for use until the post should be abandoned, at which time it was to revert to the owners. On November 14, 1849, an event occurred which caused rejoicing. The War Department lifted the military post from the rank of a camp to that of a fort.

The military closed and left Fort Worth in 1853, departing for Fort Graham. As agreed by the government, the property reverted to its original owners. With a community already growing around the fort, citizens of the town kept the well-known name, and the city of Fort Worth continued to grow. However, Colonel Johnson did donate to the town the land where the original Tarrant County Courthouse is located. His likeness was also included on the first Tarrant County seal.

Following his many accomplishments in the area, on May 15, 1866, while returning to Johnson's Station from Austin, Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson had a stroke and died. He is buried in the Johnson family cemetery near Marrow Bone Spring in the city that would later become known as Arlington, Texas.

Text sources include Arlington, Texas: Birthplace of the Metroplex by Arista Joyner; Dallas historian Gerald Harris,; Fort Worth, A Frontier Triumph by Julia Kathryn Garrett; The West Texas Frontier by Joseph Carroll McConnell; historian Clay Perkins; Bill Fairley as published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Texas State Library.