William H. Beeman Interview, 1902

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Mr. and Mrs. William H. Beeman
The First Citizens of This Section of Dallas

(Edited and submitted by M C Toyer)

   Biographical Note: William Hunnicutt Beeman was the first son of Dallas pioneer settlers John and Emily Hunnicutt Beeman. William was born in Illinois in 1827, and came to Texas with his family in 1840, settling first in Red River County. In the spring and summer of 1841, John Beeman and his half-brother James Jackson Beeman participated in the militia campaigns to clear hostile Indians from the Three Forks area of North Texas. Later that year, Jonathan Bird and other militia members and pioneer families, including John Beeman's nephew John S Beeman, constructed and occupied Bird's Fort near the present day Arlington. In early 1842, they were invited by John Neely Bryan to join him in his new settlement in what soon became Dallas.

   Margaret Beeman, sister of William, married John Neely Bryan in 1843.

   William Beeman married Martha Dye in 1851; their union produced 12 children. They lived on the original John Beeman land claim on White Rock Creek. William died in 1905 and Martha died in 1912. They are buried in the Beeman Family Cemetery near their home, and next to the graves of John and Emily Beeman.

   When the decision was made to form a county in 1846, John Beeman traveled to Austin to present the petition to the State Legislature. Because the county was not yet established, the settlement of Dallas still within Nacogdoches County, the Legislature refused to recognize the petitioner from Dallas. The representative of Robertson County, west of the Trinity River, agreed to present the petition and when it was later ratified William Beeman, still a teenager, traveled alone 170 miles to Franklin to retrieve the certificate.

   The original name choice for the county was Polk in honor of then President James K Polk, but that had already been taken. The name Dallas was then selected by the Legislature in honor of Vice President George M Dallas. Dallas County and the City of Dallas share that common name, but most likely were each named for different individuals.


     Dallas, Texas, Jan. 2 (Special correspondence). Three and one-half miles east of the news office, standing in a pretty grove of post oaks, about 30 paces from the track of the Texas and Pacific Railroad, stands the modest home of the two oldest living pioneer settlers of Dallas county ( Mr. and Mrs. William H. Beeman. These venerable settlers of the then western wilds of Texas date their residence here from a period prior to the organization of Dallas County, prior to the settlement of Peter's colony, prior to the annexation of the Republic of Texas to the Federal Union.

     William H. Beeman was born in Greene[e] County, Ill. on May 11, 1827. His father John Beeman, was a farmer, who moved from Illinois to what is now Bowie County, Texas, in 1840, stopping for a year near Dalby Springs. He was accompanied by his brother James J. Beeman and family, and some five years later another brother, Samuel moved to Texas. Including the children born in Dallas County, the total offspring of the three pioneers numbered 24 sons and daughters.

     In the latter part of the year 1840, Major John Bird of Bowie County, acting upon authority from the Republic of Texas, raised a company of three months rangers in eastern Texas and proceeded to a point on the north side of the Trinity River, about 22 miles northwesterly from Dallas, and there built a fort. This defense was erected for protection against the Wichita and other roving tribes of Indians, and to form a nucleus for a colony. John Beeman was a member of this company (which consisted of about 30 men) but on the way out his arm was broken by accident. He remained, however, until Bird's Fort was finished, and then returned to Bowie County for his family. The following autumn (1841) he and his brother James moved their families out to Bird's Fort, together with Hamp Ratton and family.

     As an inducement to settlers, the Republic of Texas promised to feed them all the first year, or until a crop could be gathered. In this, however, the Government failed utterly, and the pioneers had to rely on their own resources. On the way out the immigrants stopped at Fort English (the present site of Bonham) where they met Major Bird who advised them to take out some corn and beef steers. "As the boys at the Fort are pretty short of rations," he said. Major Bird negotiated with Mr. Bailey English (who was general trader) for five beef steers and a lot of corn, giving his note of $100 for the same. John Beeman and Hampton Ratton endorsed the note and Ratton getting killed by Indians, Beeman afterwards had it to pay in full.

     When the party of immigrants arrived at Bird's Fort they found the garrison entirely destitute of provisions having had nothing to eat for a week. One of the Rangers, Riley Cole, had a few days before, picked up the feet of a calf that had been lying out on the prairie for six weeks (the calf having been butchered and eaten at the time) and he boiled these dry and discarded bones into a sort of soup or jelly. This was greedily devoured by the starving garrison and was the last morsel they had until the Beemans and their company arrived.

     Some small attempts at farming were begun at Bird's Fort, but on account of the malarial conditions in the vicinity, caused by a stagnant lake, the pioneers decided to quit the locality and hunt for a more salubrious spot.



Editors Note: Under the Military Road Act of 1840, Jonathan Bird and the other settlers at Bird's Fort were entitled to land in the vicinity of the fort but conflicts with additional land granted to the Texas Land and Immigration Company (Peters Colony) caused Sam Houston to deny the Bird's Fort settlers' claims. Many returned to the settlements in East Texas and a few to what later became Collin County. Only a handful made the move to John Neely Bryan's outpost in the future city of Dallas.

     A short time prior to the immigration of the Beemans and their friends, Hamp Ratton and Captain Mabel Gilbert to Fort Bird, a sturdy frontiersman named John Neely Bryan had pitched his tent upon the banks of the Trinity, about the foot of what is now Main Street of the present City of Dallas. Bryan, the Father of Dallas, went to Bird's Fort early in the year 1842 and invited the newly arrived settlers to pay his camp a visit, with the view of locating in that vicinity. Here is the account of the late Texas Historian Major John Henry Brown, of this incident:

     "Late in November, 1841, John Neely Bryan, a Tennesseean who had spent some time in the settlements on Red River, camped alone and erected a tent on the banks of the Trinity, near the site of the courthouse, and remained alone until the succeeding spring, except when visited by persons looking at the country. In the spring of 1842, several other families having arrived at Bird's Fort, abandoned the fort and moved to Dallas. Therefore, began in the spring of 1842, when the first cabin was erected and the families of John Beeman and Captain Gilbert being the first to arrive and relieve the loneliness of the adventurous and true avant coureur, John Neely Bryan. Mrs. Gilbert the first American lady in Dallas County and Mrs. John Beeman the next."

     Mr. Beeman (John, the pioneer father of Wm. H. Beeman) asked Bryan to give his camp a name, so that the new settlement could be designated, Bryan being a great admirer of George M. Dallas, named the place in his honor.

Editors Note: Descendants of William H Beeman dispute this account of the naming of Dallas, claiming this version was fostered by John Henry Brown and planted within this article by George Dealey. There are several contenders for the honor of the City of Dallas' namesake, a controversy that survives to this day. The only clue John Neely Bryan left was his comment to Alex Cockrell that he named the settlement, "for my friend, Dallas."

     After a two or three day visit, Bryan's guests decided to settle in his vicinity and returned to Bird's Fort for their families. Captain Mabel Gilbert, who had moved to the fort about two months after the Beemans, set to work and made two large dugouts from cottonwood trees and into these he loaded his family and household affects, making the trip to Dallas by water. He was formerly a Mississippi River steamboat captain and for this reason he probably preferred travel by water to an overland trip in an ox wagon. The distance from Bird's Fort to Dallas by water is 50 or 60 miles and on account of low water heavy drifts, "the fleet" of Captain Gilbert was ten days enroute.

     The Beemans did not move down until April 1842. Under the laws of the Republic of Texas a section of land (640 acres) was given to the head of a family. Captain Gilbert located his claim two miles west of Bryan's camp (now Dallas), and John Beeman settled on the east side of Whiterock Creek, six or seven miles east of Bryan's place on a tract of land afterwards known as the Lagow League.

Editors Note: Unknown to John Beeman, the Lagow League had already been surveyed by Warren A Ferris and patented to Thomas Lagow, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence. John Beeman later purchased this tract from Thomas Lagow and located his headright claim further east of White Rock Creek. James Jackson Beeman and John S Beeman also located their headright claims east of White Rock Creek. On his death in 1856, the original 640 acre tract was divided among John Beeman's surviving children and several of them made their homes there.

     Mrs. W. H. Beeman, whose maiden name was Martha Dye, was born in Oldham County, Kentucky, April 30, 1825. She came with her father Benjamin Dye to Texas in 1842, settling upon Whiterock Creek near the present town of Garland, where her father died a few years later. She was married to William H. Beeman in 1851. Twelve children were born to this union, six of whom are now living in Dallas County. Both Mr. and Mrs. Beeman though "up in years" are living in the enjoyment of good health and seem contented and happy. They are proud of the distinction of being the oldest living pioneers of the great County of Dallas, and they love to talk over their early days of strenuous yet pleasant pioneer life. They related many interesting incidents of Dallas, and recalled with affectionate regard the names of a number of pioneer friends who have "crossed over the river to rest in the shade of the trees."

     Besides John and James J. Beeman, Hamp Ratton, Capt. Gilbert, and Alex W. Webb, who with their families came to Dallas from Bird's Fort in 1842, there were others who settled in the county during that year. They were Thomas Keenan, and family; Preston and Pleasant Witt, twin brothers; and John and Eli Witt and family; John H. Cox and wife, and George Cox from Illinois; Solomon and William Caldwell and their families and their brother, Timothy, from Illinois; Dr. Calder who was killed the following year, by Indians; Wm. W. Hobbs and Wm. Larner and wife from Illinois.

     The only living relatives of William H. Beeman who were here in Dallas County in 1842, are his brother, J. W. Scott Beeman living one mile north of his (Wm. H.'s) residence; James H. Beeman, another brother, now living in Burnett County, and sisters Margaret Bryan and Nancy Hobbs; the former living with her son, John Bryan, on Red River, sixteen miles north of Wichita Falls, and the latter at Orphans Home, near Dallas. Scott Beeman was born in Bowie County, Texas in 1841, being now 61 years old, an unusually old native Texan. He was not a year old when the family moved to Bird's Fort. Hence his life has been spent mostly in Dallas County.

     Mrs. Margaret Bryan is now about 78 years of age and is the widow of John Neely Bryan above referred to as Father of Dallas. She was married to Mr. Bryan on Feb. 26, 1843, when a part of Dallas County east of the Trinity was a part of Nacogdoches. This was the first marriage of white people within bounds of what is now Dallas County, and John Bryan, Mrs. Margaret Bryan's first born, was the first white child of Dallas. He was born Jan. 9, 1846.

Editors Note: The honor of Dallas' firstborn white child actually goes to Morris Gilbert, the ninth child of Captain Mabel Gilbert and his wife Charity, who was born soon after their arrival in early 1842. John and Margaret Bryan's first child, Holland Coffee Bryan was born August 26, 1844, but died July 18, 1845. There were probably other births preceding John Neely Bryan Jr. but none were actually recorded until Dallas County was formed in March 1846.

     As above related, John Beeman settled upon what was afterwards known as the Lagow League, on Whiterock Creek. One of the first precautions was to fortify against the roving bands of Indians which then made frequent raids against these settlers. Before this was completed, however, he had quite a thrilling adventure with the "red skins." About this time the surveyors of Peter's Colony were running lines through this section, and one of them meeting Mr. Beeman, told him that someone from their old state of Illinois had brought two letters for the Beemans. Mounting his horse, he rode up to the headquarters of the colony near the present town of Carrollton and found the letters awaiting him.

     On his return when about one and one-half miles from his camp, he saw some fifteen or twenty mounted Indians. They tried to "head him off" and surrounded him, but he was riding a very fleet horse and he out ran them. He reached his camp bareheaded and gave the alarm. He and the other members of the family went to work setting up four-foot oak boards around the wagon and putting the women and children behind these, the father and his sons stood guard with their guns expecting an attack momentarily. The savages, however, retired without any further demonstration, although their superior numbers gave them a great advantage. The next morning Mr. Beeman rode back to recover his lost hat and found it, with his two letters inside, near the [present] site of the Episcopal College just north of the city.

     Prior to this incident, on Christmas Day 1841, Hamp Ratton, who moved with his family from Bowie County to Bird's Fort as stated, in company with Alex W. Webb and Solomon Silkwood were out on a bear hunt on the east side of Elm fork near the site of the present town of Carrollton. They found what they took to be a bear sign on a large cottonwood tree. They thought they discovered claw marks on the tree and they proceeded to cut it down, expecting to find one or more bears in the hollow trunk above. Ratton was cutting on the tree when they were fired upon from ambush by a small party of Indians and Ratton was killed. His body was buried at Bird's Fort in a rude coffin made of an old wagon body, Major Brown states. Mrs. Ratton, wishing to enclose his grave, was assisted in her labor of love by Wm. H. and J. J. Beeman and John Cox who, with the widow, went in an ox wagon from the Beeman camp on Whiterock, to John Neely Bryan's camp at Dallas. This ox wagon, W. H. Beeman says, was the first vehicle that made tracks in Dallas. From there they proceeded a few miles down the river into an immense cedar brake, where they split out the cedar timber for the pickets with which to enclose Ratton's last resting place.

     Indian depredations continued in this section for several years after the advent of the Beemans. In 1843, after a vain attempt of President Houston to assemble a counsel of chiefs of the various tribes in this section at Grape Vine Spring (near the present town of Grape Vine), he had to return to his official duties and left Gen. E. H. Tarrant and Geo. W. Terrill, with John H. Reagan as pilot and Col. Thomas L. Smith, commander of the escort, to effect a treaty of peace. This was finally accomplished at Johnson's station, a point three miles south of the present town Arlington. Since that time Dallas County has been exempt from Indian raids, though for many years afterward counties of the west suffered great annoyance. Up to about 1841 Indians made raids as far east as English's Fort (Bonham now). W. H. Beeman says that when his father and family arrived there on their way out to Bird's Fort in the latter part of that year, he saw an Indian scalp nailed upon the gable of the trading house. The redskin had been killed in a recent raid to that section.

     "Where did you oldtimers get your supplies from in those early days?" I asked Mr. Beeman. "We didn't get a great many supplies for the first few years, but what we did get were hauled by ox wagon from Shreveport, La., over 200 miles distant." Continuing, he said: "We lived principally on honey, venison, wild turkey, bear, and Buffalo meat, all of which was abundant. I have killed Buffalo right around the Fair Grounds over there and lots of bear in Whiterock and Trinity bottoms. Deer and turkey could be seen any time all around here. Every morning we could hear turkey gobblers along the creek."

     "For the first few years, though, before we began to raise wheat, flour was a luxury but few could afford. Judge John Thomas the first judge Dallas County had was about the only man in the county who could afford to have flour and sugar. I went to a wedding at his house once and they had pound cake. When we went to entertainments in those days we generally spent the night. We lived too far apart usually, to go home in the dark. I stayed all night on this occasion. Next morning old man Wilburn happened in to breakfast, the pound cake ( what was left from the wedding supper was still on the table. When asked to have a nice hot piece of cornbread, Wilburn replied, 'No thank ye, this punkin cake's good enough for me,' he proceeded to devour all the punkin cake in sight, much to the disappointment of us younger folks who also had an appetite for that dainty."

     "We didn't dress as fine back in the forties as the present inhabitants of Dallas do. Deer skins were plentiful and I've dressed many ones. We made all men's and boy's clothing out of buckskin sewed with deer sinews. Also made moccasins of it for footwear. John Neely Bryan was expert in making buckskin clothing and sewing with sinews. He once made himself a very warm coat out of a striped blanket. The stripes were deep red and dark blue, and upon special occasions I used to borrow it. I wore it to the wedding at Judge Thomas'. True it was somewhat gaudy in appearance and did not fit me altogether as well as an up-to-date tailor rig, but it was very comfortable in cold weather. We wore coats, pants, and leggings of Buckskin." After a pause, as if to reverie, the old pioneer resumed. "My father and his boys cut the first direct road ( English Fort to Bird's Fort. This was in 1841. We cut the road and dug down the banks along the pioneer highway, and it was no small task, you may be sure."

- January 2, 1902, The Dallas Morning News
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