I recently read an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about Handly, a small town founded in 1876 a few miles from Fort Worth. Eventually annexed by its sprawling neighbor, Handley made me think of another town that suffered a similar fate. It was called Birdville.
In 1840, upon the orders of General Sam Houston, Captain Jonathan Bird and twenty Texas Rangers established Bird’s Fort on the north bank of the Trinity River in what is now Tarrant County in north central Texas. At that time the area was still on the Indian frontier. Bird’s assignment was to make it safe for white settlers. A treaty with nine Indian tribes was signed at Bird's Fort on September 29, 1843, shortly after which the fort was abandoned. Settlements grew around a few homesteads, water sources and trading posts.
Camp Worth was established in June 1849 by General Ripley A. Arnold and his troops nine miles west of Birdville. Built on a bluff overlooking the convergence of the West Fork and the Clear Fork of the Trinity, the camp was named after General William J. Worth. The outpost protected small settlements around Birdville and Denton until 1853, when the troops were moved northwest to Fort Belknap.
Birdville had approximately fifty inhabitants in 1849, with farms and ranches scattered around it. Settlements were also springing up around Fort Worth. A group of area residents petitioned the Texas Legislature for a new county and, on December 20, 1849, Tarrant County was created, named in honor of General E. H. Tarrant. An election was held on August 5, 1850, at a polling place in Birdville, to elect county officials and choose a county seat. Birdville won.
The First Tarrant County Courthouse was a wood-frame structure located in what is now Haltom High City, one of the “mid-cities” between Fort Worth and Dallas. An eighty-acre tract was donated by two citizens for county buildings. An 1851 plat of the new town includes 12 planned city blocks and a public square. Bonds valued at $17,000 were issued, bricks were collected and a foundation excavated. A jury list, drawn up at Birdville's temporary courthouse in 1855, showed 280 qualified voters, all male of course.
A permanent courthouse was never built in Birdville. In November, 1856, in a hotly contested special election, Fort Worth won the county seat by a slim margin of between three to thirteen votes (official tally varies). Jubilant Fort Worthians (yes, that’s a real word) took possession of county records, equipment and furniture, placing them in their town’s own temporary courthouse. Sadly, all early Tarrant County records were lost in a courthouse fire on March 29, 1876.
Photo from Birdville Historical Society
The outcome of the 1856 election was contested all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, which allowed the results to stand. A new county election was held in 1860, and Fort Worth won by a large margin.
An article by the Birdville Historical Society states, “Had Birdville retained its seat, chances are good that it would have attracted in the years ahead the population that made Fort Worth. The furor over the election cost several lives and the State of Texas about $30,000.”
Birdville lost population for several decades, but later began to grow. By 1960, its residents numbered 23,000 thanks to growth and annexations. Then, in 1990, Birdville was annexed by Haltom City. However, if you think the town is forgotten, that’s far from true.
Old Birdville School (Birdville Hist. Soc.) Birdville High School (Birdville ISD)
The Birdville Independent School District is alive and doing just fine. It encompasses forty square miles, serving the cities of Haltom City, Richland Hills, North Richland Hills, Watauga and Hurst. Not a bad legacy for the little town that gave Fort Worth a good fight for the county seat.
Now here’s an excerpt from Dashing Irish (Texas Devlins, book two)
Fort Worth rose against the warm, crystal-blue morning on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Yesterday, Del Crawford had declared they’d lay over here for one day to rest the cattle, and Tye had heard the men talk of little else since. The cow town was “wide open,” so they said.
Just how wide open, he discovered as the herd streamed through town. Traffic moved aside, and outside the weathered buildings, residents welcomed the noisy, dusty parade. Beginning where the trail entered town at the south end, crude signs heralded a bevy of saloons, gaming halls and cathouses. The latter were easy to spot by the bawds who lounged out front. Smiling and waving, they called out boldly.
“Hey, handsome, come and see me later. Ask for Bell,” one honey-blond vixen shouted at Tye over the ruckus of bellowing cattle.
He grinned and waved, knowing he wouldn’t visit her. She was pleasing enough to look at, but she wasn’t tall and slim, with dark eyes that flashed defiantly. She wasn’t Lil.
They drove the herd across the Trinity to the bed ground Choctaw Jack had scouted out for them. Afternoon was well along when the last longhorn clambered up the far bank. By then, Chic Johnson had restocked the chuck wagon at a supply store on the town square and had forded the river. He pitched camp while Neil MacClure made the rounds, announcing which men could go have a good time in town and which were to stay with the herd. The lucky ones whooped with excitement and galloped back toward the river. Tye hoped he’d be among them as the segundo cantered up to him.
“Devlin, you’re ta stay with the herd tonight. Kirby, Dewey and young Jubal will keep ye company. I’ll send relief riders out in the morning and you’ll get your turn at the saloons.”
Tye frowned and shot a searching glance around for Lil. He saw her riding toward town with her father.
“A whiskey would go down good, but ’tisn’t my chief interest.”
The Scotsman chuckled. “Aye, I know where your interest lies.”
“So ye do, and since you’ve done me one favor concerning the matter, I’ll ask for another. Will ye let me go into town tonight?”
Neil shook his head. “Sorry, laddie, but this time I cannae oblige. I’m no the one made the decree.” Turning his horse, he called over his shoulder, “Do your job and dinna worry. The bonny lass will keep ’til tomorrow.”
Will she? Tye wondered. He recalled Lil saying that Frank Howard lived near Fort Worth. Would she see the long-haired blowhard? Images of her and Howard at the November social gnawed at him without let-up, keeping him awake more effectively than Chic’s potent coffee through the long night.