24 Chapters
Medium 9781574413588

Chapter 7: Black Sheep Jeff Daggett

Richard F. Selcer University Of North Texas Press ePub

CHAPTER 7

Black Sheep Jeff Daggett

Jeff Daggett was bad news his whole life, from his unwelcome birth in 1863 to his unfortunate end fifty-four years later in a hail of bullets in the Tarrant County Courthouse. He was born in 1863 on the plantation of Captain Ephraim M. Daggett, remembered as the Father of Fort Worth. His mother was Matilda Smith, a slave on the plantation. It was a small plantation by the standards of the Old South, no more than ten or fifteen acres with the slave quarters right behind the big house. Slaves and their master’s family lived and worked close together. Jeff’s father was Ephraim “Bud” Daggett, the only son of Ephraim Merrell Daggett. Bud Daggett had been born in Kentucky in 1838 to E. M. and Pheniba Strauss Daggett. The mother died while Bud was still a child. The father fought in the Mexican War where he acquired the rank of captain while serving with the Texas Rangers. He came to Fort Worth in 1854 with his family, livestock, and slaves, settling on a survey about three-quarters of a mile south of the bluff. Daggett had remarried in the meantime, but Bud Daggett was mostly raised by a black mammy who was like a second mother. Growing up in a slave-owning family, race was a fact of life and living in such close proximity the lines between the races were sometimes blurred. With his father often away on business and being the oldest male in the household, Bud was the man of the place.1

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413588

Chapter 4: Marshal Sam Farmer: Fort Worth’s First Professional Peace Officer

Richard F. Selcer University Of North Texas Press ePub

CHAPTER 4

Marshal Sam Farmer: Fort Worth’s First Professional Peace Officer

Sam Farmer was a man of principle. Sam Farmer was a scoundrel. Sam Farmer was a dedicated lawman. Sam Farmer was a slacker. He was all of these depending on which aspect of his life and career one chooses to focus on. Like so many Western lawmen (see Jim Courtright), Sam Farmer’s character had its dark side. When I first started digging into his life, I thought here was a breath of fresh air after Jim Courtright’s stormy tenure in the Marshal’s Office—a paragon of virtue, a pillar of law enforcement. That impression lasted until I dug into his life in Missouri before he came to Fort Worth and into the court records of his divorce. No Fort Worth marshal was re-elected more times than Sam Farmer, but he proved to be far more than just an eight-term marshal.

On April 1, 1879, Sam Farmer was elected city marshal of Fort Worth against a field of five other candidates, most of them with larger reputations and more impressive résumés. It was a bitterly fought campaign with name-calling and charges of ethical misconduct flying back and forth. His opponents were all friends and fellow officers before the election, including former marshal H. P. Shiel, veteran policeman W. P. Thomas, and incumbent marshal T. I. Courtright. When he entered the race, he had an understanding with Courtright that the three-time marshal would not run for a fourth term but instead would throw his support to Farmer. Courtright reneged on the deal four months before the election and jumped into the race with both feet. Sam’s first reaction was to drop out and not challenge the popular Marshal, but when the Fort Worth Democrat publicly urged him to reconsider, he jumped back in. To assist the voters, the Fort Worth Democrat limned the top three candidates in broad, symbolic strokes: “Farmer smokes, Courtright takes [his] beer straight, and Thomas drinks lemonade.”1 In the end, the electorate preferred the smoker over the two imbibers and the rookie over the two veterans. Farmer’s margin of victory was forty-nine votes more than the total of the other five candidates, but his election represented more of a protest vote against the status quo than a ringing endorsement for the novice Marshal.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574416305

Chapter 9: The Early Civil Rights Years or Jim Crow in Retreat

Richard F. Selcer UNT Press PDF

The Early Civil Rights Years or Jim Crow in Retreat

393

celebrants gathered for fun and games in Greenway Park, which was the city’s designated “negro park.” Swift and Armour, angling for a public relations coup, donated the meat for hotdogs and hamburgers.2

But if Fort Worth blacks expected a return to the more enlightened policies and practices of the New Deal, they were disappointed. With hardly a pause the nation went straight from World War II into the Cold

War. The global fight against communism pushed civil rights issues to the back burner. All the money and effort invested in national security was money and effort that could not be invested in solving problems like poverty and race. Ironically, if America was truly the “Land of the

Free,” it was hard to wage war against the communist evil while America consigned millions of its own people to permanent second-class status.

This contradiction was acknowledged in some measure. In the spirit of the Cold War, Texas Christian University offered black airmen at

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574416305

Chapter 7: The Depression

Richard F. Selcer UNT Press PDF

Chapter 7

The Depression

Or, Old Man Trinity Just Keeps on Rollin’ Along

The stock market crash of 1929 did not have an immediate impact on the black community, but the Great Depression that followed within a year had an enormous impact on all areas of black life. In 1936 Universal

Pictures released the definitive version of the musical Show Boat with black actor-singer Paul Robeson pouring his heart out singing the worldweary “Old Man River.” That heart-wrenching number not only became

Robeson’s signature song, it also went on to become the first anthem of the modern civil rights movement, expressing all the bitterness and resignation felt by African Americans at the height of Jim Crow, which coincided with the depths of the Great Depression.1

The song talks about how no matter what blacks do nothing ever seems to change—“Old Man River just keeps on rollin’ along.” This was the way life in these United States looked to African Americans in the

1930s. The Depression was hard on everyone regardless of race, but it seemed to weigh especially hard on minorities.

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574413588

Chapter 12: James W. Swayne: Straight-arrow Judge

Richard F. Selcer University Of North Texas Press ePub

CHAPTER 12

James W. Swayne: Straight-arrow Judge

A Southern lawyer who also happened to be a man of high principle. A friend of the black man and defender of black civil rights when doing so was the exception rather than the rule. This could be a description of Atticus Finch, the fictional hero of Harper Lee’s bestselling 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, brought to life on the screen by Gregory Peck in 1962. It is also a description of the flesh-and-blood James W. Swayne of Fort Worth. Swayne was a public figure for thirty-five years and set a standard during his years on the bench of the Seventeenth District Court that few have approached, much less equaled since.

James Swayne was born in Lexington, Tennessee, on October 6, 1855, or at least that is the best guess here. His death certificate and an early biographical sketch give two different years, as do the census records.1 He had a brother, John F. Swayne, five years older, and a sister, Mary W. Swayne, three years older. Although James was the second-born son, he was the one named for his father. The parents, James W. and Amanda Henry Swayne both died prematurely, when James, Jr., was less than two years old. The children, now orphans, lived with their grandfather, Felix W. Henry, for the next nine years, until 1866 when W. C. McHaney of Henderson County became their legal guardian. Mr. and Mrs. Swayne had been prosperous if not wealthy. Papa was an eminent lawyer, who at his death inherited sufficient funds to loan a brother-in-law $2,000 for a business venture, which had to be paid back only “if he succeeded.” The estate was kept in trust after Amanda Swayne died, and as the kids came of age, they each received a share. Mary Swayne received $1,499.36 in 1869, and John received $1,771.13 in 1871. James’ share, which he received on January 24, 1877, amounted to only $830.56. Still, it would not have been an insignificant bankroll to start the rest of his life with had he not spent it all to pay off debts incurred in getting his education. By the time he arrived in Fort Worth a year later, he was “without a dollar to his name.” Years later, Swayne also told his biographer that his parents had left “a fine fortune,” but his guardian, i.e., Grandpa Henry, had squandered most of the estate in a series of bad loans that went down the drain along with the Confederate cause in the Civil War. He never attempted to hold the old man legally responsible, but he never forgot his lost inheritance either.2

See All Chapters

See All Chapters