Bob Ray Sanders

April 26, 2014

Monument to Fort Worth’s founder to be dedicated — finally

It will be a somber, ceremonial occasion, and one that may take on a “guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner” feel when one of the invited special guests, the major’s great-great-grandson, is introduced.

Fort Worth is making preparations to show proper respect to its founder, who some believe has been forgotten for too long, by dedicating a towering new monument to U.S. Army Brevet Maj. Ripley A. Arnold.

It will be a somber, ceremonial occasion, and one that may take on a “guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner” feel when one of the invited special guests, the major’s great-great-grandson, is introduced.

Arnold, a West Point graduate and decorated soldier from the Seminole and Mexican wars, established a military post 165 years ago, first camping along the Trinity River and then building a fort on the bluff near where the historic Tarrant County Courthouse now sits.

He named it in honor of his former commander, Brevet Maj. Gen. William Jenkins Worth, who never saw it. The New York native died in San Antonio a month before Arnold planted the flag at the camp on June 6, 1849. Worth is honored with a 51-foot monument and tomb in New York City at Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 25th Street.

It is said that shortly after establishing the fort, Arnold was seen by one of his troops standing on the bluff and gazing toward the northern horizon.

“What are you looking at, sir?” the soldier on guard asked.

“I’m not looking,” Arnold reportedly replied. “I’m just listening to the footsteps of the oncoming thousands.”

Jim Lane, a former Fort Worth city councilman and a Tarrant Regional Water District director, repeated that story as he showed me a new statue of Arnold stored in a TRWD warehouse until it will be installed June 6 (Fort Worth’s birthday) at John V. McMillan Plaza on the banks of the Trinity where the brevet major once stood.

The 12-foot statue, which on its pedestal rises to 21 feet, is an exquisite work of art by internationally known sculptor Archie St. Clair, an Australian native who moved to Fort Worth in 2000. It depicts Arnold in uniform — its details, from buttons to belt buckle, historically accurate.

The monument, at the very north end of Taylor Street, will include educational panels that tell Arnold’s story, said Lane, who has been concerned that Arnold was being forgotten.

Fort Worth’s first public housing development, built nearby in 1940, was named for Arnold, but it was sold in 2001 to make way for the new RadioShack headquarters (now Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus). After that, Lane said, it seemed no one even remembered the Ripley Arnold name.

On hand for the dedicatory ceremony will be members of the Comanche Indian Veterans Association. That will be quite an honor considering that Arnold built the fort to help protect white settlers from that tribe.

Also coming will be Isiah Edwards Jr., one of Arnold’s direct descendants, Lane said.

“And he’s African-American,” Lane quickly added.

Edwards, 75, a retired Air Force master staff sergeant, said he began researching African-American military history after he retired, and that led him to his own great-grandfather, Gilbert Arnold.

After researching old records and talking to two of his grandmother’s aging sisters, he found out that Gilbert was a son of Ripley Arnold. It was a long time afterward that he made the Fort Worth connection.

Clara Ruddell of the Tarrant County Historical Commission said the documentation is there.

A marriage certificate for Gilbert, who was born in the same Mississippi town (Pearlington) as Ripley, shows his father as Ripley Arnold and his mother as Hagar, no last name. Ripley Arnold is also named as the father on Gilbert’s application for a military pension. And the 1910 Census, which notes Gilbert’s race as “mulatto,” says his parents’ place of birth is Mississippi.

Edwards, who lives in Mississippi, says he also took a DNA test, and has been getting matches with the Arnold and Chinn (Ripley’s mother’s maiden name) families.

He is excited about coming for the monument dedication, and Lane and Ruddell are eager to greet him and other family members.

“A black family as descendants — that’s a part of history,” Lane said. “We are not going to deny that history. We want the truth.”

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