On July 7, when you walk into the lobby of Town Hall your eyes will automatically be drawn to photographs on the wall portraying some real Wild West characters from Southlake’s past.
Sam Bass was Denton’s best-known outlaw. This is considered to be the only authenticated image of Bass, standing, left. Gang members (l-r) are Joe Collins, John E. Gardner and Joel Collins. Photo courtesy of Karen Thompson, Round Rock, Texas: From Cowboys to Computers.
The Southlake Historical Society’s exhibit, “Shared stories: Denton County, Southlake and the Wild West, 1840-1878,” tells the history of Denton County and Southlake through the larger-than-life figures and everyday people who lived it.
The exhibit runs July 7-Aug. 28 in the lobby of Town Hall, 1400 Main St., Southlake. Hours are 8 a.m.-8 a.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. It is free.
An opening reception and exhibit discussion will be held 5-6:30 p.m., Sunday, July 16, in Town Hall. Free. Everyone is welcome.
Accompanying the exhibit will be artifacts from Texas Rangers, cowhands and area pioneers.
“History doesn’t stop at county lines. In researching the history of Southlake, we often came across situations and stories that had roots in Denton County but had spread into now-Southlake and Tarrant County,” said Connie Cooley, president of the Southlake Historical Society.
“The people we read about who lived in or passed through Denton County were representative of so many events and themes in our area’s history. That’s why we decided to bring them together in one exhibit.”
The northern border of Southlake is the Tarrant-Denton county line, although a small portion of Southlake is in Denton County. Southlake was established in 1956. Before that, it was unincorporated Tarrant County.
In 1840, what would become Denton County was nothing more than tangled forests and windswept prairies. Settlers began arriving in 1841, and the county was formed in 1846. Over the next few decades, the county would endure skirmishes with Indians who were being crowded out, vigilante justice, unfenced prairies, violence against black citizens, and outlaws. It would be strengthened by hard-working men and women, churches and a no-nonsense approach to life.
By 1880, with the arrival of railroads, Denton moved into a new era.
The historical society is partnering with the Denton County Office of History and Culture, which has shared photographs, maps and memorabilia and has helped produce the final displays for the exhibit.
Some of the people we profile lived quiet lives. Others lived lives big and bold. They are:
- Satanta, a Kiowa, the first Indian chief to be put on trial in the United States.
- John B. Denton, an itinerant minister, lawyer, politician, farmer and Indian fighter.
- Sarah Medlin Wade, married at age 15, who lived a hard life as a frontier wife and mother.
- John Simpson Chisum, one of the greatest open-range cattlemen in the country.
- Bob Jones and Almeady Chisum Jones, former slaves who bought land and settled near the Tarrant-Denton county line.
- Mary Chinn, who hatched a plan to build a log church (and it’s still standing).
- Joe Carroll, a lawyer and later a judge who came into contact with outlaws, men embroiled in land disputes, drunks, gamblers, cattle rustlers, mule thieves, bank robbers, shady dealers and killers.
- Sam Bass, a “seemingly normal young man” who turned to robbing trains, banks and stage coaches.
“The way to learn and enjoy history is through stories,” Cooley said. “We hope our exhibit engages everyone who sees it and that it fires up their interest in history.”
Learn about Denton County history at www.dentoncounty.com/chos. The county has an outstanding museum in the Old Courthouse and several restored buildings in the nearby historical park.
Read more about Southlake history at www.southlakehistory.org. Visit the Southlake Log House in Bicentennial Park (under the water tower) to read colorful signs about our area’s history.
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