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(1806-1841)

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An old view of the Denton County courthouse.

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(Picture of present day Denton County, Texas Courthouse
by Frances McCoin)

From Frontier Times, December 1931
by Judge J. M. Deaver
El Paso, Texas

The Indian raids into Grayson county and the slaying by them of various members of the Dugan, family in 1839; the Indian fights around old Fort English at the establishment of the first courts in Fannin county in 1840; and the massacre of the Ripley family in Titus county in  April, 1841, resulted in the Tarrant expedition and the death of John  B. Denton on May 24, 1841.  This sad event occurred on Village Creek between Ft.  Worth and Dallas, near where the interurban that now links those two cities together crosses that creek.

A company of about 70 men was organized with Captain E. H. Tarrant, a citizen and resident of Bowie, county, as commander.  They penetrated the wilderness going up beyond Ft.  Warren, Preston's bend and in the vicinity of old Ft.  Graham, returning down the Trinity river.  On their return and while near the Trinity river and not very far from Ft.  Bird, they began to find camps or villages of Indians.  The first two camps they found were deserted but further down their scouts reported camps, or villages, that were inhabited.  They had discovered the headquarters of the tribes of Indians that had been depredating upon the whites for so many months.  There were more than 300 acres of land planted in corn.  There were three well organized and laid out Indian villages scattered all over an area of several miles.  In one. village around there, the scouts were able to count over 200 lodges or huts.  Several of the lodges were fitted up to the extent of even being supplied with beds.  There were more than 1000 braves connected with, and belonging to these villages, but more than one half of them were absent, as they afterwards learned, hunting buffaloes and engaged  in other pursuits.  The first village was attacked by the whites, twelve or more Indians were killed and the occupants dispersed, crops and lodges destroyed, and in the confusion, the men had become so widely scattered that Tarrant was compelled to call a halt, the bugle sounded and the men all returned.

After a consultation it was decided that this village should be selected as headquarters for their future operation,,.  An inventory was taken with the result that they ascertained that they had recovered six head of cattle, 37 horses, 300 pounds of lead, powder and bullets, also axes, kettles, buffalo robes, pack saddle and in one lodge was found a set of blacksmith tools, thus, showing that the natives were well established there; not merely as a roaming tribe of Indians.  Scouts having reported as above detailed, that there was more than one trail leading away, John, B. Denton and Henry Stout were detailed with ten men each to follow a different trail, which they did until the two trails came together and the two bodies of men met.  After a few minutes discussion as to what was the best to be done and who should lead, they followed or started down a small trail leading to a creek when they were fired on from ambush by the Indians who had them surrounded on all sides and were firing from their hidden covers.  John Denton was instantly killed by a shot through, his body as be was raising his rife to fire.  Captain Henry Stout was shot in the arm, a bone being broken, and Captain John Griffith being shot in the cheek.

The party instantly retreated back up the bill and on discovering that their leader had been killed, they returned, securing the body of John B. Denton, and fastening it to a gentle horse,  left the scene of battle, traveling several miles to the northward where they camped for the night, and the next day buried the body of John B. Denton on the north side of a creek which is believed to be what is known and called Oliver Creek in Denton county, Texas, though historians are at disputes as to the exact location.  This occurred May 24, 1841. During the various attacks of these villages the women and children were permitted to escape as it was the intention of the Texans not to take any captives.  One little girl, however, fell into the hands of Captain E. H. Tarrant.  He kept her until sometime in the year 1842 when she was returned to her parents by Captain Tarrant.

From her it was ascertained and learned, that not more than half of the braves were in the village at the time of the attack, which doubtless saved this little army from annihilation.  After this battle, which was called the "Keechi Village Fight" by early writers, the company saddened by the death of their beloved leader and comrade, John B. Denton, returned to the settlements, taking five days to make the trip that is now made in a few hours.  This expedition, no doubt, saved the scattered settlements of the Pecan Point country from frequent, and successful Indian raids.

The activities of the Pioneers Association of Denton county in 1901 provoked a discussion as to the location of John B. Denton's body; and the writing of various articles in the Dallas News and other newspapers of the State.  The preparation of a small book by a Methodist preacher, Reverend Allen of Frisco, Texas, entitled the "Life and Times of John B. Denton," later the discovery of a written report in the archives at Austin, Texas, by W. N. Porter of Bowie county, has enabled the student of Texas History to glean more facts of history concerning this expedition than is now in existence of the many raids by the Indians into the Red River section.  From these sources we have been able to ascertain the names of a great many of those who composed the roster of this expedition.  Among those actually present at the killing of John B. Denton, were Andrew Davis, a thirteen year old boy, afterwards a Methodist minister at Waxahachie, Texas, Capt.  Yeary, Henry Stout, Daniel Montague, E. J. Tarrant, Cal Coffee, James Bourland, who was first to reach the body of Denton and who picked him up; Wm. Bourland, Mack Bourland, Cal Porter, Dick Hopkins, Clabe Chisum, J. L. Lovejoy, W. C. Young, J. B. Denton, Capt.  Griffith and Col.  Sam Sims, Wiley B. Merrel, and M. H. Wright. 

Capt.Griffith and Col.  Sam Sims,, were both uncles of Mrs. S. J. Wilson of Clarksville, Texas, one of the contributors to the facts published in 1901 and related in the book, "The Life and Times of John B. Denton" by the Rev.  Allen.  In 1901 at the time when the body of John B. Denton was finally placed at rest in the court house yard at Denton, Texas, there were living only two men who were present at the death of John B. Denton, namely, Rev.  Andrew Davis, then living at Waxahachie, Texas, and Col.  Sam Sims, aged 83, and living with his daughter at Rich Hill, Missouri.

John B, Denton was born in Tennessee July 26, 1806.  His parents died while he was very small, he was bound,out to a Methodist preacher and blacksmith by the name of Wells.  He was unable to get along with Mrs. Wells and at the age of 12 year, he ran away from home and worked for a time on a sailing vessel as a deck hand on the Mississippi River.  He and Miss Mary Greenlee Stewart were married in 1824.  He was 18 years of age and she was 16.  With the faithful help of his wife he acquired the rudiments of an education upon which, he improved until before his death.  He had become one of the best read and educated men of his day and time, fully a peer of Amos Morrill, a college graduate.

He and his wife were converted shortly after their marriage and joined the Methodist church and in 1826 he entered the ministry as a Methodist circuit rider and for ten years followed that profession in Northern Arkansas. and Southern Missouri.  Littleton Fowler and John B. Denton crossed the Red River and entered Texas in the early part of January, 1836, and thereafter, John B. Denton became a loyal and consistent Texan.  He was admitted to the bar at Clarksville and formed partnership with John B. Craig, also a Methodist minister, which partnership continued until his untimely death.  Craig being an older man attended to the office while John B. Denton traveled over the district looking after their legal business and occasionally preaching.  And in 1838, while attending court at Ft. Warren, he preached at the home of old Mother Dugan, the first sermon in either Fannin or Grayson county.  In 1840, he was candidate for Congress from that district but was defeated by Robert Potter.

It is said that he had the best library in Clarksville, Texas, at that time and that be was one of the most accomplished speakers and orators of his day and time, and that in his death was lost to Texas one of its brightest minds.  He was universally beloved and respected ,where he was known, especially so in Clarksville, and his death was the occasion for profound sorrow and regret in that little city, to the extent that it made impressions upon the minds of the children of that town that lasted for many years.  Dr. Pat B.Clark, though a small boy, remembered in the early morning of the cries and screams that awoke the citizens of that town when the first courier arrived with the sad news that the Indians had killed Captain Denton.  Mrs. J. Wilson, whose two uncles were present at his death, was able in 1900 to write an account of the death of John B. Denton that corresponded fairly well with the official report in the war archives at Austin found some years afterward.

John Chisum whose father was a member of Tarrant's expedition, had been told so often of the death of John B. Denton that in 1861 when his cow boys reported the finding of a body upon a high bank on the north side of a creek in Denton county, he became convinced that it was the body of the martyred Methodist preacher.  Several members of the Tarrant Expedition, at that time, were residing in Denton county, and sending for them they viewed the spot and from the blanket, the imprints of which were still to be found in the dirt; from a tin cup and other accouterments found with the bones, the gold teeth, which had been detailed to him by his father, satisfied Chisum and his associates that they bad at last found the body of John B. Denton.

Felix McKittrick was a member of the Tarrant Expedition who identified the tin cup and blanket. James Bourland and John Lovejoy identified the plugged or filled teeth and John Chisum  from the conversation of his father was able to locate a certain marked elm tree nearby.  Whereupon the body was removed to the ranch of John Chisum near Bolivar, Texas, and buried in the corner of his yard where it remained until 1901, when it was removed under the auspices of the Pioneer's Association of Denton County to the court house yard in the town of Denton, where, with fitting ceremonies, it was consigned to the dust in the town that bears his name.

J. F. Denton further aided the identification of his father by describing a broken arm which his father had sustained from a fall from a horse.

He left surviving him his wife and several children, the oldest the Reverend J. F. Denton, a Methodist preacher, died in Weatherford, Texas, about 1907; the Rev. J. B. Denton who was some three months old at the date of his father's death and Dr. A. N. Denton of Austin, Texas, born in 1837.  Of his two daughters one married W. C. Baker, a school teacher, the descendants of whom now live in Ellis county. the second daughter married Bernard Hill, a school teacher of Clarksville, Texas.

In 1849, J. F. Denton, the oldest son and Henry Stout made an unsuccessful effort to locate the body of John B. Denton.

The John B. Denton home at Clarksville, Texas, was located on what was known for many years as the "King place" later being occupied by Lute Caldwell.  After the death of John B. Denton, his widow married a Mr. McKenzie and moved to Titus county, Texas.

John B. Denton left a will and John B. Craig, his law partner, was executor of that will.  He afterwards moved to Hopkins county, never closing the estate and it is still pending in the probate courts of Red River county.  William Denton, an older brother of John B. Denton, likewise bound to the Methodist preacher Wells in Arkansas, remained with Wells and became a Methodist preacher, and of this branch of the family there remains in Arkansas to this day many Methodist preachers of that name.

John Bunard DENTON was born on 27 Jul 1806 in TN.  He died on 24 May 1841 in battle with Indians. He was buried in 1901 on the Courthouse Lawn in Denton, TX .  (His third burial site.) John Bunard Denton was a noted Methodist minister of the Texas frontier of 1836, orator, Indian fighter and lawyer.   He was a member of Stephen F. Austin's first settlement in what was then Mexico and later Texas. Both the city and county of Denton in Texas are named after John Bunard Denton.

From Stephen F. Austin's Register of Families, edited by Villa Mae Williams from the original in the General Land Office, Austin, TX. The introduction is by Impresario Estevan F. Austin under law of colonization of State of Coahuila and Texas, March 24, 1825: John Denton is listed as single and is given the 1/4 league between Miller and Laky to lay between the wood and the river; one quarter adjoining John Brown on Carancahua Creek.

Denton CO, TX is a 900 square mile county situated in the Grand Prairie and Eastern Cross Timbers region of north central Texas. Although earlier a part of Nacogdoches CO, in its first session the Texas Congress included the area in Fannin CO where it remained until 1846 when Denton CO was created. Both the county and county seat are named after John B. Denton who was killed in 1841 near the south county line in a battle with the Keechi Indians. A lengthy firsthand account of the Indian battle in which John Bunard Denton was killed is a part of the Library of Sue Montgomery Cook.

He married Mary Greenlee STEWART in 1825 in Clark CO, AR. Mary Greenlee STEWART was born on 12 Dec 1808 in Bossier Parish, LA. Died on 12 Jan 1849 in Near Mt. Pleasant, Titus CO, TX. Mary died in the home of her daughter Sarah Elizabeth.


Thanks to Mike Cockran for the following story.  Mike is a city councilman and local historian in Denton, Texas and a long-time researcher of John B. Denton.  He found this J.C. Terrell account in the Ft. Worth library and found J.B. Denton's will and signature in Clarksville.  Mike has donated his research to Denton, Texas Historical Commission
and you can read more by him at Denton History

Captain J.C. Terrell on John B. Denton

The following is an excerpt from a book about Ft. Worth that contains an
interesting account about the life of John B. Denton before he came to
Texas.

REMINISCENCES OF THE EARLY DAYS OF FORT WORTH
by Capt. J. C. Terrell  1906

Story of Rev. John Denton After Whom Denton County, Texas Was Named  Dr. Ash N. Denton died at his residence in Austin on the 6th instant.

This announcement awakened memories long dormant. In 1858, while an orphan boy, Denton lived in Weatherford. A saloonkeeper there, named Big Jim Curtis, abused him, a fight with revolvers ensued, resulting in Curtis' death. Denton obtained a change of venue and was tried and acquitted in Buchanan, then the county seat of Johnson County. Denton came to Fort Worth, where he was elected Justice of the Peace; commenced reading law with A. Y. Fowler, but afterwards studied medicine with Dr. Calvin M. Peak, the son of Captain Peak, the Mexican war veteran of Dallas County, and graduated in Galveston medical school in 1861. He was married here to a most beautiful and accomplished lady, Miss Maggie Murchison, who survives him. He located at or near San Marcos; from there he moved to Austin and took charge of the insane asylum as superintendent during Governor Ireland's two administrations. In 1898, I with my two brothers, called on ex Governor F. M. Lubbock, who was sick. Doctor Denton was his physician, and I saw him for the last time.

The following I state from memory, told me by John C. McCoy, deceased, of Dallas. McCoy was surveyor of the Peters Colony company in the days of the Republic of Texas and was afterward District Attorney of the Sixteenth Judicial District.

Denton County was named in honor of Captain John R. Denton, the father of Dr. Ash Denton. He was a most remarkable man, an attorney, a Methodist preacher and a distinguished Indian fighter; was killed by the Comanche Indians on Rush Creek, this county, near where the Texas and Pacific Railroad crosses that stream. McCoy say that he never heard his equal as an orator. For a frivolous cause he separated from his wife in Arkansas. She went to Fayetteville and there established a little millinery store. One night a merchant, a man of wealth and local influence, on attempting to enter her room, was shot and killed by Mrs. Denton. She was indicted for murder and imprisoned. It was generally thought that on account of the influence of the prosecution and of the desperado friends of the deceased Mrs. Denton would be convicted. On the day of the trial the court room was densely crowded with spectators. The presiding judge asked the defendant if she had an attorney to defend her. She answered: "No; I have no attorney and no friends." A stranger to all, sitting inside the bar arose, gazing intently into her face, said: "No, not without friends. If it please your honor, I will appear for the defendant, if acceptable to her and to the court."

She recognized her husband in the stranger, who, being unknown, exhibited his license to the court, and the trial proceeded. The facts were plain. Her counsel seemed abstracted and asked the prosecuting witnesses but few pertinent questions. The State's attorney, an able advocate, made a strong effort, and many trembled for the fate of the beautiful defendant. When he had finished his opening address, Denton arose to reply. He discussed the law of murder in its various degrees, and the law of self-defense as applicable to the evidence in the case. In manner he was as calm, cool and emotionless as if he were an animated marble statue. But every point he made was as clear as the noonday sun, and he spoke as he shot  to the center every time. And his very impassiveness seemed to carry conviction. The first emotion he displayed was in his peroration, when, resting his eyes upon the defendant, he said in part: "Gentlemen of the Jury, look upon the defendant. Scan that pure face and behold something dearer to me than life, and more precious to me than all things else under the blue canopy of heaven. Need I tell you that she is my wife. I could as easily believe an angel guilty of crime as my wife. She never had an impure thought in her life. It is true that whilst no woman was ever gentler or more kindhearted or more faithful and affectionate wife, she, with a courage born of virtue and innocence, slew the ruffian who would have desecrated my fireside. And for this worthy deed of a noble woman I honor and love her more than ever. Thank God for having blessed me with such a wife."

Concluding he advanced toward the defendant, and, exclaimed: "No, not with a friend, little woman," and, extending his arms, "behold in me you have more than a friend  a husband."

She sprang to his breast amid the tears and acclaims of the people and the cries of the sheriff for "order in the court!" The jury, looking to the right and left and talking to each other, without leaving their box, returned instanter a verdict of "Not guilty." The friends of the prosecution were immediately conspicuous by their absence.

Captain Denton and wife then moved to Clarksville, Texas. A full account of this trial was published over forty years ago by Charley De Morse in his Clarksville Standard.

The Last Will and Testament of John B. Denton The Republic of Texas County of Red River

Know all now by these present   That I John B. Denton, in view of the mortality of man do make this my last will and Testament. First I will that my debts be paid out of my property. 2nd, I will that my beloved wife Mary Denton, have and hold all my personal property during her life. 3rdly I will to my beloved wife Mary six hundred and forty acres of land which I obtained as a head right from the government of Texas. And also three hundred and twenty acres of land part of an undivided section of land belonging to Craig and Denton west of Dekalb, on Mud Creek in fee simple to her and her heirs for ever. 4th, I will to my Daughter Elizabeth in fee simple, one thousand acres of land to be taken out of the land held by Craig and Denton in partnership. 5th The balance of my undivided interest in land held with J.B. Craig to be equally divided with my son Johnothan Denton, My Daughter Nancysu (J?) Denton. My son Eldredg(e) H. Denton, My Son Ashley N. Denton and My son Burnard P. Denton, to be held by them and their heirs in fee simple, for Ever. Lastly? I appoint, constitute and ordain, my friends William N. Potter, and John B. Craig the Executors of this my last will and testament in Testimony where of I have hereunto set my hand and seal this the 15 th day of July 1840.

Test

Richard Miller
J. B. Denton
J.B. Cassidy

They had the following children:

Sarah Elizabeth DENTON
Rev. Jonathan Franklin DENTON
Narcissa Jane DENTON
Edward (Eldridge?) B. DENTON
Dr. Ashley Newton DENTON
John Bunard DENTON Jr.

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The photo depicts those attending the reburial of John B. Denton on the grounds of the Denton County, Texas Courthouse.  Denton, Texas was named for this preacher, lawyer and Indian fighter who, as a member of Stephen F. Austin's first group of settlers, was killed in an Indian battle in 1841.  This was the third burial of John B. Denton.   The picture was part of an article written in celebration of the sesquicentennial of Denton County.

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This is the family of Rev. John B. Denton, Jr., son of Preacher, Indian Fighter and Politician, John Bunard Denton for whom Denton, Texas is named.