The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

Setting the Record Straight:
Fort Worth and the Historians
RICHARD F. SELCER*
EVERY TOWN, IF IT STAYS AROUND LONG ENOUGH, ACCRUES ITS SHARE
of local lore masquerading as history. In the case of Fort Worth this
lore is rooted in its proud claim of being the "City where the West Be-
gins." That title is at the heart of Fort Worth's image of itself and the ex-
planation behind it goes back to the city's beginnings as a small army
outpost on the north Texas Indian frontier. The full picture has been
filled in with a collection of assorted tales and local lore repeated and
rehashed so many times they are practically canonized today-that is,
they are beyond critical examination. They have even slipped into the
authoritative and recently revised New Handbook of Texas. The accepted
lore includes stories of rugged dragoons, visionary land barons, blood-
thirsty Indians, an outpost on the edge of civilization, and famous visi-
tors stopping over for a look-see. The historical errors need to be
exposed and corrected, but it is not enough to debunk them; what is al-
so needed is an explanation of how they came to be accorded such near-
mythical status in the first place.
Let's start with the name itself. There has long been a misconception
that the post on the Trinity River began life as "Camp Worth," a designa-
tion which was soon changed by army orders to "Fort Worth." Such ex-
ceedingly humble origins, if anything, make its subsequent rise to
gateway of the north Texas plains even more amazing. The trouble is,
Fort Worth was never a camp in the army's scheme of things. Both
names honor the memory of Brig. Gen. William Jenkins Worth, yet
there is an important distinction in military lexicon between a camp and
a fort. A fort is a defensive strong-point intended as a permanent or semi-
permanent structure, often part of a defensive line. A camp is an unfor-
tified and purely temporary cantonment without defensive pretensions,
often devoted to training and instruction (for example, Camp Bowie).
* Dr. Selcer teaches in the history department at Northlake College (Dallas). He recently re-
turned from Vienna, Austria, where he taught at the International Christian University.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed April 28, 2015.