Friday, December 15, 2006

My Favorite Great-Great Uncle

Meet my favorite great-great uncle, Col. A. G. Walker. A. G. and his brother Hiram (my great-great grandfather) were born in Virginia in the early 1800s, then moved to Kentucky. A. G. was a schoolteacher for a while. Then, in 1841, they came to Texas on an ox-drawn wagon to settle in the Peters Colony, which was in North Texas. Hiram settled on Deer Creek in present-day Johnson County, while A. G. settled in nearby Tarrant County and worked as a land surveyor plotting what would later become Tarrant and Dallas counties. He also was one of the founders of the town of Birdville, which in 1851 was selected the county seat for the newly-established Tarrant County.

Birdville did not stay the county seat for long, however. The citizens of Fort Worth initiated an effort to move the county seat to their town, thus giving rise to a bitter rivalry between Fort Worth and Birdville. A. G. was at the center of the controversy, fighting to keep the county seat in his town.

In 1856, an election was held to decide the issue. Fort Worth won the election by offering free whiskey to cowboys from neighboring counties to vote illegally in favor of Fort Worth. A. G. contested the election, and even managed to get himself elected to the Texas Congress to push the issue, but to no avail. To this day, Fort Worth is the county seat, and Birdville (later renamed Haltom City) now sits within Fort Worth city limits.

During the same time as the county seat controversy, another more serious issue was dividing Texans. It was secession. A. G. was a Union man (“a fiery Union man,” as one contemporary described him) who was opposed to secession. He founded a newspaper, the Birdville Union and began writing editorials on the matter. Meanwhile, there was another newspaper in town, the Birdville Western Express, published by John J. Courtenay, who was writing editorials in support of secession. The two newspapermen soon began debating each other in print, with a great deal of vitriol and personal attacks. To make matters worse, Courtenay also supported the county seat move. The war of words got uglier and uglier, spiraling out of control, until finally the vitriol escalated into violence.

My research has not turned up what exactly my great-great uncle wrote that finally pushed Courtenay too far, but it must have been pretty bad. Courtenay stormed into A. G.’s newspaper office, slammed the door, denounced A. G. as a “black abolitionist,” pulled out his gun, and began firing.

A. G. dove behind his desk, pulled his gun out of his coat pocket, and fired back, sending a bullet straight into Courtenay's brain. Courtenay fell to the floor, dead. As the killing was done in self defense, A. G. suffered no consequences.

Texas seceded from the Union and the Civil War began. During this time, it was most unwise to express Union sympathies in Texas, a fact that A. G. apparently recognized. Not only did he cease supporting the Union, he embraced the Confederacy with open arms. Recently, my research turned up this from the Dallas Herald, December 5, 1860:

We have just conversed with Hon. A. G. Walker, of Tarrant county, who reports the people of Birdville as thoroughly aroused on the great questions now agitating the country. The citizens of Birdville recently held a meeting and passed resolutions memorializing the Governor to call the Legislature and expressing strong secession sentiments. Mr. Walker is deeply imbued with the same spirit, and says that the signs of the times are unmistakable, and that every patriot must act. He says that the flag of the Lone Star has been floating at Birdville for weeks. McKinney Messenger will please note this fact.

McKinney Messenger was the newspaper in McKinney, Texas. Why the Dallas Herald would direct the Messenger’s attention to this news item is not stated, but I suspect the Messenger was a pro-Union paper and this was the Herald's way of suggesting to the Messenger that it should follow A. G. Walker’s example.

After the war, A. G. served as county clerk of Tarrant County, then died in the 1870s.

There is a great deal more to be said about my great-great uncle. Over the years, my research has resulted in a rather sizeable file on him, which includes over a hundred pages of his correspondence. As a result, I have been able to put together a fairly comprehensive picture of him. But I will save all that for a longer piece to be written another time.