Horton family established the bygone Eagle Ford community

In 1844 Enoch Horton moved his family from Missouri to his 640-acre land grant, six miles west of Dallas on the West Fork of the Trinity River. He built a ferry business on the waterway’s shallowest stretch, allowing pioneers to easily ford the river. Shortly, after discovering an eagle’s nest in the area, he named the spot Eagle Ford.

The settlement didn’t develop significantly until the depression of 1873, when the Texas & Pacific Railroad halted construction at Eagle Ford, making it the line’s westernmost terminal. The community built cattle pens, new businesses and homes, and a two-story hotel and railway station, morphing from an insignificant village built around a general store into a burgeoning small town.

After railroad construction resumed in 1876, Eagle Ford’s cattle shipping industry declined, returning the community to its mostly agricultural status. The “Gillespie & Worth Dallas City & County Directory, 1881-82” showed Eagle Ford with one constable, one blacksmith, one merchant, one miller, 28 farmers, and six “tenants”. A similar 1882 directory revealed a grist mill operated by power from the Trinity River, a steam gin, a lumber company, a general store, two schools and “daily mail by rail”. By 1889, the area had three general stores.

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Arriving in Texas with his parents as a single man, son James Horton received his 320-acre Peters Colony Land Certificate 489. He and two of his brothers established their individual farms; however, the beckoning California Gold Rush proved too much to resist. James and John Horton returned, after modest success in the gold fields, but buried brother Robert in California. In 1957, James Horton opened the Eagle Ford Grist Mill — his lifetime’s primary income source — along with his sister, Sarah Horton Cockrell. (Sarah and her husband, Alexander, founded Cockrell Hill.)

Vacating his original log cabin in 1852, James Horton built a large two-story home that remained on the property until it burned in 1956. The new Arcadia Park Elementary School now occupies the spot.

Early on, James Horton designated 11 of his acres for the Horton Cemetery, dividing the plot into three sections: the upper third for Horton friends and neighbors; the middle third for Horton family and allied family members; the lower third established for the African-Americans in the area. Families gained permission to bury their loved ones at no charge from the Horton family. The lane, which ran from the house to the cemetery, was lined with wild roses.

According to Horton descendant Susanna Clark-Smith on the cemeteries-of-texas.com website, some graves are unmarked and others are outside the perimeters, now only four of the original 11 acres. The first burial was James Horton’s sister, Martha, sometime around 1848.

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“My Mother, who lived in the old Horton home from 1923-1936, remembers quite clearly the African-American funerals,” Clark-Smith writes. “She and her sister would go to the second floor and watch from the upper porch. The processions would come up from Eagle Ford and pass in front of the house, with the casket on a wagon and the mourners following behind on foot and in other wagons. She said they could hear the singing as they came up the road and that the singing would continue in the cemetery.”

“It was beautiful and really made an impression on her,” Clark-Smith continues.

Because of vandalism, family members have been reluctant to be buried there since 1956 but continue to visit the cemetery when in the area. In June 2001, a Texas Historical Marker was dedicated for the grounds, although some of the marker information is incorrect.

In 1903, capitalists developed the cement industry in the area, along with “villages” to house company employees. Soon known as Cement City, the industry resourced the land’s rich limestone and shale deposits.

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Eagle Ford’s most well-known citizens were two notorious law-breakers, who, when living in and later visiting their hometown, used Eagle Ford Road as their escape route into Irving and then out of the county. With petite Bonnie Parker at his side, Clyde Barrow barreled down the thoroughfare, driving the stolen V-8s that enabled him to outrun any sluggish law enforcement vehicles in pursuit.

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The Barrow filling station still stands, just off the corner of Singleton and Borger, while Parker’s elementary school remains at 1601 Chalk Hill Road. This community, within the perimeters of Eagle Ford/West Dallas, garnered the nickname “The Devil’s Back Porch”, a term that fugitive duo also used when speaking of the area.

In 1941, the Dallas County Commissioners accepted a petition from business owners along Eagle Ford Road to rename the thoroughfare. Honoring one of its own members, the commissioners re-christened the street Singleton Boulevard — after Commissioner Vernon Singleton. In 1954 Eagle Ford was annexed into the City of Dallas, melting into the larger metropolis and fading into history.

Except in my eyes.

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Every time I view my father’s birth certificate from July of 1918, I proudly note his birthplace: Eagle Ford, Texas. To me, it still exists, even if it’s only on paper

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  • jmuhj

    I read that there is a golf course right by this area. Trying to find the name of it. Pretty sure some of my ancestors lived in this area for some years in the 1920s-30s and one of them caddied on that golf course.

  • Emma

    This reply is for Don Coke…I would be very interested in hearing about your tale regarding Bonnie & Clyde. When my mother was little, the family lived on Beckleywood. I remember her telling of a childhood experience when out in the front yard on her birthday that had to do with B&C. Wondering if it could be the same as your tale?

    Looking forward to your reply,

  • Pingback: Oak Cliff history: Fun facts we didn't have room to print » Oak Cliff()

  • Virgilcrouch

    Not many people know about Cement City. My step-grandfather work there for Portland Cement. It was a self contained area, furnishing homes for employees and a store selling all necessities. Clyde Barrow is buried in a small cemetery on Ft. Worth Ave. At one time I lived of FT. Worth Ave. in an area called Mustang Village, governor housing, built during World War II out of plywood. Good memories.

  • Bob Hall

    Interesting bit of history and much I didn’t know. Thanks for the research and good writing Gayla!

  • Harriett

    Hi Gayla—thanks for the Oak Cliff info. I went to school
    with a Bennie Horton!!! I love Oak Cliff–all my special
    growing up memories are there.

  • Mary Newton Maxwell

    Really enjoyed this historical information on our hometown of Oak Cliff. Here’s a little Singleton Blvd trivia for you. I have the original letter, dated 1941, from Vernon Singleton to my step-grandmother, Berta Helton, thanking her for her recommendation and supporting petitions to re-name Eagle Ford Road as Singleton Blvd, after him.
    Thanks Gayla. I am always intrigued by your stories and charm. ~ Mary

  • Great story, great writing!

  • Charles Benny Kirtley

    The feeling about the Eagle Ford, Tx. name really rings through to home for me as I’ve always claimed I was born in Oak Cliff, Tx. Thanks for a great article about our stomping grounds!

  • Don Coke

    Thanks for a great boost to my memory factory of early childhood years when we would go north (fearfully, being well aware of the Bonnie and Clyde saga) up Eagle Ford Road to make a connection with roads up to Wichita Falls or Jacksboro going to Electra (Mother’s home) and Vernon (Dad’s home)for about a two week visit every summer. If you are interested, I have a short tale about a supposedly close contact with B & C when we lived in Beckleywood.