WILLIAM ALEXANDER DARTER, an old-time citizen of Fort Worth, connected with its business, industrial and general development since the sixties, a man of the highest integrity and of soundest principles in both business and personal life, is conducting a prosperous real estate business in Fort Worth and is one of that city’s most prominent and popular men of affairs. Eminently public spirited, he has never hesitated to offer his personal services and his money for the advancement of the welfare of the city, and his soundness and honor in business have been attested in many ways. While private business and the promotion of the material welfare of his community have been the principal objects of his endeavor, he will also be long remembered in his city in connection with many public services rendered through official position and as a member of the body politic. A varied, withal prosperous, useful and worthy career has been his history, and the sixty years of his life, most of it spent within the boundaries of the Lone Star state, have been fruitful and happy.
Of a well-known southern family, various of whose members have been worthy citizens of Texas, he was born in Randolph county, Alabama, in 1846. His parents were Frank and Mary (Boyd) Darter. His mother, a native of Kentucky, died in Fort Worth; and his father, born in Wytheville, Virginia, died in Tarrant county, this state, near Azle, on December 7, 1870. Frank Darter came to Texas in 1859, settling in Erath county, six miles northwest of Stephenville, and establishing a ranch on the Bosque river six miles above. The country thereabouts being then new and sparsely settled, and but scant means being afforded for protection against the Indians, who were then giving the settlers so much trouble, he remained in his exposed location only a season or two, and in the spring of 1861, trading off his cattle for horses, brought all his household and movable effects to the northern part of Tarrant county, where, with less danger from the red men, he permanently located his home. The two years spent in Erath county will be ever memorable to the family, for they were fraught with constant danger and adventure with the Indians. One of the most tragic of these happenings occurred in the spring of 1860, when the Indians made a raid on the Lemley Tucker and Darter ranches and carried off four women, three of them the daughters of Mr. Lemley and one of them the wife of Mr. Woods. The Indians killed Mrs. Woods and one of the Lemley daughters. The other two, after being horribly mistreated, were, after being kept out one night, turned loose and made their way back to the settlement. James I. Darter and about six other men got together quickly and followed the Indians for several days, when the trail was lost and they had to return home with the awful crime unavenged. Constant care and watchfulness had to be exercised to protect home and property, and among other necessary precautions was to secure the horses and mules by a log cabin around a tree near the house. The Darter house had port holes in it for watching and defensive purposes, and on occasion the Indians, violating their usual customs, would approach the place in the dark instead of the light of the moon, thus adding to the horror of their raids.
The members of the Darter family were in various ways identified with the early history of Erath county and also with the subsequent events of the Civil War period. Martha Elizabeth Darter, the oldest daughter of the family, who subsequently married A. Y. Lester, the first county clerk of Erath county, was one of the first school teachers in that county, her school being at Stephenville. Two of the sons, John H. and James I., also lived in that county and had charge of the Darter ranch, while William A. and his father ran the home place. These three sons all gave their services to the Confederate cause. James I. was captured at Arkansas Post, later was exchanged and fought under Bragg and Joe Johnston, was fatally wounded in the fighting at the siege of Atlanta, dying soon after. He was orderly sergeant of Company C, Twenty-fourth Texas Cavalry, dismounted. John served in Cooper’s command in the Indian Territory as a member of Company B, Scantlin’s Squadron of Cavalry, and it was with this detachment that William A. saw his service, joining the company in 1864, at the age of seventeen, and all his service being in the Indian Nation.
One of the interesting experiences in Mr. Darter’s early life was in crossing the plains to the Pacific coast with his father in 1868. In a party of thirty- three they left Comanche county, and took the southern route through West Texas, coming to the Rio Grande at Fort Quitman, thence to El Paso and through southern New Mexico, southern Arizona, Tucson lying on their direct route, and crossing the Colorado river at Fort Yuma they arrived at Los Angeles, and from there made their way to the mines at the head of the Santa Clara river. They passed through Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Jose, and reached San Francisco. This journey, especially in the earlier stages, through West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, was particularly a trying one. On one occasion they traversed a distance of one hundred miles without water for their stock, and had similar experiences on various shorter stages of the trip. In addition to this they had to be on the constant lookout to protect themselves from Indians and other dangers. On account of the quite extensive outfit carried, such as stock, wagons, teams, etc., the progress of the party was somewhat slow, and eight of them, including the two Darters, decided to push ahead and make the trip alone as quickly as possible, leaving the remaining twenty-five to finish in their own time; so that from the Rio Grande river to California Frank Darter and his son had only six companions on their journey. Mr. Darter’s memory holds a fund of interesting reminiscences incident to this expedition, many of the adventures being both amusing and dangerous. Six or eight months having been spent in California, the father returned to Texas by way of Panama, while William A. remained, went up into the Sacramento Valley and located there for awhile, in the mean time, in 1869, helping to celebrate, at Sacramento City, the driving of the last spike on the Union Pacific Railroad, thus connecting by rail for the first time the Atlantic and Pacific states. In the fall of 1869 he came east on the newly completed line, and after reaching St. Joseph he made a tour of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, and reached his old home in Tarrant county about the beginning of 1870.
With his return to this county began his career of business and industrial activity which has identified so closely and usefully with the city of Fort Worth. Those were pioneer times for Worth, just then at the beginning of that commercial development and importance as a railroad center which easily makes it the leading city of northwest Texas. His first position in this city was a clerk in the store of Davis & Overton, on the old public square, which was then the center of trade. Having been elected surveyor of Tarrant county in 1872, in which position he served altogether for about six years, he entered upon a work in this capacity which has always been looked upon as one of his most important public achievements. In his school days he had made a specialty of mathematics, and was particularly well equipped for the profession of surveyor. He had attended public school in Fort Worth in the year 1867, his teacher being that well known educator of so many of Fort Worth’s early citizens—Captain John Hanna. Previous to this, in 1867, he ad studied under Professor Richardson at Denton. In accurately surveying and mapping the lands Mr. Darter did a highly efficient work for all time and to all interests beneficial. From his surveyor’s notes he made one of the first maps of Tarrant county, and it was from this map that the commissioner of the state land office made the official map of Tarrant county for use in the land department, and which is still in use as such. It is the testimony of those who are familiar with this subject that Mr. Darter’s work as surveyor in straightening out the land tangles of Tarrant county saved the county and its citizens many thousands of dollars in preventing litigation over land.
On leaving the office of county surveyor, Mr. Darter was in the grocery business for a while, and then in the course of time became identified with the land and real estate business. Subsequently he re-engaged for a time in the grocery business, but in the hard times following the financial depression of 1893 was forced to discontinue, but during the last few years has been very prosperous in land dealing. One of the most creditable acts of his career was that, after the lapse of a number of years after his insolvency caused by the hard times, when he was once more on his feet financially and making money, he paid off all his debts to wholesale houses and others and settled every cent of indebtedness with scrupulous exactitude, so that not a man in the city had a better business standing than Mr. Darter. This confidence and esteem, so worthily grained, has enabled him to transact real estate deals of large magnitude involving some of the most important interests in the city, and his business enterprises have been most successful and happy in their outcome.
When we turn from his private record to his activity in civic affairs, we find Mr. Darter one of the most zealous and efficient in promoting the permanent development of his city. In the early eighties he was elected a member of the city council, representing the second ward, and for many years following, under several different city administrations, he was an active member of that body. It was through his efforts, as a member of the council, that the site for the present city hall was purchased from the Baptist church, and it was also a result of his planning that the city hall and auditorium were built.
Since the advent of the first railroad, the Texas & Pacific, in 1876, Mr. Darter has been a generous contributor to public enterprises. He and his brother, John Darter, gave a thousand dollars to the bonus to bring the Santa Fe Railroad to Fort Worth. He was one of the thirty-six to sign the bond that secured the building of the Cotton Belt Railroad form Texarkana to Fort Worth, and he, assisted by John F. Swayne, procured the right-of-way for this road through Dallas and Tarrant counties to Fort Worth. There are instances of many other public spirited acts of this nature.
Mr. Darter’s younger brother, Dr. I. M. Darter, is remembered as one of the younger pioneer citizens and physicians of Fort Worth, and served at one time as city physician. He died here early in the nineties.
Of his father’s family, besides the sister and three brothers already mentioned, Mr. Darter has three other sisters, viz: Margaret Jenkins, wife of M. G. Ellis; Mourning Christobell, wife of J. W. Shirley; and Lucy Emma, wife of J. W. Burton.They were all residents of Fort Worth, Texas.
Mr. Darter married, in the state of Mississippi, Miss Adelia Gambrell, and their eight children are: John H., Mrs. Blanche Fakes, Ada, William A., Jr., Adelia, Catherine, Mary Sue and Fannie.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 210-213.