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Fort Worth Characters

by Richard F. Selcer, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2009, $34.95 ($14.95 paperback).

Richard Selcer, a Fort Worth character in his own right, previously wrote a book (Hell’s Half-Acre) about the old red-light district of his fair city. Madam Mary Porter, who appeared in that work, raises her skirts again here in his “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” chapter. Like the other 11 people profiled, the city’s top madam at the turn of the 19th century has never been counted among “Fort Worth’s Finest.” But this shady lady had plenty of character. In her 1905 obit, Selcer writes, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram “treated her as if she has been one of the city’s grande dames, never mentioning her occupation.”

The other two women featured here weren’t grande dames, either. Maggie Tewmey was a skinny 51-year-old piano-teaching “old maid” who spent much of her time drinking. One blustery day in January 1893, someone raped and murdered her and stuffed her body into an outhouse. Selcer calls it Fort Worth’s top unsolved crime of the 19th century. The author also presents the story of “Crazy Mary” Rea, who, he writes, “could have been the poster child for all that was wrong with the justice system when it came to dealing with the mentally ill.”

Selcer’s nine male characters don’t fit the mold of first citizens either; they are men who have mostly, as the author writes in his introduction, “slipped through the cracks of Fort Worth history.” A few of these gents (Al Hayne, James W. Swayne and Major Ripley Arnold) might even be called heroic, though Selcer doesn’t whitewash any of their sins. The most recognizable characters are half-blood Quanah Parker, who became “Fort Worth’s Native Son,” and Timothy Isaiah “Longhair Jim” Courtright, town marshal between 1876 and 1878. Two black Westerners are part of this entertaining package—Jeff Daggett, a “sporting man” who often overstepped his bounds, and Hagar Tucker, who became a “special policeman” in the otherwise all-white Fort Worth Police Department in 1873.


Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here