Cockrell, Sarah Horton (1819–1892)

By: Elizabeth York Enstam

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Sarah Cockrell, businesswoman and entrepreneur of Dallas, daughter of Enoch and Martha Horton, was born in Virginia on January 13, 1819, and in 1844 moved to Texas with her parents and six brothers and sisters. After her marriage on September 9, 1847, to Alexander Cockrell, she lived in Dallas County until 1852, when Alexander purchased the remainder of the original headright containing the settlement of Dallas. After the family moved into the town, Cockrell started a construction business, established a sawmill and gristmill, and erected a building for rental to business firms. His wife, in addition to her homemaking duties, kept the records, managed the money, and handled the correspondence for the businesses. After Alexander's death in 1858, Sarah took over the family enterprises. In 1859 she opened the St. Nicholas Hotel under her own management. When it burned in the fire that destroyed most of Dallas in 1860, she opened the Dallas Hotel, which later became the St. Charles.

In 1860 she received a charter from the Texas legislature to build an iron suspension bridge across the Trinity River. Construction was delayed by the dislocations of the Civil War, so that not until 1870 did she find investors for the Dallas Bridge Company, in which she retained the majority of the shares. In accord with social convention she never served on the bridge company's board but left formal membership to her son Frank and son-in-law, Mitchell Gray. In 1872 the bridge opened, linking Dallas with all major roads south and west; building this bridge has been called Sarah Cockrell's most significant contribution to the economic life of Dallas.

In 1872 she purchased a one-third interest in the city's second commercial flour mill, Todd Mills, and in 1875 bought the remaining mill stock. In partnership with her son and son-in-law, she formed S. H. Cockrell and Company at a time when flour milling was Dallas's major industry. During the 1880s she turned her attention to real estate and handled numerous deals each year; she not only purchased but sold, leased, and rented lands to railroads, business firms, churches, individuals, and the city of Dallas. In 1889 she handled fifty-three separate land deals and in both 1890 and 1891 more than twenty. In 1884 she opened the Sarah Cockrell Addition, a residential subdivision, and in 1885 she and her son Frank commissioned construction of the five-story Cockrell Office Building. In 1892 she owned approximately one-fourth of downtown Dallas, plus several thousand acres in Dallas County, as well as smaller properties in Houston, Mineral Wells, and Cleburne.

In 1868 she was a member of the Dallas County Agricultural and Mechanical Association, which then had only four other women among its 100-odd members. A stained glass window in the First Methodist Church at Ross Avenue and Harwood Street in Dallas commemorates her donations in 1870 and 1871 of land and money to the founding of that church. Sarah Cockrell was the mother of five children. She is remembered for her warm hospitality and her generosity to charitable causes and has been called Dallas's first capitalist. At the time of her death, on April 26, 1892, she was lauded for her leadership in Dallas's pioneer days as "a very mother in of the founders of our city."

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website
Frank Cockrell, A History of Early Dallas (MS, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). Sarah Horton Cockrell Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Elizabeth York Enstam, "Opportunity Versus Propriety: The Life and Career of Frontier Matriarch Sarah Horton Cockrell," Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies 6 (Fall 1981). William L. McDonald, Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion, 1870–1925 (Dallas: Dallas County Historical Society, 1978).
  • Women
  • Business
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Elizabeth York Enstam, “Cockrell, Sarah Horton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: