Johnson, Middleton Tate (1810–1866)

By: Donald Frazier

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: October 2, 2020

Middleton Tate Johnson, ranger and politician, was born in 1810 in the Spartanburg district of South Carolina and moved to Georgia at an early age. He won election in 1832 to the lower house of the Alabama legislature, where he served four successive terms. In 1839 he and his wife, Vienna, moved to Shelby County, Texas. There Johnson secured an immigrant's headright of 640 acres in what is now Tarrant County. He served in the Regulator-Moderator War of 1842–44 as a captain of the Regulators. In the final days of this conflict he represented his county in the Congress of the Republic of Texas and served for a short while in the Senate. In 1845 he raised a company of volunteers, mostly former Regulators, and served in Col. George Tyler Wood's Second Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, at Monterrey. He was discharged on October 2, 1846, and returned to Texas, where he raised a mounted company that became Col. Peter H. Bell's ranger regiment, which served on the northern frontier. Johnson, as lieutenant colonel of the unit, served near the trading post at Marrow Bone Springs, at the site of present Arlington. On June 6, 1849, he and brevet major Ripley A. Arnold established a fort and army outpost at the junction of the Clear Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity River. They named it Fort Worth in honor of Gen. William J. Worth. Johnson also helped to organize Tarrant County.

For his service in the Mexican War he received a grant of land now in Tarrant County. He settled his family (three sons and five daughters) in 1848 near Marrow Bone Springs, where he established a cotton plantation. He soon became one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the region; he is reported to have owned the largest number of slaves among Tarrant County planters. The settlement surrounding his home became known as Johnson's Station. Johnson worked to secure a railroad route west of Fort Worth and helped Gen. Thomas J. Rusk survey the proposed Southern Pacific line to El Paso. In the state election of 1849 he failed in his bid for the lieutenant governorship. In 1851, 1853, 1855, and 1857, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for governor. In 1859 he bolted from the party and supported Sam Houston. Johnson returned to the Texas Rangers in 1860 to lead a regiment against the Comanches in a much criticized and largely useless campaign. During this time, after the death of his first wife, he left his command to travel to Galveston to marry Mary Louisa Givens. Because of this apparent dereliction of duty and the lack of results from his campaign he was widely censured. In 1861 he donated land for the courthouse in Fort Worth.

Although opposed to secession, Johnson served in the Secession Convention. For the Confederacy he raised the Fourteenth Texas Cavalry Regiment, which served on both sides of the Mississippi. He was regimental commander until he was succeeded by John L. Camp. Johnson also supervised a blockade-running system to bring supplies into the Confederacy. In the course of the war his oldest son, Tom, was killed, and his second son, Ben, died of consumption. After the war Johnson returned to politics. He was elected to the state Reconstruction convention in December 1865. On May 15, 1866, while returning to Johnson's Station, he suffered a stroke and died. He was first buried in the State Cemetery, then reinterred near his sons in the family cemetery, now in Arlington. Johnson was a Mason. Johnson County was named in his honor.

Thomas W. Cutrer, ed., "'My Wild Hunt After Indians': The Journal of Willis L. Lang, 23 April-7 September 1860," Military History of the Southwest 21 (Spring 1991). James Farber, Fort Worth in the Civil War (Belton, Texas: Peter Hansborough Bell Press, 1960). Michael Walter Farrington, Middleton Tate Johnson: Texas' Would-Be Governor, General, and Railroad Entrepreneur (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington, 1980). Arista Joyner, comp., Arlington, Texas: Birthplace of the Metroplex (Waco: Arlington Bicentennial-Centennial Celebration Committee, 1976). A Memorial and Biographical History of Johnson and Hill Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1892). James Pike, The Scout and Ranger: Being the Personal Adventures of Corporal Pike (Cincinnati: Hawley, 1865; rpt., Princeton University Press, 1935). Marcus J. Wright, comp., and Harold B. Simpson, ed., Texas in the War, 1861–1865 (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1965).

  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

Donald Frazier, “Johnson, Middleton Tate,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 2, 2020

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