Smith, John Peter (1831–1901)

By: Kristi Strickland

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1995

John Peter Smith, known as "the father of Fort Worth," was born on September 16, 1831, in Owen County, Kentucky, to Samuel and Polly (Bond) Smith. When he was seven years old, Smith and his family moved to Ohio County, Kentucky; however, both of his parents died near Hartford in 1844, leaving him and his five brothers as orphans. Smith chose to live under the guardianship of W. H. Garnett, a cousin. As a teen Smith received an excellent education in the public school system. During the late 1840s he entered Franklin College in Indiana, and in 1850 he began a program at Bethany College in Virginia, graduating in July 1853 with first honors in mathematics and ancient languages. After graduation Smith returned home only to leave four months later to move to Texas. By December he arrived in Fort Worth and decided to make it his home. In January 1854 Smith obtained possession of an old army hospital left abandoned by the Second United States Dragoons. In this building he began the first school in the city. Although because of ill health he maintained classes for only three months, the school house was eventually transformed into the Male and Female Academy, reportedly the first permanent educational facility in Fort Worth. The schoolmaster quit his job in 1855 to begin employment as a surveyor and land locator. For the next five years Smith worked at this job, while he simultaneously studied law with A. Y. Fowler. District Judge Nathaniel M. Burford admitted Smith to the bar in 1860. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Smith voted against secession; however, when Texas joined the fight, he promptly began to show his support for the Confederacy. After mustering up 120 Tarrant County men, Smith helped form Company K under the command of Col. William Steele. Joining the Seventh Regiment of the Texas Cavalry in Sibley's brigade, Smith fought with the Army of Western Louisiana in campaigns throughout New Mexico, Arizona, and Western Louisiana. He was severely wounded at Donaldsonville, Louisiana, in 1863 and slightly wounded at the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana, in 1864. In that same year Smith was promoted to colonel of his regiment, and he commanded 600 soldiers until the group disbanded in Navarro County on May 18, 1865.

Following the war he returned home to begin his career as a lawyer and to deal in real estate. Smith owned 1,000 acres of land in Tarrant County in 1865 and quickly rose to prominence in Fort Worth society. Within five years he had doubled his holdings, and by the early 1880s he had amassed city lots valued at more than $50,000 and thousands of acres of land. He was reported to be the largest landowner in Fort Worth. Smith donated much of his time and land to the development and expansion of Fort Worth. He successfully battled to have the county seat moved to his city from Birdville. As a private citizen he was instrumental in many new business ventures. He was a partner in the Fort Worth Street Railway Company, thus establishing the first public inner city transportation system. Additionally, he helped promote the first railroad into Fort Worth-the Texas and Pacific-and donated thousands of dollars to railroad expansion. In 1891 Smith was a key figure in the building of the first stockyard in Fort Worth. Nearly all of the larger cattle companies of northwest Texas were obliged to Smith for their organization, and many young cattlemen were personally indebted to him for his assistance.

Smith was elected mayor of Fort Worth in 1882 and served the first of six terms. Under his guidance, several public services were initiated, including the city's first water department. As a public official he helped establish an independent school system and also served as a trustee on the first school board. In addition to his other accomplishments, Smith was the president of the Fort Worth Gas Light and Coal Company. Several times he was urged to accept a nomination for governor of the state of Texas, but he continually refused, saying that he preferred to pursue his personal interests. Smith donated many acres to the city for improvements, including the land for the Oakwood, Calvary, and Trinity cemeteries and several parks, churches, and hospitals, one of which still carries his name-John Peter Smith Hospital. Smith was a charter member of the Fort Worth Masonic Lodge and a member of the Christian Church. He married Mary E. Fox, the widow of a Fort Worth pioneer physician, on October 16, 1867. They had five children. Smith died on April 11, 1901, in St. Louis, Missouri, while on a promotional trip for Fort Worth. Reportedly, the cause of death was blood poisoning, which he contracted following a robbery and assault outside his hotel. He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery on Fort Worth's north side. The citizens of the city honored him by erecting the John Peter Smith Monument, a marble bust, near St. Patrick's Cathedral in the heart of the city on land donated by Smith.

James Cox, Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry (2 vols., St. Louis: Woodward and Tiernan Printing, 1894, 1895; rpt., with an introduction by J. Frank Dobie, New York: Antiquarian, 1959). History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Tarrant and Parker Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1895). Ruby Schmidt, ed., Fort Worth and Tarrant County (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1984). Mack H. Williams, In Old Fort Worth: The Story of a City and Its People as Published in the News-Tribune in 1976 and 1977 (1977).
  • Military
  • Confederate Military
  • Regimental and Staff Officers
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Civil War
  • 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.

Kristi Strickland, “Smith, John Peter,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: