The Caruth Family
A hundred and fifty years ago, two brothers came
to Texas with little more than their name. And
while all around them history moved on, they
worked hard, took care of their family and their
community, and left this world a better place for
having been here. Although they were not famous
in their own right, William and Walter Caruth
epitomized the pioneer spirit of hard work and
self-sacrifice. William and Walter entered the
Texas frontier as pioneers and built a family
fortune in the trades and in land.
The Texas Frontier -- In the late 1840s Texas
was the frontier. Statehood had come in 1845, and
there had been a war with Mexico. But the war was
over, and the fertile Texas Plains beckoned
settlers from across the country.
Coming to Texas -- William Barr Caruth left
his home in Scottsville, Kentucky and came to the
new settlement of Dallas, Texas in 1848, which was
little more than a cluster of houses on the
Trinity River. The initial plan for this village
had just been laid out two years before. William
saw the promise and he wrote for his brother
Walter to join him. With $1000 they borrowed from
their father, the two brothers started a general
store near what is now downtown Dallas. Having a
store was natural for them, since their father had
been in the trades in Kentucky.
The first house -- After paying off their
father's loan, they began to acquire land to the
north of Dallas. In 1853, they built a one-story
structure with post-oak joists and clapboard
siding on land about 6 miles north of Dallas. At
first this was used to open another store.
Frontier merchandising -- Throughout the 1850s
their business prospered. And then, in 1858, they
took a partner named Simons--Caruth, Simons & Co.
But in 1860, the business district of downtown
Dallas burned and the partners had to rebuild.
The land -- In 1858 William and Walter Caruth's
father arrived in Texas from Bowling Green,
Kentucky. Judge John Caruth had sold his business
and brought enough capital with him to finance
buying real estate. The Dallas area has rich,
dark-colored soils in an area known as the
"Blackland Prairie." These lands were magnificent
for agriculture, particularly cotton, and wealth
in this area was in the land.
Hardships of the frontier -- Fire, moving,
rebuilding--these were but some of the hardships
of frontier settlements. In the frontier
settlements there was never enough hard currency.
A store owner had to use the barter system to do
business with many of his customers. It was
often difficult to receive and pay for merchandise
from suppliers. Goods from the manufacturing
centers farther east had to be ordered months in
advance. To pay for this merchandise, it was
often risky to rely on the public postal system.
As was the custom, the Caruths often hired private
couriers to carry their money.
You will please let us hear from
you soon as we will be anxious to hear of the safe
arrival of the funds, as the mails between this
place and Little Rock, Arkansas have been robbed
every mail for 4 months past.
from a letter written by
War -- With the coming of war in the South, the
Caruth brothers joined the Confederate army.
Because the brothers had experience as merchants,
Walter became a Captain in the Quartermaster
Corps, while William was assigned the Commissary
Department These groups were responsible for
supplying the troops with materials and food.
Because William helped to provide beef for the
army, Dallas became a major supply center.
William and Walter Caruth
Mattie Worthington -- During the Civil War
years many families chose to move away from the
hostilities. Part of the Worthington family of
Mississippi moved to Dallas with this exodus.
They came as a caravan with more than 50
individuals and settled on lands to the east of
Dallas. There were two Worthington sisters,
Mattie and Annie, who spotted the Caruth
bachelors. Mattie fell in love with William Barr
Caruth, and they were married on July 4, 1864.
Nearly a year later, on March 5, 1865, Annie
married Walter Caruth.
years -- Recovery was slow in the postwar South, but
in Dallas, the 1870s were exciting times. The
railroads came and Dallas became a major
commercial center. The community received a
charter in 1871 and became an official Texas city.
In 1868, the Caruth & Brothers store had reopened
and the family continued in the trades, but
William and Mattie's main efforts were in building
a family estate. All their energy went into
acquiring land, which they considered the only
sure investment for future prosperity. The family
lived a typical plantation life of the post-war
years, with thousands of acres of real estate.
Cotton was king in Texas, along with cattle.
The Caruth home -- Until 1872, William and
Mattie lived in the original house built by the
Caruth brothers in the 1850s. That year they
began construction of a new home. Workers were
sent to East Texas, many miles away, to cut
timber. Dallas was on the open plains, a vast
area of rolling grasslands with scattered native
trees along the streams. Quality
construction-grade lumber was in the woodlands to
Cancer -- In 1882, William developed
skin cancer, a result of long years of work in the
hot Texas sun. By 1884, the cancer had become
severe and painful. He and Mattie traveled to
Boston for medical help, but it was too late. He
said, "Take me home to die, Mattie. I want to go
Death -- William Barr Caruth died
October 19, 1885 in a bed that his father had
hauled by wagon from Kentucky. William Barr
Caruth had come to Dallas in 1848 with a watch, a
pony, a $100 bill. By the time of his death 37
years later, he left behind one of the richest
plantations in the State of Texas, with land and
property that spread over 3 counties.
and Will, Sr. -- After William's death, Mattie
continued to acquire real estate--some of it the
most valuable the family would own. The family
properties covered a large portion of what is now
North Dallas. Their son William Caruth, Sr. was
only 8 when his father died, but as he grew he
shared the work of running the estate with his
mother. Besides the work of farming, the
plantation had a large dairy and two cotton gins.
Mattie continued this work for another 22 years,
until her death November 25, 1907.
and Earle -- In 1905, William Caruth, Sr. married
Earle Rauch Clark--a beautiful woman and a
resourceful wife. The preacher was the same man
who had married William Barr Caruth and Mattie 41
years before. Will and Earle continued to manage
the Caruth properties and had two children--Mattie
and Will, Jr.
The Caruth legacy -- William Barr
Caruth entered Dallas as a pioneer and stayed to
build a fortune. He passed to his family a
pioneering spirit, characterized by vision,
courage, hard work, and generosity. This family
built hospitals, schools and camps for youth. In
1911 and in the years following, the Caruths gave
land to establish Southern Methodist University.
The Caruth family is truly one of the great
stories of the pioneer spirit and the American