The Life and Death of John B. Denton
by Judge J. M. Deaver El Paso, Texas
From Frontier Times, December 1931

(Editor's Note: The following story of the life and death of John B. Denton, was compiled by J.M. Deaver, of El Paso, former district clerk of Red River County where Denton lived and where records were available.)

The Indian raids into Grayson county and the slaying by them of various members of the Dugan, family in 1839; the Indian fights around old Fort English at the establishment of the first courts in Fannin county in 1840; and the massacre of the Ripley family in Titus county in  April, 1841, resulted in the Tarrant expedition and the death of John  B. Denton on May 24, 1841.  This sad event occurred on Village Creek between Ft.  Worth and Dallas, near where the interurban that now links those two cities together crosses that creek.

A company of about 70 men was organized with Captain E. H. Tarrant, a citizen and resident of Bowie, county, as commander.  They penetrated the wilderness going up beyond Ft.  Warren, Preston's bend and in the vicinity of old Ft.  Graham, returning down the Trinity river.  On their return and while near the Trinity river and not very far from Ft.  Bird, they began to find camps or villages of Indians.  The first two camps they found were deserted but further down their scouts reported camps, or villages, that were inhabited.  They had discovered the headquarters of the tribes of Indians that had been depredating upon the whites for so many months.  There were more than 300 acres of land planted in corn.  There were three well organized and laid out Indian villages scattered all over an area of several miles.  In one. village around there, the scouts were able to count over 200 lodges or huts.  Several of the lodges were fitted up to the extent of even being supplied with beds.  There were more than 1000 braves connected with, and belonging to these villages, but more than one half of them were absent, as they afterwards learned, hunting buffaloes and engaged  in other pursuits.  The first village was attacked by the whites, twelve or more Indians were killed and the occupants dispersed, crops and lodges destroyed, and in the confusion, the men had become so widely scattered that Tarrant was compelled to call a halt, the bugle sounded and the men all returned.

After a consultation it was decided that this village should be selected as headquarters for their future operation,,.  An inventory was taken with the result that they ascertained that they had recovered six head of cattle, 37 horses, 300 pounds of lead, powder and bullets, also axes, kettles, buffalo robes, pack saddle and in one lodge was found a set of blacksmith tools, thus, showing that the natives were well established there; not merely as a roaming tribe of Indians.  Scouts having reported as above detailed, that there was more than one trail leading away, John, B. Denton and Henry Stout were detailed with ten men each to follow a different trail, which they did until the two trails came together and the two bodies of men met.  After a few minutes discussion as to what was the best to be done and who should lead, they followed or started down a small trail leading to a creek when they were fired on from ambush by the Indians who had them surrounded on all sides and were firing from their hidden covers.  John Denton was instantly killed by a shot through, his body as be was raising his rife to fire.  Captain Henry Stout was shot in the arm, a bone being broken, and Captain John Griffith being shot in the cheek.

The party instantly retreated back up the bill and on discovering that their leader had been killed, they returned, securing the body of John B. Denton, and fastening it to a gentle horse,  left the scene of battle, traveling several miles to the northward where they camped for the night, and the next day buried the body of John B. Denton on the north side of a creek which is believed to be what is known and called Oliver Creek in Denton county, Texas, though historians are at disputes as to the exact location.  This occurred May 24, 1841. During the various attacks of these villages the women and children were permitted to escape as it was the intention of the Texans not to take any captives.  One little girl, however, fell into the hands of Captain E. H. Tarrant.  He kept her until sometime in the year 1842 when she was returned to her parents by Captain Tarrant.

From her it was ascertained and learned, that not more than half of the braves were in the village at the time of the attack, which doubtless saved this little army from annihilation.  After this battle, which was called the "Keechi Village Fight" by early writers, the company saddened by the death of their beloved leader and comrade, John B. Denton, returned to the settlements, taking five days to make the trip that is now made in a few hours.  This expedition, no doubt, saved the scattered settlements of the Pecan Point country from frequent, and successful Indian raids.

The activities of the Pioneers Association of Denton county in 1901 provoked a discussion as to the location of John B. Denton's body; and the writing of various articles in the Dallas News and other newspapers of the State.  The preparation of a small book by a Methodist preacher, Reverend Allen of Frisco, Texas, entitled the "Life and Times of John B. Denton," later the discovery of a written report in the archives at Austin, Texas, by W. N. Porter of Bowie county, has enabled the student of Texas History to glean more facts of history concerning this expedition than is now in existence of the many raids by the Indians into the Red River section.  From these sources we have been able to ascertain the names of a great many of those who composed the roster of this expedition.  Among those actually present at the killing of John B. Denton, were Andrew Davis, a thirteen year old boy, afterwards a Methodist minister at Waxahachie, Texas, Capt.  Yeary, Henry Stout, Daniel Montague, E. J. Tarrant, Cal Coffee, James Bourland, who was first to reach the body of Denton and who picked him up; Wm. Bourland, Mack Bourland, Cal Porter, Dick Hopkins, Clabe Chisum, J. L. Lovejoy, W. C. Young, J. B. Denton, Capt.  Griffith and Col.  Sam Sims, Wiley B. Merrel, and M. H. Wright. 

Capt.Griffith and Col.  Sam Sims, were both uncles of Mrs. S. J. Wilson of Clarksville, Texas, one of the contributors to the facts published in 1901 and related in the book, "The Life and Times of John B. Denton" by the Rev.  Allen.  In 1901 at the time when the body of John B. Denton was finally placed at rest in the court house yard at Denton, Texas, there were living only two men who were present at the death of John B. Denton, namely, Rev.  Andrew Davis, then living at Waxahachie, Texas, and Col.  Sam Sims, aged 83, and living with his daughter at Rich Hill, Missouri.

John B. Denton was born in Tennessee July 26, 1806.  His parents died while he was very small, he was bound out to a Methodist preacher and blacksmith by the name of Wells.  He was unable to get along with Mrs. Wells and at the age of 12 year, he ran away from home and worked for a time on a sailing vessel as a deck hand on the Mississippi River.  He and Miss Mary Greenlee Stewart were married in 1824.  He was 18 years of age and she was 16.  With the faithful help of his wife he acquired the rudiments of an education upon which, he improved until before his death.  He had become one of the best read and educated men of his day and time, fully a peer of Amos Morrill, a college graduate.

He and his wife were converted shortly after their marriage and joined the Methodist church and in 1826 he entered the ministry as a Methodist circuit rider and for ten years followed that profession in Northern Arkansas. and Southern Missouri.  Littleton Fowler and John B. Denton crossed the Red River and entered Texas in the early part of January, 1836, and thereafter, John B. Denton became a loyal and consistent Texan.  He was admitted to the bar at Clarksville and formed partnership with John B. Craig, also a Methodist minister, which partnership continued until his untimely death.  Craig being an older man attended to the office while John B. Denton traveled over the district looking after their legal business and occasionally preaching.  And in 1838, while attending court at Ft. Warren, he preached at the home of old Mother Dugan, the first sermon in either Fannin or Grayson county.  In 1840, he was candidate for Congress from that district but was defeated by Robert Potter.

It is said that he had the best library in Clarksville, Texas, at that time and that be was one of the most accomplished speakers and orators of his day and time, and that in his death was lost to Texas one of its brightest minds.  He was universally beloved and respected ,where he was known, especially so in Clarksville, and his death was the occasion for profound sorrow and regret in that little city, to the extent that it made impressions upon the minds of the children of that town that lasted for many years.  Dr. Pat B.Clark, though a small boy, remembered in the early morning of the cries and screams that awoke the citizens of that town when the first courier arrived with the sad news that the Indians had killed Captain Denton.  Mrs. J. Wilson, whose two uncles were present at his death, was able in 1900 to write an account of the death of John B. Denton that corresponded fairly well with the official report in the war archives at Austin found some years afterward.

John Chisum whose father was a member of Tarrant's expedition, had been told so often of the death of John B. Denton that in 1861 when his cow boys reported the finding of a body upon a high bank on the north side of a creek in Denton county, he became convinced that it was the body of the martyred Methodist preacher.  Several members of the Tarrant Expedition, at that time, were residing in Denton county, and sending for them they viewed the spot and from the blanket, the imprints of which were still to be found in the dirt; from a tin cup and other accouterments found with the bones, the gold teeth, which had been detailed to him by his father, satisfied Chisum and his associates that they bad at last found the body of John B. Denton.

Felix McKittrick was a member of the Tarrant Expedition who identified the tin cup and blanket. James Bourland and John Lovejoy identified the plugged or filled teeth and John Chisum  from the conversation of his father was able to locate a certain marked elm tree nearby.  Whereupon the body was removed to the ranch of John Chisum near Bolivar, Texas, and buried in the corner of his yard where it remained until 1901, when it was removed under the auspices of the Pioneer's Association of Denton County to the court house yard in the town of Denton, where, with fitting ceremonies, it was consigned to the dust in the town that bears his name.

J. F. Denton further aided the identification of his father by describing a broken arm which his father had sustained from a fall from a horse. He left surviving him his wife and several children, the oldest the Reverend J. F. Denton, a Methodist preacher, died in Weatherford, Texas, about 1907; the Rev. J. B. Denton who was some three months old at the date of his father's death and Dr. A. N. Denton of Austin, Texas, born in 1837.  Of his two daughters one married W. C. Baker, a school teacher, the descendants of whom now live in Ellis county. the second daughter married Bernard Hill, a school teacher of Clarksville, Texas.

In 1849, J. F. Denton, the oldest son and Henry Stout made an unsuccessful effort to locate the body of John B. Denton.

The John B. Denton home at Clarksville, Texas, was located on what was known for many years as the "King place" later being occupied by Lute Caldwell.  After the death of John B. Denton, his widow married a Mr. McKenzie and moved to Titus county, Texas.

John B. Denton left a will and John B. Craig, his law partner, was executor of that will.  He afterwards moved to Hopkins county, never closing the estate and it is still pending in the probate courts of Red River county.  William Denton, an older brother of John B. Denton, likewise bound to the Methodist preacher Wells in Arkansas, remained with Wells and became a Methodist preacher, and of this branch of the family there remains in Arkansas to this day many Methodist preachers of that name.

This article has been also been published in the Denton Record Chronicle and the Denton Review.