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Alexander Cockrell

Alexander Cockrell
March 26, 2019 05:44PM
I have two questions about Cockrell.

1. During the first years of their marriage, Alexander and Sarah Cockrell lived in the western part of Dallas County on their White Rock (or White House) Ranch, set on the White Rock Escarpment, and continued to maintain the ranch after moving into the town of Dallas. Yet several histories suggest that the town of Cockrell Hill later located in the same area was named for Alexander's cousin, who lived intermittently in Dallas, but was not a regular resident of the county, and was not a community leader who was likely to have a town named for him. What is the basis for the claim that the town was named for him, and not for Alexander (or Sarah for that matter, who was the real mover and shaker in Dallas business activities)?

2. I can find only sketchy information concerning the town marshall who killed Alexander, and no details of the evidence on which the jury in his murder trial based their verdict of "not guilty." Cockrell had eight bullet wounds in his body, inflicted by the marshall, who had none. Allegedly, there were no witnesses to the killing. Any explanation from anyone here?

This story has a little bit of personal meaning to me simply because I lived near to and spent time in the Cockrell Hill community when I was young, and delivered the Dallas Morning News along Cockrell Hill Road.

added in edit: It is probably incorrect that there were no witnesses. Additional sources state that the killing was done on a public street. But I can still find nothing about the trial or evidence presented except that the defendant was found not guilty. Though most sources refer to him as the town marshall, some call him a deputy sheriff. I had always heard that he was a marshall, recently elected, and that he owed Cockrell money from business dealings. Most sources confirm the debt and past business dealings.

additional edit: Some sources state that Cockrell was originally buried in a "private cemetery." However, this article


purportedly in Sarah Cockrell's words, says that he was buried in Pioneer Cemetery. "Find a Grave" and "The Watermelon Kid" both place his current burial place as Greenwood Cemetery, which did not exist at the time of his death and funeral. Perhaps his grave was moved, but from where?

Dave McNeely

Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 03/26/2019 08:17PM by old man from dallas.
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 27, 2019 12:22AM
Quickly off the top of my head:

The best coverage of Alexander Cockrell's death at the hands of City Marshal Andrew Moore can be found in Monroe F Cockrell's (unpublished manuscript) 1944 editing of the 1932 "History of Early Dallas" articles by Frank M Cockrell in the Dallas Morning News and in Darwin Payne's essay, "A Distressing and Fatal Recontre" in Sketches of A Growing Town (SMU Press, 1991). A fairly accurate historical novel worth reading is Shirley Seifert's Destiny in Dallas (Lippincott, 1958). Monroe Cockrell wrote a 22 page review and his only major criticism was an overemphasis of Alex's drinking.

Alexander Cockrell was buried at the White House Ranch beside his first born son, Logan. Alex was later moved to Greenwood to the Cockrell Family Plot. Logan was not. Reports of burial in Pioneer Cemetery were based on an erroneous ca 1940-50 survey. They were perpetuated by Vivian Castleberry in her Sarah The Bridge Builder (Odenwald Press, 2004). A bit of irony: Alex Cockrell had donated part of the land for the cemetery, a fact omitted from the Mason's history. Andrew Moore was the sexton.

The town of Cockrell Hill was named for Alexander's uncle, Wesley Cockrell, who came to Dallas first and claimed 640 acres. Alexander Cockrell claimed and bought several sections farther west on Mountain Creek and the hilltop where he built his White House (a whitewashed log cabin) is now within the DFW National Cemetery. Wesley Cockrell was an early, permanent and substantial citizen of west Dallas County, successfully operated a large ranch, and I believe he later ran a hotel and stage station on the road that led from Dallas to Fort Worth via Johnson Station which was actually laid out by Alexander and crossed Mountain Creek where he owned property on both banks. Wesley's headright was bounded on the north by W Davis Street, the east by Cockrell Hill Road and the south by Clarendon and part of the present town of Cockrell Hill is located upon it.

Alex Cockrell and John Neely Bryan temporarily exchanged residences in 1853 then Cockrell built a small house on the banks of the Trinity in Dallas about 1855 where he resided at the time of his death. The large 2 story Cockrell home on Commerce Street was built by his widow Sarah about 1870. Alexander Cockrell II operated the ranch after he returned permanently to Dallas though I believe it was owned by Sarah until her death. Bryan's nephew James was the foreman for many years. A new larger White House was built farther south on Kiest Blvd around 1900 and occupied by members of the Ledbetter family. The Potter House now covers that site.

A note about Vivian Castleberry's Sarah The Bridge Builder: Most of the letters in the book attributed to Sarah Cockrell were contrived by Ms Castleberry. She did have the blessing of the Cockrell family and full access to the Cockrell collections at the Hall of State and SMU. The events she describes in such great detail have some basis in fact though there are some unconfirmed family traditions that taint the truth. She actually cites a number of Almanacs and Timetables of History in her research to give Sarah a more worldly view than she probably actually had.

A couple of glaring errors that really stand out are the erroneous captions of the bridge illustrations and the portrayal of Alex as a veteran of the US Mexican War (no record of his service exists) and traveling to purchase a uniform for his wedding.

Former Dallas County Judge Jim Foster has published many excerpts from Castleberry's books on his Pioneers of Dallas Facebook page and on his Dallas Gateway website. They get many rave reviews, most likely from fans of Romance Novels who prefer a good story over actual history.

Not being picky; There is much to be admired about the Cockrell legacy - the real story is yet to be told.

That's my opinion on the matter.


Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 03/27/2019 07:06AM by M C Toyer.
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 27, 2019 09:02AM
M.C., Thank you very much for this. I really appreciate your returning to the phorum on a matter of some substance to Dallas's history, and clarifying points that I was sketchy on and that are evidently confused by the materials available online. When I posted my questions, I thought that you were probably the only recent phorum participant who could answer them.

I still would like to know more concerning the evidence that led to the not guilty verdict. I assume that self defense must have been the rationale, but the sources I've seen do not put that forward as a basis.

Good to hear some Dallas history from you again, and just to hear from you again.


Dave McNeely
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 27, 2019 08:00PM
Darwin Payne's essay delves onto the conflicts between Alex Cockrell and much of the Dallas business establishment and lawyers. Cockrell had a lengthy record of civil suits and trails and his rough hewn manner offended almost everyone. There was also a bit of envy of his aggressive yet successful approach to his various endeavors.

Payne quotes the local news accounts that most of the citizenry of Dallas cheered on hearing of Marshal Moore's acquittal by reason of self defense. Sarah did eventually prevail in the original suit by Alex against Moore for debts which was a factor in the altercation where Moore tried to arrest Cockrell for what essentially was disorderly conduct after Cockrell had shared drinks with Nicholas Darnell.

Sketches . . . contains about a dozen other essays on early Dallas written by Payne's graduate students. It was only available in paperback and used copies come up often on E-bay and Amazon for about 5 dollars.

Frank Cockrell's 1932 account of the shooting was quite brief. In 1944 Monroe Cockrell went to great lengths to verify the sequence and location of the events. Another unpublished account by a Cockrell descent provides more details about the aftermath. When the mortally wounded Alex was carried to their home Sarah summoned Adolfe Gouhenant to take his photograph.
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 28, 2019 11:17AM
Thanks M.C. I guess the self defense rationale seems almost obvious, given the circumstances, but it would be nice to see trial transcripts or something similar. They probably don't survive. I guess I did not realize until I started reading some of this stuff that Cockrell had so many people who put him in disfavor, and thought that the reports that said there was cheering at the verdict was due to either support for Moore, belief that the killing was justified given the circumstances, or both, rather than dislike of Cockrell or his ways.

BTW, more of the sources I have read refer to Wesley Cockrell as Alexander's cousin than refer to him as an uncle. Can you clarify the relationship? I have also read that Sarah sought legal and business assistance from Alexander's relatives in Arkansas, but essentially got none. What do you know about those relatives expertise in these areas?

I have read also that Sarah was several years older than most brides of the time when she and Alexander married, and that their courtship was rather cursory. BTW, the Castleberry report I read on the courtship actually says that Alexander left Horde's ridge and Dallas briefly after meeting Sarah, ostensibly to join up for participation in the Mexican-American War, but was so smitten with Sarah that he returned without ever enlisting, told her that he had come back to marry her, and that she agreed immediately. They married, and he then begun his business activities, often being away on freighting obligations. I have no way to confirm these claims, but if true, then they do not support that he was a war veteran.

Dave McNeely
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 28, 2019 03:59PM
This is all from memory so take it for what it is worth.

Payne wrote there is not a transcript for the trial available. There is a record that 60 prospective jurors were summoned and that John McCoy was the prosecutor with 2 assistants. Moore had 4 lawyers defending him. There were more than 30 witnesses who testified but none would have been eye witnesses to the actual shooting so the presumption is they were mostly character witness or had some knowledge of the events leading to the altercation. At least one of the local newspaper accounts is missing from the archives.

Cockrell was felled by 8 pellets from a 10 gauge shotgun. I don't believe Moore was wounded but Cockrell was reportedly armed with both a shotgun and pistol and he had returned home to fetch them in a fit of rage when he heard Moore would attempt his arrest.

Almost all the Dallas Gateway and Pioneers of Dallas Cockrell articles are direct transcriptions from the Castleberry books. Her earlier, Daughters of Dallas which she draws on heavily, is straightforward and fairly accurate historically - . Bridge Builder is more of a romance novel, albeit historically based.

While it may make good reading to some it is frustrating when you recognize the errors and inconsistencies. Reminds me that the late Gerald Harris said he always regretted reading James A. Michener's Texas because it corrupted his view in later research. There is also a heavy emphasis on feminism in the book applying today's sensibilities to the past.

Alex Cockrell is initially introduced as the nephew of Wesley then later they are referred to as cousins. I have a genealogy prepared by Monroe Cockrell in the 1940s I'll check for confirmation.

There is no official record that Alex Cockrell served in the US - Mexican War, I've seen unverified family accounts elsewhere stating that was because he rode dispatches for McCullough. Castleberry first states he was a volunteer, not in the Regular Army. All of the Texas forces were volunteers organized into Regiments and Companies that were under federal control and there are complete muster rolls available. She has him traveling to Mexico before any US troops, and later he is in the thick of the fighting. He supposedly rode away from the campaign to rejoin Sarah and wore his Army uniform to their wedding. Sarah was about a year and a half older than Alex.

When Mrs Castleberry gave a lecture at the Dallas Historical Society I ask about Alex's burial and she acknowledged the book error and signed my copy of the book with that notation. Suggesting that it would be difficult for Dallasites to attend a funeral on Mountain Creek was just a way of reconciling the older account, which has been refuted, that he was interred at Pioneer Cemetery.

There are numerous long and chatty contrived letters between Sarah and her married sister back in Virginia. Sarah actually had ongoing correspondence with Dallas lawyer George W Guess. Another relative by marriage, Vardaman Cockrell from Missouri, had been chief justice in Grayson County before coming to Dallas at the close of the Civil War, so they may be who she sought out for advice.

I do not mean to seem overly critical of the late Mrs Castleberry. She was a lovely lady with a long record of accomplishments and leadership. It is just that the premise of the book is not conducive to historical accuracy but many who read it will take it as gospel.

To her credit Mrs Castleberry explains her approach and rationale in the foreword. It was meant to be a letter from her grave to her great grand-daughters and successive generations. She freely admits certain liberties were taken. It should be obvious that letters written by her to the many recipients in the book would not be available and certainly would not have been as detailed as those represented, but many who read the book or the excerpts probably do not recognize that.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/28/2019 04:04PM by M C Toyer.
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 28, 2019 07:20PM
Thanks again, M.C. I have encountered the same sort of faith in the written word when the written word is popular science materials published without attribution to any original sources. As J.Frank Doby, the very talented Texas story teller who popularized a great many passages from Texas history said, one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. For much of what such popular writings report on, the facts are completely missing, and people just make things up to suit their purposes. Others point out what they are doing, stating that they are filling in by writing what might have happened where actual information is lacking, but a lot of people overlook such statements in a preface or prologue.

Even worse is the situation where people have "seen the movie" and so they "know" what happened.

Dave McNeely
Re: Alexander Cockrell
March 28, 2019 11:07PM
"The historian, essentially, wants more documents than he can really use;
the dramatist only wants more liberties than he can really take."

Henry James, The Aspern Papers, 1909
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