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Texas Originals

Texas Originals: Sarah Horton Cockrell

She is known as “Dallas’s first capitalist.”

January 13, 1819–April 26, 1892


In 1847, Sarah Horton Cockrell began married life in a tent on Mountain Creek Lake, a few miles west of the fledgling town of Dallas. Over the four decades that followed, she played a pivotal role in the young city’s economic development.

Cockrell was born in Virginia in 1819 and moved with her family to Texas in her early twenties. In 1847, she married Alexander Cockrell, a businessman who purchased the last remaining building lots of the Dallas settlement.

The couple moved to Dallas, where Alexander opened a sawmill and a gristmill. Sarah kept her husband’s business records and handled his correspondence and money, since Alexander was unable to read or write.

In 1858, after Alexander was killed in a gunfight, Sarah took over—and soon expanded—the family’s business enterprises. She built one of the city’s first hotels. She bought a flour mill at a time when flour milling was the city’s major industry. In 1872, she raised funds to open the first iron bridge over the Trinity River, thereby connecting Dallas to major roads south and west.

Along with her sons, Cockrell amassed a large and diverse portfolio of Dallas real estate. By the time of her death in 1892, she owned almost a fourth of city’s downtown. She is now remembered as “Dallas’s first capitalist.”

For more about Sarah Horton Cockrell

The Sarah Horton Cockrell Papers are held by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas.

Bridge that Sarah had built
Sarah’s Bridge
Image Credit: DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, Cockrell Family Papers, A2002.2335.


Selected bibliography

Sarah Horton Cockrell

Enstam, Elizabeth York. “Cockrell, Sarah Horton.” Handbook of Texas Online.

Enstam, Elizabeth York. “Opportunity versus Propriety: The Life and Career of Frontier Matriarch Sarah Horton Cockrell.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 6 (Fall 1981).

Enstam, Elizabeth York. Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843–1920. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.

Fitzgibbons, Ruth Miller. “Dallas’ First Families: Old Money Still Survives.” D Magazine Aug. 1982. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Goldthwaite, Carmen. Texas Dames: Sassy and Savvy Women Throughout Lone Star History. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012.

Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Cockrell, Alexander.” Handbook of Texas Online.