Bolivar: The Once Wild West
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Bolivar: The Once Wild West

Nestled at the intersection of two highways in Denton County is a small Texas town. Today, Bolivar is a residential area with about 30 homes, but in the late nineteenth century it was a burgeoning frontier town on the edge of the old west.

During the winter of 2020-2021, TxDOT archeologists uncovered artifacts in an area that was historically part of Bolivar. The artifacts tell the story of the former frontier town and show how TxDOT goes Beyond the Road to plan around the state’s cultural environment. Learn more about our historic preservation process here. Stay tuned as TxDOT continues to tell Bolivar’s story!

What we dug up

Bolivar was once a stop on the Chisholm Trail, a popular cattle drive route between central Texas and Kansas. People passing through Bolivar needed a place to rest and eat, buy supplies, or fix broken equipment. Though long hidden, clues to this chapter of the town’s past remained.

  • Archeologists unearthed the Sartin Hotel, established in the early 1880s. Archeologists uncovered remnants of the hotel foundation, a water well, lamp glass, a bronze spool, cast iron stove, brass hand bell, ceramic drinking jug, miscellaneous hotel hardware and more!
  • Tom Cook, a formerly enslaved African American, owned a blacksmith shop excavated by TxDOT. Cook purchased the shop in 1882. In addition to practicing his trade, Cook was a minister and respected citizen.
  • At the blacksmith shop, archeologists recovered broken wagon parts, forged horse and mule shoes, nails, hardware, tools and a ceramic smoking pipe. The discoveries are important because archeologists have studied few blacksmith shops in Texas—and Cook’s shop is the first one known to have been owned and operated by an African American.

Check out these resources to learn more:

Members of the Bolivar Archeological Team from Left to Right, team members are: Kelly Kring (professional blacksmith and blacksmithing instructor), Dr. Maria Franklin (University of Texas, Department of Anthropology), Rebekah Dobrasko (TxDOT), William Howard Clark (great, great grandson of the 19th-century blacksmith Tom Cook), Dr. Alex Menaker (Stantec, Inc.), Dr. Kevin Hanselka (TxDOT), and Douglas Boyd (Stantec, Inc).

Community Archeology

Cook’s descendants and the local community helped archeologists gain a better understanding of their discoveries. TxDOT worked with several groups connected to and interested in the sites:

  • The direct descendants of Tom Cook, including his great-, great-grandson and great-, great-, great-granddaughter, were actively involved in site visits and excavations of the blacksmith shop.
  • Volunteers from the North Texas Archeological Society worked alongside TxDOT at the site excavations.
  • Other groups who assisted with the project included the Denton County African American Museum, NAACP’s Denton County chapter, the Sanger Historical Society, the Oral History Program at the University of North Texas, the Denton County Genealogical Society, Sanger Mayor Thomas Muir and more