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Chasing the Wilson Clan Tale


Jeremiah Wilson married Martha Reed about 1813 in Montgomery County, Kentucky. They were Scots-Irish of the Cumberland Presbyterian faith. Jeremiah was born in County Cork, Ireland. He died in 1829. Martha was born in 1785 in North Carolina, and upon Jeremiah's death, she married Daniel Ritter.

Their only son was James Reed Wilson who was born on 3 March 1817, and died in 1898 in Kansas. James married Elizabeth Pettigrew in 1839 in Washington County, Arkansas. She was born in 1820 and died in 1854 in Washtington County in child birth.

Between James' birth and death, the Wilson name came to Palo Pinto County. James and his family settled here on Keechi Creek in 1857 near what is now Graford. Most of the settlers in that area ran cattle on the open range. A man was then considered prosperous if he had an estate valued at over $5,000.00. The area was in precinct 5at the time of the 1860 census.

James and Elizabeth (Betty) had eight children, Charles L. (1840-1911); William J. (1843-1922--died in Oklahoma); Nancy Alvira ( 7 February 1846-1919); LaFayette Abraham (25 February 1848-1928); James P. (1849-?); twins: George and Martha Emma, and an infant (1854). Charles, their oldest child, married Mary Jane Kirby about 1875, and died in New Mexico. Nancy Alvira married Albert J. Anderson (born 1836 in Arkansas and died in 1865 in Oklahoma) on 18 October 1865. She died in Weatherford, Parker County, Texas. Lafayette married Charity Hensley on 2 December 1880. He died in Texas. James P. married a woman named Josephine, but called Jennie.

George and Martha Emma were born in 1852. George left for the frontier of Arizona when he was about 22, was shot and killed there. Martha Emma married John Henry Anderson, brother of Albert, in 1852.

In 1848 James Reed or J. R. joined the gold rush to California. He recalled crossing one gorge on a plank. His mule refused to try the plank. But once James crossed and proved the plank safe the mule followed by itself.

His partner died in California, and by the time James returned to Prairie Grove, via Cape Horn, in 1851, there was no gold left either for James' family or his partner's widow.

James' second wife was Nancy Jane Hughes who was born in 1839 in Washington County, Arkansas. She was the daughter of Nancy Jane Kirby and Aaron Hughes of Washington County. The Kirby family had migrated from Virginia through Wilkes County, North Carolina, to Greene County, Tennessee. The Hughes family had migrated from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, through Augusta County, Virginia, Greene Co., Tennessee. They had met in Washington County, Arkansas.

James and Nancy were married on 22 August 1857. Their children were Sarah C.,(born 1860 who married A. S. Polk); Mary Bell(e), (born 20 July 1861 and married K.[Thomas Franklin] Cabler about 1880); Henry Edwin (born in Palo Pinto County 5 May 1866); John Ambrose (born in Palo Pinto County 7 April 1869); and Marion (born in Palo Pinto County). John Ambrose married Minta [Minea] Elizabeth Turner 4 July 1894 in Sedan, Kansas.

James was 40 years old and had five-year-old twins to care for when he married Nancy. She was a widow at age 19 and only two years older than James' oldest son, Charles. Nancy Jane had a year-old daughter, Artemesia Hysaw, from her first marriage to James Hysaw/Highsaw (1834 Georgia -1856 Arkansas). It must have been difficult for Nancy to discipline her step children, as they were so close to her in age.

During the Civil War, from 1863 to 1865, James served in the Texas Home Guard. He then raised horses and cattle on the open range of Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma for twenty years. He lost two entire herds of cattle to hoof and mouth disease.

During the Comanche uprising of 1869 settlers of the Cross Timbers region of North Central Texas gathered for protection in "citizen's forts". James took his family to a citizen's fort called Fort Davis. The fort lay about ten miles north of the present city of Breckenridge, in Stephens County, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Nancy Jane was shot during their flight and died before they got to the fort, early in 1870. Her grave has since eroded into a ravine. The exact circumstances of Nancy Jane's death are unknown, but her daughter from her first marriage, Artemesia, blamed James for failing to save her. Artemesia refused to accompany the Wilsons when they moved to Colorado, and even after James settled in Elgin, Kansis, Artemesia wrote long bitter letters of recrimination. It is said that James consigned Artemesia's letters to the fire, unopened, to preserve his peace of mind.

James and Elizabeth's child, William J., was better known in our neck of the woods as One Armed Billy Wilson. Billy, proud and self-sufficient despite his handicap, was fourteen, five years younger than his stepmother, Nancy.

The story goes that One Armed Billy Wilson's body is now buried in the Elmwood Cemetery in Mineral Wells with many of the fathers of the town and county. It is told that before he was buried there, he was buried behind the electric plant at Lake Palo Pinto. Evidentally when the lake was being built, the body was brought to town, but the grave was never marked.

Billy was the first settler on Lower Lake Creek, and his name is retained in the area at Wilson Hollow and Wilson Survey.

At one point he was arrested and charged for a murder he did not commit and escaped from his captors by getting them drunk. He then raced to join a Goodnight cattle drive.

Billy's right arm was lost, but he nevertheless excelled in every aspect of frontier life. Stories about his arm differ. The arm may have been bitten off by a mean horse before Billy was five years old or the loss may have been congenital. A non-family member once wrote that it had been ripped off by a hay bailer, which seems historically inconsistent, since we know the arm was lost before the 1860's.

There are many stories about One-Armed Billy. It appear that at one point he held off a posse after one of his brother, George, shot a sheriff in Palo Pinto County.

He was also the one-armed cowboy who was with Oliver Loving in 1867 during the Indian ambush on the Pecos River which claimed Loving's life. Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight were driving a herd of cattle to Colorado when Loving, "for some reason", decided to leave his outfit and ride on ahead to Fort Sumner, taking Billy Wilson with him. They were attacked by Indians on the Pecos River.

"One-Armed Billy" also was a top hand for Charles Goodnight and married Emma Sheek, who was possibly related to Wes Sheek, step brother and business partner of Charlie Goodnight.

There is a very interesting twist to the Wilson Goodnight/Loving story--another Wilson.

Tom Wilson was a Confederate soldier who left Tennessee in 1967 and settled in Palo Pinto County. He became a Texas Ranger who was trusted by the local cattlemen, and he rose to the rank of lieutenant and was later elected sheriff of Palo Pinto County. Tom was killed in the line of duty in Austin while attending the first meeting of the Texas State Sheriff's Association.

But, on to the Loving/Goodnight connection. Tom was married to Margaret Louise Loving, the ninth and last child of Oliver Loving. Margaret's brother James C. Loving (remember him from a previous column) named her son James C. Wilson because of her high regard for her brother who was one of the organizers of the Cattle Raisers Association of Texas in 1887.

Another Palo Pinto County Wilson was Cyrus Matterson "Matt" Wilson, who, with his wife Mollie (Mary Margurite Paul) settled on a far near Gordon in 1889. They had eleven children. Matt died in 1908 and Mollie in 1927, and they are buried in the Old Gordon Cemetery.

Also, J. S. "Jerry" Wilson came to Palo Pinto County from Georgia in the 1880's. He married Lilia Carr of Tennessee, and they settled in the northern part of the county. They also had eleven children, and they are buried in the Oran Cemetery.

Now on to two other tales. La Nell Cook of Granbury <> has, through this column, connected with some of her family related to Sam Savage! Now, she is looking for Joe Moffatt and his family who were also in the Palo Pinto County area. Let her know if you have a connection.

Carolyn Wilson, nope, no relation to Tom or Billy, of Palo Pinto County is looking for information regarding her great-grandfather, George Thomas Clark III. If you have information for Carolyn, La Nell, or would like to contribute to this column, please contact me, Sue Seibert, P. O. Box 61, Mineral Wells TX 76068-0061; or email me at

See you next time, as we continue to chase the tales of Palo Pinto County.

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Sue Seibert