Friday, September 17, 2021

A tale of two uncles (Part 2)

In last month’s article, we discovered that there was once a man named William B. Brown who moved here with his family in 1854. In his long life he became a Civil War hero, farmer, and owner of a Denton boarding house. He won the respect and affection of his neighbors and in his old age, was often called “Uncle Billy.”

In the public records of southern Denton County are several notations of “Uncle Billy Brown” and some of them seem inconsistent. Many of those apparent contradictory records are due to the fact that there were two men in our history named William B. Brown, and they were both once known as “Uncle Billy.”

About the same time that Billy Brown’s family was moving to Texas, a baby boy was born in Marshall County, Tennessee. Although this family was also named Brown, they were not directly related to the Browns of Gwinnett, Georgia and Russell, Alabama. The Brown’s of Marshall County were some of that area’s earliest settlers. Most in the family believe that the father was a member of the Bird Clan of the Cherokee Nation and that he escaped the forced removal of his people to Oklahoma. Whatever his origin, the father, William B. Brown married Lavinia Emaline Yarbrough in 1849 and the two raised a large family in the hills of Tennessee. This baby boy was named William Birdwell Brown and he was born on February 4, 1858.

This William B. Brown had at least 11 siblings but we know very little of them because William left home and moved to Texas when he was only 16. There is no evidence that this William B. Brown kept very much contact with his family back east. We know that in the mid 1870’s many young single men came here because of alluring stories they were hearing about the cattle drives. There was a lot being said about the Chisolm Trail over which thousands of head of cattle were driven each year. It ran from south Texas, up through Fort Worth, then between Denton and Decatur, up to Red River Station east of Wichita Falls and then on through Indian Territory. Denton County, which was on the trail, would have been an attraction for a kid from Tennessee looking for a job and a carefree lifestyle. But William Brown was unlikely to find a job driving cattle to Kansas. In 1876, when he arrived, the days of the cattle drives were just about finished. Two significant trends were making the drives obsolete: Barbed wire was being used to stop herdsmen from crossing the property of Texas land owners. Also railroads were being built across the state. It was easier and there were fewer financial risks in sending cattle to markets on the railway.

So, if a teenager like Brown couldn’t find a job pushing steers he would just have to look elsewhere. There was always farm work but William had seen plenty of that before he left home. Fortunately, he arrived just in time for a great railroad boom that was sweeping the county. Jay Gould, who owned most of the Texas & Pacific Railroad had grandiose plans which included putting tracks from Fort Worth to Sherman. The line would run right through Denton County and young capable men were needed. William Brown was among the first to sign up. He was put to work clearing brush, chopping trees and moving big rocks out of the right of way. Of course there were problems like snakes, coyotes, skunks and even occasional buffalo that William had to deal with. He also met a lot of the local farmers and became well known in the area.

One of the families that William encountered was headed by an Irishman named James W. Wallace. Mr. Wallace had immigrated to America before 1850. He lived for a time in Wayne County, New York and married a girl named Hannah Howe who also came from Ireland. James and Hannah moved to Texas sometime after the Civil War and settled in Denton County. James started acquiring land at a time when it was cheap and he was farming on some of the land just to the east of where the T&P RR soon would be located.

In 1881, when the railroad was completed in Denton County, William Brown decided to remain in the Cross Timbers area. One of the reasons for his decision should be easy for us to understand. In 1884 William B. Brown married Margaret (Maggie) Wallace, one of the daughters of the Irish farmer, James Wallace. One year later, in 1885, Maggie had a daughter who they named Nannie. Then in 1889 she had a son who they called James W.

William and Maggie and their two children lived on their farm which was in the general area where Liberty Christian School is now located. As the twentieth century began, William was becoming a well known member of the Argyle community. The Browns were members of the Methodist Church; William was one of the trustees who purchased the land and one of the members who actually built the church. William noted that his neighbor’s children had to cross the railroad tracks and walk three miles each day to a little school house in a community called Litsey. He was one of several men who built the original school house in Argyle. It was a two story frame building having two rooms and a hallway on the first floor and one large room for the high schoolers upstairs.

William and Maggie’s two children grew and attended the school at Argyle. In 1909 Nannie married Leslie C. Cazzell. The two moved to Amarillo and had three children. James married a girl whose first name was Ola. The two moved to Garland and they also had three children. William and Maggie continued living on their farm for several years. They eventually sold it and moved to a house across the street from the church that William helped to build. Many of their neighbors became fond of the old couple and started to refer to them as “Uncle Billy” and “Aunt Mag.”

In the 1940’s William suffered from coronary disease and was bedridden for the final years of his life He died on November 30, 1950 just a month before his 93rd birthday. Maggie continued to live in their home in Argyle and enjoyed visits with her children, grand children, and great-grand children. She died on April 21, 1961 at the age of 96. She is buried next to William in Denton’s Roselawn Memorial Park.

Contact Jim Morriss at [email protected]

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