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Milam County, Texas

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James H. Holtzclaw

SOURCE: History of Texas, Together with a Biographical History of Milam, Williamson, Bastrop, Travis, Lee and Burleson Counties. (Chicago, IL: Lewis, 1893), p. 463-466.

James H. Holtzclaw - In the summer of 1835 Major Sterling C. Robertson, the empresario, then engaged in his scheme of founding a colony in Texas, made an extensive tour of Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky in the interest of his enterprise. He succeeded in inducing a large number of settlers to accompany him out that year, and these took up claims what was then known as “Robertson’s grant.” One of this number was Warner Bernard Holtzclaw, the father of James H. Holtzclaw of this article.

Warner Bernard Holtzclaw was a native of Virginia, born in the first year of this century. He was reared in his native State and when a young man migrated to Tennessee, locating near Nashville, where he became overseer for General Andrew Jackson, and where he married and resided until his removal to Texas. His marriage occurred in 1831, when he espoused Martha Leach, a daughter of Captain James Leach, then of Davidson county, Tennessee, but originally from Virginia, a veteran of the Revolution and an early immigrant to the West.

On coming to Texas in 1835 Warner Bernard Holtzclaw “laid a head-right” on a tract of land in what was then the unsurveyed and unsettled San Gabriel and Little river country, now Milam county. No actual settlement on his “head-right” was attempted by him at that time on account of the transitional state of affairs on the frontier at that time. Like many others he spent the time between that date and the final emancipation of Texas from the Mexican authorities, in prospecting, hunting and scouting. His family came to Texas in 1836 and settled at Nacogdoches, where they remained during the troublous time of the Revolution.

In 1837, with the gradual forward movement of the settlers toward the west and southwest he moved his family to the town of Washington, where he embarked in the hotel business, which he followed at that place for about two years. He was the pioneer hotel-keeper of Washington, and furnished accommodations for man and beast to many of Texas’ early settlers and most distinguished men. He died in Washington county, in 1842, meeting a violent death at the hands of an assassin who shot him from ambush as he was returning home to his farm, which was about three miles from town. He was taken away in the prime of life, at a time when his career gave promise of greater activity and usefulness than he had theretofore know, albeit his earlier years had not been spent in idleness nor in unprofitable labor. He was one who was well formed by nature for the duties that fell to his lot, and he discharged those duties creditable to himself and with advantage to the community in which he lived. Strong in body, courageous, self-reliant, expert in the use of fire-arms and skilled in wood-craft, he combined all the elements of the frontiersman with the better qualities of the sturdy, industrious, home-loving commonwealth builder. To these endowments were added habits of temperance and sobriety, charity for the foibles and short-comings of others, and a generosity toward all his fellow creatures, hardly equaled in those times, now celebrated as the golden age of the household virtues and man’s love for man.

During his residence in Tennessee he interested himself actively in politics, being a Democrat and trained under the eye of the great apostle of Democracy, General Jackson, to whom he was greatly attached both personally and politically. Politics playing but little part in the affairs of the people of Texas when he took up his residence here, his mind was concerned with the more weighty problems incident to the founding of the new government of the Republic, and the furtherance of the measures by which it should be sustained.

He left at his death a widow and two children. The widow was married a second time, in 1846, to V. P. Ackerman, of Washington county, and died a year later. The elder of the two children was James H. Holtzclaw, of this article, and the younger a daughter, Martha Holtzclaw, who was first the wife of L. M. Minor, and after his death the wife of R. H. Sanford, both of Milam county.

James H. Holtzclaw, with whom this sketch is mainly concerned, was born at General Jackson’s famous country seat, “The Hermitage”, near Nashville, Tennessee, March 20, 1833. His recollections however are entirely of Texas as he was brought to this State by his parents at the age of three. He was reared principally in Washington county. On the death of his mother he was bound out, at the age of fourteen, to William Rutledge of Washington county, to learn the blacksmith’s trade, but before completing his indenture ran away and joined an expedition bound for New Mexico in search of gold.

With this party of adventurers, composed of 116 men under the leadership of Rev. Stewart, a Methodist minister, he spent several months prospecting in New Mexico. The expedition broke up in the fall of 1852, having failed in its object, the finding of gold. Its members separated and followed their individual inclination, scattering into diverse sections of the Union.

Mr. Holtzclaw located at El Paso, Texas, which was on the route to California, and along which there was a large amount of travel in those days. There he secured work at his trade and followed it profitably for a period of two years. He then returned to Texas, and going to his old home in Washington county, passed a short time there and then came, in 1855, to Milam county.

Here he was married, February 4, 1857, and then settled down to farming on the head-right located by his father, between the San Gabriel and Little rivers. He has since continuously resided here. He has been engaged in farming on his present place nearly forty years, and thus has not only one of the first located head-rights, but one of the oldest actually settled farms in the county. He has added to the old homestead by purchase until his holdings now embrace 2,300 acres, all lying in the black land district, and about 400 acres of which is under cultivation. It is a splendid body of land and one that is yearly growing in value.

Mr. Holtzclaw filled the usual number of local offices, and was a volunteer in the Confederate army, serving from May 1862, until the surrender as a member of Company B, Brown’s regiment, with which he did duty along the coast and at interior points in the State.

Mrs. Holtzclaw, like her husband, is a native of Tennessee, born in Williamson county in 1834. Her maiden name was Elizabeth T. Sanford, she being a daughter of Ruben and Mary Sanford, who moved to Texas in 1854. She was reared in Williamson county, Tennessee.

Mr. and Mrs. Holtzclaw are the parents of three children: John E. Holtzclaw of Belton, Bell county, this State; Martha R. Holtzclaw wife of Lewis Davis, of Port Townsend, Washington; and James Holtzclaw, a farmer of Milam county.

Mrs. Holtzclaw is a member of the Christian Church. Mr. Holtzclaw is a Universalist. In politics he is an independent. Both, as might be expected, are greatly devoted to Texas and all its interests and institutions.

Mr. Holtzclaw's life is suggestive of a historical perspective that is full of interest, a perspective that is crowded with stirring incidents and events of surpassing moment. It really embraces all of the history-making period of the State’s existence - five different governments, three wars of national consequence, besides numerous Indian forays and expeditions, the expulsion of the red man, the era of railway development, urban development, internal improvement, and all the wonders wrought by steam and electricity, brains energy and money. In this marvelous change, which seems more like the work of the enchanter’s wand than the steady progress of human events, he has performed, in his humble and unpretentious way, the part which time and chance have assigned to him; and that he has done it faithfully and well is the unanimous testimony of those among whom he has so long lived and labored.

An incident of a local interest and illustrative somewhat of the character of the man, is told of Mr. Holtzclaw by one of his neighbors. In the summer of 1865, while a number of regiments of United States troops were on their way to San Antonio as an army of occupation, one of the regiments halted for refreshments one day on the San Gabriel river near Mr. Holtzclaw’s place. Mr. H. happening to pass that way at the time noticed their colors (a splendid flag said to have been presented to them by the ladies of the town in New York where the regiment was raised) standing in the bed of the river at some distance unprotected, but in full view of the camp. Slipping down unseen to where the flag stood he hurriedly took off the large silver spear-head and cord and made away with them, leaving the staff and flag. As soon as the loss was discovered there was consternation in the camp. An immediate search was instituted: several citizens were arrested and threats of severe punishment indulged in. Among other arrested was a tenant on Mr. Holtzclaw’s place, Alexander Phillips, whom it was reported the soldiers were treating with considerable indignity. Seeing that his neighbors were suffering unjustly and that the search then going on was liable to develop into a sort of persecution, Mr. Holtzclaw concluded to “make a clean breast of it” and face the consequences whatever they might be. He therefore went down to the camp and asked to see the officer in command. This was first was denied him, but after some parleying he was conducted into the presence of this gentleman. He informed the officer that he had come to say that none of the citizens whom he had caused to be apprehended or was then in search of had the missing trappings; that those coveted articles were at that moment in his (Holtzclaw’s) possession, where they had been since he had taken them from the staff a day or so before. The officer asked Mr. Holtzclaw what he meant by such conduct, and in the same breath desired to know if he was fully aware of the nature of the offence he had committed. Mr. H. replied that he had just come out of the army where he had given up four years of valuable time, and that if he did not bring home with him some knowledge of the rules of war, his four years’ service might be considered as lost, for he certainly had not brought anything else. Then, looking the officer steadily in the eye, he said: “Colonel, when a flag is left unprotected isn’t it the property of the enemy, provided the enemy can get it!” The officer winced a little, but replied that it was not supposed that there was an enemy in that vicinity. Holtzclaw answered that if there was not, then there would not seem to me much need for any soldiers around. The officer then asked him what he had intended to do with the things he had taken. Mr. H. said that his intention was to make the finest bridle in Texas out of the rope, and to decorate it becomingly with the silver spearhead. After some other remarks of a desultory but respectful nature on the part of each, Mr. Holtzclaw took his departure without being afterward threatened or molested. The spearhead and cord was turned over to a soldier who was sent after them, and no more was heard of the matter.

We must say a special thank you to Lyndal Fisher of San Angelo, Texas, for typing the above biographical sketch for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.

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Created on 12 Aug 2004 and last revised on ____________