CURTIS WILLIAM KELSAY. The distinction of being a pioneer Texan belongs to the subject of this review, for it was in 1853 that his lot was cast with the state arid his time since has been divided between the counties of Denton and Wise almost equally year for year. Save for the period of the Civil war he has passed a life void of exciting events, and first the store and then the farm have provided a field for his efforts during the forty years of his business life. A quarter of a century has passed since he purchased his home on the Marshall University survey on the Decatur and Bridgeport road and he has been busied with its cultivation and improvement ever since.
In Tippencanoe county, Indiana, in the city of Lafayette, Curtis W. Kelsay was born March 4, 1838: The family had made its way westward from Milton county, New York, by separate stages, it having left the Empire state probably during the first quarter of the nineteenth century in charge of Thomas Kelsay, grandfather of the subject of this sketch. Its first stop was made in Ohio, where its founder died and where his few children grew up. He married a Miss Brown and their issue were: Maria Burns; William R., our subject’s father; Nancy Wilson; and David A., who died at Linden, Crawford county, Indiana; there were six daughters in all.
William R. Kelsay was born in Milton county, New York, in 1810, fought the Indians during the Black Hawk war and learned the brick and stone mason trades, as well as shoemaking, when young in years. For many years he followed the former in summer and the latter in winter, but he turned his attention to farming after reaching the Lone Star state. About 1836 he moved out to LaFayette, Indiana, and, in 1840, he went south to Cape Girardeau county, Missouri, and passed thirteen years of his life, coming then to Texas and entering a tract of land near Roanoke, upon which he died in 1867. Having been reared in the north and being conversant with conditions there and the abundant resources at its command, he opposed secession, when the war issue came on, and predicted the outcome of the struggle just as it terminated after four years of sacrifice of life and property. Notwithstanding his position he held the friendship of the great body of his neighbors and made no objection to two of his sons joining the Confederate army.
When the Kelsays settled in New York is a matter of conjecture, but it is felt that old England furnished America with the founder of the family. In LaFayette, Indiana, William R. Kelsay married Eliza Smith, a daughter of Jacob Smith, from the state of Ohio. Mrs. Kelsay died in Fort Worth, Tarrant county, Texas, in 1900, at eighty-one years, the mother of Curtis W., our subject; Quitera, wife of William Burnett, of Tarrant county; Bruce, of Jack county; Margaret, wife of Dr. McCoy, of Fort Worth, and Walter, of Tucumcari, New Mexico.
The trip to Texas by wagon in company with several families, the sparsely settled prairie of Denton county and the new and untamed condition of the landscape all about are well remembered by Curtis W. Kelsay as a boy of fifteen. The first settlers of the county had come there only ten years before and it was less than a day’s drive to the haunts of the buffalo and the wigwam of the red man. With his parents he made his home until after the war, in fact called it home till his marriage three years after its close. He joined Captain McKitrick’s company and the Seventeenth Texas Cavalry in 1862, and his regiment under Col. Darnell became a part of the western army in the Trans-Mississippi Department. His duties were largely in the transportation department and Mr. Kelsay was thus prevented from taking part actively in the engagements of his command. He had charge of Col. Taylor’s headquarters during the battle of Mansfield where the General was killed, and when the battle was imminent asked the commander whether he should go to the front with a gun or stay with headquarters, and the General requested him to remain behind. The Seventeenth had returned to Texas when spring opened in 1865 and was at Richmond when the breakup finally came.
Among the first acts of his career as a civilian after the war was to help drive a herd of cattle to Centralia, Illinois, for Major Walden. Returning, he farmed one year and then took a position as a clerk in old Elizabethtown and was so connected for five years. In 1868, he married and moved to a small farm in Denton county and for twelve years applied himself to the task of acquiring property through the agricultural route. For two years subsequent to his advent to Wise county he rented land, when the quarter section which he has made into a comfortable and productive home was purchased and has since served him as rampart and castle.
Mr. Kelsay’s first marriage occurred September 28, 1868, and his wife was Anna, a daughter of Dr. J. T. Barkwell, known by the early settlers of Tarrant and Denton counties. Dr. Barkwell was born in Tennessee but en route to Texas stopped in Sevier county, Arkansas, where his daughter, Anna, was born in 1849. Mrs. Kelsay passed away near Bridgeport in 1894, the mother of Myrtle, wife of William Thompson, of Wise county; Albert, of Fort Worth; Mary, wife of Lon Phillips, of Wise county; Edith, who married Walter Arlege, of Wise county; Guy, of Ninniekah, Indian Territory; Walter and Effie, at the parental home. In the month of October, 1900, Mr. Kelsay married Mrs. Emma Hill, widow of Newton Hill and a daughter of J. P. and Nacy (Strait) Free. Mr. Free came to Texas from St. Clair county, Illinois, in 1876 and died in Jones county in 189o, his wife having passed away in 1872. Of their ten children those surviving are: Mary C., wife of A. L. Bell, of Manor, Texas; Marjorie, widow of W. A. Manville, of Manor; Mrs. A. L. Beakmier, of Wichita, Kansas; Mrs. Kelsay, born in Washington, Illinois, April 6, 185o, and John P., of Austin, Texas. W. W. Hill, of Krum, Texas, is Mrs. Kelsay’s only child.
While the earlier members of the Kelsay family were lined up with the Whig party, the events of the war made Democrats of the Texas branch and to this party our subject has given the support of his vote. He believes in the teachings of the Good Book and holds a membership in the Christian church.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 331-333.