On the roster of county officials in Haskell county, Texas, appears the name of J. W. Collins, who is now acceptably filing the office of sheriff, and who is one of the old time residents of this community, while his identification with the state dates from 1879. A native of Alabama, he was born in Talladega, March 12, 1858. His father, Jerry Collins, was a native of Ireland, and came to the United States in 1852, settling in Alabama. He was a stone-mason by trade and erected the first stone building in the town of Talladega. He married Miss Sibbie Dulaney, who was born and reared in Talladega, where they made their home until 1860, when they removed to northern Mississippi, settling at Union. There Mr. Collins abandoned his trade and bought a large plantation, whereon he engaged in general farming. There his wife passed away on the 13th of August, 1877. Mr. Collins continued to make his home in Mississippi until 1883, when he came to Texas, settling in Kaufman county, where he died on the 21st of October, 1885. In his family were nine children, six sons and three daughters, all of whom are now living.
John William Collins was reared in the town of his nativity until fourteen years of age, when he removed with his parents to northern Mississippi. On the 24th of December, 1876, w hen a young man, he and his brothers were in the yard adjoining the house chopping wood, and in the course of some of their pranks one of the boys with an axe cut the arm of J. W. Collins at the elbow, splitting the bone in two. A physician was sent for but he had gone to town, and a being a drinking man he was pretty well under the influence of whisky when he came to dress the injured arm. After two months a consultation was held, and a decision reached that the arm had to be amputated, but Mr. Collins objected; in fact, emphatically refused to allow this to be done. The doctor admitted the carelessness of his treatment, said that he was to blame for the arm being in that condition and that if Collins would let him amputate the arm he would take Collins and make a doctor of him. The latter, however, still refused. Finally it was decided to cut the arm open and this being done several pieces of one were removed, after which the arm healed and Mr. Collins recovered. He now state that he has two arms instead of one, whereby he was deprived of an education and the chance of becoming a physician.
He remained with his father until the 25th of January, 1870, when he started for Texas, arriving at Terrell on the 28th of January, with seventy-five cents in his pocket. After paying for his bed and breakfast he has but twenty-five cents remaining. The next morning while standing in front of the hotel looking rather lonesome, knowing not an individual in the place, he was approached by a man, and Mr. Collins inquired of him where he lived, receiving the answer that he resided about twenty miles south of Terrell. Mr. Collins then asked if he knew a man in that part of the country by the name of Delaney [sic], and when answered in the affirmative he inquired further how the man came to town, and was told he rode mule. Mr. Collins desired to get to the home of Mr. Deleney [sic], who was his uncle, and it was finally agreed between him and the man that they would take turns in riding the mule back. Mr. Collins had purchased some cheese and crackers for his dinner before starting on the trip, and in due course of time he reached the home of his uncle, J. M. Delaney, arriving there about ten o’clock at night on the 20th, carrying all his worldly possessions upon his back.
Not long afterward Mr. Collins began working for a man living in the community for eleven dollars per month and his board an spent five months upon that farm and also continued with his employer for a time during the haying harvest and cotton picking seasons, or until the 1st of November. For this additional labor he received one dollar per day. He then reengaged with the same man, Joel Holcomb, at forty dollars per month and continued with him until November, 1880. The following year he raised a crop in connection with Mr. Holcomb and this paid him still better returns. In November, however, Mr. Collins left Mr. Holcomb and engaged in picking cotton in Ellis county, but returned to Kaufman county on the 23rd of December in order to be present at the wedding of his cousin on Christmas day. On the 24th of December, Mr. Collins, en route with the groom, went into the cedar bottom for a load of wood and while thus engaged he fell and broke his left leg, which debarred him from the pleasure of attending the wedding and kept him in confinement for two months. On the 17th of March, while walking on crutches he fell and broke his leg again. Eventually, however, he recovered and raised a little crop in that locality.
On the 24th of October, 1881, Mr. Collins was married to Miss Georgia Cotton, who was born and reared in Kaufman county. In 1882 he rented land from his uncle, J. M. Delaney, and raised a crop on that place. In 1883 he bought a lease from a man and made another crop, and in the summer of 1883 he purchased a farm of one hundred acres, spending several years thereon, his time and energies being devoted to its further development and improvement. In the summer of 1886, however, he was taken with a hemorrhage which proved quite serious and later he spent some time in travel, regaining his health. In 1887 he accepted a clerkship in a dry goods house in the town of Kaufman for the firm of Swan Wingo Company. In the spring of 1888 he sold his land and embarked in the hardware business with W. C. Irvine, under the firm name of Irvine & Collins in the town of Kaufman, conducting this enterprise until January, 1890, when he purchased his partner’s interest and boxed and shipped his goods to Haskell, arriving here on the 4th of February, 1890. Here he formed a partnership with D. R. Gass under the firm style of D. R. Gass & Company, this relationship being maintained until the 20th of November in the same year, when Mr. Collins sold his interest to Mr. Gass. He and his wife then stored their furniture and returned to the east on a visit. On the 27th of December, however, Mr. Collins again reached Haskell and on the 7th of January, 1891, he formed a partnership with W. R. Hampton in the grocery business under the firm style of Collins & Hampton, the partnership continuing until the 20th of June, when Mr. Collins sold out. On the 3rd of July of the same year he purchased a bunch of horses which he drove to the east, leaving home on the 1st of September and returning on the 1st of November, subsequent to which time he again entered the grocery business in connection with D. W. Courtwright, under the firm name of Courtwright & Collins. He was one of the proprietors of this store until December, 1892. On the 24th of September of that year he lost his wife, who died, leaving one daughter.
After going out to the grocery business Mr. Collins returned to Kaufman county and again came to Haskell in January, 1893, and was employed by Courtwright & Johnson in a general mercantile business until May. On the 28th of June of the same year he went to the northwestern part of the county to trade horses. While returning in the evening the horses became frightened and ran way, throwing Mr. Collins out of his buggy and breaking his right leg. On the 1st of October, 1893, he accepted a position in the store of F. G. Alexander, with whom he continued until the spring of 1896, when he left the position and made the race for sheriff of the county, but was defeated. He then returned to Mr. Alexander’s store and in November, 1898, he was again the candidate for sheriff, at which time he was elected, holding the office for four years, or two terms. In November, 1902, he was once more defeated, but in 1904 was again elected, and is now serving as sheriff, in which position he discharges his duties without fear or favor.
Mr. Collins was married on the 5th of August, 1894, in Munday, Knox county, Texas, to Miss Irene B. Reeves, who as born in Kentucky, but partially reared in Tennessee. They have two children, a son and daughter, and the daughter of the former marriage makes the household now five in number. Mr. Collins was made a Mason in 1884, in Kaufman county, Texas, and in 1901 he joined the Knights of Pythias fraternity, while in 1898 he became affiliated with the Woodmen of the World. During his residence in Haskell county he has made judicious investment in land, now owning eighteen hundred acres, of which about one hundred and fifty acres is under cultivation, while the remainder is used as a stock ranch.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 474-476.