In introducing the subject of this review we are deeply conscious of our inability, with the bare outline of his career before us, to present the light and shade of a picture which grows in interest with the lapse of time and to little more than mention the events which form the quarter-posts of his life course. A life so filled with dramatic history, so clouded with tragedy and so heightened on the stage of comedy requires the genius of a Porter, a Muhlbach or a Stowe to portray it in its completeness and perfection, and the effort with which we shall acquit our subject we offer as being little more than an apology for the biography of James A. Cummins.
In the fiery atmosphere of Caldwell county, Kentucky, Mr. Cummins was born June 1, 1842. His ancestors were among the pioneers of the state, his grandfather, Simon Cummins, having become a settler of Christian county in the first fifth of the century just closed, for in 1821 his son, Elijah W., the father of our subject, was there born. Simon Cummins died at an advanced age and was a veteran of the Revolutionary war. He brought his family up in the pure atmosphere of a rural home and instilled into them that regard for honesty and integrity so universal with the citizenship of his day. Noah, his oldest child, was a soldier of the Confederacy, and died in his native state. Lemuel passed away in his Kentucky home in 1898, having had sons in the Federal army during the secession war; Irena became the wife of James Ramey and died with issue in Lyon county, Kentucky; Louisa married first a Sanders and second a Gillespie and left a family in Lyon county at her death; Sallie married Hezekiah Oliver, of Caldwell county, Kentucky, and William and Simon are residents of Lyon county.
Elijah W. Cummins was his father’s fifth child and his advantages in early life were simply those common to the country youth of Kentucky in that primitive day. He married Lydia, a daughter of Leven Oliver, a war of 1812 patriot and soldier who migrated to Kentucky from Virginia in an early day. Mr. Oliver’s early lie was passed as a flat-boatman on the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers down to New Orleans, but prior to that time he had also fought the British at the battle of New Orleans in 1812 and was one of only seventeen American soldiers wounded in that historic engagement. He married Sophia Barnett in his native state and reared his children in Kentucky. He came to Texas with the family in 1843, and died in Fannin county about 1874. His children were: Evaline, who died in Fannin county as the wife of Miles Davis; Betsy, wife of Andrew Oliver, died in Fannin county; Lydia, our subject’s mother, who died in Fannin county in 1902; Sallie, who became Mrs. Talton Gray and died in Fannin county; Margaret married James Pile,who lives in Fannin county; Nancy, wife of Rev. Reece; Lee, of Fannin county, and Robert, an ex-Confederate soldier, who died at Tahlequah, Indian Territory. The family of Elijah W. and Lydia Cummins was composed of James A., of this review; Sophia, wife of Lewis Jones, of Montague county; George, who died in Fannin county, a Home Guard during the Civil war; Lucinda, who married Frank Ramey, of Fannin county; William, yet in the old home county in Texas; Mattie, now Mrs. Rube Lockler, of Kemp, Indian Territory, and Sarah, who died in Fannin county unmarried.
In 1852 Elijah W. Cummins headed a small colony of emigrants from Lyon county, Kentucky, to the Lone Star state and located in Fannin county. Ladonia was the little village near where they settled and with the exception of the years from 1867 to 1870 passed in Benton county, Arkansas, he was a resident of that county until his death, in September, 1903. He took part in the Confederate war as an infantryman and as a citizen maintained himself a quiet, industrious and modest farmer. He identified himself with Christian sentiment and was a member of the Christian church. He took little account of public affairs and had no interest in politics other than to vote with the Democrats on election day. He was a gentleman with high ideas of morality, of undoubted integrity and was a soldier under General Taylor in the Mexican war.
In Lyon county, Kentucky, and in Fannin county, Texas, James A. Cummins passed from infancy to the near approach to man’s estate. As a knight errant in the army of his beloved Southland he rounded out his majority, and as a civilian after the war his nomadic career embraced the best thirty years of his business life. The schools provided him with an introduction to the three R’s only in boyhood, but the corners of a very angular intellectual equipment have all been rounded off and smoothed down by the friction of years of hard and varied experiences. As his start in life was made in the saddle and with a gun at his side it is fitting to present briefly the scenes of his military adventures at this time. At sixteen years of age he joined Captain Wood’s company of Texas Rangers operating against the Comanche and Sioux Indians, depredating the Texas frontier for so many years, and took part in the battle which resulted in the destruction of Nocona’s band, the death of the great chief and the capture of his wife, Cynthia Ann Parker and her son, Quanah. When his service with the Rangers was concluded he followed his inclinations and continued a life in the saddle among the early cowboys of the southwest. But whenthe politicians of the north and the south aroused their respective sections of our country, arrayed them against each other in open denunciation and actually launched the dreadful conflict young Cummins was ready to make any sacrifice for his country’s welfare, and when the invitation was made he cast the die. He enlisted first in 1861 in Company F, Eleventh Texas Cavalry, and served under Colonel W. C. Young till 1862 and in the Thirteenth Texas, under Colonels Bob Taylor and James Stephens in the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate army. His first engagement of note was the fight at Elk Horn and, without attempting details, he went throughout the Louisiana campaign, taking part in the engagements at Mansfield, Yellow Bayou, etc., being wounded in the latter battle while aiding a comrade to the rear after being disabled. He was every ready for duty as long as there was service to perform and when the surrender of Lee ended the war he was paroled at Milliken, near Hempstead, May 27, 1865.
One resuming civil pursuits the saddle offered Mr. Cummins the most remunerative and pleasure occupation and he soon became foreman for John Rhodes and Milt McGee, cattle drovers form Texas to Kansas City, Missouri. During his two years’ service in this capacity, driving thousand of head of genuine “long-horns,” camping on the trail in all sorts of weather, swimming swollen streams and surmounting other difficulties of his employers and of his own, he made acquaintances and formed associations which shifted the course of his life into a channel turbid with riffles and whirlpools and encountering sandbars and eddies until the climax of a strenuous existence was actually reached. Having saved some money from his employment with Rhodes and McGee and from a similar service with John Sponable, of Johnson county, Kansas, he decided to try mining in the Rockies, and he accordingly went to Idaho and prospected in the Leesburg region of that territory for several months, in a vain effort to locate a vein of fabulous wealth. Returning to Texas in 1869 he turned his attention briefly to the farm, but freighting offered proper financial inducements and a life more to his turn, and he hauled goods form Jefferson to North Texas points until the railroads reached Denison and Sherman and cut off much of the business in his line. He put up the first tent on the townsite of Denison and was for a time a clerk in one of the early stores of the town. Later he became a traveling salesman for a marble works there and eventually drifted into the patent-right business. In this later vocation he was associated with Henry T. Davis and James N. Touchstone, and while he was connected with many other and varied operations during the interval this claimed his attention in the main till 1897, when he finally settled down in Bowie and embarked in the less adventurous, less strenuous, more commonplace and more substantial business of real estate and insurance. In 1903 he formed a partnership with Charles B. Downs, and the firm of Cummins & Downs is one of the most substantial and reliable in the city.
In December, 1869, Mr. Cummins married Susan, a daughter of Bird Sherrill, of Fannin county. A son and a daughter, Leon B. and Winona May, are the issue of this union, the former a railroad conductor on the Frisco road and the latter a resident of Dallas, Texas. March 1, 1888, Mr. Cummins married, at Glenn Elder, Kansas, Mary E. Carroll, born in Sullivan county, Tennessee, July 15, 1866. Their residence is one of the beautiful, modest little homes of Bowie and the plans and expense of its preparation were provided by its present owners.
Aside from his dealing in real estate himself Mr. Cummins has demonstrated his faith in his works by acquiring, not only urban, but rural possessions, as well. While he has not amassed great wealth he has kept the prowling wolves a safe distance from his door-step, and every contract that he makes, either verbal or written, is as good as its face on the day it is due. He maintains a liberal attitude toward all worthy benevolence and lends his substantial aid to any intelligent effort directed toward the material or social advancement of his county. No miserly charge can ever be laid at his door nor no act of extortion or frenzied money-getting will ever be charged against him. He is sympathetic with the unfortunate and lives in an atmosphere of “goodwill toward men.”
In anything political, Mr. Cummins is always a Democrat—the same principles by any other name would not suffice—and he has been deputy sheriff in Texas and was once city marshal of Glen Elder, Kansas. He leaves the drama of active politics to others while he feasts on the good things that come to him as an enthusiast among the old veterans of the Lost Cause. He has attended reunions for the United Confederate Veterans for years and has been three times commander of Camp 572—Bowie Pelham Camp, Bowie—U. C. V., and was adjutant and chief of staff two years of the Fifth Brigade, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and is now aide de camp to General W. L. Cabell, with the rank of colonel, of the Trans-Mississippi Department. He is a Royal Arch Mason and took five degrees of Odd Fellowship in 1866. From the opening of the rebellion until the close of his nomadic life Mr. Cummins treaded the soil of every state and territory in the American union. The north, south, east and west are as familiar to him as to the most traveled nabob of our country, and the history of his trail from the outbreak of the rebellion to the opening of the Centennial at Philadelphia would be impregnated with incidents challenging the pen of the novelist to properly portray. His acquaintance with the world is intimate and his knowledge of humanity is perfect. When his piercing eye strikes yours you instantly feel its power, and a character without the genuine ring wins no confidence nor sympathy from him. He has been one of the characters of tragic history in the post-bellum days, and with the passing few of the old guard will remain.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 98-100.
Update: From Elizabeth Luther, dated 14 March 2007. “His fifth son, Elijah Washington Cummins, had one more daughter not mentioned in the article. Her name is Isaphine Cummins, and she married Andrew Jackson Campbell. They had three children: Selia Elizabeth Campbell, Thomas Campbell and Elijah ‘Lige’ Campbell.”