James Independence Gillespie Cowan biography

JAMES INDEPENDENCE GILLESPIE COWAN. The birth of Mr. Cowan on Independence day and the exemplary life of a favorite uncle, James Gillespie, who was the grandfather of the Honorable James G. Blaine, led his parents to christen their ninth child with the initials J. I. G. C. His ancestors were among the first of Tennessee’s foreign settlers, and about the first years of the nineteenth century his grandfather, William Cowan, entered that state.

William and Mary (Walker) Cowan sailed from Ireland for America in 1780 and on their voyage over Andrew, their fourth child, was born. They settled in the southern states and lived in the vicinity of the Cherokee Indians for many years, probably in Alabama. They eventually moved up into Tennessee and in Blount county, that state, passed away. Of their family of sons, Samuel, David, William, Andrew, Robert, John and James, all but John and David married and left issue. The rural improvement and development of the new country where they settled shared in their labors, and farmers they became, and in the main farmers they have remained.

Andrew Cowan became an influential citizen of the community adjacent to the Cherokee tribe of Indians and familiarized himself with their doings and intentions, and when, in 1814, the tribe became restless under some ban of the Federal government and threatened to resist it and take up arms against the citizens he with Jack McNair was sent as a spy by the Federal authorities to learn the intentions of the tribe. It was a perilous undertaking and might have resulted in death to both men if the lax vigil of the natives had not made it possible for them to escape each time their capture and identity was affected and discovered. When the war finally broke out Mr. Cowan took part in it and did a soldier’s duty toward the final subjugation of the race. When he became a resident of Tennessee Andrew Cowan established himself in Blount county, where he resumed his vocation of a farmer. Late in life he moved into Bradley county where his death occurred in 1872, and he lies buried at Flint Springs. The family into which he married is an historic one and its central figure participated in the battle of Horse Shoe Bend, was afterward governor of Tennessee, led the Texans in the decisive battle which established the republic of Texas, was its president and then governor and United States senator of the state, and on the 25th of February, 1905, his statue was placed in Statuary Hall at Washington as one of the great men and heroes of our country. Hettie Cowan was formerly Hettie Houston, a daughter of William Houston, a brother of General Sam Houston‘s father. William Houston was a native of Rockbridge county, Virginia, and died in the state of Virginia in 1852. The issue of Andrew and Hettie Cowan were: Samuel, who died as a Confederate soldier during the rebellion, leaving a family art Benton county, Arkansas; Nancy, who died unmarried; Jane married Joseph Johnston and died in Loudon county, Tennessee; William, of Denton county, Texas; Anne, wife of P. W. Norwood, of Wise county, Texas, a colonel in the Federal army during the war; Matthew L., of Greer county, Oklahoma; Andrew F., of Wagoner, Indian Territory; James I. G., our subject; and Martha, widow of John McGaughey, of San Diego, California.

In Blount and Bradley counties, Tennessee, James I. G. Cowan passed his childhood and youth. During three months in the year for a few years he attended country school and obtained a fair knowledge of the elementary principles of an education. He was born in 1832 and soon after attaining his majority he entered the railroad service at Cleveland, in the operating department of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. For a time he ran a freight train, but when the passenger run was put on to Knoxville he ran the first railroad train into that city, that event occurring on the 21st of June, 1855. As a valuable and interesting souvenir of that service he has a copy of the time-card of that company, issued in 1853 and showing in columns “up” and “down” the time of arrival of trains and in separate columns the distances between stations. Both sides of the six by nine inch card contains printed matter, in one place announcing the completion of a new railroad in the Mexican Republic and in another exploiting the progress of railroading and road building “in the past thirty years.” Mr. Cowan abandoned railroading in 1857 and was first married January 6 of that year, and opened a store in Concord, Tennessee. He lost his wife October 12, following, and he came west soon afterward, reaching Texas in the spring of 1858. After spending a few months in Grayson county he went to Bonham and took a clerkship with Nunnelly and Hoffan and remained with them some eighteen months. In the spring of 186o he entered the Ranger service in Captain Wood’s company, Johnson’s regiment, and saw service as a scout over Northwest Texas and up in the Indian Territory, being in camp at Fort Radminsky for several months. After his discharge from the Rangers he engaged in freighting from Jefferson, Texas, to Denton county and to Milliken until the spring of 1862, when he entered the Confederate army. Company A, Thirty-fourth Texas Infantry, was his command and Davenport and Alexander were Captain and Colonel respectively, of his company and regiment. He was made Commissary Sergeant of his regiment and, consequently, he was ever engaged whether the regiment was or not. It was his duty to keep his regiment supplied with available food, in action as well as in camp, and while he did not occupy a place on the firing line, in the battles of the Trans-Mississippi Department, where his regiment served, he caught the full meaning of war whenever it was necessary for him to carry coffee to the front in time of actual engagements. He served under the French General Polignac and under General Walker.

After the war Mr. Cowan again resumed freighting and continued it till 1872, and from then to 1879 he was engaged in farming in Denton county. In 1879 he came to Montague county and purchased a tract of land which afterward became the townsite of Bowie. As the town grew he disposed of his lots, and eventually his farm, and engaged in the grocery and dry goods business. He had been reared to believe in the integrity of humanity and the honesty of men. His own life had been an open book of honorable transactions and he trusted too implicitly in the honesty of his trade. Credit ruined him and many men carried goods out of his store and fed them to their families who still owe for them, and some of them walk the streets of Bowie today, in health and independence, while he bears the indelible imprint of the weight of years and is no longer in the vigor of life and the prime of usefulness. Closing out his stock

he became a farmer in Randall county, Texas, but returned to Bowie after three years where for some years he has resided, being employed by Witherspoon as a buyer at Seymour during the cotton season.

January 16, 1867, Mr. Cowan married, in Denton county, Miss Mary J. Lindsey, a daughter of Elisha and Catherine (Tipton) Lindsey. Mrs. Cowan was born in Jackson county, Alabama, in 1846, and came to Texas with her parents at two years of age. Two children have resulted from this marriage, Annie Lizzie, wife of Ransom Stephens, freight agent of the Rock Island at Chickasha, Indian Territory, has children, John W. and Kathleen C., and Joseph G. Cowan, of Bowie. In spiritual matters the Cowans have been Christian people. They are members of the Cumberland Presbyterian church and Mr. Cowan of this review has served the congregation in Bowie many years as its deacon. Public opinion has pronounced the life of “Uncle Jig” Cowan above criticism. Wherever there have been two ways of doing whatever he had to do he never failed to choose the right one and he has ever kept in view the maxim that it always pays to be square. His life has been filled with events, as were the lives of his immediate ancestors, and they have played their respective parts in whatever position has been allotted to them with earnestness, in sincerity and in truth.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 257-258.