James M. Able biography

JAMES M. ABLE, who came to the northwestern part of Cooke county during the period of its pioneer development and who has witnessed the wonderful changes and progress in the Red River valley, is now a most extensive farmer and land owner in this part of the state and is equally well known as a stockman. The strong characteristics of his business career are such as might be profitably followed by anyone, for he has placed his dependence upon close application, untiring diligence and careful management.

A native of Tennessee, Mr. Able was born in Monroe county, March 2, 1830, his parents being James and Jane (Morrison) Able, who were likewise natives of that state and were married there. Subsequently they removed to Calhoun county, Alabama, and settled upon a farm which continued to be their place of residence until they were called to their final rest.

The paternal grandparents, Moses and Nancy Able, were natives of Ireland and were married in that country, but soon afterward crossed the Atlantic to the United States, settling in Tennessee, which was then a territory. The grandfather acquired land there and opened up a farm, remaining thereon for a number of years, after which he sold the property and went to Randolph county, Alabama, where he developed another farm, making it his home throughout his remaining days. His wife also died upon that place. He became a loyal American citizen and served his country as a soldier in the Mexican war, and he was well known as a pioneer farmer of both Tennessee and Alabama, his labors contributing to the general progress of the localities in which he lived. His children were Moses, Joseph, John, Thomas and James. All of the sons served in the Mexican war, Thomas with the rank of lieutenant colonel, while James was captain of his company.

James Able, father of our subject, was largely reared in Tennessee and after his marriage began farming in that state, but subsequently disposed of his property there and took up his abode in Calhoun county, Alabama, where he purchased land and carried on general farming until his labors were ended in death. As before indicated, he was a soldier of the Mexican war and as captain of a company led his men in gallant charges and inspired them by his own bravery on the field of battle. His political allegiance was given to the democracy. He had been provided with excellent educational privileges and was a gentleman of strong principles. He died on the old homestead at the age of sixty years and his widow afterward kept their children together until they were grown and able to care for themselves. She was married a second time, becoming the wife of Mr. Leather, by whom she had one child, Caledonia. Mrs. Leather was a daughter of the Rev. William Morrison, a minister of the Primitive Baptist church and a prominent farmer, who served through the war of the Revolution and became a loyal citizen of the new republic. He settled in the southeastern part of the country after the war was ended and subsequently removed to Tennessee, where most of his children were born and reared. Later he sold his property there and went to Randolph county, Alabama, where he spent his remaining days. Both he and his wife died at an advanced age. Their children were: Major and William, who were soldiers of the Mexican war; John, Squire; Mrs. Catherine Morrison; Mrs. Jane Able; and one whose name is forgotten. All were members of the Baptist church.

In the family of James and Jane Able there were fifteen children, as follows: Mrs. Nancy Burson; William, of Alabama; Joe, who died in Arkansas as the result of a wound sustained in the army; John, who died in Hunt county, Texas; James M., of this review; Frank, who died in Alabama; Moses, who was killed; Thomas, who laid down his lie for the south while serving in the Confederate Army; Doc, of the Indian Territory; Mrs. Sarah Williamson; Mrs. Caroline Kinsey; Mrs. Melvina Cristofer; and Mrs. Susan Brannemann. All of the eight sons served in the Confederate Army and five uncles of the family served through the Mexican war, so that the family record is a splendid one for military bravery.

James M. Able was a little lad of four years when his parents removed from Tennessee to Alabama, in which state he was reared. After his father’s deathhe assisted his widowed mother in the improvement of the home farm until sixteen years of age, when his mother married again. He then left home and started out in life on his own account, since which time he has been dependent entirely upon his own resources. He made his way to Mississippi, where he engaged the employ of a planter as a farm hand, but soon his ability and worth gained recognition and he was made manager and was offered the position of overseer. he then took charge of the farm and hands and successfully controlled the farm work, making it a source of good profit to his employer. Later a neighboring planter noticed his progress and capability and offered him a better salary, but he refused to accept this and when the planter in whose service he was engaged heard of the neighbor’s offer he asked Mr. Able if he was going to leave. On being answered in the negative he therefore raised Mr. Able’s salary above what the neighbor had offered, so that he was receiving very remunerative wages. He continued in that employ for four years when impaired health caused him to return home. He surprised his mother and friends, as they had not heard from him during those years and thought him dead. After recovering his health he remained at home for a time and later engaged in freighting to some extent. He afterward married and then served as overseer on a plantation for a year, subsequent to which time he purchased a farm, continuing its cultivation up to the time of the inauguration of the Civil war.

It was in 1856 that Mr. Able was joined in wedlock to Miss Elmina Hodges, who was born in South Carolina, January 9, 1837, and who has proved to him a devoted helpmate and companion of life’s journey. Her parents were Thompson and Mahala (Hill) Hodges, both of whom were natives of South Carolina, where they were married, removing thence to Alabama. In early manhood Mr. Hodges engaged in teaching school, but later became a successful farmer and slave owner, conducting his business interests in profitable manner. He also owned and operated a cotton gin and thresher. following the death of his first wife he married again and he and his second wife also died in Alabama. He was a consistent member of the Baptist church. The children of the first marriage were: Mary, who became Mrs. Madison and after losing her first husband became Mrs. Ward; Mrs. Nancy Poster; Harrison, a Baptist minister; Mrs. Emeline Hodges; Amanda, the wife of M. Thomas; Margaret, the wife of A. Thomas; Mrs. Hazelton Wood; Mrs. Frances Dickey; and Elmina, now Mrs. Able. Of this number Emeline, Mary and Elmina are all who came to Texas.

Following his marriage Mr. Able continued farming until 1861, when he enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry under Colonel Blakey, the regiment being attached to the Army of the Tennessee, with which he did much scouting, skirmishingand fighting and was also in picket duty. He took part in the battle of Missionary Ridge and in most of the important engagements of central Tennessee under General Joseph Wheeler and General Forrest. He was a faithful soldier, always found at his post of duty and the usual experiences of military life were his, but though he was always on active duty he was never wounded. He was taken prisoner, however, at Sevierville, Tennessee, and sent to Rockford, Ohio, where he eagerly watched for an opportunity to make his escape. At length he embraced the chance to pass the guards, found some Confederate friends who obtained for him a blue uniform and thus attired he made his way, without suspicion, on the railroad train to the south, arriving at length at London, Tennessee. From that point he traveled to his home on foot through the woods and after visiting for a short time with his wife, he rejoined his command. He has never been exchanged. He continued with the regiment until the close of the war, being at Dalton, Georgia, at the time of General Lee’s surrender, when the command disbanded and he returned home, so that he has never yet surrendered nor been paroled. He found his farm in bad condition owing to the foraging of the two armies, there being little left but the land, two cows and two colts. He had no capital and no farm implements to work with, but be began with determined purpose to bring his farm to a high state of cultivation. He did some trading and in this way made a little money. He continued to reside at the old homestead until 1870, when he sold his property there and came to Texas.

After raising a crop in Hunt county, he bought a farm at Pilot Point, Grayson county, where he continued for a year, when he sold out and in 1870 purchased the farm on which he now resides at Sadler’s Bend in the Red river valley in Cooke county. He found five families at the bend, but the radius which their ranches covered was an extensive one, for small farming was not yet done and there was no more than seventy-five acres in cultivation. No cotton had as yet been raised in this locality, nor was there any gin to bale it. Mr. Able purchased one hundred and sixty acres of prairie land in Cove creek valley, on which were a few scattering trees, and then building a log cabin he began the struggle of breaking the fields and planting crops. In due course of time good harvests were gathered. When he arrived he had three mules, a yoke of steers, tow wagons, some household effects and twelve hundred dollars in money. With determined purpose he undertook the arduous task of developing a farm and as the years have passed by his well directed labors have been crowned with success, so that he has added to his lands until now he owns twenty-three hundred acres surrounding the homestead and on the prairie. He also has eight hundred acres of pasture land in Montague county, and over five hundred acres in three well improved farms. He has given each of the four children three hundred acres and yet today he is the largest landlord with more land in cultivation than any other man in the county, having thirty-nine tenants upon his farms, all occupying good houses. He has engaged in raising and handling stock and for many years handled cattle, but has abandoned that branch of the business. He has done no active farming himself for some years, for it requires all of his time and attention to supervise his tenants and large interests. He is likewise an extensive stockholder in the Lindsay National Bank at Gainesville and loans money on mortgage securities.

Mr. and Mrs. Able have become the parents of a son and three daughters: Thomas, who was born in 1856; Fanny, the wife of Mack Franklin; Victoria, the wife of J. R. Miller; and Tanzader, the wife of J. Agee.

Great changes have occurred since Mr. Able came to Texas. He found a country in which there were many desperadoes who stole the stock and plundered the homes of the settlers, but he joined a company of pioneers and made a run after a band of thieves, whom they followed to the Wichita mountains, where a hot fight ensued, but they succeeded in recovering the stock and in killing some of the bandits. Among the settlers one man, Captain Rowland,was wounded slightly on the side of the neck. Mr. Able has been closely identified with the development of the county from its earliest settlement and his labor has been an effective element in its substantial progress and improvement. He has lived to see this great district, once wild and unclaimed, transformed into fine farms and ranches, owned by a contented and prosperous people. In politics he is a Democrat and both he and his wife are members of the Missionary Baptist church. He has had no time for political office, however, preferring to give his attention to his business affairs and he is widely recognized as a splendid financier. To him there has come the attainment of a distinguished position in connection with agricultural interests and investments. He has been careful in the purchase and sale of land, so that he has always realized a good profit on his realty transfers and, recognizing the possibilities of the state for farming and stock-raising, he has acquired extensive property holdings and now rents his land to various tenants, so that his income from his leases is today large and gratifying. He deserves much credit for what he has achieved, for when the war closed he was left almost penniless and all that he now has is the result of his careful management, clear judgment, experience and diligence.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 664-667.