William J. Harris biography

WILLIAM J. HARRIS, vice president of the American National Bank of El Paso, has from pioneer times to the present been a witness of the growth and development of western Texas and as a co-laborer in this work has contributed in substantial measure to the accomplishment that has brought this part of the country up to a par with older settled districts. A native of Tennessee, he was born in Paris, Henry county, and is a son of Judge John W. and Martha M. (Wilborn) Harris and a nephew of Hon. Isham G. Harris. The last named died in July, 1898, while serving as a member of the United States senate. Judge Harris was born in Franklin county, Tennessee, to which locality his parents removed from North Carolina, while later they became residents of Paris, Henry county, Tennessee, which was thereafter the family home. Judge Harris, reared in the state of his nativity, took up the study of law and became a prominent attorney of Paris, while his brother, entering the field of politics in 1847, was elected to congress in 1849, chosen governor of the state in the ’50s and was three times re-elected to that office, being the war governor of Tennessee, his last election occurring in 1861. Subsequently he became a member of the United States senate and was a most distinguished man in every respect, making a splendid record in connection with the framing and administration of the laws of his commonwealth and the nation.

William J. Harris was born in Henry county, Tennessee, December 25, 1857, and is one of the most prominent and widely known pioneers of western Texas, closely connected with its history and development from the early days of the stage coach and other evidences of frontier existence. In 1877 he left his home in Tennessee and his destination being the ranch owned by his uncle, Hon. Isham G. Harris, in Callahan county, Texas. In September of that year he arrived at Fort Worth and after remaining for a short period on his uncle’s ranch he accepted a position on the overland stage route from Fort Worth to Fort Concho, now San Angelo. This line was controlled by John D. Chidester and after remaining in his service for a time Mr. Harris was offered a better position and larger wages by C. Bain & Company, of San Antonio, the famous old time stage owners of the overland line from Fort Concho to El Paso. Mr. Harris became agent to the line and continued in that position until the completion of the Texas & Pacific and the Galveston, Houston and San Antonio railroads, whereby the stage companies were forced out of business. There was a picturesque and romantic element in connection with staging in those early days and yet the work was at times fraught with danger because of the unsettled condition of the country. The stage coach, however, was a splendid and invaluable institution, furnishing the only means of travel at a period when sparsely settled districts could not support a railroad. The advent of the stage coach was an important event in each town, bringing the news of the outside world and perchance carrying a visitor of new comer to the community and a detailed account of Mr. Harris’ knowledge and experience of those days would furnish a story of as thrilling interest as many that are found on the pages of fiction.

About 1881 Mr. Harris was appointed deputy collector of customs at Lanoria, Arizona, on the Mexican border and filled that position for three years, when he was transferred to El Paso as mounted inspector of the customs department. He continued in the latter capacity for a few years and then through the influence of Governor John C. Brown secured the labor contract on the Texas & Pacific Railway, since which time he has been largely engaged in the business of contracting along that line on the construction of western railroads in the El Paso district. In El Paso he has figured prominently in public affairs here and is now county commissioner, a position which he has filled for fourteen consecutive years. He has likewise been very prominent and helpful in the business life of El Paso and the promotion of its leading enterprises and he was one of the organizers of the American National Bank, of which he is now the vice president. Mr. Harris by reason of his connection with the old state lines formed a very wide acquaintance in western Texas and is today one of its representative and honored citizens with a circle of friends almost co- extensive with the circles of his acquaintance.

Mr. Harris was married in Ysleta, Texas, May 7, 1885, to Miss Emilie Schutz, and they have one child, a son, Eugene.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, pp. 630-631.