WILLIAM M. LAY, who is one of the foremost men in the financial and business circles of Amarillo, as a native son of the Lone Star state has been thoroughly identified with its history and activities from his youthful years to the present. He has been a prominent figure on the western plains for the past twenty years, and is conversant with the details of the cattle and other industries as conducted in this section of the state.
Mr. Lay was born near Seguin, in Guadalupe county, November 24, 1847. Through his parents, A. Wilson and Mary (Beard) Lay, he is connected with the earliest phases of Texas history. His father, a native of South Carolina, came to Texas during the days of the Republic, establishing his home in Guadalupe county, where he spent the remainder of his life, his death occurring there in 1871. He had been a pioneer in the live-stock business, in which he continued successfully from an early day, and was known as one of the prominent farmers and stockmen of his part of the state.
Mary (Beard) Lay, the mother, accompanied her parents from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Guadalupe county, where she was married to Wilson Lay. The arrival of her family in Texas antedated the Texas revolution of 1836. About 1842, while Mexico was still endeavoring to secure her hold on Texas, two of her brothers took part in the ill-fated expedition into Mexico, which began with the battle of Mier on the Rio Grande, where the Americans were forced to surrender. Thence the entire band was sent to the city of Mexico, but before reaching there the Americans planned and executed a desperate escape, overpowering their guards and starting back for Texas. But they were in the end recaptured or compelled through fear of starvation to surrender, and were assembled to the number of about two hundred in the place where they had effected their previous escape. Here, through the order of the infamous Santa Anna, the historic “lottery of the beans” took place. Beans equal to the entire number of the men were placed in an urn, seventeen of them being black and the rest white. Those unfortunate enough to draw the black beans were led out and shot, while the others, hardly less unlucky, were sent on to the foul prisons of the city of Mexico, whence some escaped, some died and others were finally released. The Beard brothers were of those who drew the white beans, but never reached home again, since one of them died in prison and the other was killed on his way to Texas.
Mr. Lay was reared on his father’s farm, and became familiarized with the duties of stock farming at an early age. In 1864, when seventeen years old, he enlisted in the Confederate service, joining Captain Nixon’s Company of DeWitt’s Battalion. This battalion saw all its service in East Texas, along and near the coast, where it was stationed until the close of the war, the most serious encounter being in repelling the invasion of the federal troops between Indianola and Victoria. Mr. Lay remained in Guadalupe county until 1882, when he went to Fort Worth and engaged in the oil business, which he continued several years. In 1885 he came out to the plains country in West Texas, locating in Lubbock county, where he became one of the pioneer cattlemen, 1885 being an early date in this history of that county. He was a leading cattleman in that section of the state for about ten years. In 1891, upon the completion of the organization of Lubbock county, he was elected the first sheriff of the county, serving as such by subsequent elections for six years. All this time, however, he was in the cattle business on his ranch west of Lubbock. On leaving Lubbock county he moved to New Mexico, and continued his cattle business in the eastern part of that territory. In 1902, on disposing of his interests in new Mexico, he came to Amarillo, where his home and business affairs have since been centered. He built a pretty home on Polk street, between Seventh and Eighth streets, also purchasing and making fine improvements on the rest of the block. He owns other valuable pieces of city and country real estate, and is vice president of the Amarillo National Bank. These and many similar interests give him a prominent place in the business life of Amarillo, of which he is a valued citizen.
Mr. Lay was married to Miss Anna Laura Dean, who was reared at Weatherford, Parker county. They both belong to the Methodist church in Amarillo.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 197-198.