William Matthias Wagner biography

For many years the subject of this personal review has been identified with commercial affairs in Clay county and is now the leading merchant of Vashti, where, as chief of the firm of Wagner and Son, he established himself late in 1904. He has been known as a merchant in the county since the year 1890, when he opened a store in Newport and has, almost continuously since, devoted himself to commercial affairs. He represents a type of successful business men whose chief and soundest training has come from the school of experience and whose steady tread has been always onward and upward toward a brighter sunlight of financial independence. His business activity has led him long past the meridian of life but he is still a factor to be reckoned with in the brisk and sharp trade competition universally prevalent now.

A glance into the genealogical storehouse of the Wagners of this branch finds it mothered by the famous old Palmetto state, from which the great-grandfather of our subject emigrated during the first years of our national existence, and took up his residence in Lincoln county, Tennessee. There he began rearing a family, of whom Daniel Wagner, grandfather of our subject, was one. The latter pursued the rural calling of his ancestors, married there a Miss Kinkannon and in the early twenties, moved into Hardin county as one of its first settlers. He was a gentleman of standing, an extensive farmer, for he owned slaves, and both he and his wife lie buried in its soil. Of their children, Francis died in Montague county, Texas, leaving a family; Matthias, our subject’s father; Susie and Mattie both became the wife of J. J. Williams and died in Tennessee, leaving children; Betsy married Exas Nevill and died in Titus county, Texas, with issue; Nancy married James Porter and left a family at her death in Titus county.

Matthias Wagner was born in Lincoln county, Tennessee, and was brought up in Hardin county. His birth occurred in 1818 and he died in Montague county, Texas, October 21, 1886. He was a plain citizen and farmer, a Christian gentleman, a Mason and a Democrat. He emigrated from Tennessee, and passed his remaining years in the Lone Star state. He married Mary B. Graham, a daughter of James Graham, one of the first settlers of Hardin county. The latter’s early home there was situated on Horse creek where, as a mechanic and farmer, he prospered and became one of the large land-owners of the county. He was of South Carolina birth, married a Miss Blackburn and reared a family of six daughters, namely: Ursula and Betsy, both died in Hardin county; Mary B., born in 1818, died in Hunt county, Texas, in 1875, was the mother of our subject; Catherine, who married A. Williams, died at Gainesville, Texas, and left a family; Sallie, now Mrs. Boyd, has a family and resides in Montague county, Texas, and Jane Dickson, of Navarro county, Texas, also has children.

Of the numerous family of Matthias and Mary B. Wagner, Martha E. resides in Mansville, Indian Territory, and is married to Rev. L. E. Covey, M. D.; Sarah M., wife of E. G. Bivens, of Montague county, Texas, is now deceased; Susan, who died in Hardin county, Tennessee, married Calvin Covey; James D., of Selma, Colorado, is a physician; William Matthias, our subject; Francis, of Weatherford, Texas; Mary, wife of L. McCurry, of Arkansas; John J. died without marriage, in Hunt county; Henry H., of Marietta, Indian Territory; Julia L., of Mountain View, Arkansas, is the wife of Robert McCurry, and Lillie A., wife of a Mr. McCurry, resides in Batavia, Arkansas.

William Matthias Wagner lived in Hardin county, Tennessee, till he was twenty-six years old. He was born there October 16, 1846, and the days of his infancy and youth were filled with pastoral scenes. The schools of the rural neighborhood furnished him with the rudiments of an education and he was drawn into the deadly military conflict of the sixties as soon as he had reached the enlistment age. He entered the army of the Confederacy in 1864 as his company was “G” and his regiment the First Confederate Cavalry, Captain J. W. Irven and Colonel John T. Cox. He was in Jackson’s division and Forrest’s Corps, and his service covered, roughly, the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. He participated in Hood’s raid into Tennessee, was guarding prisoners at Columbia, Tennessee, and at Nashville, and then helped fight the engagement at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the last of the war for his command, and it was surrendered to Gen. E. R. S. Canby at Gainesville, Alabama, in May, 1865.

The war ended, Mr. Wagner was one of the first to return to the implements of peace and for the succeeding three years the labors of the farm knew him. In the autumn of 1868 he made his first trip west and halted not until he reached Mount Pleasant, Titus county, Texas. Here he passed two years as a farm hand, returning to his old home in 1870, and there, January 4, of the next year, married, and, after three years, returned to Texas to make his future home. He stopped a year in Hunt county and, in August, 1875, he moved to Montague county and there bought a farm and began life in earnest. Deciding on a change of location, he sold his homestead in 1877, and purchased one four miles from the village of Newport, in Clay county, which he improved, occupied until 1889 and which he yet owns. On leaving the farm he engaged in the hardware and implement business at Post Oak, in Jack county, but after a year sold out and established himself in a similar business in Newport, where he continued with success until 1903, when he again sold, occupied himself with his farm a season and in the fall of 1904 associated himself with his son and purchased the leading hardware and implement business in Vashti. They also carry a stock of groceries and harness and are successors of the firm of Gerard and Childress.

Mr. Wagner’s first wife was Anna Walker, who died November 9, 1888, at Post Oak, Texas. She was a daughter of Rev. W. C. and Caroline P. (Kerr) Walker and was born June 3, 1854. She was one of the following children: Anna J.; Fannie, widow of Dr. Welch, of Caddo Mills, Texas; Lizzie, who died in Clay county as the wife of Lewis Kendall, left a family; Rev. W. J. Walker, of Vashti; Luther J., who died at Cloud Chief, Oklahoma, with heirs; and Emma and Nannie who died without marriage.

In Mr. Wagner’s family are children: Rev. James E., of Manchester, Iowa, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church, is a graduate of Parsons’ College, at Veal’s Station, Texas, and of the Iowa University, class of 1904. He married Miss Kate Britt and has children, Alto, Willie, Eugene and Hughes. Addison M., died at Newport at twenty years of age; William Alfred, of Whitesboro, Texas, a bank employe[e], is married to Ida R. Peters and has children, Eugenia and Lena; Ada, who died at Veal’s Station in 1879; Ira E., partner in the firm of Wagner and Son, is a graduate of the Henrietta high school, a student in the State University of Texas for three years and a teacher for a term at Charlie, is unmarried; Ella Nora and Ola May are both products of the Henrietta high school and are abiding with their father in Vashti. February 16, 1890, Mr. Wagner married Mrs. Ellen R. Spikes, a daughter of Allen and Mary (Spence) Gray, formerly from Jasper county, Mississippi, where Mrs. Wagner was born July 1, 1850. Her father was a native of South Carolina and her mother of Alabama.

Democracy has claimed the Wagners as among its most reliable supporters, and W. M., our subject, ahs frequently represented his district in delegate, conventions of the party in Clay county. He has served as a justice of the peace at Newport and as notary public, also. He is a Cumberland Presbyterian and a Master Mason and a citizen whom to know is to revere for his substantial and manly qualities.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 59-60.