In an agricultural community the pride of her citizenship is the brain and sinew that settles and brings under cultivation and improvement its fertile soil and thereby lends an impetus to a sure commercial and industrial development. The settlement of any new country entails sacrifice upon its pioneers. Hardships and even actual distress often visit them and success and failure are intermingled the first few years, pending the adjustment of social conditions and the proper performance of nature’s part in the regulation of the seasons. The life story of our first settlers will never be fully told, in all its varied phases, but enough may be learned and recorded for the information of posterity to win admiration for their forefathers and to compel a sacred allegiance to their memories through the coming years.
To the category of pioneer does William S. Fleming, of this memoir, properly belong. Although his advent to Clay county is but comparatively recent, yet he is counted among the first settlers of a broad country on the Wichita river and his efforts have mingled with those of his composers in the reduction of nature and the planting of the seed of civilization. In his career of fifteen years in Texas he has tasted the sweet and the bitter alike, but the native courage of himself and wife and the combined industry of his household have accomplished results which guarantee the family independence for years to come.
It was in 1890 that Mr. Fleming became a settler in Clay county, Texas. An emigrant from Barton county, Missouri, he had been a farmer in that Missouri county for eight years and his accumulation be brought with him and invested in Wichita river bottom land. His family camped about till the erection of his first residence and the business of the farm was carried on with more or less success from the start. Grain raising, constituted his chief occupation but his pasture supported a bunch of cattle in a little while and all contributed to the prosperity of the family. Misfortune overtook them once, through lack of business foresight of a relative, which almost involved the loss of the farm, but this financial storm was successfully weathered, and now an estate of twelve hundred acres constitutes the domestic possessions and marks the family achievement in a very few years.
The Fleming farm is almost a kingly domain. Its tillable area lies in the fertile valley and upon the crest of the hill at the north stands the family residence keeping watch like a sentinel on his beat. Living spring water gushes out of the hillside in numerous places and the family domicile commands a view of landscape for miles up and down the river. Gathered near together as if under a single roof are the heads and subheads of this well-known family, content with what Providence has bestowed upon them and happy in each other’s society.
William S. Fleming was born in Sullivan county, Tennessee, July 24, 1835. His father, John Fleming, was one of the early settlers there from Wythe county, Virginia, where he was born and brought up. He was a boy friend of old Parson Brownlow and knew him intimately during the latter’s career in politics and war. He was born in 1804 and died April 5, 1871, and was a well known citizen and a successful farmer. He aided, as a soldier, in the removal of the Indians from the Georgia Purchase to their reservation in the Indian Territory. He held no public office but was a major of the state militia in old muster days.
John Fleming was a son of John and Martha (Thompson) Fleming, the father an Irishman and an immigrant to America at sixteen years of age. His wife was a great reader and an enthusiastic Methodist and bore him children as follows: Rev. David Fleming; James, a blacksmith, who died in Kentucky; William, a carpenter; Rufus, a blacksmith and farmer in Mississippi; Nelson, of Greenville, Tennessee; John, who died in Virginia, married a Snodgrass; Elizabeth, who died in Washington county, Virginia, married James Steele; and Martha, who died in Sullivan county, Tennessee. Jane Snodgrass became the wife of John Fleming. She was a daughter of William Snodgrass, one of the first settlers of Tennessee in company with Generals Sevier and Shelby. He was a Continental soldier during the Revolution and fought the English under General Ferguson at Kings Mountain, North Carolina. He was born n Maryland, married Mary Elder and reared a large family.
The family to which our subject belonged in childhood comprised two sets of children, the Gillenwaters and the Flemings. Those belonging to the first family were Lucien, who died in Texas; Ezra, who died in Sullivan county, Tennessee, was married to William Snodgrass; Matilda A., married G. H. Roberts and died in Hancock county, Tennessee. Of the Fleming children Martha A. was the oldest and married George C. Chamberlain, dying in Tennessee; William S., of this sketch; James, of Sullivan county, Tennessee, and Asbury, of Wichita Falls, Texas.
William S. Fleming received no education beyond that offered by the country schools of his time. Farm work occupied him both before and after the war and his efforts along this line have brought his success in life. When the war came on he enlisted in the Thirtieth Virginia Battalion at Broad Ford, McCommas’ Company B, and Col. Clark’s Regiment. He joined the army in 1862 and saw service in the valley of Virginia and about Richmond, his first battle being that of New Market. Other engagement following were Monocacy, Kerntown, Winchester, twice, Cedar Creek, Fisher’s Hill, Wilderness and Cold Harbor. His service ended at Waynesboro, where he was captured by General Custer’s troops and was held a prisoner at Fort Delaware till July 1865, when, on the eleventh of the month, he was discharged and furnished transportation home.
At about thirty years of age Mr. Fleming started his life the second time. The war had interrupted his early career as a farmer and he took up its duties again when peace had been established. He remained in his birth state till 1882, when he sought Barton county, Missouri, remaining there till his removal to his present location.
October 2, 1867, Mr. Fleming married, in Sullivan county, Tennessee, Mary E., a daughter of John M. Davidson, a representative of one of the prominent families of the county. Mr. Davidson was a blacksmith and farmer and was one of the early settlers there. The issue of Mr. and Mrs. Fleming are: John D., who married Maggie Pinkerton and has two children, William M. and Albert Lee; Laura J., deceased, was the first child of the family and she died at sixteen years of age; Addie M. also died young; George is yet with the family circle as is William A.; Charles A., a student in the Fort Worth Business College; Nat, who married Jose Loving and lives on his own place near Charlie and has a son William Walter; and Stephen J., the youngest, is also a member of his father’s household.
Mr. Fleming has held membership in the Methodist church for many years for many years and his wife owns allegiance to the Presbyterians.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas, (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 24-26.