William S. Kelly biography

WILLIAM S. KELLY, one of the old and honored residents of San Angelo, Texas, was born in Autauga county, Alabama, in 1847, his parents being John and Martha (Cherry) Kelly, the former a native of Ireland and the latter of North Carolina. After coming to America the father located in Alabama, and his death occurred when his son William was but a lad. The mother joined her son in Tom Green county, Texas, and her death occurred in this county. William S. Kelley was practically reared by his friend, Colonel Frank C. Taylor, whose sketch will be found below. When fourteen years of age he began work for the Colonel in the stage and mail carrying business in Alabama, this being at the beginning of the Civil war period, and as all able-bodied white men of suitable age were required for the Confederate army, Colonel Taylor, who had Confederate government contracts for carrying mail, etc., by state in northern Alabama and Georgia, was compelled to operate his lines with such help as he could obtain. It was in this emergency that Mr. Kelly was pressed into Colonel Taylor’s service, first as a messenger boy and later in driving and more serious work as a mail carrier, and among his treasured documents of earlier days is a commission as mail carrier issued to him by Hon. John H. Reagan, postmaster general of the Confederacy under President Davis, while another interesting one is his commission as postmaster of Greensboro, Alabama, issued by President Andrew Jackson, he being the first postmaster of Greensboro after the war.

In 1871, retiring from his postmastership, Mr. Kelly came to Tom Green county, Texas, arriving on the 27th of December, to join Colonel Taylor, who had come to this state from Alabama and was engaged in the stage business on a more extensive scale. The headquarters of the western lines of stages in Texas were then at Ben Ficklin, and Mr. Kelly worked for about a year and a half on the El Paso mail line. Abandoning the stage business, he then engaged in freighting and contracting around the government posts in western Texas, especially Fort Concho in Tom Green county. He was the first postmaster of Ben Flickin after its establishment by Colonel Taylor, and later, on removing to Sherwood, now the county seat of Irion county but at that time a part of Tom Green, became the first postmaster of that place. He was also instrumental in establishing additional mail routes in western Texas. He erected the first frame dwelling in Ben Flickin, hauling the lumber, for which he paid one hundred and ten dollars per thousand feet, all the way from Brenham, Texas, by ox team and wagon. While residing at Sherwood Mr. Kelley, in partnership with John Lackey, for many years the county and district clerk of Tom Green county, opened in 1877 a finely irrigated farm known as the Kelly and Lackey Farm, which was cultivated with excellent success by Mexican tenants. In 1874 he was one of five commissioners, Colonel Taylor, Captain Mullens, Colonel Millspaugh, and G. W. DeLong, appointed by the governor to organize the Tom Green county and receive the registered vote at the first election, Colonel Taylor having been the author of the petition.

The organization of the county seat was completed on the 5th of January, 1875, and then extended to the Pecos river. At that time there was an interesting contest for the county seat between Ben Flickin and San Angelo, but the former won and remained the capital until 1882, when the flood of the county seat was then removed to San Angelo, where it has ever since remained. Since September, 1883, Mr. Kelly has been a resident of that city, and in October, 1883, he entered the lumber business, thus continuing until September, 1888, when he sold to Cameron & Company, and served as manager of that firm until February, 1904, at which time the firm sold to the Burton-Lingo Lumber Company and Mr. Kelly retired from the business. He has been engaged in the cattle industry almost since his advent into Tom Green county, owning a ranch of five and a half sections of Lapan creek, seventeen miles south of San Angelo, about two hundred and fifty acres of which is under cultivation, the remainder being pasture land.

By his first marriage Mr. Kelly became the father of three children, one of whom, John S., was drowned in the San Saba, on the 22nd of September, 1900; the two surviving being Charles R. and Mrs. Annie Taylor Jackson. Mr. Kelly’s present wife was Mary A. Van Court, a daugther of Alex. Van Court, who came with his family from St. Clair county, Illinois, in the early ’70s and located at the head of Devil’s river in Gillespie county, thirty miles form Fredericksburg. During the early years of their residence here this part of Texas was for several years greatly harassed and often terrified by the had characters of those days as well as by the Indians, who made that neighborhood, whose physical features gave them better protection than others, the scene of many of their most atrocious raids. Mrs. Kelly comes from a prominent family of Macoupin and St. Clair counties, Illinois. Her uncle, B. J. Van Court, was a prominent citizen of O’Fallon, that state. Her father made a trip overland to California In 1849, also going on other pioneering trips to the west, and later was proprietor of the old St. Louis Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, well known to many of the old residents of that city. One of his pleasant reminiscences was purchasing wood from U. S. Grant, whose home was near St. Louis at that time. After his removal to Texas, Mrs. Kelly’s father assisted in organizing Kimble county. Eight children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, namely: Mrs. Grace Herring, Van Court, William S., Jr., Catharine, Marie, Benjamin, Blakesley and Samuel. Since his original appointment as commissioner at the organization of the county Mr. Kelly served as county commissioner in 1879 and was one of the commissioners to build the court house at Ben Flickin in 1880, also served one term as county commissioner form San Angelo, representing Precinct No. 1. He is the oldest director of the First National Bank, formerly the Concho National, in which position he has served since early in 1889, and is now vice president of the institution. He is a trustee and member of the Methodist church, and a member of the building committee for the new church of that denomination in San Angelo. He is also a member of the city school board and has been for several years, and it one of the best known and most honored citizens of that city.

Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 470-471.