Among the pioneers to Clay county whose settlement here gave a distinctively upward and forward impetus to its internal development was the late William Tanner, whose achievements in his Texas home stand as a monument to his energy, industry and business sagacity. Although he lived here but a score of years, and much of that period at a time when farming didn’t pay much, yet he managed his affairs and so conducted his business as to become a prominent character among the home-builders of his county.
It was in October of 1874 that William Tanner bought his little family to Clay County and settled them in a rude but comfortable long house of two rooms, after the first winter, on his four hundred and eighty acre tract of raw land three miles northwest of Henrietta. He proceeded to the improvement of his farm by fencing it around with a rail fence, which the prairie fires afterward destroyed. His abode the first winter was a simple camp on the slough and his chief occupation for the first few years was the growing of cattle, which gave way as the county settled up to the raising of improved grades of horses, notably of the Pecheron stock. He made a success of all his stock enterprises and shipped his horses to markets in Illinois and drove his cattle to the railroad at Hunnewald, Kansas. The profits from his efforts on the farm enabled him to double the size of his original purchase, and it was this desirable homestead, well improved and well stocked, that he left to his widow and children when he passed away January 7, 1894.
Mr. Tanner was a settler from Montgomery county, Illinois, where he located upon his advent to the United States in 1853. He was a farmer and stock-raiser there, and had made something of a start in life when he sold his possessions to come to Texas. He was born in Slone House Barracks, in England, his father, William Tanner, being a soldier in the king’s army. His birth occurred March 24, 1826, and when four years of age his parents took up their residence in Ireland, where the father died in 1838. His mother, nee Sarah Whaley, died at Tuskin Pass, Ireland, being the mother of William, Jane, wife of Nathaniel Henry, and Hannah, both in their native Ireland.
William Tanner’s first endeavor on his own account was as a farmer in Ireland, and his last one there was an a merchant in Tuskin Pass. He came to the United States because of its numerous and varied opportunities and was accompanied on his voyage from Waring Point, Ireland, to Liverpool by his newly married wife. At Liverpool he took the sailer Jacob A. Westervelt for New York, and after a rough voyage of six weeks landed at Castle Garden. A visit of three weeks was made with friends and relatives in the metropolis and the young couple started on their long journey to Chicago and finally to Naples, Illinois. Stopping at Springfield en route Mr. Tanner entered government land, but passed his first winter in Hillsboro. The next year he got firmly settled in his new and frontier home, made all its substantial improvements and parted with it only to share in the development of the Lone Star state. On his trip south he came by rail to Sherman, where Dr. Eldridge, a promoter of western settlements, located him in Clay county. He provided himself with team, wagon and some farming implements—which latter he really brought from Illinois—and without notable incident made his way out to his future home.
In March, 1852, William Tanner married Eliza A. Best, a daughter of Robert and Sarah (Thompson) Best, both of the parents dying in county Armagh, Ireland. Of their children William lived in Macoupin county, Illinois, many years, was captain of a company in the Union army during the war, went to Dallas, Texas, in 1874, was a merchant there many years and died there in March, 1904; John is in the county Armagh and Sarah is married and resides in Belfast, Ireland; Joseph lives in Australia and James died in Ireland; Mary married Mr. Porter and is in her native Armagh, while Robert lives in Fannin county, Texas; Thomas is connected with a bank in Cork, and Eliza is at home with her sons in Clay county. Mrs. Tanner was born December 21, 1836, and her children are: Robert, born July 6, 1855; Thomas, born December 3, 1857, is in Hobart, Oklahoma, and has a son, Harry; William Henry, born February 28, 1860, died August 6 of the same year; Charles, born March 22, 1862, died December 9, 1863; Patrick E., born May 28, 1864, died September 16 following; John H., born September 2, 1865, married Alice Flippin and resides at Broken Arrow, Indian Territory, and has three children, Samuel R., Thomas J. and Alice May; Lucy, born February 19, 1868, resides on the old home, and is the wife of S. R. Bean; Sarah May, born January 5, 1870, resides in Henrietta and is the wife of George S. Ellis, with one child, William Sanders; William, born December 25, 1872, died in September, 1881; Illinois J., born August 30, 1874, died April 3, 1903; Harry L., born November 10, 1878, operates, in conjunction with his brother Robert, the homestead, and is an active participant in the affairs of the home. Like their father, the sons cling to stock as the surest profit winner of the farm and they also cultivate several hundred acres to grain and feed.
In politics William Tanner was a Democrat and his sons at home have yielded to the persuasions of the same faith. They entertain and have entertained a good citizen’s interest in local and state affairs, and their convictions are nearly always expressed in the polls.
Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. II, pp. 94-95.