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This Article appeared in the:  West Kerr Current Newspaper - Serving Ingram, Hunt, Mountain Home,

the Divide - Ingram, Texas


Four generations of Nichols relatives gather in the 1920’s, nearly 60 years after patriarch William Rowland Nichols (killed by Indians in 1859) settled in Kerr County with his wife, Miranda Jane Harrison. The clan has been a fixture on and around Goat Creek Road ever since. Shown here are, in front, siblings, Doyle and Vera Belle Nichols, children of Rowland and Mary Elizabeth Byas Nichols. From left are also Eva Nichols, “Fannie” Goodwin Nichols, “Grannie” Elizabeth Thompson Prestidge, Vera Byas Nichols, Anne Wesley Prestidge Nichols, Rowland Virgil Nichols, John Lafayette Nichols, Anne Wesley Prestidge Nichols, John Allen and Elizabeth Nichols Allen.


EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the 32nd of a series of articles on local families to mark Kerr County’s sesquicentennial.

By Irene Van Winkle

West Kerr Current

William Rowland Nichols was a pioneer county official who was killed in 1859 only three years after settling in Kerr County, but the family proliferated nonetheless.

Nichols Cemetery, originally a family plot, is now the final resting place for scores of early settlers and their descendants in West Kerr County. It is located east of Ingram and is an historic site.

Today, there are still a number of the clan still alive and well in the Hill Country, and Doyle Nichols (who turns 89 in October) is certainly one of the most well-known.

The family tree is complex, and tied to numerous old clans, including a connection to Robert Hunt, for which the town of Hunt was named by his friend, Alvie Joy.

On his grandmother’s side, Doyle is also tied to heroes at the Alamo. His knowledge is extensive, and other various sources cite the story of how the Nichols family came to the Lone Star State, particularly, Billie Nichols Bennett.

Bennett’s Internet link to the story is found on Shirley’s Webb’s web site address:

Bennett notes that her ancestor, James Wilson (Jim) Nichols (1820-1891), wrote a journal, published as “Now You Hear My Horn,” in which he recounted that the Nichols family came to America from England, as well as his service in the Texas Rangers under Captain Jack Hays, with the Frontier Battalion and the Minute Men.

In florid language, James also described his part during the Mexican War, against Indians, how he was near (if not at) the battle of the Alamo, as well as mustered with other members of his family with Caldwell’s Ranger Company in Gonzalez, serving “as privates or spies.”

James’ great grandfather, Solomon R. Nichols, raised a company during the Revolutionary War, in which he died. Solomon had four sons, of whom David was the youngest.

While in Henry County, Virginia, in 1793, David married Clarry, or Clarey, Rowland (born 1774). Between 1794 and 1805, their offspring were born: Frances, George Washington (James’ father), David Nichols Jr., James Nichols and the youngest, (Doyle’s great-grandfather) William Rowland (1805-1859), who was born in Tennessee.

That clan moved to Pond Spring in Franklin County, Tenn., now the town of Winchester. G.W. married Mary Ann Walker and had four sons: Solomon Grundy, Thomas R., John W. and James.

G.W. commanded a company in the Indian War of 1812-13, and was crippled in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He enlisted in 1815 and was at the Battle of New Orleans when James’ brother, Thomas, was born on that same day, Jan. 8.

Following James’ birth, David and George Washington moved to Madison County, where they lived for five years. The same group moved again, floating down to the mouth of the Tennessee River on a home-made flatboat. From there, they launched down the Mississippi River and floated to Memphis, “where there was only one store,” Bennett said.

Wending over to High Point, they camped through the winter, using driftwood for fuel. By then, James was nine, and in the spring, the family came to Grande Lake, and he remembered floating timber himself to New Orleans to sell, where he visited his father’s cousin, Terry Nichols.

By 1836, the Nichols tribe had sold out from Arkansas (where they moved in 1829), bound for San Antonio. On the way, James’ father met and befriended the Johnson Day family, with whom they crossed the Sabine River into Texas on Dec. 16.

While in Arkansas, William Rowland married Miranda Jane Harrison (1805-1865), whose father’s first name is unknown, but whose mother’s name is listed as Lucretia Barnes. In Bob Bennett’s book on Kerr County, she was listed as Miranda Jane Barnes, and Bennett speculated that either she had married before, or had been somehow been recorded using her mother’s maiden name in error.

They moved to Texas following brother George Washington, and then proceeded to Kerr County in 1856. William and Miranda had five known children: John Lafayette (1848-1930) who is Doyle’s grandfather, Elizabeth (1840-1865), Eva “Rosetta” (1857-1930), W. R. Jr. (1859-1923), and George.

William Rowland Sr.’s dramatic death was recorded as an Indian attack. He was county commissioner at the time; his grandson, Rowland Nichols (Doyle’s father), also was Kerr County Clerk in 1955, died while in office, and his wife, Mary Byas, fulfilled his unexpired term.

There is a description of the fatal incident, but Doyle claims an omission, saying said that the sheriff sat with the body through the night until the recovery party arrived. It happened, Doyle said, near where Indian Creek and the Guadalupe River meet, about a mile from their homestead.

The following appears in Bob Bennett’s “Kerr County 1856-1956,” quoted from the book “Texas Indian Fighters” by Texas Ranger A. J. Sowell (who was with James Wilson Nichols in Caldwell’s Ranger Company):

“In 1859 there lived five miles above Kerrville a settler named Rowland Nichols. One evening, he went out about a mile from home to kill a turkey. When he failed to come back at night the family became alarmed and the neighbors were notified. Daniel Adolphus Rees, first county clerk of Kerr County, was one of those who responded, but nothing could be done until morning. In company with others, Rees followed the trail of the missing man up a draw to a point about one mile from his home. Here the trail turned abruptly in another direction and the plain trail of numerous Indian tracks told the tale. Nearly a mile from this point the body of Nichols was found against a tree.

“Nichols had halted there and got the tree between himself and the Indians. The tracks showed that the pursued man had circled around the tree repeatedly; the bark was raked from the tree all around where he had held to it with both hands in a vain endeavor to keep the trunk between himself and his foes. The settler had one arrow in the breast and one arrow and one bullet wound in the body. The bullet and arrow had first struck the left arm about halfway between the elbow and shoulder and then penetrated the body not more than a half-inch apart.

“Going back to the spot where the Indians sign was first discovered, it was evident that here was where the settler had received the arrow in his breast from ambush. The prints of his knees were in the sandy soil where he had come down to either fire his rifle, or from the shock of his wound. If from the latter, he dropped his gun without firing, but recovered and ran to the spot where the body was found. His gun was discovered after a search, covered up in the sand where the Indians had left it. The gun was still loaded.”

William Rowland was the first person buried at Nichols Cemetery, and wife Miranda was laid by him soon thereafter, followed by many more family members.

Once grown, their son John “Lafayette” married Wesley Anne “Annie” Prestidge (1862-1954). Doyle said he stayed a bachelor “till Grandma roped him” when she was 20 and he was 35 years old.

This union yielded seven children: four boys — Rowland Virgil (Doyle’s father), Edward Milton (who died in 1918 during a flu epidemic), George, (who died very young), Airs and three girls, Elizabeth, Eula and Pearl.

The original Nichols property grew from their settlement. First was a section they got in a land grant, and then another that they bought. Eventually, the ranch spread across 1,790 acres all the way west to Ingram and across from the Guadalupe River north up to Goat Creek. Only a small fraction remains in family ownership now.

They first lived in a small log cabin, located off River View Road (just east of the family cemetery), on land now occupied by Linda Coffee. There was a well there that Doyle remembers: “I pulled many buckets of water from that well.”

Nearby, a few acres belong to Doyle’s son Roger Rowland, a retired aerospace engineer, and next to it, to descendants of Doyle’s deceased daughter, Billie Jean Claflin.

Lafayette was a rancher, Doyle said, who traveled widely, even working in a circus while living in Mexico for 15 years. Doyle, who was born in 1917, remembered him.

“He was sure I’d be a cowboy. He used to teach me to make plaits, how to make a rose knot at the end of a roping rope.”

When Lafayette retired, Grandma Annie ran the ranch. “She used to hitch up her buggy, jump in and ride down to the flats to see what the boys were doing,” Doyle said.

He recalled other relatives like Uncle William Rowland II, who was a referee in the Oklahoma land rush, Doyle said.

“He’d hop on his horse and go to visit his brother in Arizona, ‘when a trip was a trip.’ He was always bringing back artifacts like pottery and ostrich eggs.”

Doyle was born near the VA Hospital at the home of his aunt, Mabel Claire Byas, who married Robert F. Hunt. His mother had nine siblings. Her grandmother, Mary Ann, was the daughter of Andrew Kent, who died at the Alamo.

Growing up with an independent streak, Doyle learned to drive when he was six years old. By nine, Doyle was coming to town by himself, picking up twine and baling wire.

“There were two speeds — stop, and wide open,” Doyle said. “I went everywhere; I thought I was grown. The first time my mother saw me, she said she thought the car was coming in without a driver.”

He finally got his license when he was a teenager. “I got it at the courthouse from the county clerk. I just paid 50 cents, and no insurance needed.” In those days, Highway 27 used to meander along the river and Guadalupe Street was a highway.

He still smokes cigars, a habit that began about the same time as his driving.

“I watched Tom Moore many times rolling cigarettes with one hand,” Doyle said. He himself experimented, even smoking cedar. His mother caught him once, and paddled his rear, Doyle said, but the result was unexpected.

“I had a penny box of matches in my pants. Mother grabbed me, turned me over her knee, and suddenly, smoke came up out of my pants. The matches went off, and Mom set me on fire. She was a real character.”

The family was a “lively bunch,” Doyle said. “We had a lot of fun, not a lot of toys. My grandfather’s brother, on Byas side (Riley), once got a hardshell turtle, and stuck out his tongue while playing with it. The turtle grabbed it and he had to cut the head off the turtle because it wouldn’t let the tongue go.”

By 1930, the family moved to Kerrville. Doyle was friends while at Tivy High School with the late Kerr County Judge Julius Neunhoffer. Growing up, he took on many jobs, including as an usher at the Arcadia.

In 1939, Doyle married Billie Ross Gilstrap, and they lived all over the U.S. and spent six years in Germany.

His fascination with flying later led to his serving as a fighter pilot in the Air Force. Later, Doyle took a course in criminal intelligence. On graduation, he was sent temporarily to the Pentagon, while separated from the USAF. By then, all investigative branches were combined into one unit.

He worked as a criminal investigator for 15 years, later forming his own company. “I saw a lot of dead bodies on base,” Doyle said, including a suicide of a desk sergeant, and a bird colonel who had been passed up for a promotion.

Nowadays, Doyle still stays busy with some enterprises. He owns the property once called the Java Pump Cafe on Water Street, which now is La Cucaracha.

Recently, on a short tour around his family’s various landmarks, he recalled old haunts, and a high place he called Doyle’s Peak north of Goat Creek Road, where he said he spent many quiet times, “watching the world go by.”

Other snippets involved his father and Nichols Cemetery.

Rowland, he said, was a perennial “body sitter,” at people’s homes where bodies of the deceased were laid out for visitations.

“It was a tradition back then,” Doyle said. “One of my jobs was to go around and tell the neighbors who had died.”

Looking from the main cemetery road, at the far right corner of Nichols Cemetery is a potter’s field, with many forgotten souls buried there. Behind it to the west is Nichols Hollow.

Doyle said there had been a trail from his house to his grandmothers’ house through Nichols Hollow, a sight which triggered a peculiar incident.

“Dad and I were driving by the cemetery one time and saw a couple of guys who had brought a body to be buried. They forgot to bring some ropes, though, so they asked us if we had any. All we had with us were our calf ropes, so that’s what they used to lower the coffins into the graves. I don’t even know who they were or who they buried.”


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