Roger Quarrls Mills
of Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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Researched by Wyvonne Putman,
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1988
Used with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

Roger Q. Mills, son of a successful tobacco grower, was born March 30, 1832, in Todd County, Kentucky. As a young boy he moved with his family to Christian County, Kentucky. He attended a small rural school in the neighborhood and later a high school noted in the area. It was here that he learned to debate, and it was in these youthful debates that was laid the foundation of clear thinking and force of address that so marked him in later years.

He settled in Jefferson Texas in 1849 when he was seventeen years of age, traveling by steamboat down the Mississippi River and up the Red River, arriving at Jefferson, where he clerked in a store owned by Mr. August May.

Mills had a sister who was married to Judge Reuben A. Reeves, and lived in Palestine, Texas. To locate near them had been the object of Mills coming to Texas. Therefore in the spring of 1850 he bought a horse and moved to Palestine. Here, under the guidance of Judge Reeves, he began the study of law. He also worked as a clerk in the local post office at a salary of $8.00 per month.

Dr. Jowers, a member of the legislature from Anderson County, was so taken with Roger Q. that he had him go to Austin, where he secured his election as engrossing clerk (Copying of official documents) of the lower House. When he was twenty years old he took the examination before the Supreme Court and was admitted to the bar.

Mills was a full-fledged lawyer when he moved to Corsicana in 1852. He hung out his shingle and began practicing law and soon, because of close application to business, and his natural ability, he was one of the rising young lawyers in the area. Always interested in civic affairs he was appointed road overseer, and among some of his duties was the construction of a road to Waxhachie and the building of a bridge over Cryer Creek.

On January 7, 1858 Mills married Caroline R. Jones. The Jones family moved to a 2,500 acre ranch they had purchased in 1856 near Frost, Texas. The little community known as Jones' Ranch opened a rural school in 1888 and the first school teacher was Miss Frankie Long.

rq_mill2.jpg (7830 bytes)Politics began to interest Roger Q. and in 1859 he was elected to the legislature. As in all other endeavors he gave whole hearted attention and performed his duties so well he earned Sam Houston's respect and admiration.

On the courthouse square in Corsicana there stands today virtually no reminders of the Civil War and post Civil War period, 1860-1872. But the archives of the State of Texas and Navarro County indicate that stirring historical events occurred here, particularly on a corner of the square where once there stood a Confederate quartermaster warehouse and later a Federal occupation encampment. This historicity of this site, then occupied by an ordinary commercial storehouse, began to take shape when the quietude of the 13-year-old city became greatly disturbed as a result of the national election of 1860.

The Navarro Express, one of three newspapers published at that time in Corsicana, brought out its next issue with incendiary head lines: "Lincoln Elected, the North Has Gone Overwhelmingly for Negro Equality and Southern Vassalage: Southern Men, will you submit to this Degradation?" Immediate response was to haul down the Stars and Stripes on the courthouse, and run up the Lone Star Flag of Texas. This was done to the accompaniment of ringing church bells and the firing of anvils, along with cheers from the people. A few weeks later on February 21, a state election gave the people opportunity to vote for or against secession and Navarro County voted 631 - 38 in favor of the rupture. Corsicana at that time had a population of 1200; the entire county about 6000. In the county there were about 2000 slaves, but only 300 of these were in Corsicana, a fact that indicates that most of them were employed on the farms of settlers who grew cotton on the good black soil. Most of these settlers were from the South, and entertained strong Southern sentiments.

Mills was an orthodox Southerner and as early as 1860 he favored separation from the Union, and as a member of the legislature he signed a petition calling for a secession convention. Mills was a true Southerner when the guns sounded at Fort Sumter, and he hurried to the front. He then went to Missouri and enlisted in the Third Texas Cavalry as a private. He was in the Battle of Wilson's Creek but did not stay in the Cavalry long; he came back home and helped organize the Tenth Texas Infantry. In the election of officers, Allison Nelson was elected Colonel and Mills Lieutenant Colonel. Almost at once the new organization was sent north to Arkansas Post. Soon after their arrival Colonel Nelson died and Mills was made Colonel and was placed in command of the regiment. It was Mills' misfortune more than once to be under the command of inexperienced Generals. This was true at Arkansas Post when the Confederate General permitted his small force to be surrounded by a Federal Army ten times its strength. After a short resistance the Confederates were forced to surrender. Mills, with his regiment, were taken prisoners and sent to Camp Chase, Ohio. After months of confinement they were exchanged. On re-entrance into the Confederate forces they were put in the Army of Tennessee, where they remained during the rest of the War.

Mills was at the Battle of Chickamauga. A the beginning of the fight the brigadier general was killed and Mills, as senior colonel was put in command of the brigade. As for his conduct that day, let one of his men who was there and saw it all, tell it:

"It must have been about ten o'clock when that part of Cleburn's Division began to advance. The Federal line was posted on the crest of a low ridge. They had hurriedly protected themselves with low breastworks and defenses of logs and rails. Two hundred yards in front of this the Texas command advanced, bending low as though they were in a hailstorm. And so it was, but it was a hail whose stroke meant death. Their lines were enfiladed by double-shotted batteries whose brass guns leaped from the ground like things of life when they were fired. Even then they stood and fought with cool desperation. You have seen Mills in the House in debate when he was stirred, did you ever notice how the man seemed to grow taller when he went into action? The thing I am talking about happened twenty-eight years ago. He was a young man then. There he sat on his horse, to the right of his leading regiment, a little advanced, firm and unchanged as though he and his horse were cast of iron."

But history is history: the Federal line in that part of the field was held by General George H. Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga", and the men who made the charge, in the end, were thrown back.

Mills' next battle was at Missionary Ridge, which in a general way went against the Confederates. But Mills' command captured four Union flags. He was slightly wounded in this battle according to C.C. Jeffries, historian.

"The War moved on and the fortune of the Confederacy was falling. Early in 1864 Sherman began his penetration of the Sough, and the Confederate force did what it could to block the way. Battle followed battle, and after each contest the Men in Gray were always forced to fall back. The contending armies at length reached Atlanta, and here the campaign settled down to a siege of that city. Early in the siege Mills was wounded again, but again it was slight, and in a little time he was back at the head of his regiment. The siege continued, with every few weeks a bloody battle. Before a great while Mills was hit again. This time it was no slight hurt. So badly wounded was he that for a while his life was despaired of. He was in the hospital for four months, and after he was released, he for a still longer time was a semi-convalescent. That ended his military career. Before he was able to report for duty again the Confederacy was broken, and the Civil War was over. Sheathing his sword he returned to his home in Corsicana.

So much has been written about Reconstruction that the subject has become a little hackneyed. However one incident that bears strongly on Mills' political career might be mentioned. As nearly everyone knows E. J. Davis, the last Republican governor of Texas, was very desirous of re-election. [Until the election of Governor Clements (R) in 1978] The Democrats were moving heaven and earth to defeat him, and politics were running high. At Corsicana on one occasion there was a mixed political rally, white and Negro, Democrat and Republican, with a big barbecue dinner. Davis, as the principle speaker was there with a company of his Negro police. At the appointed hour he went upon the platform and made his address. Right vigorously he defended his administrative policies, and ended with a vigorous appeal to the voters to continue him in office.

When he had finished the crowd called for Mills. With alacrity Mills mounted the stand and opened in reply. Paying no attention to the Negro police he broke into one of those extemporaneous speeches so typical of him when roused. He lambasted Davis' administration up one side and down the other. Especially did he denounce Davis' use of the Negro police. The crowd was taken off its feet by his oratory, and when he sat down they cheered long and loud. The Negroes, who as a race always know a strong man when they see one, were not a whit behind the whites in the applause. So taken back was Davis by the demonstration that he did not stay to partake of the barbecue dinner, but got in his buggy and headed for Austin. Largely on the strength of this episode Mills was elected to Congress."

Mills served in the House of Representatives from December 1, 1873 to March 29, 1892.

No subject interested Mills more than the prohibition movement and in 1887 the question had been simmering for several years; a state wide election was called to settle the issue. Mills left Congress and came home to debate the issue. One of his most noted debates was with B. H. Carroll, a Baptist preacher. Among other scathing things he said was "Hell was so full of such political preachers as B. H. Carroll that their feet were sticking of of the windows".

The part that Mills took in this campaign was costly to him in a political way. Up till that time he had perhaps been the most popular man in Texas, but the hard things he said against his opponents in the debates turned many of his former admirers against him. Moreover, in a less personal way, they said he did wrong in quitting his post in Washington and coming to Texas and stumping the state for whiskey.

Roger Q. Mills is most noted for his work on the tariff, a schedule of rates or charges of a business or public utility, which had the attention of Congress for years. Finally in 1888 it came up for serious consideration. President Grover Cleveland was in favor of tariff reform; the Democrats had control of the Lower House of Congress. Mills, who was recognized as an authority on the tariff, was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The signs looked favorable to something constructive being done. After consulting leading Democrats, Mills drafted a bill. When it was ready it was introduced in the House. It roused tremendous interest all over the country. It was a party contest, the Democrats favoring the measure and the Republicans opposing it. Mills as the champion of the bill was in the forefront of the fight. He and William McKinley, then a young member from Ohio, at times crossed swords. The debate ran for over a month, and when the vote was taken the bill passed 162 to 149. It was then sent to the Senate but as the Congress was nearing adjournment and the Republicans were in control of the Senate, there it died.

The Mills Tariff Bill caused a great flurry but it never became law. It was said to have been the fairest piece of legislation of its kind that had been attempted since the Civil War and if it could have been enacted into law it would have been of untold benefit to the common people.

In 1891 John H. Regan resigned from the Senate to take a place on the newly created Railroad Commission. At once over the state there began to be talk that Mills ought to be appointed to fill out the vacancy. But Governor Hogg had other notions, and he appointed Horace Chilton instead. However, Chilton's appointment was never confirmed by the legislature, and as soon as that body met they elected Mills to take the place, and when this short term of Regan's was ended they elected Mills again for a full term.

Other interests of Mills during his Senate days include:

A. The Silver Issue was over the question of Silver having an equal place with gold in the monetary standard. He lost this debate. The people of Texas were for free silver.

B. He introduced a bill in the Senate recognizing Cuban Independence. He was very interested in the revolution. Nothing came of it.

C. He announced for re-election. However Governor Hogg had never liked Roger Q. and his eye on Charles Culberson for his place in the Senate and Joe Bailey, a rising Congressman formed a clique against Mills. These men had eminent influence among the Democratic leaders of Texas. The curtain came down on Roger Q. Mills during this election.

When oil was discovered in Corsicana Mills appears as an oil man. He owned a tract of land in the production area. The common practice of leasing land for an eighth royalty did not please him. He wanted to develop his property himself; however he did not have the capital to do this. The idea to form a partnership with banker James Garitty was necessary for his plan. Garitty furnished the money and Mills the land. They hired drilling rigs and put down the wells. At one time they had over a hundred producing wells. It was a shallow field and the output was comparatively light. Just how much money Mills made in oil is not known with exactness, but he certainly cleared $100,000 or more.

C. C. Jeffries said of Mills: "Mills was of strongly marked character. Perhaps courage was his outstanding trait, and this, whether facing the leaping cannons of Chickamauga or standing in the halls of Congress contending for something that he knew might mean his political ruin. He was plain of speech, plain of action; he was as open as the day, and as sound as an oak. His fame was not confined to his own state or to even his own party. Ex-Congressman Johnson says that when he first went to Washington he sometimes met men from the North who had known him in the old days and they, one and all, spoke of him in the highest esteem.

Such was Roger Q. Mills. In his day one of the foremost statesmen of the United States, and taken comprehensively, one of the greatest men of Navarro County of all time".

Roger Q. Mills died in 1911. He was preceded in death by his wife, who died in 1907. They are buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Major Charles Mills, son of Roger Q. and Caroline Jones Mills, lived in the Mills home which was preserved as his father planned it many years ago. The home is still standing today.

An interesting sidelight on the Mills family was taken from Jacob Eliot's Diary, 1866: "Roger Q. Mills and his wife were baptized in the farm tank of Jacob Eliot, July 8, Sunday, by a Methodist minister, Reverend Littlepage. Captain J. C. Halbert was also baptized at this time."

From the Texas Methodist Centennial Yearbook we find that Mills served as a lay delegate in 1870 to the General Conference (then the Old Northwest Texas Conference.) These items confirm that Roger Q. Mills was not only active in political and civic affairs, but gave the same attention and love to his religious life. He was truly one of the great pioneers of Texas and Navarro County.

 

Information for this paper taken from:

A. Pioneer Village Archives
B. Roger Q. Mills by C. C. Jeffries - 1958 Navarro County Scroll
C. Navarro County History, Volumes I and V
D. Navarro County History by Alva Taylor
E. History of Navarro County by Annie Carpenter Love
F. 1850 Census Anderson County
G. Diary - Jacob Eliot, 1866
H. Texas Methodist Centennial Yearbook

See Also

  • THE MAKING OF A SECESSIONIST - THE CAREER OF ROGER Q. MILLS - C. ALWYN BARR - SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY - OCT. 1975 - A GOOD WORK ON THE CAREER OF ROGER MILLS AND SECESSIONIST SYMPATHY IN CENTRAL TEXAS - NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

 

Quotes:

The following passage is from an 1887 speech by Roger Q. Mills of Texas. It was quoted more than once during the December, 1914 debate in Congress:

"Prohibition was introduced as a fraud; it has been nursed as a fraud. It is wrapped in the livery of Heaven, but it comes to serve the devil. It comes to regulate by law our appetites and our daily lives. It comes to tear down liberty and build up fanaticism, hypocrisy, and intolerance. It comes to confiscate by legislative decree the property of many of our fellow citizens. It comes to send spies, detectives, and informers into our homes; to have us arrested and carried before courts and condemned to fines and imprisonments. It comes to dissipate the sunlight of happiness, peace, and prosperity in which we are now living and to fill our land with alienations, estrangements, and bitterness. It comes to bring us evil-- only evil-- and that continually. Let us rise in our might as one and overwhelm it with such indignation that we shall never hear of it again as long as grass grows and water runs."


A short biography from 1895 reads;
"It is high praise to say of any man that he is best liked where he is best known.  No better evidence of a man's popularity and influence in his own community could be desired than the fact that he has been chosen to represent that community continuously for a quarter of a century in the legislative halls of the country.  Such has been the lot of Roger Q. Mills, the junior senator of Texas.  Senator Mills was born in Todd County, Kentucky, March 30, 1832.  After receiving a common-school education he removed to Palestine, Tex., in 1849, where he studied law, supporting himself in the mean time by serving as an assistant in the post office and in the offices of the court clerks.  In 1850 he was elected engrossing clerk of the Texas House of Representatives, and in 1852, by a special act of the Legislature - for he was still a minor - he was admitted to the bar.  He practiced his profession at Corsicana, and in 1859 was elected to the Legislature.  Subsequently he was colonel of the Tenth Texas regiment in the Confederate service.  In 1873 he was elected to Congress from the state at large as a Democrat, and served continuously in that body until he resigned to accept the position of United States senator, to which he was elected March 23, 1892.  In 1876 Mr. Mills opposed the creation of an electoral commission, and in 1887 canvassed Texas against the adoption of the prohibition amendment to its constitution, which was defeated.  He introduced into the House of Representatives in 1888 the bill that was known by his name, reducing the duties on imports and extending the free list.  Senator Mills is a man of much quiet force, whose opinions in legislative matters have great weight."


Mar 4, 1901

WEALTH FOR ROGER Q. MILLS

Ex-Senator is Drawing $15,000 Monthly from His Oil Land

KANSAS CITY Mo., March 3.  A dispatch from the oil fields of the Beaumont district enterers into details regarding the sensational rise in the value of farming lands beneath which the oil is found.  The scenes of the California days of '49 are being repeated and millionaires are spring up in a day.  One of the most notable instances of sudden riches is among the most interesting.  Roger Q. Mills, ex-United States Senator and for many years a Congressman from the Lone Star State, is drawing not less than $15,000 a month from his land, with every prospect that the amount will be very materially increased.

Mr. Mills was considered a poor man when he left the Senate.  He owned only a little farm near Corsicana, and that was heavily incumbered, but oil was found there.  That tells the whole story.  He negotiated with oil men to develop the wells, and his farm is now in the centre of the new Eldorado.  New wills are being bored every week, and there seems to be no danger of a decrease in the output.

Mr. Mills had the advantage of being almost the first to develop wells in the Corsicana district.


Mills served in both House and Senate

By Dr. Tommy Stringer

The elegant house at 1200 West Second Avenue in Corsicana, which currently houses the offices of attorneys Barbara Moe and Lowell Dunn, was originally the private residence of a prominent political figure named Roger Qualls Mills. He was born in Kentucky in 1832 and came to Texas in 1849, settling in Palestine. As was customary in those days, he “read law” in the office of a local attorney and passed the bar. He then moved to the newly created community of Corsicana to establish a law practice and work as a road overseer. In the latter capacity, Mills helped build the first road from Corsicana to Waxahachie.

Mills’ political career began with his election to the Texas Legislature in 1859, as sectional tensions were mounting and disunion was imminent. He maintained strong pro-Southern views and signed the petition supporting Texas leaving the Union to join the Confederate States of America. As a member of the Confederate army, Mills was wounded twice and held the rank of colonel when the conflict ended in 1865. He then returned to Corsicana to resume both his law practice and his political career, openly challenging the Radical Republicans who controlled political power.

Mills was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1872 and served seven terms. As chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Mills promoted legislation that opposed high protective tariffs on imported goods. He was narrowly defeated for the position of Speaker of the House in 1891.

The following year he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the vacant seat created by John Reagan who resigned to accept the chairmanship of the newly established Texas Railroad Commission. Mills was elected to a full six-year term at the next election, making him the only citizen of Corsicana to have served in both houses of the Federal Congress. The 1890s were marked by a period of expanding American involvement in world affairs, including the Spanish-American War and the United States annexation of Hawaii.

When his term ended in 1898, Mills chose not to seek re-election. He returned to Corsicana where he enjoyed a comfortable retirement, made possible by his investment in the newly developing oil industry that had come to the community in the 1890s. Washington and Lee University of Lexington, Virginia, conferred him an honorary degree in 1894.

Roger Mills County in Western Oklahoma is named in his honor. He died at his home on Second Avenue on Sept. 2, 1911, and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery.

Corsicana Daily Sun - Nov 15, 2008

 


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