Give that boy a good whooping and he will run away from home…
and maybe, just maybe, turn out to be a hero in the end. In this case William M Isbell and brother James H Isbell were heroes of the battle of San Jacinto.
The Isbell family line in the Shoals area runs deep. One of the Isbell sons was William. The history of his life is so compelling.
William M Isbell was born in 1816 in Greenville, Green County, Tennessee on the 15th day of June and died 2 December 1877. When just a boy, William Isbell’s father, Dr James R Isbell, gave his son a good whooping after he caught him in a lie. William ran away from his homeplace and went to Abington, Virginia where he lived until fall of 1834. He traveled to Texas and established himself a farm on Cummings Creek. A number, too many, researchers give Dr James R Isbell’s wife’s name as Elizabeth Birdwell which is in error. The Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell is my line and she was married to a different James Isbell. Neither Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell or her husband James Isbell ever set a foot in Texas.
William M Isbell and James H Isbell’s grandparents were Zachariah and Elizabeth Isbell of the Watauga Settlement which of itself is very historic as well as his participation at Kings Mountain. William Zachariah Isbell was born in the year 1769 in Fort Watauga, Warren, Tennessee/North Carolina and died 1825 in Warren, Tennessee. It is unclear whether William Zachariah Isbell was a brother or a first cousin of Dr James R Isbell. who was the father of the San Jacinto heroes. James R. Isbell was probably a son or grandson of Zachariah Isbell Sr. An Isbell family researcher, Sarah Coon commented on a genealogy forum with this statement,“ It is thought that James R. Isbell may have been a son of Zachariah Isbell, Jr. But of course, there is no proof.” Ray Isbell, a cousin and avid researcher of the Isbell families provides this insight: Zach Isbell Jr. may have been too young to be James R.’s father. One of his older brothers Jason or William was more likely James’ father.
Jason Isbell also lived in Greene County, Tennessee for a time, as did brother William. Their sister Hannah Isbell (b. c1747) lived in Greene County, Tennessee when her first husband Samuel Williams died there 1788 and in 1791 when she married second to James Taylor. Brother William Isbell was bondsman at that marriage.
William Zachariah Isbell and Sarah Richardson Isbell were also the parents of Levi Isbell who married Sarah H Birdwell and James Isbell who married Elizabeth Birdwell. Levi and James Isbell and their families are the ancestors of many Shoals area Isbell families. Because it is an important facet of our history, a synopsis of the settlement from the Watauga Association follows:
During the spring of 1835 William M Isbell enlisted in Captain Robert M Williamson’s company of Colonel John H Moore’s regiment at Gonzales, Texas. Captain Williamson was referred to as “Three-legged Willie”. The enlistment was for a two month campaign against the Indians on the upper Brazos River. In October of the same year he joined Captain Thomas Alley’s company and was engaged in December in the Siege of Bexar.
He then went about his business and planted a crop of corn on Mill Creek in Guadalupe County, Texas. He then joined Captain Moseley Baker’s regiment as a soldier in Company D. That was part of Colonel Edward Burleson’s First Regiment of Texas Volunteers. He participated in the battle of San Jacinto as a private. His older brother, James H Isbell, served in the same unit as a private. James H Isbell enlisted in Nacogdoches on the 14th of January 1836. There is documentation located to prove James H Isbell’s service. It follows:
Soldiers of the Battle of San Jacinto
ISBELL, JAMES H. — Born in Tennessee. He was a son of James R. Isbell who died in Austin County, September 6, 1840. In the Headright Certificate issued to him February 3, 1838 by the Harrisburg County Board for one-third of a league of land, it is stated that he come to Texas in January, 1836. He subscribed to the oath of allegiance to Texas at Nacogdoches, January 14, 1836. He was issued Bounty Certificate No. 1380 for 320 acres of land June 23, 1840 for having served in the army from March 1 to June 1, 1836. He was a member of Captain Moseley Baker’s “San Felipe Company” at San Jacinto. On August 20, 1838 he received Donation Certificate No. 516 for 640 acres for having participated in the battle. On January 31, 1838 he received a Bounty Certificate, unnumbered, for 320 acres of land for having served in the army from July 20 to November 20, 1836. The Deed Records of Fayette and Harris Counties show Mr. Isbell as living in Fayette County in 1845 and Harris County in 1853. Isbell died in Bell County in 1858. Mr. James H. Isbell left a widow, Mrs. Amanda Isbell, and three minor children, Ann, Kate, and James Isbell.
According to Johnnie Belle MacDonald in her book, The Soldiers of San Jacinto published in 2008, this is recorded: At four o’clock one April afternoon 172 years ago, 934 men, unwashed, underfed, caked with mud and dressed in rags, began a slow walk through knee-high grass. A half hour later they crested a low hill. What they did in the next eighteen minutes made our world possible. These were the Soldiers of San Jacinto.
James H Isbell is buried at South Belton Cemetery in Belton which is in Bell County, Texas. William M Isbell is buried at Tehuacana Cemetery in Mexia which is in Limestone County, Texas, USA
Having left the army, William Isbell, went back home to Mill Creek and dutifully harvested his crop. During the winter of 1836 he worked at Jan Long’s tavern in Brazoria. There he tended bar. During the period of time he lived in Houston, Texas (1837-1840) he “wagoned” west for Major Bennett” and in 1841 William Isbell campaigned against Indians under Mark B. Lewis and Thomas Green. After returning to San Antonio he served for six months as a Texas Ranger under John Coffee Hays.
William Isbell removed to Washington County, Texas sometime during the winter of 1842; and then removed to Caldwell, Burleson County, Texas. In Caldwell by 1860 he owned a farm valued at $600 and $2,700 in personal property.
Isbell married Olivia Elvira Jackson on January 13, 1843. They had eight children, three of whom died at an early age. Olivia died in 1865, and in 1867 William married Mary Jane Woods Franklin, a widow. They had six children, three of whom died young. Isbell was blinded in an accident in 1856. “I have never seen my present wife and younger children,” he ended his personal narrative, published in the 1872 Texas Almanac, “as I have been entirely blind for fourteen years.” He died at the Burleson County community of Prairie Mound on December 11, 1877.
The known children by his wife Olivia Elvira Jackson Isbell are: Martha Jane Isbell 1846-1900; Emily Cemantha Isbell 1848-1848; James Reed Isbell 1850-1865; Euphemia Catherine Isbell born 1852; William Douglas Isbell 1855-1866?; John Isaac Isbell 1857-1928; Alexander Marens Isbell born 1861; Julia Isbell born 1864. The known children by his wife Mary Jane Wood Franklin (widow who was half his age) are: William Isbell born 1867; James Isbell 1869-1880; Greenville Tennessee Isbell 1870-1951; Simon M Isbell 1873-1886; Kittie Isbell 1875-1886; Lucinda H Isbell 1877-1888.
William Banta and J. W. Caldwell, Jr.., Twenty-seven Years on the Texas Frontier (1893; rev. by L. G. Parks, Council Hill, Oklahoma, 1933).
Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Muster Rolls of the Texas Revolution (Austin, 1986).
Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto(Houston: Anson Jones, 1932).
Homer S. Thrall, People’s Illustrated Almanac: Texas Handbook and Immigrants Guide for 1880 (St. Louis: Thompson, 1880). Homer S. Thrall, A Pictorial History of Texas(St. Louis: Thompson, 1879).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.
Thomas W. Cutrer, “ISBELL, WILLIAM,” Handbook of Texas Online(http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fis03), accessed July 05, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.