Sunday, June 17, has been designated as Father’s Day. In choosing someone who historically represents what we perceive as admirable fatherhood, a man was chosen who was living in Llano County when it was created, who was a permanent citizen and died in Llano County after a lengthy life, who contributed greatly to the county as it developed, and who, of course, was the father of a large number of children, grandchildren, etc. As a father, the man needed to have set the proper example for those that came after him in moral character, civic responsibility, religious conviction, with loving, caring, nurturing qualities characteristics of an ideal father. For whatever reason, many of Llano County’s earliest leaders only partially fit these criteria. Although many played major roles in the events that helped develop our county, for some reason, a lot did not remain permanent citizens, choosing to live other places intermittently during their life, or living elsewhere at the time of their death.
The man chosen as an admirable father, however, came to this county prior to its creation as a teenager and lived here the rest of a very long life. At age ninety-three, he was named “Llano County’s Oldest Pioneer.” A year later his body was laid to rest for eternity in Llano County soil. All in all, he was a resident of this county for seventy-seven years. Historic researcher, Wilburn Oatman, Sr. wrote he received the first marriage license issued by the first county clerk, E.T. Edwards, but documentation was lost to a courthouse fire. In fact, untimely deaths resulted in the man’s marrying three wives who bore him nineteen children, fifteen boys and four girls, all born in Llano County. Bible records document the births, but four sons who died in infancy were never named. Over the years, our honored father also raised three sets of orphaned grandchildren. Sixteen additional grandchildren, who belonged to the oldest son and lived next door, visited their grandfather regularly, giving opportunity for even more fatherly experiences..
The father under consideration was Isaac Byler (Ike) Maxwell, born April 21, 1837, in Lauderdale County Tennessee. West Tennessee had just opened for settlement, and Isaac D. and Nancy Byler Maxwell had taken advantage of land granted to Nancy’s father north of Memphis. Although the area was both beautiful and productive, the Mississippi River proved to be an unhealthy environment, resulting in the untimely death of Nancy. In 1844, the family moved to Yell County in western Arkansas, where Ike grew up near a community named Bluffton. After his father died circa 1853, Ike opted to join his older sister and husband, who had already moved to Texas. When Edward W. (Ned) Davis visited Bluffton, Arkansas on business matters, he agreed to take Ike to Texas with him. According to Ike himself, they “crossed the Colorado River September 8, 1854,” where he lived the rest of his life west of the river in Llano County.
Chances are he first lived with his sister, Mary B. Maxwell and Ned Davis. The Davises played a prominent role in the economic development of the Salt Works. Ned and his brother Henry took the first wagon load of salt cross country to Fredericksburg to sell. Ike later stated his first job in Llano County was cutting firewood to boil water in the salt vats. After arriving in Texas, he was reacquainted with the youngest Davis girl, Margaret Melcenie, called Maggie, whom he knew earlier in Arkansas. After the couple married, they first lived with Elzira Davis, Maggie’s widowed mother, in the original Davis homestead near the Davis Ford south of the Salt Works. The community around the Davis homestead was named Bluffton by Ike Maxwell, in honor of his Arkansas home, at least by 1859, the year of Llano County’s earliest map. When Chadwick built a mill on the Colorado, the first lumber was used to build the Maxwell homestead, located on 100 acres given by Henry Davis when the young couple married. It is not known if Ike and Maggie’s first son, James Lafayette (Jim) Maxwell, was born at the Davis or Maxwell residence in July, 1859. What is known is that on that day Indians killed/mutilated a man named Robert Adams on the Burnet side of the Colorado before coming to the Llano side. A doctor was tending to Maggie, who had gone into labor, but when a posse came by looking for riders to hunt the Indians, the doctor left the house, leaving the mid-wife chores to Ike. There was evidence the Indians had been nearby, because the next morning, some livestock had arrows piercing their sides. Ike’s first taste of fatherhood was more than he expected.
Maggie was the mother of three children: James Lafayette (Jim); Nancy Ella (Ellie); and William Isaac (Doug). In December 1866, Ike and Maggie visited her brother, Benjamin F. Davis, in northwestern Llano County, to help him with crops. Maggie took sick and died Christmas Eve, 1866. Ike built a wooden coffin for her; then he loaded their three children in a wagon with the casket and took her body back to the Tow Cemetery for burial, as Bluffton did not yet have a public cemetery. It’s hard to imagine the despair Ike must have felt. The children were too young to realize the impact of what had happened, making the burden on him even greater. Ike was now both father and mother to three children under age six. The trip in the wagon must have been grueling, especially on rugged roads in winter conditions, much less comforting and caring for the needs of small children. How difficult it must have been to return to the family home following the burial, an undisturbed place just as Maggie had left it before they went to help her brother. At least Ike’s sister, Mary, could help care for the children. Ike soon recognized the severity of his personal situation. He quickly realized the need to locate a new wife who could not only love him, but also love and care for his children.
He didn’t have to look far as Tow Valley was just across the river from the Maxwell home. The youngest sister of Merrill Simpson Garrett, who had married the only daughter of David Cowan, had come to live with her brother. After a brief courtship, Garrett family history says Ike asked the Major, as Merrill Simpson was called, for Abigail’s hand in marriage. Due to lost records, it is surmised the couple married less than a year after Maggie’s death. Abigail and Ike had eight children, but only four lived to adulthood. The couple lost unnamed twin boys in 1875 and nine year old Nathan H. in 1878, to unknown causes. Living to adulthood were John B., Mary E., Margaret M., and Dock. Abigail died March 15, 1879, following the birth of a son on March 8. Her obituary in the Burnet Bulletin states she died of “beggar’s description,” but exactly what that diagnosis referenced is not known. The unnamed infant died the same day as his mother, and they were buried in the same coffin in the original Bluffton Cemetery. Once again Ike faced the dual role of parenthood, only with a larger family.
His third wife a niece of his first wife—Mary Elzira Davis, the oldest daughter of Maggie’s brother, Caleb A. Davis, and Sarah Ann Tow. Mary was born in October 1859, making her only about three months younger than Jim Maxwell, Ike’s oldest child from his first marriage. The couple married in September, 1879. She became the wife who would help Ike raise the orphaned grandchildren, the children born to them, and her step children. Born to this union were Mark Maxwell and an unnamed twin brother who died at birth, Clyde, Bertha, who died young, Solomon (Sol), Ernest (Ern), and McGary (Gary) Maxwell. Mark married a local girl, Lillie Beal, but it was their children who lived with Ike and Mary when Lillie died of T.B. and Mark disappeared in Canada in 1908. The first grandchildren raised by Ike and Mary were Doug’s children, Lyda, Miles, and Zella, whose parents died of consumption in 1895. The last grandchildren, Beulah Mae and Honerhea, belonged to Clyde Maxwell, but they lived with Ike and Mary after their mother died of flu in 1919 and Clyde continued to homestead in Montana.
Ike’s grandchildren remembered Ike in different ways. Men knew him as a great story teller, sitting on his front porch every night visiting with family and friends, telling and retelling events from an earlier day. My mother, Honerhea Maxwell, saw him as someone full of wisdom, who was well tuned to the wonders of nature. When his eyesight started to fail, she rode with him on the back of a horse to go “bee coursing,” which is to watch for bees as they come to a water source, then follow them to their honey tree. Honerhea also daily read the Bible to Ike, helping him convert scriptures to memory. This was important because he was a fundamentalist-based minister of the gospel as far back as the late 1870’s, perhaps earlier. All who remembered him preaching recalled his having to sit down to do so at least by the time he passed the age of ninety. His signature appears on countless marriage licenses in both Llano and Burnet County records. Just as important were the scores of funerals he conducted, and the countless number of sermons he preached. There were no church houses, but services were held in other local buildings. Due to travel distances, the Maxwells often provided a meal in their home for families on Sundays.
During the Civil War, Ike Maxwell served as a scout/ranger in Capt. Bourland and Capt. Riley’s Llano County frontier units, which later qualified him and his widow for Confederate Pensions. As a Llano County commissioner for two terms of service which were several years apart, his signature also appears on many civic and legal documents. His deep concern for civic affairs went beyond Llano County, as in 1889, he was elected as a Legislator in the Texas House, representing several Central Texas counties. As a Representative, he was an influential force behind the State Capitol building in Austin being constructed from pink granite located in his district (Granite Mountain at Marble Falls), rather than the limestone originally planned. Altogether, he actively participated in many civic events for almost seven decades, teaching his children, grandchildren, along with others, the importance of any job worth doing was worth doing it well. By his actions and his words, he set the proper fatherly example for his descendants to emulate. He has been a personal inspiration to me, a great granddaughter.
SOURCES: GEM OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Oatman, pp. 7, 18); CONFEDERATE VETERANS LLANO COUNTY (Smith & Tombs, pp. 2, 6); LLANO COUNTY FAMILY ALBUM, pp. 7, 194; Maxwell Confederate Pension, State Archives; THE BURNET BULLETIN, 1879; Maxwell Family history and Bible records; author’s documented records collected over thirty years from courthouses, libraries, and books in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas; personal interviews with descendants of Ike Maxwell, now deceased.