Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Capt. Jason W. James, a Founding Father, part 1

Historically Speaking: Capt. Jason W. James, a Founding Father, part 1

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Erasmus Williams (left) and Jason W. James (right)," date unknown.

The following story was written in part by Earnestine Chesser Williams and published in the “Old Timer’s Review” in the fall of 1986. It highlights Capt. Jason W. James, just one of the greats, who helped to found our fair town. What an amazing man, with much insight for our future, much of which, we can still apply today.

The Historical Society of Southeastern New Mexico Archives collection contains a wealth of information concerning pioneers who migrated to the territory of New Mexico for the purpose of establishing homes.

“One of those outstanding men who came to Roswell was Capt. Jason W. James (1843-1933,) an artillery commander in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He served in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, much of the time under the command of Capt. J.C. Lea, who is often called the ‘Father of Roswell.’

“Captain James came to Roswell July 2, 1892, bringing with him two pairs of mules, two wagons, and a general outfit for farming, as he intended to improve the 160-acre tract with a water right attached, which he had bought some years before.

“During that summer and a part of the following winter, James lived in a tent. After breaking up the saltgrass sod land, he planted fruit trees, alfalfa, and other crops. Irrigation was necessary, as rainfall was always slight and two years had passed with little or no rain.

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“Capt. John W. Poe, Superintendent of Roswell Land and Water Company enlisted the services of Captain James as his assistant. The next year Captain Poe resigned and Captain James was made superintendent. He acted in that capacity for about three years, tending his own farms, as well as his ranch.

“In recording some thoughts on farming, Captain James wrote, ‘In all ages, agriculture has gone hand-in-hand with the advancement of manufacturers and knowledge generally,’ and ‘The very foundation of this government and all governments is agriculture.’

“Captain James established a home at 610 N. Pennsylvania Ave. for his family, which consisted of his wife and three nieces, Lily, Jennie, and Bess, whom they adopted. The girls were the daughters of Captain James’ brother, W.C. James and his wife, Bettie, both deceased. Captain James, a firm believer in education, provided the necessary schooling for his nieces.

“Lily James attended Martin College, Pulaski, Tennessee, where she graduated. Later she married Robert Kellahin in Roswell. Bess James was educated at Weatherford College, Weatherford, Texas. She married Ben Urton, a farmer in the Berrendo area.

Jennie James attended Martin College, but continued at New Mexico Military Institute (Goss Military Institute) during a brief co-educational period. She became a teacher, beginning in Dexter around 1904 or 1905, then taught at East Grand Plains, Mark Howell, and the old Central School. She married Robert McClenny. Annie B. McClenny, a retired teacher in Roswell, was the daughter of Robert and Jennie James McClenny.

Mary (Mollie) Henderson James, wife of Captain Jason W. James, died at the family home on Saturday, Jan. 9, 1926, after having lived in Roswell for over 30 years. Burial was at South Park Cemetery.

“In 1904, Captain James bought a cattle ranch in Brewster County, Texas, concerning which he said, ‘The quiet simple life of a rancher is very much to my liking.’ However, he maintained his holdings in and around Roswell.

“The Jameses were a well-known and highly respected family in early Roswell. Mrs. Ralph Parsons, in her book ‘100 Years of Memories,’ mentioned ‘Lily Kellahin, the niece of the famous Captain James, lived next door.’

“When the proposition of establishing a military school in Roswell was taken up by Captain Lea, there was no one more keenly interested in its success than Captain James. His interest never flagged.

“In ‘A History of New Mexico Military Institute,’ by J.R. Kelly, the following notation was made: ‘Shortly after the Institute opened on the hill, Captain James, because of his interest in marksmanship, provided rifles and ammunition to make practice possible.’

“As soon as the school assumed the financing of firing, (marksmanship) Captain James offered the medals to keep interest and competition alive. In 1916, he set up a permanent endowment fund to ensure the continuation of the awards. James’ Medals were awarded to the 10 cadets standing highest in rifle marksmanship. At a presentation ceremony, Captain James was asked to pin the metals on the coats of the winners. He took advantage of this opportunity to impress upon the minds of the cadets some of the lessons of military preparedness and good citizenship.

“In speaking of Captain James, Robert Kellahin said, ‘When Captain James says he is interested in the welfare of New Mexico Military Institute, it is no mere figure of speech, but his interest is real and expressed in a tangible form.’

“The cadets expressed their appreciation to Captain James for his interest in them and their training by dedicating their annual, ‘The Bronco,’ to him. The following dedication was in the 1918 annual:

“‘Because of his true American spirit, his past clean record as a soldier and a gentleman, his constant support of the Institute, and his determined efforts to impress on the cadets their solemn obligation to their country in its hour of need, we of the class of 1918, with profound respect and admiration, dedicate this annual publication to Capt. Jason W. James.’

“During his lifetime, Captain James wrote two books, using notes from the journal he had kept throughout the years. The first, ‘Memorable Events,’ was published in 1912, and the second, ‘Memories and Viewpoints,’ was published in 1928. In many instances, he related in gory detail happenings that he remembered too well.

“Capt. Jason W. James was born in Lexington, Missouri in 1843. In the spring of 1856, when he was only 15 years old, he hired out to drive one of the 30 wagons in an ox train that was to transport supplies from Fort Leavenworth to Salt Lake Valley of Utah, for the U.S. Army forts. Each man was issued a Mississippi rifle, a Colt’s navy revolver, and plenty of ammunition. They saw many Indians, but none of the Indians carried guns and they gave the wagon train no trouble.

“They encountered many buffalo, traveling northward, and were forced to stop the wagon train, chain up the oxen, and wait for the buffalo to pass, which took most of the day, all of them going in a slow lope. The teamsters killed what buffalo they could eat fresh. The remainder was dried to assure food for the trail.

“The trip took longer than they had anticipated and at Fort Bridger, Utah, they were overtaken by a snowstorm and 98 of their oxygen froze to death.

“After delivering their merchandise to the fort, most of the teamsters went on to California, but James threw in with an outfit consisting of 32 men and two wagons with six mule teams to walk the 1,250 miles back to the states. The account of snowstorms, hunger, frozen feet, and death on the trail is horrendous. However, James made the same trip again the next year.

“When war broke out between the states, James enlisted in Capt. C.G. Kirkley’s Company of Missouri State Guard Troops. They began to march immediately and were engaged in battles even though they had no training.

“For the next four years, James was engaged in battle after battle concerning which he stated, ‘The ground was strewn with dead and wounded from both sides — a most fearful sight.’ James recounts some daring escapades under Quantrell.

“In 1864, Capt. J.C. Lea got a commission to recruit a battalion of cavalry and thereby the command of his old company devolved on Captain James until the end of the war.

“Captain Lea and Captain James were closely associated. When not on duty, they were together most of the time and were often forced to share blankets.

“Captain James was on a flatboat fighting mosquitoes and buffalo gnats when he learned that Lee and Johnson had surrendered and that Lincoln had been assassinated.

To be continued.

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.