Tales of a Young Man
  from Tennessee

WH Fulkerson William Houston FULKERSON was born September 9, 1834, and grew up in Tazewell, Tennessee, about 35 miles NNE of Knoxville. He married Cornelia Tilden RUSSELL of Rogersville, Tennessee. One of their nephews was Charles M. RUSSELL, the Western artist. When asked to write an account of his early life he supplied the following, which begins in the 1840s:

Journey To Nashville

"I grew up healthy and strong as most country boys do. I worked in the fields and clerked in my Uncle William HOUSTON'S store. I went to school when there was any. My first trip was from home to Nashville. My uncle, Col. William HOUSTON, for whom I was named and in whose store I clerked, was a member of the Tennessee legislature. We went all the way in a carriage. There was no railroad then. Uncle went on in the stage as he could not wait for us. So my aunt, Miss Mary GRAHAM, myself, our Negro coachman, and his sister (just two women, a boy and two slaves) constituted our party. We went through all those mountains unmolested."

Andrew Jackson

"We spent the winter in Nashville. Uncle William took me out to the Hermitage to see General Andrew JACKSON, who I thought was the greatest man on earth. But when I saw him with his hair standing up, I was scared. Then when he ran his hand through my hair and told me to grow up and be a good man like my uncle, I felt at ease at once."
NOTE: Having any difficulty visualizing this scene? Pull out the new $20 bill and take a look at Andrew Jackson.

Driving Cattle and ....

"When I was in my teens I was sent out collecting. The custom in those days was to credit a customer for a year, and then if he didn't pay, to take his note. Some paid promptly and some had to be sent for. Sending for a delinquent customer was called "putting a boy after him." We went to all their houses and saw what they had. Then we would buy a horse or cow and pay him the difference, if any, in cash and return his note. If we could not collect, we would sell his note at a discount to anyone who would buy it."

"In this way we got the farm stocked to all it would hold. By the time to "drive South" we would go to farmers and buy enough more to make a drove [a cattle drive]. Some of the cattle came out of the canebreaks and were very wild. They were driven to Virginia and sold."

"I bought hogs to drive to North and South Carolina. We drove them five and six miles a day, then fed them all the corn they would eat by morning. We drove them along the Nolichucky River, the road frequently crossing the river which gave the hogs plenty of water. After we passed Asheville [about 100 miles from Tazewell] and got into the mountains, we fed the hogs chestnuts at 2 shillings (33 1/3 cents) per bushel. Corn was selling at "2 shillings thripence" (37 1/2 cents)."

The Snake's Head

"My next trip was with my uncle to Philadelphia and Baltimore. We went by stage coach to Lynchburg, Virginia, thence to Richmond by canal boat, and thence to Philadelphia by the Camden and Amboy Railroad. It was my first ride on a train and came near being my last one. In those days the ends of the rails were not bolted together as they are today, but lapped bevel ends over each other and were spiked to the ties. When the end of a rail became loose it would sometimes run over the wheel instead of under, up through the floor, the front seat aand out at the top of the car. I had been sitting in the front seat and had just stepped into the aisle when a "snake's head" as they were called came up through the floor and seat I had been sitting in."

West Point

William's adventures didn't end with boyhood. He attended McMinn Academy and while there received an appointment to West Point. His mathematics teacher there was Robert E. LEE. After two years at West Point he resigned to become a regular soldier and go West to help put down the Mormon Rebellion of 1857.

The Pony Express

He stayed in the West, having found a job with Russell, Majors and Waddell, the famous freighting company. He drove a six-mule team in a wagon between St. Joseph, Missouri and San Francisco. When the company got the government contract in April 1860 to carry the mail between St. Joseph and Sacramento, he signed up as one of their Pony Express riders. The route covered 1,838 miles (2900 Km) and included 157 stations 7 to 20 miles apart. There were home stations 75 to 100
Wm H Fulkerson
Wm. H. Fulkerson, Confederate Lt. Colonel
hazel_dell 180x159 28k
Hazel Dell, the Fulkerson mansion
hazel_dell 180x159 28k
Wm. H. Fulkerson, year unknown
Photo courtesy greatriverroad.com
miles apart. Each rider left his home station, changed horses six to eight times before reaching the next home station, then rested and carried mail back to his own home station. The cost of mailing a 1/2 ounce letter by Pony Express was a 10-cent US stamp plus a $5 Pony Express stamp. The goal was for the mail to cover the entire distance within ten days. That goal was occasionally achieved, but often disrupted during the Paiute War in the summer of 1860. One time, William's route took him "within hailing distance" of a battle between two warring tribes of Indians. The riders were armed, but told never to shoot if it could be avoided. One rider was attacked, shot through the arm, and had three teeth knocked out by an arrow, but still managed to outrun his pursuers. The Pony Express lasted only a year and a half, until the telegraph line to the west coast was completed (October 1861). William stayed in the West and helped to survey the Nebraska Territory.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the Civil War he returned home. On April 15, 1862, William helped organize a militia in Claiborne County, and was elected Captain. This became "Company A" of the 63rd Tennessee Infantry Regiment on July 30, 1862, and he was promoted to Major. This Regiment of approximately 400 men was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Abram FULKERSON, who was previously a Major in the 19th Tennessee Infantry. Both FULKERSONS were wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga [see Rosecrans]. The 63rd was part of Johnson's Brigade, operating under the commands of BRAGG, FORREST, HILL, LONGSTREET and Robt. E. LEE during the war. It saw action in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia. William succeeded his cousin in command of the 63rd, apparently in May 1864. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in late 1864, sometime after he signed a letter opposing a reorganization of his division. By April 9, 1865, when the 63rd was surrendered at Appomattox Court House as part of General A.P. HILL'S Corps, it numbered only 28 men.


After the war he and his wife moved to the Illinois prairie. On their Hazel Dell Stock Farm of 640 acres they built a 12-room house and raised their five children. Several Jersey County web sites report that guests at Hazel Dell included his old professor, Robert E. Lee, and Jesse James (there with brother Frank on "banking business"). Besides his interests in farming, he was president of the Illinois State Board of Agriculture; on the Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois; general manager of the Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis Railroad during its construction; and vice president of the First National Bank of Jerseyville. In 1906 he and Cordelia left the farm to their youngest son Frank and moved into town to live with daughter Sarah and her husband Judge Charles S. White. William died on December 3, 1919, at the age of 85. Today, the Hazel Dell farm is the site of Civil War reenactments.

A Fatal Ride West

William's son, Jim, left home when a senior in high school, headed for Montana with his young cousin, Charles M. RUSSELL, intending to work on a cattle ranch at Hoover, 200 miles from Billings, Montana. They traveled to Billings by train, whereupon Jim became ill with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Charles soon realized the situation was grave and telegraphed back to Illinois. In the meantime, the doctor in Billings applied a poultice to Jim's face, which rendered him blind but did nothing to treat the disease or ease his suffering. Then, as Charles later wrote, his cousin Jim "died of mountain fever at Billings two weeks after we arrived" on 27 May 1883. Jim's parents arrived and took him back to Illinois for burial. Charles stayed in Montana, worked on ranches all over the state and later developed into one of the West's great artists.