Pioneers of Ellis County
Contributed by Jack W. Hughes
Robert Chandler was born in Callaway County, Missouri, Jan. 25, 1826, son of Isaac Chandler. His parents had emigrated from Virginia to Illinois to Kentucky to Missouri, arriving in the Missouri Territory in 1819. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to the area of Boone's Lick and New Franklin in Howard County, Mo., where his father took part in eliminating the buffalo herds from that area, making it feasible to farm. Robert lived with his parents until he attained his majority, saving his money to purchase a wagon and team. Franklin and Boonesville were the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail and he worked as a teamster hauling goods from Jefferson City to Franklin and other points in Missouri, as well as later over the Santa Fe Trail to Bent's Fort, Texas.
When the War with Mexico broke out in 1846 he went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and signed up as a teamster to haul equipment and gear for the First Dragoons under General Kearney. He went with them to Bent's Fort and across the Arkansas River over the pass at Raton to Cimarron and on to Santa Fe.
Robert married Susan Davis Aug. 19, 1852 in Howard County, Mo. She was the daughter of Bob Davis and Katherine Mahalia Hall. Her father died when she was three years old and her mother married John Fane/Fain. After Robert's marriage, he quit working as a teamster, purchased a farm in Saline County and began raising a family.
When the Civil War began, there was strife and guerilla fighting between opposing factions in Howard and Saline Counties, resulting in bitter feuds. Everyone in those areas was forced to take sides. Robert was exempt from military service since he had a wife and five children, but in 1862, at the age of 36, he enlisted in the U. S. Army and served as a cook. During his second year of service, he came down with severe dysentery and was sent home in a hollowed out log (the military having run short of stretchers). He was delirious and the soldiers called his wife out on the porch and told her they had brought him home to die. However, Susan nursed him back to health and in 1864, Robert sold his farm and bought a larger one in Linn County, Mo. where he farmed until late 1868/early 1869.
Farmers in Missouri had heard of cheap land being sold in Texas, so Robert and his in-laws, the Davis and Fane/Fain families, decided to move there. Robert was to precede them to buy land while they finished the crop year and sold out. Robert's three-year-old, daughter, Cora Lee, was too ill to make the trip so she was left with the Fain/Fanes. Robert and Susan found land reasonably priced on Cummins Creek in Ellis County. This he bought and took options on the adjoining land for the other families who came several months later. Robert paid 50 cents an acre for his land and signed a contract to have the prairie soil broken by oxen for another fifty cents per acre. The oxen were to break it twelve inches deep with furrows no further apart than twelve inches. He built a house near the town of Burnham Square - a thriving community and at that time the second largest town in Ellis County. Robert took the opportunity to establish a drayage business from Mexia to Burnham Square and Ensign and hired his in-laws to assist him. He had a good business until the Southern Pacific decided to build a railroad east of Ensign (which had been on the main road from Fort Worth to Waxahachie, Ensign, Emhouse and Corsicana). When the railroad began construction, Robert purchased 50 teams, hired teamsters and contracted to build the elevated bed with fresnos and move cross ties along the route from Rice to Palmer.
The town of Burnham Square could see it was being bypassed, so the merchants, banker, hotel operator and homeowners decided to move their buildings to the new town site of Ennis. Robert contracted with many of them for the moves.
He built an ox-powered gin on his farm and ginned cotton for most of the area. One day, he got his hand caught in the gin saws. One of his employees rode to Ensign to get Dr. Forehand. The doctor was a noted fiddle player and dearly loved to play. When the man rushed into the store where he was playing and shouted, "Come quick, Robert Chandler has caught his hand in the gin saws," the doctor continued playing. The message was repeated whereupon the doctor glared and said, "If Robert Chandler can't live until I finish this piece, I won't do him any good anyway." He finished, got into his surrey and went to the gin to attend Robert. The Chandler family prospered from this gin until the Boren family built a steam powered gin nearby which did a better job of delinting the seed. Robert could not compete and closed his gin about 1910.
Sam Vandygriff was the most noted hunder in the Ensign area and always kept a large pack of hounds. About 1894/95 he heard of a bear where Onion Creek and Chambers Creek join. He asked Archie Roberts and Robert Chandler to join him in a bear hunt. They found and killed it near the creek junction. That may have been one of the last bears to roam in Ellis County, although deer were still plantiful.
In 1910, the United States offered a pension to its disabled Civil War veterans. Robert filed an application stating he had severe hemorroids, chronic dysentery and a badly mangled hand and was unable to work. He was awarded a monthly penion of $10.00. Many of the people in the Ensign area resented his drawing that "damned old Yankee pension."
Robert and Susan had the following
During his last years, Robert lived with his daughter, Cora Lee. On October 29, 1920, he watched his son-in-law, Archie Roberts, work in the field, At noon, both men returned to the house, ate lunch and Robert lay down to take a nap. He died in his sleep. After his death, the farmers and townspeople of Ensign wanted to buy his tombstone because he had made it possible for all of them to prosper. A large tombstone in the Burnham Square-Ensign Cemetery stands today as a memorial to him.
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