Biography of William Harrison Cecil

WILLIAM HARRISON CECIL, is a dry goods merchant in Harrison, Arkansas (July 9, 1894), and was born in Newton County, Arkansas, on July 9, 1854. His parents were Riley and Sarah J. (Harrison) Cecil, the former born in Arkansas July IO, 1829, the latter in Tennessee, April 11, 1835. Riley was a son of Solomon Cecil, who was born in Tennessee in 1786, and who was married to Sally Hatfield, in Tennessee, in 1814. There were born to them seven sons and two daughters, Riley being the fifth child. Two sons and one daughter are now living in Visalia, Cal. Solomon Cecil moved to Arkansas in 1827, and settled in Newton County, on what is now known as Cecil Fork of Buffalo River, he being among the first settlers in this part of the country. At that time there were no settlers nearer than what is now called Yellville, then called Shawnee Town, being forty miles away, and this was where he had to do his milling. On Buffalo River the cane grew very thick and tall, growing as high as fifteen to twenty feet, on which horses and cattle would live throughout the winter without any other food; hogs would live there on the mast. He had to raise only corn and vegetables for the use of the family, wheat not being raised, as there were no wheat mills. Honey was plentiful in the woods, as was also game, such as bears, deer and turkeys, and his family were never without bear meat, venison and turkey. There were also wolves, panthers, wildcats and other wild animals. It was a frequent occurrence for bears to come near the house in daylight and catch his hogs, it being so frequent that when he heard a hog squeal he would get his gun and go to the hog, expecting to see a bear. When he went to mill he had to leave his wife and children alone, and one can imagine how lonely they were, the wolves howling around the house and the family expecting every moment that they would break through the clapboard door into the house. To show how plentiful deer were, on one occasion he and his brother went hunting on Monday morning and returned Wednesday, having killed fourteen deer and several turkeys. At this time money was very little in use here, bear skins, peltry and furs being used in exchange for merchandise. At this time calico sold at 75 cents per yard and sheeting at 50 cents. He lived on Buffalo River two or three years be-fore they had any preaching. When the preacher came (who was a Methodist), it was on the week-day, and the entire settlement would turn out to hear him, the services being conducted at some of the neighbors houses (schools being unknown there at that time). In a few years, however, a school teacher moved into the settlement and opened a school in a house which was vacated by one of the neighbors. Occasionally an Indian would come into the settlement, ostensibly looking for something that he or his family might have left on their journey toward the setting sun, but he would disappear as mysteriously as he came, without molesting any of the settlers. After twenty-nine years of pioneer life, he died in 1856. After the death of Grandfather Cecil, his widow, Sally Cecil, together with all her children, except one son, and the most of her relatives, started, in the spring of 1857 on an overland journey to California, and was in the wagon train of which a part was massacred in Utah by the Mormons and Indians, known in history as the Mountain Meadow Massacre. Two days before the massacre she and her sons and a few others took another trail and thus escaped a horrible death. Sally Cecil died at Visalia, Cal., about 1880. Riley Cecil was married to Sarah J. Harrison September 10, 1852, she being daughter of R. W. and Clerinda (Austin) Harrison. He lived on Buffalo River, on a farm where he had spent most of his days. He was a successful tiller of the soil. Two children were born to them: William H. and Mary Jane (the latter on July 11, 1856). On February 10, 1856, Riley Cecil died, and was buried at the family buring ground. When Grandma Cecil left for California, Sarah J. Cecil went to live with her father.

In 1858 R. W. Harrison, with his family, moved to Bluff Springs, Arkansas, in order to send his children to school, it being then the school center of this country. William H. attended school there about two years, going to one five-months’ term without missing a single day. During the time he attended school he completed the first and second readers. At the approach of war, in 1860, Grandfather Harrison moved back to Jasper, Arkansas, where he remained until the winter of 1864, when he moved to near Springfield, Missouri, on the Widow Eastham’s farm, which farm he cultivated one year. The next year, 1866, he moved on Lewis Crenshaw’s farm, three miles south of Springfield, Missouri During the summer William H. attended the public school. He had to commence again at the “ab, ac, and ad’s,” for during the war he had forgotten most all he had learned at Bluff Springs. In the winter of 1866, Grandfather Harrison moved back to Jasper, to find his farm grown up with briers and bushes and his houses burned, but he went to work with a will and soon had a house for his family and the farm cleared up. Grandfather Harrison was born September 26, 1810, died March 15, 1882. Clerinda (Austin) Harrison is still living and enjoying good health. She was born October 4, 1816, and lives with her daughter, Mrs. A. F. Davis, in Harrison.

After returning from Missouri, William H. being thirteen years old, Sarah J. Cecil decided to leave her father’s house and battle with the world for a living. Mr. A. F. Davis, her brother-in-law, had preceded her father from Missouri, and had rented a double log house and some land. He offered her one room and what land William H. could cultivate. She accepted the offer and took ten acres to cultivate in corn, William H. doing the plowing and she the hoeing. On one occasion when part of the crop needed plowing very badly, Mr. F. S. Baker closed his store one afternoon and kindly helped plow. The next year the grandfather gave Sarah J. Cecil some town lots in Jasper and built her a house on them. She rented land near by, and William H. cultivated it, and by this means made support for the family. William H. attended the public schools, which were then taught in Jasper, in July, August and September, and attended subscription schools during the winter. In this way William H. and Mary J. secured a common-school education. On September 14, 1874, Mary J. was married to John Womack, of Harrison, Arkansas, where they now reside. They have had eight children, all living except two. Mr. Womack has lost his eyesight, but he has means to support his family. After the marriage of Mary J., mother and son continued to live together, and she still lives with him.

On March 11, 1875, William H. was married to Virginia Letitia Baker, daughter of Andrew and Polly Baker. Mrs. Cecil was born in Virginia, October 9, 1854. (See sketch of F. S. Baker.) There have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Cecil six children, three sons and three daughters, of whom all are living except one daughter. Their names are as follows: Hattie Vivian was born December 19, 1875; Riley Bently was born April 20, 1880; Mintie Ora was born November 19, 1885, and died February 26, 1886; Walter Wesley was born August 26, 1887; Troy Otis was born February 13, 1890; Lulu Evangel was born June 2, 1893. Hattie Vivian attended the public schools of Harrison, and in June, 1892, she graduated in the high school department, under the instructions of Prof. H. P. Burney. In September of the same year she attended Stephens’ Female College, at Columbia, Missouri, and in June, 1893, graduated in the school of English, degree of B. L. Returning home in the same year, she was employed as a teacher in the public school of Harrison. This school employs seven teachers, of which Prof. C. L. Scott was superintendent.

During the two years William H. was eighteen and nineteen, he taught two three-months’ terms of public school. He commenced his business career by selling groceries for John Womack at Jasper, for which services he received $16.66 per month, boarding himself. In March, 1877, together with his mother, he moved to Harrison, Arkansas, and in August of the same year accepted a position as assistant in the post office under Mr. F. S. Baker. With what he had saved from his wages, and from the sale of some stock, his wealth consisted of $300. When he came to Harrison he invested $150 in a house and two lots for a home, and the other $150 he invested, together with an equal amount by Mr. F. S. Baker, in a stock of groceries. At this time they paid 25 cents per pound for green coffee and 13 cents per pound for brown sugar. In the spring of 1880, Messrs. Baker and Cecil bought Mr. E. Stillwell’s stock of groceries and hardware, amounting to about $1,300, for which they went in debt to him for $700. They soon reduced the stock and paid the $700. They continued this business until the fall of the same year, when Mr. Z. W. Murphy was taken into co-partnership with them, and they added a stock of dry goods. On account of his wife’s ill health, Mr. Murphy did not continue in business but a few months, selling his interest to Messrs. Baker and Cecil, who continued the business in connection with the post office until the spring of 1883, when Mr. Cecil sold his interest in the store to Messrs. Phillips and Baker, for whom he worked two years as sales-man and book-keeper.

In April, 1885, Mr. Cecil engaged in the dry goods business alone, employing James A. Flinn as salesman, who remained with him until June, 1890.. In May, 1888, Mr. Cecil took as a partner in his business Mr. A. F. Davis, at the same time buying the entire stock of merchandise and the business house of Messrs. J. T. & G. W. Penn, the transaction involving $9,000, at this time employing J. N. Paul as salesman, who is still with him. In the fall of 1892, Messrs. Cecil and Davis mutually dissolved partnership by dividing their stock of merchandise, Mr. Davis moving in an adjoining house. In October, 1892, both of their store buildings were burned, they saving most of their goods. In May, 1893, Mr. Cecil built the one-story brick building, 22×80 feet, on the southwest corner of the public square, which he now occupies. He carries a $6,000 stock of merchandise, consisting of dry goods, notions, boots and shoes, hats, and men’s and boys’ ready-made clothing. He is doing a good business, amounting to from $12,000 to $15,000 per year. He buys for cash, getting the very lowest prices and all discounts that are offered. Besides his valuable town property, he is the owner of 319 acres of excellent farm land near Harrison, all of which has come into his possession by his own efforts. He is recognized as being one of the leading business men of Harrison. Although a stanch Republican in politics, he is not a politician. He has held a few city offices, but is not inclined to want office. He and wife and oldest son hold their membership with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, of which he is an elder. He is also the superintendent of their Sunday-school. All measures educational, religious and moral are heartily supported by him. He attributes his success in business, first, to selecting a business and sticking to it; second, by exercising economy in his business; third, by asking his Heavenly Father to help him in temporal as well as in spiritual things.



A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region: comprising a condensed general history, a brief descriptive history of each county, and numerous biographical sketches of prominent citizens of such counties. Chicago: Goodspeed Brothers Publishers. 1894.

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