Biography of William E. McDowell

WILLIAM E. McDOWELL. Given the ordinary average of intelligence and good judgment’ and a fair education, any man may make a success in the avenues of trade. In the profession of law he must be endowed with superior intelligence and have gone through years of careful study and training to be able to cope with the brilliant minds which do honor to the bench and bar. William E. McDowell, attorney at law, of Galena, Missouri, is a gentleman of well-known ability and one who is an ornament to the profession. He is a native of Stone County, born one mile above the mouth of Flat Creek, at the old town site of Cape Fair, January 31, 1840. That town was undermined and fell in, and was completely destroyed during a big flood, about the year 1855.

He is a son of Wiley and Margaret (Williams) McDowell. The former was born in Simpson County, Kentucky, in 1814, moved to Stone County, Missouri, in 1838, and settled on a farm one mile below the mouth of Flat Creek, near where the town of Cape Fair is now situated. There he lived until 1854, when he moved to another farm three miles southwest of Galena, on which he made his home until his death in January, 1875, at the age of sixty-one years. His father, John McDowell, of English descent, was for many years a resident of Simpson County, Kentucky, and died there in 1873. The mother of William E. McDowell was born in Simpson County, Kentucky, and in 1830 was married to Wiley McDowell, with whom she came to Missouri in 1838.. She was called from life in 1852, after having become the mother of twelve children: John C., Elvira A., William E., Zachariah, Nancy J., Elizabeth, Henry, Robert, Elijah and Joseph, and two others, the last three having died in infancy. After the death of the mother of these children, the father re-married in 1854, Nancy Dennis becoming his wife. She was the widow of Hugh Dennis, an early resident of the county. To this second union four children were born: George W., Rebecca, Eliza E. and Nancy M. Wiley McDowell was always a Democrat in politics, and as a citizen he was highly respected by all.

The boyhood days of William E. McDowell were spent on a farm near Cape Fair, Missouri, and he was energetically engaged in tilling the soil and sawing lumber when the Civil War came on, but he abandoned the plow and saw-mill to take up arms in defense of the American flag, and on May 16, 1861, he enlisted in Capt. Wm. A. Carr’s Company B, Stone County, Missouri, Home Guards, from which he received honorable discharge November 6, 1861. In the spring of 1862 he pitched a crop on White River, four miles below the mouth of the James River, but divided his time about equally in plowing and hiding in the brush, during which period he was taken prisoner twice by the bushwhackers, but each time he successfully evaded their grasp. Growing tired of a mixture of farming and warfare, he on August 10, 1862, enlisted in Company G, First Arkansas Cavalry, under the celebrated Capt. R. E. M. Mack, with which he faithfully served until September, 1865, ranking part of the time as non-commissioned officer. His first engagement was at Yocum Creek, Arkansas, where the Federals were badly used up. He also took part in the fights at Cassville, Missouri, Berryville, Arkansas, and the three hard-fought battles at Newtonia, Missouri, all in the early fall of 1862, and at Prairie Grove in December, 1862, where his regiment lost their entire wagon and ambulance train, with their loading, teams and all, except one ambulance which carried the regimental flag. His regiment lost, in killed and prisoners, sixty odd men on that memorable day. He was in the battle of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, in 1863, and was in numerous other engagements and skirmishes, being with his command at the notorious battle at and retreat from Saline River, under Thayer and Steele, where they lost most of their train and heavy artillery. After that his regiment returned to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where a post was established which was held through seven different engagements. The last engagement in which he took part was with General Fagan at Fayetteville, Arkansas, when Price was returning from his last raid in Missouri. On that occasion his regiment alone held the town against seven thousand assailants, and on that day he fired eighty-four rounds, the enemy surrounding the town, driving the regiment into the fort at 8 o’clock A. M., and keeping them there until night came and gave relief. He was wounded in the right thigh and calf of the same leg at Van Buren, Arkansas, which kept him from active service for some time. He was taken prisoner three different times, but managed to make his escape and rejoin his command. On the last occasion he was watched with such vigilance that he barely escaped while his captors engaged a small squad of Federals in the darkness of night. On being discharged in 1865 he returned to farming and saw-milling.

In 1873 he was elected justice of the peace, which office he held most of the time until 1878, when he was elected judge of probate for Stone County. In 1882 he was reelected to the same position, holding it until January, 1887. During that time he took up the study of pension laws under King Brothers, of Washington, D. C., and after a thorough and exhaustive preparation he was admitted to practice in the Interior and Pension Departments in 1890, and is now a successful practicing pension attorney and the only lawyer of Stone County who has donned the strait-jacket of the Interior Department. He informed me that he had 170 claims on his books, the majority of which are already allowed. He is considered one of the well-informed men of his county, not only in his profession, but on all subjects, and he has a sufficient patronage to keep him constantly employed. He has always been a Democrat in politics, and has at all times interested himself in the success of his party, but the President’s veto of the seignior age bill shook the very foundation plank of his platform, and it is not known how many more such shocks he can stand and be a loyal Democrat.

William E. McDowell was born and reared in Stone County, is fifty-four years old, has never resided outside of Stone County. Although he at one time owned land in Arkansas, he never established his residence there. He now owns twenty acres of land near the celebrated Galena Medical Springs, on which land there is a sixteen-room hotel building erected, where the people gather in great numbers to drink the water and to take baths during the hot season. Mr. McDowell himself, being an invalid since 1867, finds immense relief in these springs. He is a loyal and consistent member of the Church of Christ, having been buried with Christ in baptism on August 13, 1873, since which time he has not turned to the right or to the left, but has continued (as he says) to keep his face set toward Jerusalem.


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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