James Madison Ellison was born March 25, 1840, in Georgia to Nancy Baird Ellison and her husband, James Ellison. James Madison and his parents (and probably other family members) came to Eastland County (just barely out of Erath County), where in 1858 he built a cabin near the springs known as Ellison Springs today.
Like a big part of the men of that day, J.M. Ellison was a member of a militia group formed as a means of protecting settlers from the Indians. In 1864, in a skirmish with the Indians fought by militiamen from the counties of Eastland, Callahan, and Shackelford, Ellison received a wound that supposedly bothered him for the rest of his life.
It wasn’t until August of 1876, upon the death of his mother, that James Madison established the Ellison Family Cemetery.
His father was buried in that place the very next month. One hundred years later, in the 1970s, markers were erected at the site.
In 1886, J.M. Ellison moved the family to the large frame house he had built above the springs there on his property. That home stood until it burned sometime about the 1990s.
Today, Rickey and I had a little extra time so we took a drive out to Ellison Springs so that I could snag a couple of photos. (If you haven’t a clue where Ellison Springs is located, take Highway 8 North out of Gorman. You will see the historical markers about 3-4 miles out on your left.)
Deciding to drive just a little farther, Ric and I took our chances on a dirt road (CR 422), crossing what we knew had to be a body of water fed by natural springs. There was just too much of it to have been anything else!
Crossing the little bridge we drove no more than half a mile or so, meaning to turn around every second or two and then continuing “just a little further.” And thank goodness we did because it wasn’t long until we hit the jackpot!
Roscoe Reeves, Jr., on whose property just “happens” to sit the Ellison Family Cemetery, “happened” to be outside when we “happened” along. Of course, we had our vehicle in his lane before he even knew we were there. As it turned out, Mr. Reeves is a story teller, and it just so “happens” that his father just “happened” to know the James Madison Ellison of our story…and I just love it when things “happen” just like this, don’t you?
According to the custom of the day, the elder Mr. Reeves always referred to our Mr. Ellison as Uncle Jimmy, and it seems that when the elder Mr. Reeves was a little boy, he and some friends stripped off at the local swimming hole (created by Ellison Springs) and were enjoying themselves when an old man walked by. The boys recognized him as Uncle Jimmy Ellison and called out for him to join them in the water.
Deciding to do just that, Jimmy removed his clothing, revealing a long scar on the lower abdomen.
“What’s that, Uncle Jimmy? Did you have your appendix taken out?” the boys asked.
“Injun r uh,” (Indian Arrow), Uncle Jimmy told the boys before joining them in their swim.
Another fun memory that I was able to get from Mr. Reeves about James Madison Ellison had to do with making moonshine…not Uncle Jimmy’s moonshine. Oh no! Eliza wouldn’t have stood for that, not for a moment. It was a Mr. Black who was guilty of making the shine.
According to the senior Roscoe Reeves who told the story to his son, the junior Roscoe Reeves, Mr. Black lived on the springs west of the Ellison, and Mr. Black used the springs in his moonshine making. The women of the area hated that, and they decided to see if they could pray him out of business, and they met a time or two a week to pray for just that.
“Dad wasn’t sure, but he thought that it was after about a month or six weeks went by that the ladies decided to give up since they were seeing no results, but about then the springs on Mr. Black’s place dried up.
“Mr. Black talked to Jimmy, who agreed to sell him the Ellison place on the springs. When Black told Mrs. Ellison that he was buying the place Mrs. Ellison said, ‘No sir, he won’t sell it. This is homestead land, and I won’t sign!’
“That was the end of Mr. Black’s whiskey operation!”
It was in the late 19 teens that oil exploration came to Eastland County. James Madison Ellison sold at least part of his land to an oil company. He himself moved down into the Texas valley, where he purchased a citrus farm. Ellison lived in the Rio Grande Valley until his death in 1923. He joined Eliza (who died in 1910) in the family cemetery.
If you know more about Ellison Springs or those who lived in that community, the rest of us would love to know. We’d also be glad to post your photos.