CAPTAIN WILLIAM ANDREW FLETCHER. In the history of Southeast Texas no man has won a surer place than Capt. William Andrew Fletcher. In the history of lumber in the United States his name is nationally recorded. Each of the lumber states of the South, as well as those of the North had their pioneers, and Capt. William A. Fletcher, with one or two others blazed the path that has made the lumber industry one of great importance in Texas today. Capt. Fletcher not only was a great business man and executive, but was a kindly, generous, honest and upright citizen who placed the interests of his city and country always foremost.
William Andrew Fletcher was born April 3, 1839, in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. In 1856, the family moved to Wiess' Bluff, on the Neches River, north of Beaumont, and in 1859, when W. A. Fletcher was twenty years old, the family moved to Beaumont. Captain Fletcher secured employment in a saw mill owned by James Long. He worked there for $9.00 a week. When his section called to arms at the outbreak of the civil war he responded to what he considered a patriotic duty. Captain Fletcher went by steamboat to Niblett's Bluff, on the Sabine River, and thence to Richmond, Virginia, and became a member of Company F, Fifth Texas Regiment of General Hood's Brigade. He saw active and vigorous service. He was wounded in the hip in the battle of Manasas; was in the battle of Fredericksburg, the battle of Gettysburg, was wounded in the foot in the battle of Chickamauga. He was by this time so disabled that he could no longer serve in infantry, and he sought and obtained a transfer to Terry's Rangers, that intrepid band of cavalrymen who made brilliant history during the war. He was three years in Hood's Brigade and nearly a year in the rangers. He was captured by the enemy in Georgia, was imprisoned, escaped from prison and was present at the surrender and then returned home. Shortly after this he was given a working partnership with James Long, in what afterward became Long and Company, who operated a saw and shingle mill. He afterward joined with J. Frank Keith and S. F. Carter in the organization of the Village Mills Company. Later Captain Fletcher headed a group of men who purchased the old Eagle saw mill. The Texas Tram & Lumber Company was organized and took over the Village Mills Company and became the largest yellow pine manufacturing concern in the South for many years. On January 1, 1902, the entire property was transferred to John H. Kirby, and thus Captain Fletcher retired from active business with approximately half a million dollars to show for his splendid judgment, his untiring labor and upright and straight-away dealing. After his retirement from the lumber business he devoted most of his time to the development of his theories of agriculture on his twenty-two hundred-acre farm known as Park Farm, located about nine miles from Beaumont. Captain Fletcher was one of the trio of giants of whom the other two were Captain William Wiess, deceased, and John N. Gilbert. Together these three worked hand in hand and their combined wisdom, individual integrity and forcefulness were respected throughout the land where yellow pine was marketed.
Brought up in a wilderness, as it were, without advantages which the average youth has to attend school, Captain Fletcher's career is all the more remarkable for that he was a vigorous thinker, a close student, an investigator, a daring adventurer into the realm of things then unknown. He took a deep interest in the affairs of his country, his State, his county and his city. He never desired a public office or to pose in a public way. He was foremost in all affairs of community interest, serving loyally and actively in all capacities, but he resolutely held out against holding any public office.
Besides being a practical workman, Captain Fletcher was original and forceful in his business methods. He had a splendid foresight and was one of the first to realize the increasing value of timber lands in which he invested heavily and from which he reaped a rich profit. In a business way he was a dominating factor in the yellow pine lumber industry when it was in its inception and afterward when it developed into a great Texas industry. He was a leader among the manufacturers and some of his methods of doing business were then revolutionary, although they have since been universally adopted. He was a pioneer in all things. He invented numerous useful devices of a mechanical nature and he pointed the way for other lumber manufacturers to widen the market and extend the distribution of yellow pine.
His business career was characterized by a courage which amounted almost to daring for others, but to him it meant a mind made up on a judgment of which he never entertained a doubt. He sought new lines of thought, investigated new methods, studied conditions, and subsequent events have paid tribute to his remarkable foresight. His career as a lumberman was a model for many who are today the heads of lumber concerns. The Texas Tram & Lumber Company, under Captain Fletcher, was the right guide of the rank and file of yellow pine manufacturers, and Captain Fletcher was a recognized leader, who refused the nominal title and place, but was, nevertheless, the actual pathfinder for his fellow lumbermen. He was the single largest factor in the yellow pine trade during his active career.
On November 15th, 1866, Captain Fletcher was united in marriage with Miss Julia Long. Mrs. Fletcher was a sister of James Long for whom Captain Fletcher worked in his youth. Captain and Mrs. Fletcher had four sons and one daughter: Emmett A., Harvey D. (deceased), Marion K., Clyde (deceased), and Miss Vallie Fletcher. The home life of Captain and Mrs. Fletcher was ideal in every respect. Having practically retired from the cares of a long and successful business career he spent happy years in the charmed circle of his own household. Having risen from obscurity and poverty to affluence and fame as one among the great manufacturers of the country he was content to reside near the theater of his achievements and quietly and serenely live out the remnant of his days.
Captain William Andrew Fletcher passed away on January 4th, 1915, and in an address given by Hon. R. A. Greer, the following tribute was paid Captain Fletcher, which will give an insight into the life of this great man: "He was a man among men; he was a man in all the word implies. He was brave, yet timid; he was bold, yet sympathetic; he was positive, yet retiring; he was honest, but looked with leniency on anyone who violated the commandments; he was truthful and could not tolerate deception; he was generous even to a fault, and yet he was exacting; he was just, but he was merciful; he was charitable, but without ostentation; he fought the battles of his country bravely and with credit to himself, but with no malice to his foe; he was democratic in all of his feelings, but without enmity toward the select classes; he was a friend of the poor, but with no bitterness toward wealth; he was a champion of labor, but he was broad enough to do justice to the rich." During the funeral ceremonies of Captain Fletcher, all of Beaumont stood with bowed heads and hearts duly appreciative of the great loss which the city sustained in the passing of this worthy citizen, who more than half a century was a loyal and active worker for the upbuilding and development of the town and country.