William H. Gaston, a founder of Dallas, was born on October 25, 1840, near Prairie Bluff, Alabama, the son of Robert Kilpatrick and Letitia (Suddeth) Gaston. He and his family moved to Mississippi and then to Plentitude, Texas, in 1849. His father farmed extensive landholdings in that region and served two terms in the Texas legislature. William, along with his brothers Robert and George, attended the nearby Mound Prairie Institute. All three later served in the Confederate Army. The family was en route to Dallas in 1861 when an outbreak of typhoid fever caused them to stay temporarily near Mount Sylvan in Smith County. From there Gaston left to join a volunteer company being recruited in Anderson County for Confederate service. By October 1861 he had been elected captain, and his company became part of the First Texas Infantry regiment of Hood's Texas Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.
Gaston commanded his company with distinction through the terrible battles in Virginia in 1862. After recovering from typhoid fever, he was detailed to Texas on recruiting duty for the regiment. While on leave he married a former schoolmate, Laura Furlow. He was subsequently reassigned to serve as Confederate purchasing agent in the Trans-Mississippi Department, where he spent the remainder of the war.
After Gaston was discharged in June 1865 he returned to Anderson County and farmed. His wife died in 1867, and a year later he married her sister Ione. After a successful cotton crop, they moved to Dallas with $20,000 in gold. Sources disagree about the source of the gold. Some of it came from cotton; some may have come from Gaston's days as a purchasing agent. Gaston entered into partnership with Aaron C. Camp, and they opened the Gaston and Camp Bank of Dallas, the first permanent bank in Dallas. Within a short time Gaston had expanded into real estate, merchandising, and general speculation; the bank became the Exchange Bank and later the First National Bank of Dallas. Only five years after his arrival the Dallas Herald (see DALLAS TIMES HERALD) declared that William Gaston was most responsible for the transformation of Dallas into a city. He was reported to be one of the city's first millionaires, and another of his banks, Gaston and Gaston Bank, was the predecessor of the Republic National Bank. A Dallas Thoroughfare bears his name.
In 1886 Gaston donated eighty acres for the State Fair of Texas grounds. He and his wife raised three sons and two daughters. He died on January 24, 1927, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Dallas.