Mabel Gilbert, pioneer North Texas settler, farmer, and businessman, was born on March 4, 1797, to William and Nicy Gilbert in Dickson County, Tennessee. He was known as Captain Gilbert from his years as a Mississippi River steamboat captain. In the spring of 1837 he gave up a comfortable life in Tennessee with land and slaves inherited from his parents and moved with his wife, Charity (Morris), and their seven children to Fannin County, Texas. Gilbert's first home in Texas was located three miles south of the site of present-day Bonham.
He met with immediate success in Texas. By 1839 he had participated in successful expeditions that recovered stolen stock and property from Indians, served as a justice of the peace and member of the first Fannin County Commissioners Court, and helped draw up plans for the county's first courthouse. He also farmed 1,280 acres and established the first horse-powered gristmill in the area. By 1840 he had constructed and made operational an incline-wheel, ox-powered mill.
Events in 1840 persuaded Gilbert to move his family to a remote and unsettled portion of Texas. Late that year he and about forty other men accompanied Gen. Jonathan Bird on an expedition to construct a fort and settlement on the West Fork of the Trinity River, in what is now Tarrant County. The expedition, harassed by Indians, managed to raise a log stockade, a blockhouse fort (Bird's Fort), and a few houses, collectively known as Birdville. Gilbert retained his property in Fannin County during the fall of 1841. He and his family remained in Birdville for six months before a legal dispute arose over the right of the community to exist on land granted to the Peters colony. During the spring of 1842 Gilbert took his family by boat down the Trinity River to John Neely Bryan's newly established settlement. The Gilbert family became one of the earliest to settle the community that was to become Dallas, and Mrs. Gilbert was the first Anglo-American woman to live there. Bryan constructed a log cabin for them at a site that became the foot of Main Street in Dallas, where they lived until 1844.
Unhappy with the black soil of the new community, Gilbert returned his family to its Fannin County home in 1845. There he resumed farming and established a steam-powered saw and grist mill on Pine Creek. He expanded his operations in the area during the 1840s and early 1850s by purchasing the Pilot Grove steam mill in Grayson County. He also assisted in laying out a road from this mill to Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1851.
Gilbert's wife died in 1854, leaving behind a family of eleven children. Gilbert remarried late in the following year, at the age of fifty-nine, taking as his wife Rachel Gibbs Albright Freeman, a twenty-eight-year-old widow who had a small son. Gilbert took his family westward again early in 1856, and they became the first settlers in a newly surveyed area that became Wichita County. He selected a homesite near an old Spanish fort in the northeastern part of the county and built a house on a bluff overlooking the Red River. Conflict with Indians forced him to relocate his family in 1857, this time to 1,280 acres purchased in Montague County. After another three years in Wichita County, at the end of which the Indians succeeded again in forcing him to leave, he moved again to Montague County, where he farmed and served as chief justice until 1867.
For the last three years of his life Gilbert lived in Wichita County, where he owned 3,887 acres, some of which, after his death, became part of the Burkburnett oilfield. He died of pneumonia at this farm on March 1, 1870. His wife moved with the children to a farm just south of Gainesville in Cooke County. There she gave birth to Gilbert's twenty-first child, a girl named Mabel. Creeks in both Fannin and Wichita counties bear his name.