Gilleland, James (1798–1839)

By: L. Richard Scroggins

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: November 29, 2019

James Gilleland, early Texas settler and Methodist lay preacher, son of William and Nancy (Johnson) Gilleland and brother of Daniel Gilleland, was born in Tennessee on September 8, 1798. His father died in 1800, and his mother married Thomas Williams in 1802. The family moved to Arkansas Territory by 1803. By 1817 Thomas Williams and his family were living on Williams Creek, a tributary of the Red River. At that time James Gilleland was hunting buffalo and trading with Indian tribes near the Arkansas settlements, with Daniel and their brother-in-law Robert H. Kuykendall, Sr. On October 11, 1821, near Jonesboro, Old Miller County, Arkansas Territory, Gilleland married Dianna Moore, daughter of Nathaniel and Rebecca (Adams) Moore. Soon after, James and Dianna Gilleland, with other Gilleland relations, left Arkansas for Texas. They traveled down the Old San Antonio Road and reached the Brazos River in late December 1821. Between the spring of 1822 and fall of 1823 the Gillelands returned to Arkansas. In 1824 they settled with the Moores (Dianna's parents) and the Rabbs on the Colorado River in what was then called Colorado Municipality. In 1825 all three families traveled to Arkansas again, in hope of reclaiming land taken from them by the United States government under the terms of an 1825 treaty signed with the Choctaw Nation. They returned to Texas to stay in 1828, when they received a labor of land in Bastrop County. Austin's register of families lists the James Gilleland family as consisting of five souls, and shows that James Gilleland took the oath in December 1829. The Gillelands had six children. The family settled at Mina, later known as Bastrop, where James engaged in farming. In the spring of 1835 he organized the first Methodist congregation in Austin's Little Colony in an unfinished store belonging to Jesse Holderman and in defiance of Mexican law. Gilleland, a man of strong faith and a self-taught exhorter, preached his first sermon standing behind a barrel, which served as his pulpit. Gilleland did not participate in the Texas Revolution, but he did serve in the Army of the Republic of Texas under Capt. Bailey Anderson from July to October 1836. As a reward for his army service he received a bounty certificate for land, which he later sold to his neighbor Isaac Decker. A certificate for one labor of land was issued to Gilleland by the Board of Land Commissioners of Bastrop County in 1838, and he also secured title to a league of land from the Republic of Texas. As his headright he chose a creek in what is now eastern Travis County, then part of Bastrop County. He built his home on the south bank of the creek, thirteen miles east of the site of Austin, which was called Waterloo at the time. The creek came to be known as Gilleland Creek. In February 1839 a band of Comanche Indians attacked a settlement below Waterloo. Bastrop raised a militia to pursue the Comanches, and Gilleland joined. The company gave chase and caught up with the Comanches at Brushy Creek the following afternoon. In the battle of Brushy Creek, actually a small skirmish led by Gen. Edward Burleson, Gilleland was gravely wounded by a musketball between the shoulder and neck. He died ten days later, on February 27, 1839, and was buried on a gentle rise not far from his home, at a spot that became the Gilleland Family Cemetery, close to Gilleland Creek. Dianna Gilleland never remarried; she owned property, slaves, and cattle in her own name and managed her own affairs until her death. She died in 1895 and was buried beside her husband.

Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). Frank Brown, Annals of Travis County and the City of Austin (MS, Frank Brown Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Lester G. Bugbee, "The Old Three Hundred: A List of Settlers in Austin's First Colony," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 1 (October 1897). John Holland Jenkins, Recollections of Early Texas, ed. John H. Jenkins III (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958; rpt. 1973). Worth Stickley Ray, Austin Colony Pioneers (Austin: Jenkins, 1949; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton, 1970). Andrew Jackson Sowell, Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas (Austin: Ben C. Jones, 1900; rpt., Austin: State House, 1986). Homer S. Thrall, History of Methodism in Texas (Houston: Cushing, 1872; rpt., n.p.: Walsworth, 1976). Gifford E. White, 1830 Citizens of Texas (Austin: Eakin, 1983). J. W. Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas (Austin: Hutchings, 1889; rpt., Austin: State House, 1985).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Exploration
  • Traders
Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

L. Richard Scroggins, “Gilleland, James,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995
November 29, 2019

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: