William Edgar Hughes, banker, lawyer, cattleman, and Confederate Army officer, was born on March 15, 1840, in Morgan County, Illinois, the son of John and Eliza J. (Rutherford) Hughes. After graduation from Illinois College in Jacksonville he began to read law. In 1859 he trailed a herd of 3,000 sheep from Missouri to Texas. Despite a near brush with hanging at the hands of a Dallas vigilance committee on the lookout for Northern provocateurs, Hughes liked Texas and became a sheep raiser in Dallas County. At the time he was living with Nancy Hughes, presumably his wife. They owned no real estate in 1860 and only $325 in personal property.
Hughes was visiting his home in Illinois when Texas seceded from the Union, but with the outbreak of the Civil War he returned to Dallas, where he enlisted as a private in Capt. John J. Good's artillery battery, later commanded by Capt. James P. Douglas. This battery served under Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch at the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge), Arkansas, in March 1862 before being ordered across the Mississippi River. With the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Hughes and the Good-Douglas battery saw action in most of the major engagements of the western theater; at the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, in September 1863, Hughes was wounded in the left hand. During these campaigns he was said to have carried his law books in an artillery limber, studying them when he found the time. Hughes was promoted to captain at the start of the siege of Atlanta in July 1864 and thereafter was transferred to the cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. Benjamin J. Hill of Tennessee. In January 1865 he was elevated to command of the Thirteenth Confederate States Cavalry, a regiment made up of the mauled remnants of units from several states.
With the breakup of the Confederate States, Hughes returned to Texas and settled in the frontier trading post community of Weatherford. He taught school there for five months, operated a salt works in Shackelford County, and continued to study law until admitted to the bar. On November 21, 1867, he married Annie C. Peete of Fort Worth. The couple had a daughter. Hughes was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1870 but resigned before the end of his term.
He moved to Dallas in 1873, when he was elected the first president of the City Bank of Dallas (later the City National Bank). When he left Weatherford he had accumulated $17,000 in assets. In addition to his duties with the bank, by practicing law and trading in land and livestock he became one of the wealthiest men in Dallas. After seven years he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he became president of the Continental Land and Cattle Company, which had extensive ranch holdings in Texas and Montana. In 1884 Hughes was elected president of the Exchange Bank (later the Exchange National Bank) of Dallas, and in 1891 he became president of the Union Trust Company of St. Louis. In 1889 he moved to Denver, Colorado, where, in 1891, he organized the Continental Trust Company. Despite his long absences from Texas, Hughes maintained a 4,000-acre winter home called Clifton in Dallas as well as an even larger estate in the mountains of Colorado. In his Texas land dealings he was often in partnership with Christopher Columbus Slaughter.
Hughes was raised a Presbyterian but in later life became a Unitarian. He was registered as a Democrat, but was never active in party politics. He was a frequent contributor to various popular magazines, and in 1912, at the instigation of his only granddaughter, he wrote an engaging memoir, Journal of a Grandfather. Hughes died in Denver on July 29, 1918.