William Harrison Magill, an early settler of Bastrop and later Burnet County, who served in the Texas Rangers and fought in battles for Texas independence, was born at Madison County, Kentucky, on January 3, 1813. His parents, Samuel P. and Nancy (Shackelford) Magill, and other family members joined him in Texas in the 1840s. Samuel P. Magill, a volunteer in the Kentucky militia during the War of 1812, fought at the battle of New Orleans. In Texas, he joined William in the battle of Plum Creek on August 12, 1840. William’s younger brother, James P. Magill, later came to Texas and served in the Texas Rangers and became a state legislator.
William H. Magill was twenty-one when he came to Texas, and on September 16, 1834, made a claim with a partner, William Redmond, for one-half league of land in Refugio County. He intended to settle in Stephen Austin’s Little Colony of Bastrop, which was called Mina while under Mexican administration. On June 23, 1835, he bought a house and land in Mina from John W. Bunton, who had recently arrived from Tennessee and been elected secretary of the local committee of safety. The house, known as the Batts House, still stood in the early twenty-first century, though it had been moved to the grounds of the Orgain Mansion in Bastrop.
Magill intended to start a mercantile business with his friend Logan Vandeveer, who had arrived in 1833 from Kentucky. (The two men may have been related through their mothers, who were both Shackelfords.) But their stores were requisitioned by the military, and Magill signed up with a company of rangers in the summer of 1835, serving first under Robert Coleman and then under Robert McAlpine Williamson.
Edward Burleson, a veteran of the War of 1812 and a colonel of militia since 1832, led the volunteers from Mina, and Magill grew to admire him greatly and responded frequently over the years when Burleson requested volunteers for militia or ranger duties. Magill’s service in the summer of 1835 saw both victory and tragedy. In June the rangers had captured a group of Caddo Indians suspected of stealing horses, and the men voted in favor of executing them on the spot, a decision that Coleman, among others, rushed to carry out. It was a divided vote, however, for Burleson and his followers had wanted to bring the Indians back to Mina for trial. Then, Coleman’s company, in which Magill served, attacked a Tawakoni village, and in fierce fighting, a handful of rangers were killed. The rest fell back to Fort Parker and awaited reinforcements arriving under Stephen Moore. In the subsequent regrouping, Magill joined a company under Robert M. Williamson that ranged during the summer as far north as present-day Dallas. When the company of rangers were returning to Mina in September 1835, several of the men chased two Indians. In the ensuring confusion, Magill accidentally shot fellow ranger Moses Smith Hornsby. The shot shattered Hornsby’s arm. Hornsby, who had already been wounded in the shoulder, refused to have his arm amputated and died several days later.
The company returned to Mina, and in October, Magill served in the militia that fought and defeated Mexican troops at Mission Conception, near San Antonio. He also volunteered to follow Ben Milam into the Siege of Bexar (San Antonio). Magill apparently returned to Bastrop over the winter, for in February 1836 he joined the Mina Volunteers when the militia was called up. He was elected second sergeant, under Capt. Jesse Billinglsley. The company hurriedly assembled first at Burleson’s house and went on to Gonzales, where they joined the troops under Gen. Sam Houston and began the long march eastward. Magill fought in the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. In 1838 he was awarded Donation Certificate No. 126, for 640 acres of land for his service. Magill did a mix of ranger and militia duty and was awarded Bounty Certificate 396, for 320 acres of land for his service from July 1 to December 1, 1836. He fought in the battle on Cordova on March 29, 1839, and in the battle of Plum Creek in 1840. Magill’s granddaughter Lora Magill Fulton wrote that in 1840 he, Vandeveer, and Noah Smithwick rescued Mariel King, a young woman from San Antonio who was kidnapped by Comanche Indians after the Council House Fight and taken to Longhorn Cavern, to the north.
William Magill married Rebecca Pensana (or Pensoneau), an Illinois native who was orphaned by the age of four, on May 27, 1838, in Bastrop, and in August he amended his headright claim to two-thirds of a league of land, plus one labor, as a married man. The claim, located about 100 miles north of San Antonio, was surveyed and registered at the Texas General Land Office. William and Rebecca had seven children; she died in 1848 or 1849. Her name does not appear on the census of 1850, and William is not listed as married. Their two-year-old son John was enumerated as part of the Vandeveer household, which indicates that family may have taken over care of the young child. By 1850 Magill and Vandeveer had gone into the cattle business together and were awarded the contract to supply beef and grain to Fort Croghan, newly-erected in Burnet County. Magill moved to the area with other early settlers, including Peter Kerr and Noah Smithwick, and he served on the county’s first board of commissioners.
Smithwick wrote in his memoirs that the Magills and Vandeveers enjoyed giving large parties: “Among the early social events I recall an infair given by William McGill [sic] to his nephew; Louis Thomas, and bride, Miss Kates; also a dinner given by Logan Vandever [sic] at the closing exercises of the school, which was the pride of the town, besides several Masonic and Fourth of July dinners. These free-for-all dinners were discounted after a few years…and thereafter only those having the password gained admittance.” Magill served as executor for the estate of Conrad Rohrer, wagonmaster for Sam Houston’s army and an early Bastrop settler, who had been killed by Indians. Magill conveyed Rohrer’s land claim in Burnet County, known as Hamilton Falls, to Lyman Wight, head of a group of Mormon immigrants who started a gristmill there. The site, called Morman Mill, was later converted to a sawmill and sold to Smithwick.
In 1854 Magill left his children with the Vandeveers and returned to Kentucky, where he married Elizabeth Hendrick on December 21, 1854; the couple returned to Burnet and, over the years, had ten children. Three sons by his first marriage later left Texas and became early pioneers of Washington state. William H. Magill was a Protestant and a Mason; he was an officer of the Masonic Valley Lodge formed in 1855. In that year he also co-hosted a ball for the Know-Nothing Party (see AMERICAN PARTY). Magill owned five slaves, as listed on the 1860 slave schedule; these were a thirty-four-year-old black woman and four mulatto children, aged seven, six, four and two. During the Civil War, Magill performed his final military duty as a captain in the Home Guard from Burnett County in 1864. His parents both died in 1865, and William died on December 17, 1878, of illness. He is buried in the Magill Cemetery, along with his parents and his second wife, who died in 1914.