Z. N. (Wildcat) Morrell, traveling Baptist preacher and missionary, church founder, journalist, and historian, was born on January 17, 1803, in South Carolina. His given names are a matter of controversy; most sources refer to him as Zachariah (Zacharius) Nehemiah Morrell, though some call him Zenos N. Morrell. The name Nehemiah is evidently not attested in early sources. His family moved to Tennessee when he was thirteen. Although never formally educated, he became a Baptist minister before reaching the age of twenty and preached in Tennessee for nearly fourteen years. Because of his continuing problem with lung hemorrhages, his doctors advised him to move south. In 1835 he left Tennessee. He spent nearly a year in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, where he formed three churches. After making an exploratory trip to Texas in December 1835, he moved his family there in April 1836 and settled near the Falls of the Brazos. Indian raids and unsettled political conditions subsequently forced the family to move to Washington-on-the-Brazos, where Morrell helped to form one of the first Baptist churches in Texas in 1837. In the early years of the new Republic of Texas, Morrell fought Indians and devoted himself to land speculation, a merchandising business, schoolteaching, and politics. In 1842 he fought with Col. Mathew Caldwell in the battle of the Salado. In this battle his son, Allen H. Morrell, was captured by the Mexicans and imprisoned, an incarceration that lasted for two years. Unsuccessful and never financially secure, Morrell came to rely on the generosity of those who believed in his ministry and ultimately pursued his interest in seeing the "spiritual wilderness" of Texas "rejoice and blossom as the rose."
Under an 1846 appointment by the Domestic Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Morrell made routine journeys from Cameron to Corsicana, a monthly round-trip of 300 miles on horseback that strained his health and his marriage. Undaunted, he persisted in leading Texas Baptists to the faith prescribed by the New Hampshire Conference of Faith and protecting them from disapproved teaching. As a member of the Texas Baptist Education Society, formed in 1841, Morrell voluntarily helped solicit funds for Baylor University in 1847.
In late 1867 he left for Honduras to continue his missionary work. He returned to Texas in March 1869 because of continuing health problems. Restricted by failing health and old age, Morrell turned to journalism. From 1867 to 1883 he kept up a constant stream of correspondence with the editors of the Texas Baptist Herald (see TEXAS BAPTIST AND HERALD), dealing with issues ranging from infant baptism to church money management. The most notable contribution of his "written ministry" was Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness, or Forty-Six Years in Texas and Two Winters in Honduras (1872), perhaps the first extended effort to record Baptist history in Texas. Morrell's influence can be measured in the number of churches that he founded, including the church at Washington-on-the-Brazos and others at Little River in Milam County (1849) and Marlin (1852). Morrell was among the founding fathers of the Union Baptist Association (1840), the Colorado Association (1847), the Trinity River Association (1848), the Leon River Association (1858), and the Waco Association (1860) and was involved in the establishment of other churches and associations as well.
Morrell married Clearacy Hayes on August 23, 1821, and they had four children. Clearacy died in 1843. Morrell's second marriage, to a widow, Delia Harlan, on October 27, 1845, ended in divorce fifteen years later, owing to his wife's distress over his incessant absence from home. Morrell spent his last years in the home of R. J. Sledge in Kyle and died there on December 19, 1883. Venerated by his peers, eulogized by the Baptist State Convention in 1884, and remembered for the achievements of his fifty-year ministry, Morrell was buried in the yard of the First Baptist Church of Kyle. In 1946 his body was moved to the State Cemetery in Austin.