Ezekiel Edward Nance, farmer, cattleman, and mill owner, one of two sons of Lewis and Lucy (Kepler) Nance, was born in Tennessee on September 12, 1816. In the late 1820s Lewis Nance moved his family to a farm near Fulton in Hempstead County, Arkansas. Later orphaned, Ezekiel in his youth lived with various relatives. Eventually he settled at Old Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, and on October 22, 1840, he married Luany Weightsell Pate, the daughter of Jeremiah and Sarah Pate. Ezekiel and Luany had two daughters and four sons, including Jeremiah Milton Nance. In 1847 Ezekiel filled out the term of the sheriff of Hempstead County when the incumbent resigned. He then ran and won a full term. Nance also served as treasurer of the state of Arkansas from 1848 to 1854. His wife died on February 22, 1852, and later that year he made a hurried exploratory trip to Texas seeking a homestead there. He selected a site at the junction of a small creek (which he named the Little Arkansas) and the Blanco River, to the west of what is now Kyle in Hays County. On June 15, 1852, Nance acquired title to about 10,000 acres in the Seaborn Berry and J. W. Fogg surveys. He later increased his holdings to more than 14,000 acres. He returned to Arkansas and on April 7, 1853, in Hempstead County, married Martha Jane Alexander; the couple had six children. That fall Nance returned to Texas. With him went his new wife, the five surviving children from his first marriage, his first wife's sister (Deborah Jane Pate), his brother James Nance, and George Green and his wife; he also took a number of slaves. James Nance and the Greens went on to San Marcos. In November 1853 Ezekiel registered a horse brand in Hays County, the second-oldest such brand recorded there. One of the first things he did upon arriving was to put up a rock fence around his cropland to protect it from roving wild cattle. He developed one of the earliest working ranches in the area, and, with his sons and slaves, he and his neighbors annually rounded up and branded wild cattle. On the Blanco River , Ezekiel built a dog-run house with a large fireplace at the end of each room. As his family grew, he added three rooms and covered the chinked log walls with cypress panels sawed at his mill; in 1994 the house still stood at its original site. At the site were also built a smokehouse, slave quarters, a carriage house, and an additional two-room house for the eight boys in the family (this house in 1994 bore a Texas Historical Commission marker). Within five years, using slave labor, Nance had built a dam on the Blanco. There he built a sawmill, a gristmill, and later a cotton gin.
The Blanco Community (also called the Nance Community and Nance's Mill) grew rapidly during the late 1850s. Residents conducted much of their business at Mountain City, four miles to the northeast, which had a post office and was on the stage road from Austin to San Antonio. Nance built a blacksmith shop and tenant houses. In April 1858 Nance (with Edward Burleson, Jr., and William Smith) was appointed by the Hays County commissioners to locate a road from San Marcos to Nance's house on the Blanco River; from there the road ran on to Dripping Springs. In 1860 Nance built a one-room log schoolhouse (and chapel) on his property for his family and his neighbors. That year he persuaded a Bishop Kavanaugh (of Tennessee) to move to Texas to preach and teach school. In 1865 he built of native limestone a larger schoolhouse-chapel that came to be called the Blanco Chapel; it served as a school and a place of worship until 1881. Later for a brief period it served as a Mexican Presbyterian church. In 1863 during the Civil War, Ezekiel operated a small cotton textile mill that supplied coarse cloth to the Confederacy; he also shipped hogsheads of beef to the Confederate Army. In late 1863 he had his slaves fence several thousand acres of his land. After the war ended in April 1865, he applied for-and on May 23 was granted-an amnesty from President Andrew Johnson.
Cattle were numerous and cheap in Texas during Reconstruction. Prices were so low that many ranchers slaughtered their cattle for their hides. In 1867 Nance built a beef-packing house for the local market. A flood in 1869 damaged his mills and packery, but he rebuilt his business. A lucrative cattle market soon developed in the North, in the western mining towns, and on Indian reservations. Cattle were in demand to stock the western ranges. Ezekiel and his son Jeremiah Milton Nance responded to these developments, and they registered their spade-shaped cattle brand on December 16, 1874. In the spring of 1875 a crew drove their herd to market. On April 15, 1877, Jerry Nance left Hays County for Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, with a herd of longhorn cattle. The 1870 federal census listed Ezekiel Nance, age fifty-four, with real estate valued at $15,000 and a personal estate of $5,000. On July 15, 1876, the San Marcos Free Press reported that Nance had 10,000 acres, with 7,000 acres under fence (mostly rock) and 600 acres under cultivation. Nance also upgraded his milling operations. In 1875 he brought in from Canada by way of Tennessee a new miller, Arthur Lundy, as overseer. In 1876 the firm of Nordyke, Waller and Company, of Verona, Lawrence County, Missouri, constructed for Nance a new three-story mill that was the largest of its kind in that part of Texas. The mill could grind from eight to twelve bushels of wheat to the run, making thirty-five to forty pounds of flour to the bushel; it could also grind corn into cornmeal.
In 1880 the International and Great Northern Railroad entered Hays County, connecting Austin to San Antonio. Neighboring families moved from the Blanco community to the new town of Kyle on the railroad. Nance, facing competition from outside businesses, eventually closed his mills and moved to Kyle, where he opened the Rio Blanco Mills. In 1881 he built in Kyle a cotton gin with three gin stands; it could turn out fifteen to twenty bales of cotton a day. Ezekiel Nance was the second-largest property holder in Hays County in 1883, with property valued at $36,000. Between 1855 and 1885, during his long career in Texas, Nance had constructed at least five gristmills, a cotton textile mill, a shingle-splitting mill, a beef-packing house, and five cotton gins. In the early 1880s Ezekiel Nance was one of the first trustees of the Kyle Seminary, which opened on October 1, 1881. The International and Great Northern line had donated four city blocks of land for the school. Ezekiel Nance died at his home on September 15, 1885, and was buried in the Kyle Cemetery.