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NICHOLS, JAMES WILSON (1820–1891). James Nichols, a Texas Ranger and frontier memoirist was born on December 27, 1820, in Franklin County, Tennessee, the son of George Washington and Mary Ann (Walker) Nichols. George Nichols married Rachel Sowell in 1840 following the death of Mary Ann in 1838.  His second marriage ended in divorce, but George married Rebecca Donovan-Blevins on March 15, 1848, in Guadalupe. James Nichols kept a journal that was eventually published as a memoir, Now You Hear My Horn (1968). His account vividly described his life following the relocation to Texas. The Nichols and Johnson Day families traveled the Tennessee, the Mississippi, and the Red Rivers to Natchitoches, Louisiana, and from there they traveled overland to Guadalupe and Gonzales Counties. Nichols' journal stated the party crossed the Sabine River into Texas on December 16, 1836. The families took up residence near Gonzales on March 2, 1837. In an affidavit from 1876, Nichols claimed that he served in Capt. James Cheshire's Company in defense of Nacogdoches during the San Jacinto Campaign of 1836.  Some historians have suggested that Nichols was present at the battle of the Alamo; however, these dates disprove such speculations. An entry in Nichols's journal recalled the crowds waiting in San Antonio to see David Crockett's gun, but there is no previous mention of Crockett elsewhere in the diary.

Like his father and his grandfather, Nichols frequently moved, but he always settled back in Guadalupe and Gonzales Counties. Between 1838 and 1842, he enlisted with Captains Joseph D. Clements, Mathew Caldwell, and James Bird as a member of the Texas Rangers and Minute Men. In 1839 he scouted for Capt. James Callahan. Nichols wounded his hand on August 12, 1840, in combat against Comanche at the Battle of Plum Creek. On March 5, 1842, during the occupation of San Antonio by the army of Mexican Gen. Adrian Woll, Nichols' company encountered a messenger from Gen. Rafael Vásquez on the outskirts of San Antonio, asking for the city to surrender. Against overwhelming force, Capt. John Coffee Hays and his 100 men called for an evacuation of the city.  On September 17, 1842, Nichols served with Mathew Caldwell in the battle of Salado Creek, which forced Gen. Woll to retreat back into Mexico.  Additional Minute Men heard the news and traveled to San Antonio, but Vásquez retreated to the Rio Grande. Nichols received land grants in Gonzales and Lampasas Counties as a result of his ranger service, and later filed for a pension.

Nichols married Mary Ann (Polly) Daniell on September 14, 1843, in Montgomery, Texas.  The family expanded to ultimately include twelve children. He manufactured furniture for a local wood shop. With this occupation, he traveled to San Antonio to make trades and bargain with others for goods. For two years he was employed in the furniture business. During the Mexican War, Nichols enlisted as a corporal with Capt. Henry McCulloch and Lt. Col. Bell's Mounted Volunteers.  Following his discharge on October 6, 1847, the Nichols family resided temporarily in Guadalupe, Hays, and Blanco Counties before settling in Kerrville.  

In the late 1850s Nichols came into conflict with secessionists because of his Unionism. Men from a town committee voted on a resolution ordering him to leave the county within the next ten days but Nichols answered that when they came for him, they would be greeted by "two double-barrel guns. Now you hear my horn." (Hence the title of his memoirs.) He was convicted of trumped-up horse-stealing charges, but Governor Francis R. Lubbock granted him a pardon and the court reversed the case. In 1861 he moved to an adjoining county.

In the 1880s, Nichols worked as a farmer and completed a memoir of his experiences.  In 1891, Texas Monthly  published a portion of his memoir as "Adventures of an Old Ranger."  James Wilson Nichols died in Kerrville on October 8, 1891, and was buried in Ingram at the Nichols Cemetery, where a flood carried away his headstone.  In 1982, a historical marker was erected northwest of downtown Kerrville to honor Nichols Cemetery.


Catherine W. McDowell, ed., Now You Hear My Horn: The Journal of James Wilson Nichols, 1820-1887 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967).  James W. Nichols, Gonzales County Miscellaneous Certificates, General Land Office, Austin, Texas.  Texas Muster Roll Index, Adjutant General Ranger Rolls, Republic Claims 220-105, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas.  Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Cynthia Schellenberg, rev. by Sloan Rodgers


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

Cynthia Schellenberg, rev. by Sloan Rodgers, "NICHOLS, JAMES WILSON," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed October 05, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on September 14, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.