Sketch of the Life of Willard H. Nickerson
A Resident of Vineland for Many Years
A couple of months after this they concluded to send this machine that had been taken from the government factory for safe keeping and stored in different buildings into the confederacy again. They made arrangements with me and one other to take this machine to Mexico. When we reached Mexico we stopped in Matamoras, on the Rio Grande, twenty miles up the coast, right opposite Brownsville, Tex. While we were there, Vicksburgh went up and we were cut off from getting to Atlanta, Ga. We then concluded to go into some part of Texas and locate. There was no transportation except mule teams and ox teams, a slow way of getting across the State.
We went as far as Waco, 400 miles from Mexico, and there we stored the machinery and stayed a month or so to make arrangements. Then we concluded to go on to Easton, Texas, about two or three hundred miles further. We there located near the Sabine River on a plantation belonging to Major J. W. Flannegan, who after wards became United States Senator from Texas. He took a personal interest in the factory. The government furnished the help-75 negroes and 25 detailed soldiers. The confederate government made a requisition on the >
planters for their negro help. We were making army shoes. After we had run about six months, the government concluded to take charge. They had another small factory in Jefferson, about 30 miles east of there, and they wanted to combine the two and have the government control it all. They gave me charge of this factory at Jefferson and sent the other man back to New Orleans. In 1864 we went about 40 miles west of Jefferson and moved the factory there, and stayed there until the end of the war. While we were located at Jefferson I was given a week's furlough to go and get married, which I did to a 19year-old widow, a Mrs. Hudson, whose husband had been killed in the war three years before. Then I returned to Jefferson and six months later the war came to an end.
Right after this I went to my home in Texas, and was known as a Yank down in that neighborhood. We at this time organized a Klu Klux Klan, the object of which was the protection of white women, and civilization in general. The "Freedman's Bureau" was also organized about this time by the Yanks-for the protection of the freedmen. Our Klu Klux Klan was called the "Mustangs." ,There were about 50 members, and they elected a chief. In the running there was a Texas man by the name of Nelson and myself, and I was elected. The cities and towns were garrisoned by Yankee troops for three years after the close of the war. Martial law was proclaimed. One example, just to show the workings of our klan, occurred just after the close of the war. There was a widow who owned a 500-acre farm and she employed about 20 freedmen. They worked on shares. After they had been there a while, three or four of them got to stealing her corn out of the crib and selling it to wagoners. Then they would ride the plow stock off nights (horses and mules), carousing all night and not able to work the next day. She was informed of this, and she .discharged them. They went to the Freedmen's Bureau and reported, and without any investigation, the bureau informed her that she must reinstate those niggers or they would get their share of crops in the fall just the same as though they had worked. She had to take them back. The Klu Klux heard of it, and waited on those men, took them down and whipped them the old-fashioned way, told them what it was for, and that if there was any more of it the next time they would hang them on a limb. Then they went on and tended to their business, and there was no more trouble or further complaint.
After a few months we were informed that the Klu Klux was unlawful and must break up, so we broke up that klan and organized a klan called the "White Camelias." We then met in an old schoolhouse in the woods. Up to this time I had been working at shoemaking, doing custom work, and living on a farm. After a year or so I went to a sale one day and bought 150 acres of land at 50 cents an acre, but after I got it I wasn't satisfied with it, and swapped a young horse I had that was a stepper for 100 acres of land, then swapped the two places to my brother-in-law for a 100-acre farm, with all the buildings on-log house, log corn crib, log stables, etc., and half of it under good cultivation. I never worked on it myself, but hired four negroes-an old man whom I knew when he was a slave, his wife and two boys, 16 and 18. They worked on shares, raising corn and cotton. After I run this farm two or three years, they started to build the Southern Pacific Railroad through Texas, starting from Marshal and running across to Western Texas towards Mexico. The first railroad town that was built was Hallsville, 15 miles west of Marshal, and it got to be a live town, cotton being brought in there every day to be shipped away on trains to Shrewsport, La., on the Red River, 500 miles from New Orleans. There it was put aboard the steamers and taken to New Orleans. Then I got the town fever and sold my farm and bought a property in Hallsville, where I had already started a little business. Then so many strangers coming there, owners and drivers bringing cotton, some would stay two or three days, drinking and gambling, there being six or seven saloons there, and it got so rough that it was hardly safe for any one to go across the square on account of promiscuous shooting. There was one officer there, and it got so bad that all the citizens organized themselves into a vigilance committee, and they sent for me to come around and offered me $100 a month to do police duty, and I was duly sworn in as marshal, so the constable and I did pretty good work. Our Klu Klux Klan had disbanded again, and we again reorganized right in Hallsville, and were known as the "Independent Order of Palefaces"-and it was some Klu Klux. From Hallsville I emigrated to Vineland to see my father and mother-whom I had not seen for 12 years. We came here with the intention of staying a week, and then going on to Massachusetts, but I have been in Vineland ever since. The last I heard from my people they were on Lincoln Avenue on a 30-acre farm. When I arrived in Philadelphia 'twas the night before Christmas. We put up at a hotel on Market Street. I had no idea where Vineland was until I made inquiries there. I was all the next day getting my trunks until 5 o'clock in the evening, when we took the train for Vineland. I found out that Lincoln Avenue was South Vineland. When I arrived there, there were a lot of boys playing around the station and I asked them if they could tell me where Nickerson lived. They said: "I guess he lives up to Vineland proper." I said: "Where is Vineland proper?" "Why, you just came right through there." Then I asked him if there was a livery stable there, and he said "No." "Is there a hotel here?" "No. There is a man who has a team that he sometimes lets out-a man by the name of Gardner." So I went over to Mr. Gardner's and found him in the barn hitching up. I asked him if he knew a .family by the name of Nickerson. He said he did, that they used to live on Lincoln Avenue. "But," he said, "they live up in Vineland now." I said, "Could I get you to take me up there to-night with your team? I've got a wife and three children and three or four trunks. I'll pay you your own price to take me." "Well," he said, "I was just hitching up to go to the Christmas tree over to the church. I have taken people up to Vineland for 75 cents, but if you'll give me a dollar I'll take you." I said: "All right." I would willingly have given him $5.00. When he got half way up there he said: "I took one man up there once, and when he got there he wouldn't pay me." I told him I would pay him all right. When I paid him I gave him the dollar, and then I gave him a 50-cent piece in silver which had just been issued. He had never seen one and thanked me very much, and said he would do as much for me some day. So it was about 9 o'clock Christmas night when we found my folks. They were greatly surprised, as they did not know we were coming. It seems they were getting ready to move back East, so after a week's time we concluded to take the house they vacated and stay here a while.. My folks moved to Walpole, Mass. Une day, after I had been here about two weeks, I was walking up the avenue and went into John Ashworth's store. As I came out a man stopped me and began to question me. He was a man about 50 years old or more, a very intelligent looking man. He said: "I understand you are from Texas?" I told him "Yes." He said: "What kind of a country is that?" I told him: "It's a good country." "How long did you live there?" I said: "About eight or nine years." "Aren't the people wild down there?" I said: "Not so very wild." He said: "Are you married?" I said: "Yes." "Did you marry in Texas?" "Yes." "Did you bring your family with you?" I told him: "I brought my wife and three youngest children; the others were so wild I couldn't catch them." "Yes," he said, "good morning!"