A native of Texas when it was a republic, John Abner Fowlkes owns and operates a fine plantation in Lavaca County, where he is regarded as among the pioneer citizens. Mr. Fowlkes typifies the planter of the older class and generation, and while he has had his share of vicissitudes and hardships possesses a serene optimism which enables him to see the enjoyable side of life. He possesses a large fund of information about people and things of other days, has many entertaining reminiscences, and friends and guests at his hospitable home are never without the entertainment furnished by cultivated talk. At the same time he has made a success in his business affairs, and is one of the ablest representatives of his generation.
John Abner Fowlkes was born near the village of Oakland, at what was known as Prairie Point, only a few miles from his present home, on February 14, 1843. The Fowlkes family is of Scotch-Irish origin, his forefathers going into Ireland following the reign of Cromwell, and a later branch sending its posterity to the shores of America. The name was originally Fawkes, but in America it has taken its present form of orthography.
The grandfather of Mr. Fowlkes was E. B. Fowlkes, a planter and slave holder of Culpeper County, Virginia, who moved to Arkansas in 1839, bringing his retinue of slaves and. locating in Hempstead County. There he spent his last years and left a fine estate. He served with the rank of quartermaster in the War of 1812, his official designation being captain, and belonged to the pro-slavery party of the South and acted with the democratic party. He died before the outbreak of the war between the states, but his sons enlisted and served as Confederate soldiers. By his marriage to Miss Bruce he had the following children: Ethelbert B.; Emily, who died at Washington, Arkansas; Eliza, who married J. P. Hervey, and died near Hope, Arkansas; Abner, who served as captain in Price's army, and died near Hope; Louisa, who first married a Mr. Rainey and later a lawyer named Canaday, and lived in Sevier County, Arkansas.
Ethelbert B. Fowlkes, father of John Abner, was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, and in 1839 moved to Texas and located his family at Rutersville, in Fayette County. During the first years spent in the republic he was chiefly occupied in Indian fighting. He taught a session or so of school at LaGrange, being a man of liberal education and a graduate of a college at Georgetown, D. C. He was a man whose ability would have graced any public position, but he possessed that spirit of adventure which kept him in the exciting scenes of the frontier. He had come to Texas for the purpose of aiding Houston in battling with the Mexicans, but the war was over before he arrived, and his service was chiefly as an Indian fighter. He was in the fight at Plum Creek, an engagement frequently mentioned in the historic annals of the time. When he gave up his duties as a soldier he engaged in farming, moved to Colorado County, and settled on Navidad Creek, on what is now the Rabb place. He lived there from 1846 until 1853, and then removed seven miles below Columbus, purchasing a plantation with the inheritance from his father's estate. Some years later his wife died there, and he afterwards married a Mrs. Wooldridge, and spent his remaining years about a mile from Oakland. He is buried in Clear Creek Cemetery. His death occurred March 8, 1880, at the age of sixty-three. He did some service in the Confederate Army as a member of the militia, and was a squire for the Oakland community. A man of thorough and exact information, he had no ability as a public speaker, and his participation in public affairs was always in a modest capacity.
Ethelbert B. Fowlkes first married Mary McClelland, a daughter of Frank McClelland, whose home was at Prescott, Arkansas. Mrs. Fowlkes died below Columbus and is buried in a private cemetery. Her children were: Edward Bruce, who was killed in Georgia just at the close of the war during the Ku Klux troubles of that state, having been a Confederate soldier in the Eleventh Louisiana Infantry; Eliza, who married J. P. Mays, and died near Oakland, Texas; John A.; and Josephine, who became the wife of James W. Carson, and died in 1889 near Oakland.
John Abner Fowlkes grew up on a plantation in Colorado County. It was intended that he should have a liberal education, and he was in the process of carrying out that plan at Sweet Home, in Lavaca County, when the war broke out between the states. He volunteered there in Captain Fred Malone's company, which soon disbanded, and his next enlistment was in Company C, of Willis' Battalion, Wall's Texas Legion. Willis' Battalion left for the front with more than seven hundred men, and its losses were exceedingly heavy during the war. This command made an effort to join the Confederate Army before the battle of Elkhorn, in Northern Arkansas, but failing in effecting a junction with the main body of Confederate troops in October, 1862, it crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg and reenforced General Van Dorn's army, and during 1863 took part in the Vicksburg campaign, being in practically all the fighting under General Joseph Johnston in his efforts to relieve that city. After the fall of Vicksburg Mr. Fowlkes and his comrades were placed under General Bedford Forrest for raiding purposes. He participated in the capture of Fort Pillow and was present when General Forrest gave the order to take no negro prisoners, since the South did not recognize them as soldiers. After Fort Pillow the command went into the iron region of Alabama, near Montevallo, then returned into Mississippi, and met Grierson's troops at Guntown, defeated them at Brice's Crossroads and struck A. J. Smith's army at Pontotoc and fought them for four days near Harrisburg, on Town Creek, an engagement which brought heavy losses to Willis' Battalion. After the command had been recruited it was ordered to Mobile to act as pickets for General Maury, and was finally returned into Mississippi, and at Vernon one-half of the Texas troops were furloughed. Mr. Fowlkes was one of the lucky ones who drew a permission to return home, and walked from the army headquarters as far as Beaumont, Texas, then took a train and journeyed by rail to the terminus of the line at Columbus, and from there walked to the home of Mrs. Crenshaw, who urged him to take a horse for the rest of his way home. Mr. Fowlkes had been absent from June, 1862, until April, 1865, and had escaped serious injury and had never become a prisoner in the hands of the Federals.. His first captain was Frank Weeks, and his second was John Conn. Maj. T. M. Howard was in command of the battalion at the close of the war. Mr. Fowlkes has been a frequent veteran in the Confederate reunions, and has attended those notable gatherings at Little Rock, Mobile, Houston, Birmingham, and Jacksonville.
As soon as some order had been introduced into industrial and civic life following the chaos of the war Mr. Fowlkes took up farming. In 1865 he planted a crop of cotton and sold his product at fifty cents a pound. The following year misfortune overtook his plantation, and he lost nearly all he had made in previous seasons. Somewhat later he bought a farm from Dr. Bush Wilkins, in Lavaca County, but in the early '70s began buying land included in his present plantation. In 1889 he removed his home to his ranch and built one of the best country residences in the county at that time. His present holdings include over eight hundred acres, and it is all devoted to mixed farming and stock raising. Mr. Fowlkes has been interested in democratic politics, is an anti-prohibitionist, was never a candidate for office, and fraternally is affiliated with the Masonic lodge. In his religious opinions he has a strong leaning toward Universalism.
On March 11, 1869, near his present home, Mr. Fowlkes married Miss Mary Margaret McKinnon. Her father, Laughlin McKinnon, came from McNairy County, Tennessee, to Texas in 1850, and was a carpenter by trade and a farmer by general vocation. His wife was Lizzie Sherrnan, and among their other children were Mrs. Joseph Simpson, Mrs. Thomas McKay, Mrs. George Brady and Laughlin McKinnon.
Mr. and Mrs. Fowlkes are the parents of the following children: Lizzie, wife of A. W. Turner, of Victoria, Texas; Robert L, of Wichita Falls, Texas; Ed B.; Miss Margaret; McKinnon B.; Abner W., of Caldwell, Texas; and George Clark. McKinnon B. Fowlkes married Miss Katherine Miller, of Sublime, Texas, on November 4, 1914, and they have one son, John Abner Fowlkes, Jr. She is a daughter of Robert and Emma (Strunk) Miller, of Sublime, and a sketch of his father, Robert Miller, Sr., appears elsewhere in this publication. -- pp. 1322 -1324.
A history of Texas and Texans, by Frank W. Johnson, Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, 1916