One of the defining characteristics of the American West was the availability of fertile land. An enterprising man could prosper working a land claim. This promise of freedom and wealth lured intrepid men and their families west. These were courageous, hardy pioneers who were willing to face dangers posed by both man and nature. Success was not guaranteed, and many perished from the elements or at the hands of the indigenous population. Still they kept coming. They were extraordinary people, willing to work hard, dream big, and build a new civilization for their descendants to enjoy.
Much of the land in Texas was parceled off during the early days of its formation as a republic and later as a state. These original orderly plots have been passed down, sold, reapportioned, divided, and repurchased until modern-day farms and ranches often do not resemble the original surveys. Instead, they appear a haphazard and indiscernible patchwork quilt.
The stories of the people who lived and died while trying to transform soil into riches create a historical narrative for these parcels of land. However, their motivation was not entirely wealth-driven. They sought not only material wealth, but also the satisfaction of building a new community and creating a legacy for their children and the citizens of this infant community. Many of the early pioneers invested heavily in their communities through donating land, giving resources for municipal facilities, and establishing churches. When pioneers settled the county, they came with an understanding of civic responsibility, and gave a portion of their good fortune for the betterment of the citizens of the county.
In Ellis County, many Waxahachie street names and buildings bear the names of prominent citizens in the establishment of the city. One of the significant family names in the county’s history is the Sims family. Like other pioneers, they came west looking for opportunity, and they gave generously of their good fortune. The Sims’ legacy can be found in such places as Bethel Methodist Church, the Nicholas P. Sims Library, the Sims farm, and today’s Pecan Springs Ranch located southwest of Waxahachie.
The history of any parcel of land is largely determined by the stories of the people who live on it. The Pecan Springs property bears witness to a family that braved the caprice of Mother Nature and poured their energies into creating a prosperous farm. Their lives were filled with triumphs and joys as well as heartache and trials. Evidence of their endeavors can still be seen in such features as the original homestead and the pecan grove.
The unwritten history of Pecan Springs Ranch consists of unnamed travelers and inhabitants who occupied the land before civilization came to the area. Native Americans and Spanish conquistadors were the earliest to roam the area long before the first Anglo settler arrived in Texas. The prairie supported a significant wildlife and buffalo population that attracted Indian hunters. Chambers Creek offered a perfect place for an Indian encampment, providing the tribe with fresh water and fish to subsidize their diet. The cacophonic sounds of cattle bellowing and drovers yelling could at one time be heard across the land as cowboys herded their cattle up the Shawnee Trail. These unwritten stories comprise part of the history of Pecan Springs.
The written history of Pecan Springs begins with the land grant from the Republic of Texas to Charles Merlin in 1839, signed by President Sam Houston. Merlin was one of the earliest arrivals to Texas, a real pioneer. The rest of its history is primarily formed by the efforts of the Sims family. Nicholas Sims, the first farmer to own the land, was a man who was highly regarded in the Ellis County community. His greatest contribution to Ellis County was the public library and lyceum that was built from funds left to the city in his will. Testimonials portray him to be a remarkable, respected man.
His nephew, Wilson Dabney Sims, was no less remarkable, notwithstanding the fact that no edifices bear his name. W. Dabney accumulated a large amount of property and great wealth; however, he freely gave of his resources to his church. His service in such positions as the director of First National Bank and appointment to the position of County Commissioner demonstrated his respected character. He also provided well for his wife and children.
The Sims family was part of the generation of hardy pioneers and courageous trailblazers that came to Ellis County and helped to tame the land and establish civilization. While the address of Pecan Springs places its location in the township of Italy, Wilson Dabney farmed its land long before the founding of the town. Waxahachie was nothing more than a log cabin courthouse when the Sims family arrived. Circumstances required these people to be self-sufficient for their food, clothing, and lodging. Life was a struggle for survival. The Sims family bought the Pecan Springs property when it was nothing more than a wild land, and with ax and plow they transformed it into a home and producing farm. Their names can be found liberally sprinkled throughout historical accounts of the county with testimonials of their character and contributions. They are in the company of men who formed the history of Ellis County, and Pecan Springs is part of that legacy. Pecan Springs has the proud heritage that it was owned and worked by a family who contributed significantly to the development of Ellis County, and its profits were used for the betterment of that county’s citizens.