John M. Formwalt

Of the frontiersmen and old time stockmen who saw duty on the plains of western Texas when they were still the battle-grounds between the advancing civilization on the east and the retiring barbarism of the western wilderness, none of the survivors has a more interesting and varied record than John M. Formwalt, now a resident of Van Horn in Culberson county.

Mr. Formwalt belongs to one of the noted old American families, one that has been identified with this country since revolutionary times, and has always furnished men of physical power, mental resourcefulness and worthy character to their respective communities.

John M. Formwalt was born at Pontotoc, Mississippi, October 23, 1848, a son of Major John and Courtney (McEwan) Formwalt. The ancestry was German and Irish, and the parents were among the settlers of the original Tennessee colony near Palestine, Texas. On both sides of the family there were members in the Revolution and the maternal grandfather, Col. McEwan, not only participated in the Revolution, but later served as captain in the Creek-Indian war. Major John Formwalt, the father, was a captain of the Texas Rangers during the frontier days, and on the outbreak of the Civil war disbanded his ranger company, and took service under Generals Hood and Johnson, attaining the rank of major, and participating in many of the chief battles of the long war. At the battle of Franklin his own men were composed of eight hundred Texas troops, and at the end of the fight only about one hundred and sixty-two survived. He was himself wounded and taken prisoner at that battle. Major Formwalt is ninety-four years of age and a resident at Granbury, in Hood county, one of the most venerable of the Texas pioneers. After the war he was a successful merchant and stockman in Hood county, until he retired when eighty-four years of age. His wife died in 1883, and her remains now rest in the cemetery at Granbury. On the paternal side Mr. Formwalt's grandmother was a sister of the wife of the Governor Traup of Georgia. Seven children were born to Major Formwalt and wife, and their names are as follows: William, a promient stockman of Carizoza, New Mexico; John M.; Charles F., a farmer of Colorado City, Colorado; Hood, a prominent sheepman of Oregon; Helen, a wife of William Allen, a stock raiser at Ballinger; Ada, wife of Ben Hudson of Rock Port, Texas, now deceased; and Samuel, also deceased, who was a resident in Rawlings county, Texas.

Mr. John M. Formwalt was reared in Texas during times and circumstances which interfered greatly with regular schooling, and though he continued to attend school up to the time he was about eighteen years of age, his attendance was often interrupted. At the age of eighteen he begun driving cattle over the prairies to New Mexico and Kansas, and subsequently was engaged in the stock raising business for sixteen years in Hood county. In 1874 he moved out to Runnels county, where he continued in the same business for some years. In 1879 Mr. Formwalt was elected sheriff of Runnels county on the Democratic ticket, and held that position continuously for twelve years. Western Texas has had many efficient, courageous and noted sheriffs, and among them probably none more so than Mr. Formwalt. As the principal executive officer of the law he had supervision of a county which at the time was filled with desperadoes and cattle thieves. Stage robbing was a common practice and assaults upon the law as well as crimes committed by one individual upon another were so frequent that no occupation was more hazardous and demanded greater ability than that of sheriff. It remains to his credit as part of the permanent annals of western Texas that Mr. Formwalt actually broke up all the outlaw gangs operating in his territory and arrested and sent many of them to the penitentiary. Among these were Potter and Daniels, who were noted stage robbers of the time and convicted for robbing stages between Ballinger and San Angelo. Riley Madget, a notorious character of the time fired upon Mr. Formwalt as he stopped in a room with his back turned, and in self-defense Mr. Formwalt found it necessary to put an end to the career of this cowardly desperado then and there. This killing occurred in 18?? and an account of the same may be found in the criminal news of that year. He also killed a cattle thief names Tom Potter in 1878 in Denton county.

Prior to his election as sheriff, but while doing his job as deputy, he was engaged in many Indian fights, one of these occurred in 1869 near Pecos, where he in the company with twenty-two others, were attacked by ?? Apaches, who captered their horses and left the ?? men stranded so that they were forced to walk a distance of more than four hundred miles without water and with little food.

Mr. Formwalt has been twice married. His first wife was Miss Eppie Walden, a native of Texas and a daughter of Kay Walden. Her death occurred in Ballinger in 1895. In 1897 Mr. Formwalt married Miss Bulah, who had been left an orphan and was reared in the home of Major John Formwalt. Mr. Formwalt has no children. He resides on his well stocked ranch in Culberson county, one of the most highly esteemed old-timers in west Texas. Mr. Formwalt stands six feet four inches in height, in body and character is one fo the best representatives of old-time Texas citizens.

SOURCE: A History of Texas and Texans, by Frank W. Johnson, The American Historical Society, Chicago and New York, 1914, pg.1154.