Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 11, Number 2, Fall, 1999 Page: 4
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The L fe and Times of Capt. Preston Witt
BY STEVEN R. BUTLER
W h hen modern-day citizens of Dallas
and its surrounding communities
recall the earliest days of their
county's settlement, certain names seem to stand
out more than others. Among the most celebrated
of the area's pioneer residents are the
founder of Dallas, John Neely Bryan, his friends
Alexander and Sarah Cockrell, and, of course,
John Beeman, whose teenage daughter Margaret
married the notoriously erratic Bryan and, in the
couple's later years, had her hard-drinking husband
committed to the state mental asylum in
Less known, but undeservedly so, are a
number of other figures who, perhaps even more
than John Neely Bryan and his immediate circle
of friends and relatives, were the very personification
of the term "pioneer." Without a doubt,
one of the most colorful of these long-forgotten
characters was Capt. Preston Witt.
Witt, a tall, rugged-looking individual who
in physical appearance seemed every inch the
Indian fighter, soldier, and rancher that he was,
was born, along with his twin brother Pleasant, in
Pope County, Illinois, on December 7, I819. The
twins' parents, John Witt, a native Virginian, and
his wife, Eleanor Penny Witt, later moved the
family, which included several other sons, to
Greene County, Illinois.1
Next to nothing is known about Preston
Witt's early years, but according to one of his
nieces, the young man first came to Texas in 1836,
where he is supposed to have taken part in the
Texas Revolution. After fighting alongside General
Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto,
Sarah Witt alleged, her uncle "brought home
from the field ... a ring, a mantle, and some other
things worn by Santa Anna."2 While there is no
reason to doubt her sincerity, Sarah Witt's story
is unfortunately not supported by any evidence.
Not only was Preston Witt only sixteen years old
in 1836 but more importantly, his name does not
appear on any of the muster rolls of the troops
who served under Houston or any other commander
during the Texas Revolution. In all likelihood,
Sarah Witt innocently confused the War
for Texan Independence with the later Mexican
War, in which her uncle's service as a volunteer
officer is amply documented. As for the personal
items belonging to Santa Anna, these were
undoubtedly acquired by Preston Witt when the
captain and his company of Texas Mounted Volunteers
were camped near the former Mexican
dictator's abandoned hacienda at ElEncero in the
spring of 1848.
Although an early trip to Texas is doubtful,
one thing is certain: before he reached the age of
twenty, young Preston Witt became smitten by
the charms of sixteen-year-old Harriet Ann
Hoffman, a native of Kentucky whose family had
also settled in Illinois. On June 20, 1839, the
young couple was wed.3 Two months later, Witt
purchased forty acres of land in Greene County,
upon which he presumably built a home for himself
and his bride.4 There, in 1842, at the age of
nineteen, Harriet Witt gave birth to her first
child, a daughter who was named Margaret.'
The Witt's home, Greene County, Illinois, is
located in the southwestern portion of Illinois.
The county seat was (and still is) the town of
Carrollton, situated less than forty miles above
Alton, at that time an important riverboat
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Dallas County Heritage Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 11, Number 2, Fall, 1999, periodical, 1999; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth35103/m1/6/: accessed May 27, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.