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Daniel Webster Wallace was born in Victoria County in 1860 in slavery. He grew up learning to be a cowboy and received his first wages when he was only fifteen years old. At the age of seventeen, he made a solo horseback ride of four hundred miles from Victoria through Indian country to far southwest Texas near the edges of Runnels and Taylor counties to seek employement with buffalo hunting expeditions, but instead went to work for Sam Gholston, a rancher and veteran Indian fighter. About one year later, he went to work for an outfit known as the N.U.N. which ran 8,000 head of cattle.
He received the nickname “80 John” from his years working for Texas rancher Clay Mann. Mann’s brand was “80” and on the advice of Mann, Wallace agreed to accept some of his wages in cattle. Wallace was frugal and also began to acquire parcels of land where he started to build his own herd. He purchased some of his land for as low as $1.50 per acre, friends recalled.
Wallace was six foot three inches tall at age 25 and came to Colorado County in 1877. Before coming to West Texas, he had not previously gone beyond the first grade in school. As he was working for Mann and building his own ranch, he enrolled in a local school in the second grade.
Wallace eventually accumulated eight thousand acres of land where he ran cattle and raised crops. Oil was eventually discovered on his property. He remained active well into his senior years and was known to have ridden bucking broncos when he was seventy-four years old.
He married and together with his wife Laura Owen Wallace, had a fairly large family including four children and numerous grandchildren. They had lived in West Texas most of their adult lives and were considered pioneers in the area. The Wallace family believed in education and made sure that all of their children took advantage of their educational opportunities. Two of their daughters, Hettie and Mary, grew up and returned to the West Texas area to teach at a school named for the Wallace family during the days of segregated schools in Texas. Their son also became a teacher and an administrator.
Daniel Webster Wallace died in 1939, one year after the couple had celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. At the time of his death, he was Mitchell County’s oldest resident. Laura survived him by another eleven years and passed away in 1950.
One honor that some might think to be somewhat odd, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice named a Texas prison facility for Wallace. Officially known as the Daniel Webster Wallace Unit, a minimum security prison was built in Colorado City, Texas in Mitchell County. It operated for several decades and housed up to 1,384 offenders. While incarcerated, the individuals could receive training and skills needed to work in agriculture, horticulture, building maintenance, farm shop maintenance, garment making, automotive maintenance. They could earn a GED and also receive instruction in life skills, other education courses and training designed to help them when they earn their release. It was apparently closed in 2017. [Correction: It was not closed and is still in use as of 2021. https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/unit_directory/wl.html]
On April 3, 1966, Colorado City unveiled a historical marker dedicated to Wallace. The marker gave an account of Wallace’s long life, how he came by his nickname, his arrival in Mitchell County and his long career as a cowboy and rancher. A grandson, T. P. Fowler, gave an account of the family history. Mr. Fowler was at the time serving as principal of the Wallace School in Colorado City. A choral group from the Wallace School provided the entertainment and Dr. R. N. Richardson, state director of the Texas Historical Survey Committee also gave an address.
“80 John” Wallace, as he was known, is interred along with Laura and other family members in the family cemetery in Loraine, Mitchell County, Texas.
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