“For the past eight or ten years he had been known to every man, woman and child in San Antonio as “poor old man Chrysler.’ Previous to that time he was a prosperous merchant of the city, was held in high respect by the business and social community. Misfortune overwhelmed him, however, and he took to drink. It was only a short time until he had sacrificed business, home and all on the altar of Bacchus, and lived between the saloon and the gutter and the calaboose.” GAINSVILLE DAILY HESPERIAN
William Chrysler was one of the most unique and interesting characters written about in 19th century Texas newspapers. It has been written that he was quite eccentric and very loquacious. When General U.S. Grant visited San Antonio, Mayor James H. French introduced Chrysler to the General. Chrysler was reported to comment, “I expect I might have become as distinguished a character as you if I could have been able to keep my mouth shut.”
Becoming a Texan
Chrysler was born in 1820 in Chatham, Ontario, Canada to Henry and Martha Dolson Chrysler.
William Chrysler’s uncle, George M. Dolson, came to Texas before August 1836. In 1837, Dolson fought with Erastus Smith in his Laredo Campaign; he was wounded in the fighting. By February of 1839, Chrysler had joined his uncle in Texas, and together they fought under Col. Henry Wax Karnes in the Comanche Expedition. Chrysler was wounded in the fighting. By 1842, Dolson was the Captain of a company of Travis County Minute Men. On August 1, 1842, Dolson was killed and scalped near Barton Springs in Travis County; he is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas. In 1854, the Dolson family brought suit against Charles F. King, John James, Peter Gallagher, Walter Tynan, William Vance, James Vance, and others for improper handling of the estate of George Dolson.
In 1854, William Chrysler received two 3rd Class Land Grants from the Texas General Land Office. As a single man who arrived in Texas between Oct 1, 1837 and January 1, 1840, Chrysler was eligible to receive 320 Acres of land. Each of Chrysler’s grants was for 160 acres; the property was located in present day Kendall County on Little Joshua Creek.
William Chrysler settled in Port Lavaca, where he established a successful business selling furniture, cabinets, wagons, ploughs, and other farm implements. By 1857, Chrysler was shipping goods to other locations and advertising in newspapers in Austin and San Antonio. When the Civil War began, Chrysler was a very successful merchant, and one of the wealthiest men in the state.
During the Civil War, Chrysler sold merchandise to the Confederacy. The items sold included office furniture, paper, envelopes, ink, sealing wax, pencils, tacks, mucilage, brooms, curry combs, paint, nails, buckets and dippers, and pots and pans.
Elected Chief Justice
In 1865, Chrysler was elected Chief Justice of Calhoun County, Texas. He also served as probate judge in Calhoun County. Because of his prominence, other businesses used Chrysler as a reference in their newspaper ads.
Life in San Antonio
Chrysler moved to San Antonio in the fall of 1866, joining Joseph and H. B. Anderson in a furniture business in the French Building. The business also paid cash for wool and hides. But by May of 1868, Chrysler had declared bankruptcy. Chrysler became despondent after the downturn in his business and began to drink excessively. It became so common for Chrysler to appear before the Magistrate or Recorder in Court for being drunk that the newspapers in San Antonio daily mentioned his court appearances. Chrysler was very intelligent, educated, and loquacious and his appearances before the Recorder were entertaining and amusing. Chrysler became a well-known figure throughout the area. On one occasion when the Recorder was late for Court, Chrysler took his place dispensing justice. He declared himself the most knowledgeable person in the courtroom in regard to city ordinances due to the time he had spent in Court. Every newspaper reader enjoyed the repartee between the City Recorder and Chrysler as it was always witty and entertaining. He was referred to in newspapers as San Antonio’s most distinguished vagrant.
Citizen of Gonzales
Chrysler moved to a farm in Gonzales and became a sober and respectable citizen. In a February 2, 1886 interview in the San Antonio Daily Express he said he had not tussled with John Barleycorn for several months. The article also claimed him to be one of the best mechanics in Texas. He remained sober for more than four years.
Candidate for City Recorder
Chrysler returned to San Antonio, working as a carpenter. In February 1887, he announced his candidacy for the office of City Recorder. As a candidate it was said that “Mr. Chrysler was a man of more than ordinary intellectual attainments, of patriotic impulses, and liberal and public spirited in character.” Chrysler lost the race, and in response he said, “Though defeated, I am not disheartened nor chagrined. And while the smoke of the battlefield is wafted from view and the clash of arms grows faint in the ear, I deem it my duty, as it is my pleasure, to give public expression to my heartfelt and grateful acknowledgement of the very large and truly encouraging vote cast for me.” In 1889, Chrysler again ran for City Recorder, but during this campaign he was enticed to drink, returning to his old ways. The newspaper wrote, “What a great pity that our elections cannot be reformed in this respect, so that the popularity of a candidate and his chances of success shall not depend, as they usually do, on his liberality and ability to buy drinks for a crowd.”
William Chrysler died December 2, 1889 at the Bexar County Poor House and was buried in the Poor House cemetery. He was 70 years old.
Note: Walter Percy Chrysler, the grandson of William Chrysler’s younger brother John, founded the Chrysler (automobile) Corporation.