WILLIAM S. WILSON. Another example of attainment in the face of apparent failure is William S. Wilson. After a long, hard struggle, when in climbing the height towards the goal which he had set before him, he often clung with his finger tips to some slight projection at the imminent danger of falling, but climbing upward step by step, he finally reached the top. Standing there he felt at last that he had gained a safe resting place in the battle of life, only to feel the ground that he had thought so solid underneath his feet slipping slowly from beneath him, and then to find himself hurtling down the precipice up which he had so painfully climbed. It would seem that a man bruised and shaken as he was would be content to lie quiet at the bottom, but this was not his nature, he was one of those who achieve. He went over the road again and this time he safely reached his goal. Mr. Wilson is president of the Ritchey Coal Company, and is one of the best known coal operators in Southern Illinois. He is also active in the financial and civic life of his city, and is anxious to bring to the country that has brought him prosperity as much success as is possible. To this end he advocates any progressive measure that tends to improve the social conditions of Pinckneyville, and this city should be very thankful that it can number among its citizens so public-spirited a man.
William S. Wilson has the best blood of the North and the South in his veins. His father, William S. Wilson, Sr., was born in Shelby county, Kentucky, and was of Scotch descent. Many of the members of this family fought for the cause of state sovereignty under Jackson and Lee, but William S. Wilson, Sr., had the temerity to marry into a family whose sentiments were strongly in favor of the Union, his wife having two brothers in the Union army. The lady in question was Letitia Fairleigh, a daughter of William Fairleigh, whose forefathers were from France. He was of an old pioneer family of Kentucky, and served many years as county clerk of Mead county. Mrs. Wilson's mother was one of a large family. William S. Wilson, Sr., passed his life as a tiller of the soil, and gave many years of faithful service to his fellow-citizens as sheriff of his county, retiring from this office just a few months prior to his death, which occurred in 1856.
William S. Wilson was born at Brandenburg, Kentucky, the town where his father died, on the 26th of October, 1852. He is the younger of two sons of his parents, his brother William W. having passed away in Pinckneyville, Illinois, in 1878. He was agent of the old Cairo Short Line at that place, and on his death left two children. His wife was a Miss Ozburn, and his children were H. E. Wilson, who is now with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company at Chicago, and a daughter who is the wife of Robert Roe, of Pinckneyville. William S. was only a youngster of three years when his father died, and he grew up in the home of his maternal grandfather. He was an independent lad and could not endure the feeling of being indebted to anyone, not even to his grandfather, so be began to support both himself
and his mother early in life. He therefore acquired little education, but he made the most of the few advantages he did have. When he was fifteen he entered an office of the Western Union Telegraph Company, to learn telegraphy. He rapidly picked up a knowledge of Morse, and soon became an operator and an agent at points along the line of the Cairo Short Line Railroad. It was a continual struggle to feed and clothe his mother and himself, and as she grew older there were little luxuries that he felt she must have, so many, many times he cheerfully gave up something he really needed to buy fruit for her.
His promotion came soon, he being made agent for the Cairo Short Line at Freeburg, Illinois, in 1870, and in 1886, he was appointed superintendent, after advancing from one point to the next higher by the slow processes known only to railroad companies. His headquarters were moved to Pinckneyville in 1890, and he remained with the company until 1896, when the Illinois Central acquired the Cairo Short Line, and Mr. Wilson then went into the coal business.
He entered the coal business in Williamson county as a member of the Scott-Wilson Coal Company, whose plant was near Carterville. He was vice-president of this company and was also one of the owners of the Carterville Mining Company. He opened and developed the old White-Walnut Coal Company, which has recently been dismantled at Pinckneyville. He was president of this company until an opportunity came along to make an advantageous sale, and it passed into other hands. In all these operations, covering a period of ten years, he united the practical knowledge of the mine operator with the daring and courage of the financier, and each new venture was of greater industrial importance than the last. Just before the money panic in 1907 he made his supreme effort and put all the money he could procure in the Bessemer Wash Coal Company, of which he was the organizer and the president. This company operates six mines and a wash between Pinckneyville and East St. Louis, and would have undoubtedly been a huge success but that the unstable condition of financial affairs caused by the panic made it impossible to float its bonds and finance it. It collapsed like a bubble and all the earnings of years of industry and economy were swept away. Mr. Wilson and the Ritchey Brothers were the chief sufferers in the catastrophe and it was necessary for them to start again at the foot of the ladder.
It was now that Mr. Wilson showed the stuff of which he was made. With the aid of friends he and his old railroad associates embarked in the coal business again, after confidence had been somewhat restored, and the Ritchey Coal Company was organized. The company opened a mine at the junction of the Illinois Central and the Wabash, Chester and Western Railroads, and secured a long contract with the Illinois Central Company. To fill this contract requires practically the whole of the daily output of the mine, consequently prosperity once more smiles upon Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson is president of the company, Thomas Ritchey is vice-president and Sherman Ritchey is secretary, treasurer and manager.
Immediately upon taking up his residence in Pinckneyville Mr. Wilson evinced his interest in the advancement of the town, and its citizens soon placed great confidence in him. He has served for six years as a member of the town council, and for twenty years has been president of the board of education. He is particularly valuable in the latter position, for the education that he did not have in his younger days makes him place all the higher value upon it, and he is determined that whatever else shall suffer the schools of Pinckneyville shall be equipped so as to give the best education to her prospective citizens. As a financier he has become well known through his position as president
of the Building and Loan Association, which post he held for several years, and through his place as executive head of the First National Bank. He has particularly urged that the citizens of Pinckneyville should add to the beauty of their city by the erection of substantial and artistic homes. In this he has set them a worthy example in his own home, which is one of the most attractive in the county.
On the 29th of April, 1875, Mr. Wilson was married in Owensboro, Kentucky, to Belle M. Moorman, a daughter of S. M. Moorman, who was a prominent merchant of that place. He was born and brought up in Owensboro, and served in the Civil war as a soldier fighting for the Confederacy. Mrs. Wilson was born on the 25th of December, 1856, in Owensboro. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson have two children, Sarah, who is the wife of Dr. C. H. Roe, and George R., who is engaged in the coal business in St. Louis. Mr. Wilson lost his mother in 1906, at the age of eighty, but she died happily, having seen her son come through his trials and unconscious of that greater trouble that he was yet to face.
Politically Mr. Wilson was a Democrat until Bryan came into the limelight, and since that time he has acted independently, with a leaning toward the Republican party. He is a member of the fraternal order of Masons, and in his religious views is a warm supporter of the beliefs of the Missionary Baptist church. He is superintendent of the Sunday-school, and is a leader in many of the activities of the church.