As I mentioned during part one of this series of posts, conducting research for the Villa Finale project has been very interesting, especially when unearthing stories like this one that deals with the very shaky early ownership of the house. Part two ended on October 15, 1896 with cattleman Isaac T. Pryor and his wife Myra purchasing the property. While the residence was referred to being the home of Isaac Pryor, in reality only Myra’s name was at the top on the original deed. It was she who paid $2,500 up front in cash out of her own money which, as it was recorded on the official paperwork, was given to her by her mother. Isaac’s name was only included in the body of the deed.
Isaac Pryor was successful in the cattle business. In 1884 alone he drove fifteen herds of cattle from south Texas to the northwestern states (in 1909 he would found City National Bank). It seems the Pryors brought some stabilty to the ownership of 401 King William – by December 1897 they completed paying off the mortgage. In 1901, the Pryors purchased 100,000 acres in Zavala County and sold their King William property to Dillard Rucker Fant who had been a successful trail driver and pioneer of the industry. In fact, Fant is credited with extending the Chisholm Trail to Corpus Christi, he also held numerous government contracts to supply beef to military posts and was involved in financing Texas railroads and public schools.
However, Dillard R. Fant was also a man troubled by debt. In 1894 he was part of a lawsuit filed by Sarah R. Ingersoll, widow of Henry C. Hines, for notes owed to her late husband. In July 1894, the court collected $2,207.75 through the public sale of Fant property in Bexar County plus another $4,186.31 out of his own pocket thereby releasing him from further debt to Mrs. Ingersoll. His trouble didn’t end there. On May 19, 1900, the United States Mortgage Company of Scotland Limited filed a suit against him and others; while this suit was settled in October 1901 – only six months after purchasing 401 King William (then listed as 407) – Fant found himself involved in another lawsuit only three years later. This time he was named the sole defendant in a suit filed by D. Sullivan & Company, and in May 1904 Fant was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $17,492. (All total, Dillard Fant was ordered to pay over $616,000 in modern U.S. figures according to the 2008 Consumer Price Index.) As if this story weren’t complicated enough, this is where it gets truly messy and confusing!
The same month Fant was found liable in the D. Sullivan & Company case, a man named P. P. Garcia also filed a suit againt him for an “agreement” Garcia claimed was broken by Fant. (We have yet to discover what the original agreement was or when it was drafted). Garcia was asking for $5,460.66 which, the courts decreed, would to be collected on November 1, 1904 through a public sale of Fant’s King William property. The property, claimed Garcia, had been enjoined to him during his agreement with Fant thus giving Garcia the right to sell the property’s three lots individually to recover lost moneys. Sheriff John Tobin – one of Walter Mathis’s family members – delivered the levy for the property’s sale to Fant.
One day before the public sale was to take place, Dillard Fant filed a legal petition against Garcia and Sheriff Tobin. In his petition, Fant claimed his property was protected from Garcia’s foreclosure through the Texas Homestead Act, a law drafted to protect wives and children in the event the man of the house should die or be lured into financial difficulties through gambling. Under this law, 401 King William qualified as an urban residential homestead, defined as a lot or lots of ten acres or less within a city or town. The Texas Homestead Act claimed that only a mortgage holder, a taxing authority, or the holder of a note for a home improvement loan – like the mechanic’s lien entered into by Russell C. Norton in 1876 – could force the sale of a homestead to pay a delinquent debt.
The Court of Bexar County ordered a temporary restraint on the property’s sale until the case was heard in court in November 1906. Attorneys for Garcia and Sheriff Tobin argued that because two of the three lots were worth more than $5,000 each at the time of Fant’s purchase and remained at that value without factoring in the house, then they were subject to sale to pay off debts. In other words, Garcia’s attorneys were only factoring in land value in court and not the house trying to get around the laws of the Homestead Act. They also presented $10,000 in notes Fant owed Myra Pryor, the previous owner, for the original purchase price of the lots.
Here’s the ironic part of the story. The court ruled that D. Sullivan & Company, who sued Fant in 1904, were the only ones entitled to lien rights to the property which meant Garcia could not foreclose. So, if Dillard Fant had not been in trouble in the first place, he would have lost the home to Garcia. And not only did P. P. Garcia lose the case, he and Sheriff Tobin were ordered to pay all court costs. However, Garcia was correct about Fant being in debt to Myra Pryor. One month after Garcia lost his case, the Pryors sold all remaining vendor’s liens to 401 King William to G. Bedell Moore who entered into a new agreement with Dillard Fant and his wife, Lucie. Moore had moved to San Antonio to invest in real estate and became part owner of the West Texas Land and Trust among many other business interests. Moore’s new agreement with the Fants extended the due date of the original loan to October 1909.
Just when it seemed as though Dillard Fant finally had his financial matters in order, he died while on a trip to Goliad on January 15, 1908 leaving his wife Lucie, who was involved in a number of charitable organizations including the education of San Antonio’s impoverished Mexican population, to handle the matters of his estate – this had her in and out of court for several years. In September 1908, Lucie Fant finally solved all matters with 401 King William by selling it to Mrs. Eva T. Brough. By the time of this sale the house was only 32 years old but it had already experienced a long line of troubled ownership … and there was still more to come!