The story of successful investment in southern pine lands contains no more interesting chapter than the career of William Wiess, of Beaumont, Texas. Although his connection with the lumber industry as a manufacturer covers a period of but twenty-two years, he may truthfully be called a pioneer, as the lumber business of eastern Texas does not have to look backward over many years to recall its pioneer days. At the commencement of William Wiess' career as a lumberman, yellow pine occupied a very humble position; but the strong faith which he had in the ultimate recognition of its value never wavered through all the discouraging experiences that were encountered. He eagerly watched the development of this industry, and finally his faith was rewarded in an expansion fully equal in its rapidity and scope to his anticipations.
William Wiess is southern born and bred. His father, Simon Wiess, and his mother, formerly Miss Margaret Sturrock, were married at Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1835 and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas, the following year. Here his father was made collector of customs for the Republic of Texas under President Sam Houston. Later, about 1837 or 1838, he moved to Sabine Pass, Texas, and in 1839 to Griggsby's Bluff. In 1840 he went to Beaumont, where he engaged in a mercantile business until 1841. In that year he moved to Wiessbluff, which was at that date in the wilderness, on the bank of the Neches river in Jasper county, in the center of the longleaf yellow pine belt. In 1836 the eldest of the family was born at Nacogdoches. In 1839 a son, Napoleon, now deceased, was born at Griggsby's Bluff. In 1842 two sons, Mark and William (the subject of this biography), were born. In 1845 another son was born and in 1848 the sixth son was born. There was also a daughter, Pauline. The father gave all of his children the best educational advantages that it was possible for him to provide.
Early in the '50's the elder Wiess erected on the bank of the Neches river one of the old fashioned "Peck" saw mills, which was run by a wheel extended into the current of the river. His principal business enterprise at Wiessbluff was a store, which was continued during his lifetime and managed by himself and his sons. Wiessbluff was at the head of tidewater and was an important shipping port. William Wiess, alone, received and discharged freight from three steamboats in one day.
In July, 1861, William Wiess, then eighteen years of age, with all his brothers, enlisted in the Confederate army and served until the close of the war in 1865. Returning home without even a dollar, the father gave each of the sons a small amount of money with which to make his start in the business world. William secured a position with a New York commission house which was buying cotton and remained with it five months, being able to save some money during that time.
In December, 1865, he embarked in the mercantile business at Beaumont, where he still resides. He continued in this line, having also some small interest in the lumber business, until March, 1880, when his active connection with the lumber industry began. He disposed of his entire mercantile interests and invested in the Reliance Lumber Company, taking charge of this concern as business manager. It was during his twenty-two years' management of this company that he won for himself a conspicuous place in the history of the American lumber trade.
When he took charge of the affairs of this concern it was practically bankrupt, being in such financial straits that it had to borrow every dollar with which it did business. Owing to the excellent business ability of Captain Wiess and the strict attention which he gave to the affairs of this company, it was soon not only out of debt but also taking its place among the largest and most important yellow pine manufacturing institutions, and it was only a short time until it was well known throughout the country.
Captain Wiess conducted the business of the Reliance Lumber Company until January 1, 1901, when he accepted a proposition from John H. Kirby, of the Kirby Lumber Company, of Houston, Texas, for the sale of its timber holdings, which by this time aggregated about 80,000 acres, and the manufacturing plant. This sale was for cash.
With the sale of this business, Captain Wiess retired from active lumbering and proceeded to enjoy the benefits of his hard earned and well deserved success. When he first took up his residence in Beaumont, that now beautiful and prosperous little city was but an insignificant village; but his firm belief in its future prosperity like his faith in the permanent success of the yellow pine industry was rewarded by realization. He was not only a witness to this prosperity but took an active part in bringing it about, always being a public spirited citizen and working ceaselessly for the good of the community in which he lived. That he should receive a share of the prosperity that came to his town was but appropriate and just, and not one of his townsmen has ever shown any envy at his success.
William Wiess was married January 11, 1866, and of this marriage were born two sons, Eugene C., and Perry M., and one daughter, Nena. He had the misfortune to loss his first wife, and married again in March, 1880. Speaking to a friend in reference to the much debated question of marriage being a failure, he once said: "I stand ready to prove that marriage is not a failure, as I know that I married two of the best women in the world."
Captain Wiess is a man of genial, courteous manner, possessing enough dignity to make the combination a pleasing one. His private office at the Reliance Lumber Company's place of business was for years the scene of many a pleasant conference, as this much engaged man was never too busy to welcome any who wished to see him. Rich and poor were greeted alike, the courtesy so characteristic of the man being extended impartially. He was always the friend of the newspaper fraternity, and his cordiality to this class was highly appreciated by its representatives. No man in the vast state of Texas is more respected and esteemed than Captain William Wiess.