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W. L. Watson was born Vermilion County, Illinois, on the 22d of December, 1837. His father was William D. Watson, in his early life an itinerant Methodist preacher who traveled extensively through Indiana, having been born in the neighborhood of Vincennes, and in Fountain County, of that state, married Mary Low. His health finally failed him, and coming to Illinois, he located above Georgetown in Vermilion County. William Watson, the grandfather, was born in Kentucky, and when a young man settled in the vicinity of Vincennes, Indiana.
W. L. was the oldest son and second child of the family. His father came to Douglas County, then Coles, in 1839, and located first on Brushy Fork, a short distance west of Newman. After a residence here of a year or two he moved to Camargo, and afterward to section 35, in Township 16, range 9, where he resided till his death, which occurred in October, 1858. His wife survived him till April, 1866. They had nine children. W. L. Watson was between four and five years old when his father located southeast of Camargo. At this latter place he mainly received his education, partly under the instruction of his father, who taught school at Camargo and was one of his first teachers.
The old log school house stood about one hundred yards north of Alonzo Lion’s store, on the road leading north from Camargo. In the winter of 1849-50, and also 1853-54, he attended the Georgetown Academy, in Vermilion County, then having the best reputation of any school of learning in this part of the state. At the death of his father in 1858, Mr. Watson, as the oldest son, took charge of the farm and managed it in the interests of the family till 1862.
The war of the Rebellion at this time had broken out, and in February, 1862, Mr. Watson volunteered. He preferred the cavalry service and being unable to enlist in an Illinois cavalry regiment, he went to St. Louis and en-listed in the Fifth Missouri Cavalry for three years. He was with the Fifth Missouri two years and a half, during which time he was mostly in the southern part of Missouri. In August, 1864, he re-enlisted in the Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry, and served to January, 1866. He was a non-commissioned officer. At the close of the war his regiment was sent out on the plains to fight the Indians. While in Missouri he was in the campaign against Price, and in the battles of Independence and Fort Scott. After receiving his discharge in January, 1866, he came home and commenced farming on the old homestead.