Kansas History and Heritage Project-Sumner County

Sumner County Biographies
from "Midnight and Noonday"

Biographies from "Midnight and Noonday," 1890 by G. D. Freeman. The biographies below pertain to Caldwell residents, for the most part:

J. M. Thomas came to Caldwell in March, 1871. His has indeed, been a varied and checkered career since he came and settled on the extreme border of civilization. Checkered not in the sense of having his name tarnished by the daring deeds of lawlessness that made so many names of young men on the frontier become so infamous on account of deeds of daring and of crime, but checkered by the different occupations in which he engaged at different times, and his life was varied by the many successes and financial failures in the business in which, for the time being, he seemed willing to engage.

J. M. Thomas was a native of Ohio, but after the war he emigrated to the state of Missouri. While in the latter state, he received a fair education, and was thus qualified to be one of the leaders in the settlement of a new country. Soon after his arrival in Caldwell, he hewed the logs and erected a building; in size about 24 by 30 feet, and a story and a half in height. This building he rented to Cox and Epperson of Kansas City Mo., to be used as a drovers supply store. Mr. Thomas now became the employee of this company, sometimes acting as clerk; and as the firm owned a bunch of cattle, he acted in the capacity of herder.

The firm of Cox and Epperson did a thriving business during the summer of 1871, but after the drive was over, the stock of goods in the store ran low, and Mr. Thomas bought what remained. Now we find him a merchant. In the following spring, as the reader will remember, while negotiating for goods to replenish his stock, Anderson was killed by McCarty. Thomas was an eye witness to this tragedy. While he was never courting a chance to see deeds of desperadoism, being a permanent fixture in Caldwell he beheld many a revolting scene.

In 1876 Thomas was elected justice of the peace and by re-election held the office four years. He was elected trustee in 1880 and served one term. In 1885 he was again elected justice of the peace, and by continued re-elections, he still holds that office; he is also a dealer in real estate.

Financially, Mr. Thomas has made several fortunes; but as the old saying is "easy come, easy go" he barely maintains his own. The boom of 1886 in the West, left many an enterprising man with less funds than it found him. Probably Mr. Thomas made thousands of dollars at this time, but possibly the relapse had caught him. In conclusion I will say he is the oldest settler still living in Caldwell, having settled in March, 1871.

Ballard Dixon was also quite an early pioneer of this vicinity, having settled on a claim six miles northwest of Caldwell, in March, 1871. He came to stay, and was willing to endure for the sake of a home in the "Far West." Fortunately or unfortunately, as the reader may be pleased to term it, Mr. Dixon seems to never have found his affinity in a female form, and claimed it as his own. All these years he has remained in single blessedness; having no gentle one at his "shanty on the claim " to molest or make him afraid. When coming to Kansas, he looked out for the evil day when hunger might appear, bringing with him about eight hundred dollars in cash.

While Mr. Dixon is unpretentious and unassuming, he commands the respect of all who know him. He was elected to the office of trustee of Caldwell township, and filled the office with great credit to the township and honor to himself. It has been truthfully said, that "every man however perfect, has defections in life." To this rule Mr. Dixon was no exception. The only thing however, of which he will have to plead guilty is: that he never took unto himself a wife and thereby help to build up society and the future generations. For almost a score of years he had been the cook of his shanty, and the farmer of his farm. This however is a matter of his own.

It will be remembered by the reader that on several occasions, that Ballard Dixon has been identified with those who were hastily formed into a band, to make a long and weary chase after thieves. It will therefore easily be conjectured that the name of Ballard Dixon, in future history, will stand second to none in upholding the laws of the land. Financially he is now rated some ways up in the thousands of dollars. Enough I have no doubt, to support himself in ease and luxury the balance of his days is at his command.

W. B. King, or as he was usually called, Buffalo King came to Caldwell, as the reader will remember, in company with me, in May, 1871. It is often said "it takes all kinds of people to make a world." This adage in truth is quite applicable in the case of our friend King. His was one of those peculiar temperaments which can endure pain, hardships and privations, without the least sign of a murmur. Always ready to take the world as it came, if in his efforts it failed to conform to his wishes. He made his settlement seven miles southwest of Caldwell. During the early part of his western life, he, like quite a number of the early settlers, had not the least faith in Kansas as a farming country. For this reason he did not open his farm at once, but touched the farming business rather lightly at first; spending much of his time on the plains hunting the buffalo and poisioning wolves, in order to secure the hide and meat of the former, and the furs of the latter. It is said that as a buffalo hunter Mr. King had no superior and very few equals. He seemed almost unerring in his markmanship. While he was not inspired, yet it seemed for him to point his gun toward a buffalo, meant sure death to the animal. In this manner he lived and supported his family for the first few years with what little land he saw fit to cultivate, raising a few vegetables and some grain. Time rolled on, however, and farming was no longer an experiment, and the buffalo were fast receding toward the setting sun. Mr. King could now plainly see that there was a good living on his farm for himself and family, and so gradually gave up his hunting and turned his attention to cultivating and improving his farm.

In 1872 he was elected constable, but failed to qualify; but, as the reader will remember, on a number of occasions he was found as one of the sheriff's or constable's posse to help chase and capture thieves.

Mr. King came and settled in the vicinity of Caldwell and made it his home until 1886, when he emigrated to Washington Territory. We write his history as one of the 71'ers that is still here, as he left so recently and that his name has been so frequently mentioned in these pages.

Financially he came here poor and bare-headed; when leaving he had property to the amount of six thousand dollars, with respectable clothes.

J. A. Ryland, as, perhaps, the reader may remember, came to Caldwell from Slate Creek, with myself and others, on May 25. 1871. Soon after his arrival he formed a partnership with A. M. Colson to engage in the stock business. The company thus formed located on a claim on the Chicaskia River, six miles northeast of Caldwell. Here the boys erected a hewn log house, in which to live and call "home" while they followed the business mentioned above. They bought from different herds, at a low price, sore-footed cattle that from the effects of the long drive on the trail had become so disabled that they could not be driven any farther toward the shipping point. Buying these cattle at so low a price, with limited means the boys got together a herd of 125 head. Most of the cattle, after resting awhile, became well; but the uncommonly severe winter of 1871 and 1872 caused a large number of the brutes to succumb to the severity of the wintry storms, and in the spring of 1872 the original number of cattle was found to have decreased by about half. The firm now dissolved, Mr. Ryland retaining the claim, which, by the way, was a very desirable one and susceptible of being made into a fine home and a grand farm. It is still owned by the original settler and by him has been well improved, and is known by the name of "Riverside."

In the fall of 1873 Mr. Ryland in Indiana, his native state, having received a fair academic education concluded to engage in his former occupation, that of a teacher. On October 6, he took charge of the public school of Wellington, the county seat of Sumner County. After six months teaching, he again returned to his farm and endeavored to raise a crop, but the drouth of 1874 nipped the crop in the bud, and in July the grass-hoppers closed the deal, leaving the farmer naught for his labor.

In September, 1874, Mr. Ryland was appointed examiner of applicants for teachers' certificates, which position he held for two years, and finally resigned to go east and make a lengthy visit with friends. In the winter of 1874 and 1875, and also in 1875 and 1876, we find the subject of this sketch engaged in teaching the school at Alton, Kan. He has also taught school at other places at different times since then, but his chief occupation has been that of a farmer and stockraiser. He has always seemed to be willing to "labor and to wait," having great faith in the future of Southern Kansas. He has accumulated quite a considerable of this world's goods, so that now, I am told, he owns property to the amount of from fifteen to twenty thousand dollars, having his original farm as a home, and sufficient "filthy lucre" to keep the "wolf from the door."

A. M. Colson came to Kansas, May 19, 1870, and to Caldwell, May 25, 1871. The first year after b:.s coming was spent six miles northeast of Caldwell, in partnership with J. B. Ryland, handling cattle. In the spring of 1872, the partnership was dissolved, he continuing in the cattle business ever since that time. Quite a portion of the time he has been engaged in the business alone, but of late years has been running it in partnership with Judge McAtee, of Caldwell.

Mr. Colson is a native of New York State, and in youth received fair educational advantages. When settling in Sumner County, the county being unorganized, he took an active part in its organization; and was elected the first county superintendent of schools, but, finding that to fill the office properly, would materially interfere with his private business affairs, he failed to qualify, and hence let the office go by default.

Mr. Colson now considered himself of proper age to take unto himself a wife, and in the year 1875 he was married, Miss Mary Goldy becoming his wife. In 1879 his wife died leaving an only child a daughter who was named Fawny, and was undoubtedly the first white child born in the land known as the Cherokee Strip.

In 1880 Mr. Colson's widowhood was brought to a sudden close by his contracting a second marriage, with Mrs. Mary J. Garretson; she likewise having an only child, named Katie. He has been engaged in the banking business for several years past, and at present holds the position of president of the Citizens Bank of Caldwell; and has also held the office of mayor and president of the council of Caldwell continuously for five years. Upon the opening of Oklahoma he, like thousands of others, became affected by the Oklahoma craze and took an active part in the grand horse race made by President Harrison's proclamation opening that country to settlement. Being one of the first to enter, he, by rapid riding, secured a choice claim adjoining the townsite of Kingfisher, where his home now is.

Financially Mr. Colson has been a success; having brought with him when he came to Caldwell less than $1,000, and now he is estimated to be worth from $30,000 to $40,000.

M. H. Bennett also came to Caldwell in the fall of 1871. He worked for three years for A. Drumm and at the expiration of that time went into the cattle business on his own account and has succeeded remark, ably well. Mr. Bennett, however, seems to have been of that disposition that to risk much will gain much. I presume that in different ventures he has probably made several fortunes. But, perhaps he, like all others who take great risks, will in time meet reverses. When coming to Kansas he brought no money, but he brought that which always succeeds perseverance and industry. I should not like to form a guesss as to how much he is worth, but one thing I do know, he is in charming circumstances and ranks high, as a citizen, in Caldwell.

Mr. Bennett, in disposition, has never thirsted for notoriety, but has rather courted obscurity, and, I think has never accepted any official position of any importance. Being a lover of home and family ties, he was slow to accept positions requiring him to be absent from home and to assume responsibilities. He is a native of Ohio, but came to Kansas in an early day and may well be termed a pioneer.

John A. Blair is the last, but by no means the least, of the 71'ers whose biography we will attempt to sketch. It would seem strange that so few are able to "hold the fort" for a score of years, but such is the fact. Some of the original settlers have long since been claimed by that grim monster, Death, while others have gone east and are now safe in the home of "wife's people."

Johnnie Blair, as he was usually called, came to Caldwell in May, 1871. For the first year he clerked in the store of Cox & Epperson; while at this occupation he was gaining an experience in the mercantile business which proved to be the golden stepping stone to success in future life. In 1872, Johnnie became a herder of Texas cattle. Here, likewise, he gained knowledge which proved to be of great benefit. He seems to have had a well balanced temperament which enabled him to engage in any kind of business with equal success; whether a clerk, a merchant, a herder, or a cattle owner, his efforts were always crowned with success.

In 1874 we. find Mr. Blair clerking in the store belonging to C. H. Stone, of Caldwell; but before the year closes we find him the owner, he having bought the store from Mr. Stone. It seems that Johnnie was now in his element and at home in the business. He soon became the popular merchant, and, in fact, a very popular man. It is doubtful if any one who ever lived in Caldwell can lay claim to surpassing Johnnie in popularity.

He continued in the mercantile business until 1881, when he sold his store and engaged in the cattle business. His success in his last venture has been almost phenomenal. When coming to Caldwell he was a comparative youth, with very limited meams; but having a disposition that will always make friends and a determination to succeed, he now finds himself rated high up in the thousands of dollars. He now lives in Caldwell in a fine home of his own, where he and his family live in luxury and ease, holding the confidence and esteem of all who know him.

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This website created Oct. 29, 2011 by Sheryl McClure.
2011 Kansas History and Heritage Project