James M. Cavaness, Chanute, born in Monrovia, Morgan county, Indiana, March 29, 1842, coming to Kansas in April, 1856, may well be considered one of the pioneers of the state. His parents were Urban Cooper and Mary (Amick) Cavaness, the former of French descent, born in 1810, and the latter of German parents, born in 1807. They left Indiana for Kansas in the fall of 1854, and stopped for the winter in Howard county, Missouri, to visit three brothers and two sisters of mother Cavaness, whom she had not seen since they left their old home in Randolph county, North Carolina, in 1834. One sister, the youngest of the family, had married Sash Carson, a brother of Kit Carson, the well known Indian scout, living in Howard county, Missouri. An older sister, living in Grundy county, Missouri, was the wife of Hamilton Carson, a half-brother of Kit Carson, who was one of the projectors of the Santa Fe trail and one of its heaviest traffickers in its early history. While temporarily residing in Missouri, Mother Cavaness was so outspoken on the subject of slavery that mob violence was talked very strongly on the part of the people of the village, but because of their many relatives in the neighborhood they were not molested. The father of Mother Cavaness had owned slaves, coming to him by inheritance, but feeling that slavery was wrong, he freed them. No doubt this act of her father caused Mother Cavaness to have intense hatred of the "institution," as she became better acquainted with the enormity of its evils. She was, also, a strong foe to intemperance, and a short time after coming to Lawrence, where the family first settled on coming to Kansas, she joined a company of sixty women in a temperance crusade, which visited every saloon in the city and caused whisky and beer to run down Massachusetts street.
In the troublous times of that year the family witnessed the sacking of Lawrence, in May, when the two newspaper offices were destroyed, and the Border Ruffian raid in September. Father Cavaness and his son, Alpheus, were under John Brown, who was in command of the forces that day. They both belonged to the Free State militia, under Gen. Lane, and the son was with Lane at the surrender of Lecompton. 1857 the family moved to a farm in Anderson county, but because of no schools and little prospect of any soon, they moved to Baldwin, seat of the new college, Baker University, established there the year before. In the fall of that year, 1859, J. M. Cavaness entered this institution, not having gone to school prior to this, altogether twelve months, because of poor health. He remained in college, caring for his mother and two sisters, while his father was in the army under Col. John A. Martin, of the Eighth Kansas infantry, and his brother in the First Kansas battery. He graduated in 1866, in the first class from the institution and the first class in the classical course in the state, received the degree of A. B. and three years later the degree of A. M. As a help to get through college he had taught school in vacations in Anderson and Douglas counties. After graduation he became principal of the school at Butler, Mo., and the next year held a similar position at Paola, Kan.
CoI. J. W. Homer, under whom Mr. Cavaness had graduated, as president of Baker University, associated himself with A. C. Corey in the purchase of the Baldwin newspaper office, and moved it to Chetopa, Kan., establishing "The Chetopa Advance," which began publication Jan. 1, 1869. Mr. Cavaness entered the office as a printer, helping to get out the first issue. He had picked up the trade on Saturdays and vacations while in college. Because of his fidelity to Colonel Homer and his interests, Mr. Corey having retired at the end of the first year, in 1870, Mr. Cavaness was presented with a half interest in the paper. He held every position on the "Advance," and finally, in 1874, evolved as sole proprietor and editor, and continued as owner until the paper was sold, in 1899, to W. P. Hazen, when he became associated with Capt. George M. Dewey in the "Chanute Daily Tribune."
The next year Captain Dewey retired, and he conducted the paper until 1903, when he turned it over to his two sons, Wilfrid and Herbert Cavness, who are still in charge. On March 4, 1873, Mr. Cavaness was married to Miss Mary I. Swallow, of Garnett, Kansas, a daughter of Mrs. Elizabeth Rudolph Swallow, a widow. To this union were born three children, Ethel, wife of J. Luther Taylor, of Pittsburg, Kan., and the two sons above mentioned.
Mr. Cavaness is one of the best known writers of the state. F. G. Adams, late secretary of the State Historical Society, who for many years handled all the papers of the state, regarded him as one of the ablest editors of weekly papers in Kansas. While Republican in politics, and having served as postmaster at Chetopa to the third term, resigning when President Cleveland was elected, he was something of an insurgent, refusing to support bad men, even though nominated by the party. He kicked out of the traces several times, and so strong was the influence of his personality and paper that he secured the defeat of the men he opposed in nearly every instance. He has always fought for prohibition, and the success of his work in this line can be judged by the fact that for two years before the prohibitory amendment was adopted there was no licensed saloon in Chetopa. It was during this interim of no saloons that boycott on him was attempted, which came near being successful, but was defeated by a drinking Democrat, who had some of the milk of human kindness in him, as well as much whiskey.
It is as a writer of verse that Mr. Cavaness is best known to the literary world. His poems have appeared in the Kansas and in the religious press with more or less frequency for thirty or more years. His first volume was entitled, "Poems by Two Brothers," issued in connection with his brother, A. A. B. Cavaness, living at Baldwin. The edition was soon exhausted. His next was "Jayhawker Juleps," a humorous volume, the second edition of which also met with a ready sale. His last volume was a book of religious verse, which was issued last fall, and is entitled, "Rhythmic Studies of The Word."Pages 188-190 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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