William I. Joseph.A publication of this nature exercises its most important function when it takes cognizance of the life and labors of those citizens who have risen to prominence and prosperity through their own well directed efforts and who have been of material value in furthering the advancement and development of the commonwealth. Mr. Joseph is best known to the citizens of Butler county and the State of Kansas at large as one of its sturdy pioneers and most successful farmers, a large land owner and a successful banker. He was recently given the title, "A Pioneer at Seventy-five," by one of the leading newspapers of the West, due to his purchase of 55,000 acres of land in Rhodesia, South Africa, and the two trips he has made to this property since his seventieth birthday.
William I. Joseph is a native of what is now the State of West Virginia, having been born on a farm near Middlebourne, Tyler county, Feb. 14, 1835, a son of Waitman F. and Sarah (Cox) Joseph. The father was a son of Nathan Joseph, who was born in Delaware, served as a soldier in the war of 1812, and became a pioneer settler in Tyler county, West Virginia, where he followed farming and was recognized as an influential man in his day and section. He was a son of William Joseph, who was also born in Delaware, served as a soldier in the Continental army in the war of the Revolution, and afterward became one of the first settlers in western Virginia, locating near Morgantown. Waitman F. Joseph, father of William I., was an influential man in Tyler county, West Virginia, where he conducted a flour mill and dealt in lumber, lands, etc. He was active in public affairs, a Democrat in his political belief and a pro-slavery advocate. In 1868 he invested in lands in Shawnee and Butler counties, Kansas. A tract of 160 acres, which he purchased in Shawnee county, adjoins the line of North Topeka, and is now owned by his grandson, T. J. Joseph, a farmer of that county. Waitman F. Joseph located on his lands near the present village of Potwin, Butler county, and became a very successful farmer and influential citizen. He died there on Dec. 1, 1892, at the age of eighty-four years, and his wife passed away about the same time. They were the parents of four sons: James, deceased, whose sons, J. D. and Alonzo, reside in White Water, Kan.; William I., the second in the order of birth; Moses N., a resident of Butler county; and Sidney S., deceased, whose sons, John, Thomas, Waitman, Charles and Moody reside in Potwin.
William I. Joseph was educated in the schools of West Virginia and as a youth he was systematically trained for agricultural pursuits, with which he was actively identified for many years. He came to Kansas in 1868, and in 1871 settled in Potwin, purchasing 160 acres of land in that vicinity. He became an extensive land owner and followed agricultural pursuits, including the raising of cattle, etc., until 1900, when he retired, selling his farm lands and removing to Eldorado, where he now resides. Soon after locating at Potwin he became the agent of Charles W. Potwin, of Zanesville, Ohio, for the sale of Kansas lands, and when the village of Potwin was founded Mr. Joseph was the resident builder of the place. He was also a potential force in securing the donation of land to the city of Topeka by Mr. Potwin, which land has since been beautified and converted into a park, known as Potwin park. Mr. Joseph served about twenty-five years as justice of the peace at Potwin, and through his efforts as a peace maker nearly all the disputes of a local character in that vicinity were settled out of court, his prestige as an adjuster of trouble reaching to adjoining towns. He has always given an unequivocal allegiance to the Democratic party, and he is recognized as one of the leading citizens of the community in which he resides, being prominently identified with a number of its most important business enterprises. Though his private affairs are extensive, he has always heartily responded to every demand for the development and improvement of his adopted county and state. He is the owner of valuable real estate in Eldorado and elsewhere in Butler county, and no citizen is more loyal to the general interests of the community. In 1904 he founded the Potwin State Bank, became its president and remained in control of the institution until he disposed of his interest therein in 1909. With his son, Rufus E., under the firm name of W. I. & R. E. Joseph, he has done an extensive business as a dealer in lands. In 1906 he made a trip to Rhodesia, South Africa, where he purchased 25,000 acres of land. In 1909 he again visited that country and bought 30,000 acres adjoining his former purchase. These lands consist mostly of grazing lands, not more than 10,000 acres being fit for cultivation. This vast property he is leasing, with the intention of holding it for future colonization, when the influx of settlers or home-seekers will cause it to increase greatly in value. He is contemplating an additional purchase of land in the same locality. It was these purchases of South African lands that led the Kansas City Star, in April, 1911, to say under the headline, "A Pioneer at Seventy-five," already referred to:
"It takes the true pioneer spirit for a man past seventy years of age to sell most of his holdings, gather his family of ten about him and start for an undeveloped country on the other side of the world. William I. Joseph, of Potwin, Kan., born of good old Morgantown, W. Va., stock, came to Kansas in an early day and bought a homestead out near what is now Potwin. He and his wife passed through the hardships of those days, as well as the pleasures. They reared a family of one daughter and two sons. In the meantime they accumulated thousands of acres of land. In later years Mrs. Joseph died and the old pioneer spirit began to assert itself in this successful banker, farmer and stockman. Ignoring his seventy-one years, he sold some of his interests and with his only daughter, Alice, started for Africa, having heard of the possibilities of the land there. They left while their relatives and friends entertained many misgivings as to the outcome of their adventure. Upon arriving in Salisburg, Rhodesia, which is 300 miles inland and a Portugal possession, he looked around and soon had bought 25,000 acres of land at fifty cents per acre. They rented a house and started to live under just about the same conditions as prevailed in a Kansas town of pioneer times. After spending a few months there they returned to their home, Butler county, Kansas, but the wanderlust still was not satisfied, so a year ago last March Mr. Joseph gathered up all his family, consisting of R. E. Joseph, wife and four children, an aged sister, Miss Louisa Perkins, and the daughter, Alice, and they made a second trip, the old pioneer leading the way to the promised land. When they landed in their far African city they secured a furnished house and a Kaffir boy servant, named Ned Mendoll, and commenced living just as they would in their native town. This time the party stayed during the summer, and when they started home brought the Kaffir boy with them."
It is needless to repeat that Mr. Joseph is held in the highest esteem by his neighbors and that he has been a most active figure in the development of Butler county. His handling of the Potwin lands did much to bring in a fine class of residents, and although the town of Potwin is named for the man who owned the land where it stands, it is really the result of the efforts of Mr. Joseph in the way of development. On April 1, 1861, Mr. Joseph married Miss Landora A. Perkins, daughter of Abram and Elizabeth Perkins, of Tyler county, West Virginia, and of this union were born four children, of whom three are living: George F. is manager of his father's interests in Rhodesia; Alice resides with her father in Eldorado; Rufus E. is a resident of Eldorado, and Flora died at the age of twenty.Pages 1568-1571 from volume III, part 2 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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