James R. Mead, deceased, of Wichita, was a noted Kansas pioneer, whose life, if written in detail, would show a career replete, not only with thrilling experiences as a plainsman, but also as a distinguished leader in the progress and development of the great commonwealth of Kansas. He was a direct descendant of Maj.-Gen. Ebenezer Mead, of Revolutionary war fame, and a son of the Rev. Enoch Mead, a graduate of Yale University and the founder of the Presbyterian church in Davenport, Iowa. He was born in New Haven, Vt., May 3, 1836, and when three years old accompanied his parents, the Rev. Enoch and Mary Mead, to Davenport, Iowa. There he was reared and educated, and early in life began to evince a marked preference for out-door life. His skill as a hunter and marksman was often attested by supplying his mother's table with choice venison and other game meats from the territory surrounding his home. During his school days he became greatly interested in the geography of the Southwest, especially that portion of it southwest of the Missouri river, at that time familiarly known as the "Great American Desert." Therefore, in 1859, when twenty-three years of age, he first realized his youthful ambition to become a plainsman, and for the following four years traded with various Indian tribes in Kansas. Soon after his arrival at Burlingame, Kan., in the fall of 1859, he secured the coöperation of several others to join him in a great buffalo hunt. They followed the trail to the big bend of the Smoky Hill river, where they came upon the buffalo in great numbers and spent several weeks in securing hides, tallow, and meat. It was while on that buffalo hunt that Mr. Mead became enraptured with the country, and then and there resolved to establish a trading post on the Salina river, about twenty miles above its mouth. There he remained several years, during which time he built up an extensive trade with the various Indian tribes located in that territory, and had the honor of naming the following creeks: Beaver, Spillman, Twelve-Mile, Wolf, and Paradise creek, all tributaries to the Saline river and each still bearing the name given it by Mr. Mead.
Mr. Mead's first marriage occurred in December, 1861, when he chose as his wife, Miss Agnes Barcome, of Burlingame, Kan. They began housekeeping at the trading post, where they resided until 1862, when the Indians became restless and their depredations warned Mr. Mead to remove to Salina, which was then a small village, and where they resided in safety until 1863. Then he decided to go farther west, and established a trading post at a place called Towanda, on the Whitewater river, near a large spring which had been frequented by the Indians ever since their first coming to the country. It was while residing in Towanda, in 1863, that Mr. Mead, with some of his neighbors, organized another great buffalo hunt, which took place near the mouth of the Little Arkansas river, in the vicinity of what is now the city of Wichita, Kan. After an absence of three weeks the hunting party returned to Towanda with the spoils of the hunt, which included 330 buffalo hides, 3,500 pounds of tallow, and a few elk and antelope skins, worth, even in those days, several hundred dollars. Mr. Mead returned from that hunt delighted with the country at the mouth of the Little Arkansas, and he at once established a branch trading post just above the mouth of that river. His fame as an honest and upright trader had preceded him and he was not long in extending his trade, not only into southwestern Kansas but also far into the Indian Territory. While very little actual money was used in those early days, still his annual business amounted to thousands of dollars, the trading for the most part being carried on by exchanging skins and furs for his various commodities.
When the great Civil war came on, the Wichita Indians, who occupied the Wichita mountains southwest of Wichita, remained loyal to the Union cause, and being persecuted and driven away from their homes by the Confederates, they located in the vicinity of the Little Arkansas river. When the "Treaty of the Little Arkansas," between the United States government and the various Indian tribes of that portion of the country, was made, Mr. Mead represented the Wichita Indians, and there for the first time he met the famous scout and hunter, Kit Carson. While Mr. Mead was a loyal Unionist, whose sympathies and support was always at the command of the government, and one who longed to enlist in the defense of the Union, still it was thought by the governor of the state, as well as by the government officials, that his large acquaintance and influence with the Indians enabled him to be of far greater value and service to his country as a private citizen than to be on the firing line at the front.
In 1864 he was elected by a handsome majority to the state legislature, to represent Butler county, and, in 1868, was elected to the state senate from the district comprising the four counties of Morris, Chase, Marion and Butler, together with all of the unorganized territory west of the state line, which has since been organized into about thirty-five counties of the state. In 1868, with Governor Crawford and others, he incorporated the town of Wichita, which he had the honor of naming, by insisting that as the Wichita Indians had occupied the town-site for several years prior to the incorporation they had virtually named the place. After the death of his wife, in 1869, Mr. Mead disposed of his trading post at Towanda and removed to a claim he had previously taken, adjoining Wichita, and which at the present time is a valuable part of that city. He had no sooner located in Wichita ere he began an active career in the upbuilding of the city. In 1871 he organized a company to construct the Wichita & Southwestern railroad, and having been made president of the company he resolved to give Wichita its first railroad at the earliest date possible. Therefore, within six months, he had the road completed and in operation, thus giving Wichita the start and precedence which have since made it the metropolis of south western Kansas. When the panic of 1873 came on Mr. Mead had a large credit extended to him by the First National Bank of Wichita, which had failed, and in order to secure the depositors of the bank against loss he turned over to them substantially all of his property, which today is worth many thousands of dollars. For several years after locating in Wichita he conducted an extensive trade with the Indians, his trading post being located between the Little Arkansas and Big Arkansas rivers and a short distance above the mouth of the former.
In 1873 he contracted a second marriage, when Miss Lucy A. Inman, of Wichita, became his wife. She died in 1894. In 1896 Mr. Mead was united in marriage with Miss Fern F. Hoover, of Perry, Okla., and of this union two children were born: Ignace Fern, born in 1902, and Loreta, born in 1904. While Mr. Mead was practically retired from active business during his later years, still he took an active interest in commercial affairs and retained his official relations with several institutions. At the time of his death he was vice-president of the Mead Cycle Company, of Chicago, Ill., which he and his son, James L. Mead, organized in 1895. He was an ardent student of biology and ethnology and for thirty years prior to his death was an active member of the Kansas Academy of Science, in which he was honored with a life membership. He took a deep interest in the efforts of the Kansas State Historical Society to preserve the pioneer annals of the state, and had not only been honored with a life membership in the society but had also served as its president. His picture may now be seen among those of other noted Kansans in the rooms of the State Historical Society. By birthright he was entitled to membership in the Society of Cincinnati, and during his whole life he was a liberal contributor to all public enterprises and assisted in building several churches and school houses, by donating the lots upon which the buildings were erected. He was a frequent and entertaining contributor to the leading periodicals of the day, and his many articles, written for the Kansas State Historical Society and for the Kansas Academy of Science, are models of their kind and well worth a place in the annals of the state. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, of Wichita, remaining to the day of his death true to the faith his father had instilled in him and in which the father had come to Iowa as a missionary. He was blessed with one son and four daughters: James L., born in 1863, is president of the Mead Cycle Company, of Chicago; Lizzie Agnes is the wife of J. A. Caldwell, of Los Angeles, Cal.; Mary E. is the wife of I. B. Lee, of Iowa City, Iowa; and Ignace Fern and Loreta reside with their mother in their pleasant home in Wichita.
Mr. Mead spent much time during his later years in study and historical research and was considered an authority on Kansas pioneer history. He was an active participant in reclaiming the great State of Kansas to civilization and his name will forever be associated with the distinguished pioneers and plainsmen of his day. He inherited a sturdiness of character and rugged honesty characteristic that manifested themselves in every phase of his long and honorable career, in the early spring of 1910 he contracted a severe cold which rapidly developed into pneumonia, that baffled the skill of his physicians, and on March 31 he died at his home in Wichita. Just before his death his family had been summoned to his bedside, and in the presence of those nearest and dearest to him he passed to his eternal reward. Thus ended the life of this honored pioneer, a life replete with noble acts and the attainment of high ideals, a life well worth emulating not only by his descendants, but by all Kansans who are proud of his achievements.Pages 456-459 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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