Preston B. Plumb, United States senator from Kansas from 1877 to 1891, was a man whose life history was closely identified with that of the state. There will be other senators in Congress from the state, but there can never be one more devoted to the interests of her people, more faithful or loyal to the welfare of the whole country, who will love his work and perform it better than did Senator Plumb. He was born at Berkshire, Delaware county, Ohio, Oct. 12, 1837. He was a son of David Prince and Hannah Maria (Bierce) Plumb, of old New England families, and the parents of whom were pioneers in Ohio. David Plumb was a wagon maker; and in youth the future United States senator worked for a part of the time in his father's shop. At the age of twelve he went into the world to make his own way. He realized that he would need education, and attended Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, an Episcopal institution which issued a small paper, in the office of which young Plumb worked to support himself while attending Milnor Hall of that school. He was at Kenyon almost three years, became a good printer, and then returned to Marysville (Delaware county), where his father then lived, and secured work as a compositor in the office of the "Tribune", a local newspaper. A rival paper was established there, but failed, and Plumb and another printer bought the office and moved it to Xenia, Ohio, and founded the "Xenia News." Plumb was then about sixteen, full of energy and enthusiasm, and with business ability far beyond his years.
The Plumbs were pronounced anti-slavery people, and the community which they lived was strongly of the same sentiment. Preston B. Plumb never had any doubt regarding his duty, and when the Kansas conflict came on he became a champion of the Free-State cause. His paper reflected his views in vigorous terms. On the evening of June 14, 1856, Marcus J. Parrott addressed the people at Xenia, making a powerful appeal for the Kansas people who were struggling against the hordes of slavery and border-ruffianism. The next morning Plumb went into his office and said to his partner, "Joe, I am going to Kansas and help fight this outrage down, or die with the Free-State men." "I protested," his partner afterwords[sic] wrote, "but go he would, and go he did." That was characteristic of Plumb. He was always quick and usually unerring in his judgment, and when he had decided to do a thing he did it at once and with all his strength. Plumb arrived at Leavenworth, on the steamer "Cataract," July 4, 1856. He visited Lawrence, Lecompton, Topeka, and other towns. He was delighted with the country; his determination to aid the Free-State cause was confirmed, and he resolved to make Kansas his future home. On his return to Ohio he went down the Missouri river, a dangerous thing to do at that time. On the boat he fell under the suspicion of the border-ruffians and might have lost his life but for the interference of Col. Philip D. Elkins, father of the late Stephen B. Elkins, who lived at Westport and was himself a border-ruffian. Plumb started again to Kansas almost immediately. He was enlisted in the Kansas cause heart and soul. The Missouri river was then closed to Free-State immigrants. Plumb went to Chicago and offered his services to the National Kansas Committee and was sent on to Iowa City with letters to Dr. Bowen, the forwarding agent there. At Iowa City he purchased three wagons and three teams of horses. One wagon was loaded with supplies for the journey. Into the others were loaded one brass cannon (12 pounder) and carriage, 250 Sharp's rifles, 250 Colt's navy pistols, 250 bowie knives, and 20,000 rounds of ammunition for the rifles. Plumb recruited a company of ten young men, among them the father of Senator Charles Curtis, and Capt. A. C. Pierce, now of Junction City, to heIp him take his warlike cargo to Kansas. This company was known as the "Grizzlies," and Plumb was the captain. When the wagons were ready to take the road, Dr. Bowen made the company a speech, in which he said: "If the border-ruffians succeed in taking your lives, may the noble cause in which you die give you a passport to a better world." To this speech Plumb replied, closing with these words: "I have seen Kansas. I know the perils of her liberty-loving people. I have seen the border-ruffians and the desolation of their work. I need no introduction to them. I accept the responsibility of this great trust you have today confided to me; and these munitions of defense, if we live, shall be delivered to those for whom they are intended." Plumb was then a boy of eighteen, and there is nothing in all the annals of Kansas which surpass this enterprise and this speech. The cargo was delivered at Topeka on Sept. 25, after a thrilling journey through Iowa and Nebraska, in which Plumb had to quell a mutiny on one occasion, which he did with cocked revolver in hand. At Topeka he bought axes, augers, saws, and such other tools as were necessary in the founding of a pioneer post. He and most of his company then started up the Kansas river to find a location for their settlement. Near where Salina was afterwards built they laid out a town which they called Mariposa. A substantial log house was erected. Plumb then went back to Ohio and sold his interest in the "Xenia News," returning to Lawrence in December. There he secured the position as foreman in the office of the "Herald of Freedom." It was soon discovered that Mariposa was too far from other settlements to succeed at that time, and the company had no money. Lawrence people were then forming the Emporia Town Company, in which Plumb secured an interest. Settlement at Emporia began early in 1857. Plumb established there the "Kansas News," the first number of which was issued June 6, 1857. In 1858 he was a delegate to the convention which formed the Leavenworth constitution. In this convention he took an active part, and there he formed the acquaintance of Thomas Ewing and many other men who became famous in Kansas. In the winters of 1858-59 and 1860-61 Plumb attended law school in Cleveland, Ohio, and was admitted to the bar in 1861, in which year he was made reporter of the Kansas supreme court. He practiced law until he entered the army. He was a member of the House in the legislature which convened in January, 1862, having been elected the previous November. He was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and of the committee to manage the impeachment cases against the state officers. In the summer of 1862 he aided in raising the Eleventh Kansas infantry, being mustered in as captain of Company C, Sept. 10, and on the 25th of that month was promoted to major; and he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, May 17, 1864. He was in the battle of Prairie Grove and all the other battles in the campaigns of General Blunt in the Ozark mountain region, in 1862-3. He was chief of staff for General Ewing, in 1863, at Kansas City, and in August drove Quantrill out of Kansas, after the Lawrence raid. He was in the battles of Lexington, Little Blue, Big Blue, Westport, and in the pursuit of Price, in 1864. In 1865 he was in the Platte campaign in Wyoming, through the spring and summer, and was mustered out at Fort Leavenworth, Sept. 15. He resumed the practice of law at Emporia, and in 1867 the firm of Ruggles & Plumb was formed. This firm stood at the head of the Kansas bar. Plumb was speaker of the house in the legislature which convened in 1867, and was a member of the house in the legislature of 1868. In 1873 he engaged in the banking business at Emporia, in which he continued with success until his election to the United States senate. He engaged extensively in railroad building, also, and was one of the company which promoted the railroad from Junction City to Parsons, now a part of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railway. 1877 he was elected to the United States senate. He was twice reëlected, and his third election was without a single dissenting vote, an honor which never came to any other Kansan. In the senate he had great influence. He knew the needs of the people of Kansas and met them all by prompt action and ready tact. He was ever in touch with the state and worked constantly for the benefit of its people. He was chairman of the Committee on Public Lands and was on other committies, including those on appropriations and finance. He ranked with the foremost senators of his time and secured the passage of many of the laws now in the statutes of the United States. He led the fight within the Republican party against the McKinley tariff bill and voted against the bill on its final passage. He was the first to propose a tariff commission, the idea being original with him, and he opposed the "Force Bill." In the senate he was a hard worker and a powerful debater. On March 8, 1867, Senator Plumb was married to Miss Caroline A. Southwick, of Ashtabula, Ohio. Her father, Abijah Southwick, was a strong anti-slavery man and his home was one of the principal stations on the "Underground Railroad" in northern Ohio, as many as forty fugitive slaves being cared for at his house at one time. Emporia was a small town when Mrs. Plumb went there to live. She has ever been active in all charitable work, and in every movement for the progress of the town she has borne her part. She is a member of the Congregational church. To Senator and Mrs. Plumb were born six children, all now living but one.
The retirement of Senator Ingalls and six Kansas congressmen more doubled Senator Plumb's labors, and his death was caused by over-work, He was warned in the summer to take a long rest, and had arranged a trip to Europe, but did not go, as loyalty to his friends prompted him to return to Kansas and take an active part in the campaign. The result was that when he returned to Washington, he was worn out. His capacity for work has never been equaled by a member of the senate. On Dec. 20, 1891, he died of apoplexy, at his rooms on Fourteenth street, Washington, D. C. The news of his death came as a shock to all Kansas, and genuine sorrow seized her people, for his life was devoted to and in the end sacrificed for them.Pages 152-155 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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