Abijah Wells, of Seneca, is not only one of Nemaha county's early pioneers, but is also one of its leading lawyers and financiers, and the story of his life furnishes another instance of the possibilities in store for any American youth, who, with a stock of energy, push and ability, may raise himself from a humble position and become a prominent factor in the life of his community and state. He was born in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, June 12, 1840, a son of William R. and Betsey K. (Skinner) Wells, both of whom were born and reared in Orange county, New York. They were married in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, June 2, 1832, and removed from Pennsylvania to La Salle county, Illinois, in 1845. There they resided until their removal to Nemaha county, Kansas, in the spring of 1857. William R. Wells had visited Kansas in 1856, however, and after prospecting around he decided to make his future home in Nemaha county. He returned to Illinois in the fall of 1856, in time to vote for Gen. John C. Fremont for president, and in the following spring set out with his family for the great West. In due time he located on a tract of wild land about three miles south of Seneca and set about developing a home. Soon after his arrival there he, with others, formed a town site company and laid out the town of Wheatland on a plat of land situated on the exact geographical center of Nemaha county, with the idea in view of making it the county seat. But the dream of those sturdy pioneers came to naught, as Seneca was finally made the county seat. Although a member of the Congregational church at the time of his removal to Kansas, William R. Wells became one of the founders of the Methodist Episcopal church in Nemaha county and remained a consistent member of that church until his death. He was especially active in support of the free-state movement and was a man of sound judgment and strict integrity, who figured prominently in all of the local events of his day. He served as township trustee several terms and as justice of the peace for many years, and was a member of the first board of commissioners of Nemaha county. His death occurred in Seneca in 1893, the family having removed to the county seat in 1864. There on June 22, 1882, the parents of Abijah Wells celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, and it was not until six years later that their long companionship of fifty-six years was severed by the death of the mother on July 18, 1888, the father on Dec. 16, 1893.
Abijah Wells was a lad of seventeen when he accompanied his parents to their pioneer home in Nemaha county. His boyhood and youth were spent on the farm and his earlier education was obtained in the district schools of Illinois. After his arrival in Kansas he attended Centralia College and later attended the Kansas State Agricultural College at Manhattan, being a student during the first year's work of that great institution. He decided early in life to enter the legal profession and with that end in view he entered the law office of J. E. Taylor, of Seneca, where he not only obtained a knowledge of his chosen profession, but broader ideas, a finer perception and an active public spirit grew out of his acquaintance with Blackstone and Kent. He was admitted to the Nemaha county bar in 1866 and has continuously practiced law ever since except four years while a member of the Kansas court of appeals. His intellectual vigor and talent for facile and trenchant expression were not only of forensic value in his profession, but made the "Seneca Tribune," of which he became the editor and proprietor early in 1881, a paper of great influence politically and a profitable business property. However, in the same year, he sold it to A. J. Felt, and thereafter gave his whole attention to law, except such time spent in official duties. Politically, Mr. Wells has been an active supporter of the principles and policies of the Republican party all of his life and has not only aided the party in local and state councils, but has filled many offices of honor and trust as his party's choice. His official career began in 1863 when he was selected county superintendent of education. In 1866 he was elected clerk of the district court and after holding the office one year he was elected register of deeds of Nemaha county and served one term. From 1874 to 1881 he again served as county superintendent of education. Vigorous and capable, he was indefatigable in his efforts to promote to a greater degree the efficiency of the common schools of Nemaha county. In 1896 he was elected judge of the court of appeals to represent the east division of the northern department of the Kansas court of appeals, being the only successful Republican on the state ticket that year. He served as judge of the court of appeals with distinction and honor during the life of the court and on its dissolution in 1901 he returned to Seneca, where he resumed the practice of law. He has been mayor of Seneca two terms and has served as a member of the city school board for a number of years. In religious matters Judge Wells is a Universalist of statewide reputation and was one of the organizers of the Universalist church in Seneca in 1865. He is president of the Kansas Universalist convention and has served in that capacity for the past twenty years. Fraternally he is a Mason and has attained the Royal Arch and Knight Templar degrees. He has served as worshipful master of Seneca Lodge No. 39, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and as high priest of the chapter and as eminent commander of Seneca Commandery No. 41. He is also a charter member of Nemaha Lodge No. 19, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in which he has passed all of the chairs and is now the only living charter member who has held his membership continuously since the organization of the lodge in 1866. He also belongs to the Knights and Ladies of Security.
On Oct. 18, 1866, Judge Wells chose for a life companion Miss Loretta C. Williams, daughter of Capt. A. W. Williams, of Sabetha, Kan., and their union has been blessed with six children who grew to maturity: Frank, of the law firm of Shartell, Keaton & Wells, of Oklahoma City, Okla., who served four years as county attorney of Nemaha county and after his removal to Oklahoma City was selected as one of the city's commissioners to formulate the plans for a commission form of city government; Ira K., who is associated with his father in the practice of law, has served as county attorney of Nemaha county and is at present the city attorney of Seneca; Elsie, who died while a teacher in the Seneca schools; Maud W., the wife of Robert E. Deemer, a merchant of Lincoln, Neb., and a Spanish war veteran; William A., an architect of exceptional promise and ability of Oklahoma City, whose plans for the Oklahoma county court-house were accepted strictly on merit, and who was the architect of the Colcord Building, of Oklahoma City, one of the finest office buildings in the United States; and Roland, who is located on a ranch in Sherman county, Kansas, and is extensively engaged in raising cattle.
Judge Wells began his independent career a poor boy, but by industry and determination he has risen from a modest beginning to the enjoyment of a well earned success and has accumulated a competency. He owns valuable realty in Nemaha county and ninety acres of land within the corporate limits of Oklahoma City, which he purchased as an investment. He is vice-president of the National Bank of Seneca and has varied financial interests. His career in law has been marked by intellectual vigor and skill, and in the business world he has exemplified a shrewd judgment. The purely material result of Judge Wells's long career has been financial success. While attaining this end, however, his just and honorable character has gained what is of greater valuethe esteem and confidence of his associates in professional, in business and in private life. He is a man of fine personal presence, a face expressive of keen intelligence, dignity and good nature. Slightly reserved in manner, he is, nevertheless, amiable and social, ever ready to assist others to success and to extend to all the fruits of his knowledge and experience. He has always commanded the admiration of those who know him. It is said of him that he never sacrifices principle for expediency, is true to every ennobling impulse, firm in the prosecution of his duty and unflinching in his struggle for success. He is a man of public spirit and every project which promises the advancement of Seneca, Nemaha county, or his state receives his prompt and cordial support. During his long and useful life in Kansas he has witnessed a wonderful change and development. In his early youth he has killed many a buffalo and took part in Indian round-ups, but all has disappeared under the sway of civilization and the scenes of pioneer days dwell only in memory.Pages 904-907 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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