Oliver Barber

HON. OLIVER BARBER was one of the foremost figures in the life of Kansas during the territorial and early statehood period. The Barber family played many noteworthy parts in the making of Kansas a free state, and in those early years there was hardly a man more justly honored by his fellow citizens than Oliver Barber. He lived for many years at Lawrence and in that city his son Oliver P. Barber is one of the oldest and best known business men and merchants.

A native of Pennsylvania, Oliver Barber was born in Franklin County December 10, 1816. As a youth he had the advantages only of the common schools. He was a student by nature, and he supplemented what was given him by reading and observation and was always considered a man above the ordinary in education and learning.

When nineteen years of age he went West to Richmond, Indiana. Richmond then and since has been one of the chief points of Quaker settlements in the Middle West. The town was founded by Quakers and in that town when it was still small Oliver Barber and his brother Thomas W. engaged in the manufacture of woolen goods. That was the business of Oliver Barber for a number of years in Indiana and Ohio.

In May, 1854, the two brothers came to Kansas Territory prospecting with a view to making this their future home. Oliver Barber did not remain permanently, but soon returned to Indiana. Thomas W. Barber elected to stay in Kansas Territory, and with his young wife he lived on a claim about eight miles southwest of Lawrence. He was not the type of man to choose a quarrel and was only radical and outspoken when issues of morality and essential freedom were at stake. At such times be proved his ready convictions and outspoken sympathy with the free soil movement. While returning from Lawrence with others, and while unarmed, he was set upon by a band of ruffians and murdered on December 6, 1855. He was then forty-one years of age. Thus one of the Kansas pioneers, distinguished by an upright life and character, was sacrificed to the spirit of border ruffianism which then ruled and dominated Kansas. Kansas has since honored his name and martyrdom by their naming for him one of the counties in the western part of the state.

Though his brother had fallen a victim to the civil warfare in Kansas, Oliver Barber was not deterred on that account from making his home in the same territory. In 1856 he came West, leaving his family in Indiana, and locating in Douglas County he built a home. In 1857 his wife and children joined him. He became one of the leading farmers of Douglas County, and for many years carried on a large and prosperous business as a stock dealer. He had been in Kansas only a short time when the people of his community came to look upon him as a leader in public affairs. In 1858 and again in 1859 he was elected a county commissioner. While still serving in that capacity he was elected a member of the Territorial Legislature. Kansas was admitted to the union in 1861 and he was chosen a member of its first State Legislature. In June, 1862, President Lincoln appointed him commissary with the rank of captain, and for a little more than two years he served on the staff of Gen. James C . Blunt. Ill health finally compelled him to resign his commission. In the fall of 1864 Mr. Barber was elected a member of the Kansas State Senate and sat in that body for two years. Sound judgment and business experience enabled him to do much in the Legislature of his state while the first laws were being made.

In 1878, when sixty-two years of age, Mr. Barber was elected treasurer of Douglas County, and in 1879 was re-elected for another term of three years. Every official honor conferred upon him was thorough deserved. He was a man who in character and attainments was always larger than any office he filled. With all the dignities conferred upon him he retained his kindly, frank and approachable demeanor, and he went through life loved and respected. He was one of the most generous of men, and always gave freely of his means and personal aid to the destitute and oppressed.

On November 8, 1838, Oliver Barber married Melinda Burgess, daughter of Samuel Burgess. They were married at Richmond, Indiana, and became the parents of six children: William T.; John; Anna E., Mrs. Jesse C. Vincent; Oliver P.; Emma, who married DeForest Bigelow and Ella, who died at the age of six years. Oliver Barber died October 24, 1895, when nearly eighty years of age. His wife died in August, 1903. Of their children the two now living are Mrs. Vincent and Oliver P.

Oliver P. Barber was born at New Paris in Preble County, Ohio, December 23, 1846. He was eleven years of age when he came with his mother to Kansas Territory in 1857 and Kansas has been his home now for fifty years. He had a public school education, and was one of the first students in the old Kansas University. He was on hand the first day the university was opened. Later he took a course in the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, and after a year as a drug clerk he opened a drug store in Lawrence in 1872 and that business has been continuously under the Barber name for forty-five years. For thirty-four years Mr. Barber was associated with his brother, John, as partner, and for the last eight years his son, Perry B., has been in partnership and has assumed the heavier responsibilities of the business.

Mr. Barber has been a loyal republican since casting his first vote. He is a Knight Templar Mason. On October 24, 1872, the year he began business at Lawrence, he married Miss Fannie B. Bigelow, daughter of Benjamin Bigelow. Mr. and Mrs. Barber have three children: Perry B., who married Lena Sutter; Emma B., wife of Gomer M. Thomas; and Mabel H., Mrs. Roy Klise.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed February 3, 1999.

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