William A. Kearney

WILLIAM A. KEARNEY. In a comfortable home, enjoying a liberal prosperity, and with the esteem of a large circle of friends, William A. Kearney and wife are people whose record should be considered in any history of Kansas. They have lived in Shawnee County since 1880. Their present prosperity seems the greater in contrast with their condition when they landed at Tecumseh thirty-five years ago. At that time it is said that they had only two cents in money and an ax.

A Pennsylvanian, William A. Kearney was born in Venango County, April 15, 1854. His father, Samuel K. Kearney, was a native of the same county, and was a youthful cousin of that dashing military figure in western military annals, Gen. Phil Kearney. Samuel Kearney served as a drummer boy in the Mexican war, being attached to Gen. Phil Kearney's command. After that war he returned to Venango County, and thirteen or fourteen years later again answered the call of patriotism and joined a Pennsylvania regiment at the outbreak of the Civil war. He spent four years in the ranks, and then resumed farming in Western Pennsylvania, where he died in 1890. Samuel K. Kearney was a man of unusual experience and a fine character. He loved outdoor sports, was a skillful horseman, always owning a fine horse, and took great delight in hunting. He was light-hearted and cheerful among his family and friends, had good habits, and was especially fond of young company. He appreciated the good things of life, and was never satisfied with the second rate or the commonplace. Politically he was a democrat, and a stronger party man it would have been difficult to find in his community. However he was not narrow, and often supported a republican who was his neighbor and was known to be well qualified for office. He told his two sons to choose a party and be strong party men. Like many others, he believed that the welfare of the nation depended upon the two-party system. Though he was a strong democrat, his son William A. of Shawnee County, Kansas, is equally ardent as a republican. Though one of the most peaceful men that ever lived, there is record that Samuel Kearney once had a law suit. The case was contested through several courts and finally a verdict was given in his favor. At the end of the litigation his opponent was so impoverished that he was unable to buy a team of horses, and then with characteristic generosity Samuel K. Kearney bought a team and presented his former adversary with it. This branch of the Kearney family has long been in America, and is of Irish antecedents. Samuel R. Kearney married Helen Fisher, who was born in Germany, and who was one of twin sisters. She was a woman of superior moral and intellectual qualities, and it is said that she was never known to speak ill of any person. To their marriage were born three sons and one daughter, Jennie, A. L., William A. and Emerson R. Jennie married Samuel Christmeyer, who died many years ago. A. L. is a very well to do resident of Cambria County, Pennsylvania. Emerson R. is a substantial business man of Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

Mr. William A. Kearney is now living in the village that is distinguished as having been the first capital town of Kansas, the Town of Tecumseh. In many ways William H. Kearney is a remarkable man. He never had any schooling as a boy, yet is well educated and well informed, has a splendid natural intelligence, is a practical geologist and has always lived in close touch with nature and finds "sermons in stone." Not only as a geologist but as a man, he has stood high in the esteem of his fellow men, and enjoys the friendship of such noted Kansans as United States Senator Curtis and J. M. Meade, the civil engineer of the Santa Fe Railway.

Mr. Kearney began life as a pump boy in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. In early years he gained a fortune in that industry, but lost it. John Petty of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, taught him how to read and he pored over his lessons by lamplight.

Mr. Kearney married Maggie Gillespie. It was his marriage that proved the turning point of his career. Mrs. Kearney exercised a great influence for good over him and he is never reluctant to ascribe to her much of the credit for all that he has accomplished and has become. While in the oil fields of Pennsylvania he had become addicted to drink, but after his marriage his wife suggested that they move to a country where liquor was not manufactured nor sold under legal permission. Thus it was that in 1880 they came to Shawnee, Kansas, where prohibition prevailed. Since then Mr. Kearney has never had anything to do with alcoholic liquors. Arriving in poverty, he soon discovered a piece of land which attracted him. This land adjoined the Town of Tecumseh, and its owner was John R. Mulvane. Going to Mr. Mulvane, Mr. Kearney told him that he wanted to buy the land. Mr. Mulvane asked one direct question: "Do you drink?" Explaining that he had once been a drinking man, but had abandoned the practice, the bargain was soon closed with the few dollars which Mr. Kearney had at hand, and locating on the land he and his wife by industry and good management soon paid for it and were thus started to the accumulation of the competence which they now enjoy. Mr. Kearney then and since has regarded John R. Mulvane as the best friend he ever had in Kansas.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed 1997.
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