COL. OSCAR EUGENE LEARNARD was born in Fairfax, Vermont, November 14, 1832, the son of Stephen Tracy Learnard, and he died in Lawrence, Kansas, November 5, 1911.
He grew to manhood in his native state, attended the common schools and Bakersfield Academy, taught school, and attended Norwich, Vermont, University. He did not finish his course at the University but that institution afterward conferred a Master's degree upon him. Ill health compelled him to give up his studies, and he went to Tennessee, where he was for a time collector for a commercial house. After regaining his health he returned to the north and entered Albany Law School, where he was graduated. He began the practice of his profession at Crestline, Ohio, but he became imbued with the Free State idea, and in the winter of 1855-56 traveled on horseback to Kansas Territory to help make that a free state.
He first went to Lawrence, but soon afterward left there and founded the Town of Burlington, and there took up the active practice of the law. He was elected district judge, and while holding that office resigned to accept an appointment as lieutenant colonel of the First Kansas Volunteer Infantry. He was the youngest district judge of the state, and one of the youngest army officers. Because of dissatisfaction with the restrictions placed upon him in the army, he resigned his commission in 1863, but the next year he was with the state militia fighting against Price's army.
Colonel Learnard was a member of the first territorial legislature of Kansas and one of the first state senators. His political views were always very pronounced and aggressive, and it followed naturally that he should be a leader of his party. So when, at Ossawatomie in 1856, the republican party of Kansas was organized, he was chairman of the convention that organized it.
After the war closed, Colonel Learnard was the claim agent and tax commissioner for the L. L. & G. Railroad, and afterward for thirty years was tax commissioner for the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad. He purchased the Lawrence Daily Journal and afterward the Lawrence Daily Tribune and consolidated them, and under the names of the Lawrence Journal he owned and edited that well known paper until a short time before his death. The Journal was a direct, descendant of the Herald of Freedom, the free state paper that was the first to sound liberty throughout all the Kansas land.
So marked was the executive ability of Colonel Learnard that when President Cleveland sought a man for the important position of superintendent of Haskell Institute, the Indian school at Lawrence, he chose Colonel Learnard, although then the colonel was publishing and editing an uncompromising republican paper.
The chief characteristics of Colonel Learnard were his frankness and his absolute honesty and integrity. He never compromised with dishonesty, whether commercial or political, and no one ever was in doubt as to where he stood on any public question. His criticisms were strong even to harshness at times, but they were always honest. He was seldom deceived by specious arguments, and was an almost unfailing judge of men. His strong hold upon men was gained by the fact that every one knew he was honest, even when not in agreement with him.
Colonel Learnard was a Unitarian, and for many years was the chief support of that body in Lawrence. In 1862 Colonel Learnard married Mary S. Eldridge, daughter of Col. Shalor W. Eldridge, one of the first Kansas settlers. Six children were born to them, and Mrs. Learnard and two of the children are living. They are Tracy, of California, and Judge Oscar E., of Lawrence. Three children died in childhood, and one, Paul, died in Lawrence at the age of forty-six years.
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 by Jackson Babb, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, January 28, 1999.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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