Thomas J. Reynolds

THOMAS J. REYNOLDS. The "Poet of the Wakarusa" was the title bestowed upon that beloved old pioneer of that section, Thomas J. Reynolds. He was a man better versed in the arts and skill of the woodsman, the plainsman, the hunter, the miner and the pioneer than making poetry, but there was a fine spirit dwelling in his nature, and it found expression in such a way as to bring him the title above noted.

He arrived in Kansas in 1854 and pre-empted land near where Wakarusa now stands. Thomas J. Reynolds was a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, born in 1812 and of Welsh ancestry. His early life was spent in and around Pittsburgh. While growing up he received better than the average education of the time, but what he knew of practical affairs far transcended his knowledge of books. He learned the glass-blower's trade and followed that occupation for a number of years. He also kept a store in Pittsburgh at one time.

In 1848 gold was discovered in California. News reached the East a few months later, and early in the following year began that exodus of the California '49ers. Among them was Thomas J. Reynolds, who went west overland. Those who made fortunes on the Pacific Coast during the following years are pretty well known. The majority, however, had only their experience to show for the journey and the hazards of life there, and Thomas J. Reynolds was one of the thousands who returned East with less means than when he started.

At Zanesville, Ohio, he married Ann Maria McCall. His wife was a consumptive. In 1854, in order to make a home in a climate more suitable to her condition, Mr. Reynolds came to Kansas. At that time Kansas had barely a handful of white settlers. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed in that year, and that was the signal for the great inrush of settlers, representing the two factions, each determined to make it a state in conformity with their special economic principles as to slavery. Arriving in Kansas, Thomas J. Reynolds built a little log house as his first home, and by hard work gradually began to prosper. He passed through all the early Indian scares, through the border ruffian period, and had the experience of the typical pioneer. In April, 1855, his wife died, and he never remarried. There were five children, only two of whom reached maturity: Mary A., wife of Jonathan T. Snyder of Shawnee County; and Sarah J., who died in 1913 at the age of fifty-six.

Not the least of the worries of early life in Kansas was when Price invaded the state. Mr. Reynolds was forced to join the company of Captain Tice, leaving his two little daughters alone to look after the place. After the war he continued farming in Kansas until his death in 1876. He was never a member of any religious denomination, but was essentially a religious man and was of a very spiritual turn of mind. He was one of the organizers of the Union Sunday School at Shawnee Center, the first institution of its kind in the state. He and most of his neighbors were poor people, but he aided to the extent of his ability the upbuilding of the community and supported every laudable enterprise.


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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