William M. Sleeth

MAJ. WILLIAM M. SLEETH was one of the founders of the modern civic, and industrial community of Arkansas City. He was secretary and treasurer of the original townsite company. He was a keen and resourceful business man, but his practical energies were equalled by his splendid public spirit and his readiness to sacrifice his own interests in behalf of some enterprise that would bring benefit to many. Major Sleeth justly earned the honor and esteem of his community during his life, and his death at Arkansas City, September 26, 1906, was felt as a distinct loss to the community, though he was at that time in the fullness of years and achievements.

Major Sleeth was born near Cambridge, Ohio, August 26, 1832. His father, David Sleeth, was born in Londonderry, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1800, and was an infant when his parents, in 1801, came to America and located in Guernsey County, Ohio. David Sleeth spent his active life as a farmer in Ohio and died at Cambridge in 1849. He married Margaret McCracken, who was born in County Donegal, Ireland, in 1801, and died at Cambridge, Ohio, in 1881.

In the vicinity of his native town William M. Sleeth spent his boyhood and youth, and his experiences were largely those of a farmer and rural resident until the outbreak of the great War of the Rebellion in 1861. He was quick to respond, and early in the struggle he enlisted in the Seventy-eighth Ohio Infantry. He soon became second lieutenant, was then promoted to captain, and during the latter part of the war was major on General Scott's staff. He saw some of the hardest fighting of the entire war. Much of the time was spent in the great campaigns with Grant and Sherman in the heart of the Confederacy. He was a participant in the siege of Vicksburg, and had earlier fought at the battle of Shiloh, during which he witnessed the fall of the gallant General McPherson, standing nearby when that soldier was shot. He was with Sherman in the Atlanta compaign.[sic]

From the close of the war until 1869 Major Sleeth was engaged in the sawmill business at Fayetteville, Tennessee. Going back to his native town of Cambridge, he was married there on September 6, 1869, and in the following October he and his bride arrived at Emporia, Kansas. He spent a short time at Eldorado, and on March 10, 1870, arrived at Arkansas City. He was one of the farsighted men who realized the possibilities of this location as a commercial and trade center and also as a splendid location for industries. As secretary and treasurer of the original townsite company he had much to do with the plotting and development of the early town.

Major Sleeth had the first saw mill in all that district of Southern Kansas. This mill was located on the banks of Walnut River, just east of where Chestnut Avenue now is. It was a water power mill, and he was active in its management until 1873. Major Sleeth was one of the originators of the Cowley County Bank, which was established in 1873. He soon became its president and filled that office until 1891. During the panic of that year this bank, which in the meantime had become the First National Bank, failed, and its failure severely crippled him financially. Major Sleeth gave up everything he possessed to liquidate the debts of the bank which as a result paid 100 per cent to all its depositors and the name of Major Sleeth is one of the most honored in Southeastern Kansas.

For a number of years Major Sleeth was president of the Land and Water Power Company. It was this company that constructed the canal between the Arkansas and the Walnut rivers and originated the title "Canal City" by which Arkansas City is frequently known. This canal developed an immense water power now used for the operation of milling industries and the production of electric current. After the failure of the First National Bank Major Sleeth served as manager of the Water Power Company, and filled that position until his death. These facts indicate only his larger interests. He was intimately concerned with everything that affected the welfare and early development of the town. He did much in the way of building and assisting others to build and engage in constructive enterprises. He was one of the early members of the city council and also served as county commissioner. Major Sleeth was a republican, and nearly a lifelong member of the United Presbyterian Church. He was perhaps the chief support of this denomination in Arkansas City, and was for many years one of its elders. His life was an exemplification of the strong and essential truths of real Christianity. He was honorable in every transaction and his name is one to be spoken with respect in the community which he did so much to found and establish. Major Sleeth had homesteaded a tract of land which subsequently became the third ward of Arkansas City, while his brother David, a partner in the saw mill, owned a farm northeast of the Santa Fe station now known as the Hess and Johnson farms.

On the date above mentioned and at Cambridge, Ohio, Mr. Sleeth married Miss Mary Hutchison. She was born at Cambridge, Ohio, April 8, 1848, and died at Arkansas City in January, 1886. Their children were live in number: Alvie, the oldest, died when two years of age, while Margaret Harcourt, the second, died at Arkansas City in 1886. The third is William Watt, mentioned below. The fourth is Miss Pauline B. Sleeth, now supervisor of the English department of the Arkansas City High School. Eula H. is a missionary sent out by the Presbyterian Church and now located at Dehra Dun, United Provinces, India.

Miss Pauline B. Sleeth is a native of Arkansas City, was educated in the local public schools, through the high school course, holds the degree Bachelor of Arts from Emporia College and has taken considerable post graduate work in the University of Chicago. For a number of years Miss Sleeth has been successfully identified with educational work. She taught in the Chase County High School at Cottonwood Falls, and since then has been in the Arkansas City High School, being now supervisor of the English department. Outside of her school work she takes a special interest in the Presbyterian Church.

William Watt Sleeth, only surviving son of the late Major Sleeth, was born in Arkansas City, was educated there during the junior year of the high school, and left school to become an employe of the Thompson Piano Company of Arkansas City. He was in the piano business until 1911, and then took up an entirely new line, the cement business. He is now a successful contractor in crushed rock and gravel and has built up a good business. He is a republican. His home is at 425 South B Street. Watt W. Sleeth married Miss Mary Stoner. Her mother was the late Mrs. Mary Stoner of Chicago.

In 1893 Major Sleeth at Arkansas City married Miss Emma DeKnight, who at that time was a teacher in the Chilocco Indian School. Mrs. Sleeth for the past ten years has been assistant post master of Arkansas City.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, 1918, transcribed by students from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, March 15, 1999.

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