ALBE B. WHITING, a resident of Topeka for the past forty years, is distinguished as being one of the few survivors of the great free-soil struggle in Kansas during the decade of the '50s. His home has been in Kansas since 1866, and few men now living have more interesting experiences to connect them with Kansas history.
Of New England birth and ancestry, he was born in Lamoille County, Vermont, November 10, 1835, and has already passed the fourscore milestone on life's journey. His parents were Harris and Mary (Dodge) Whiting. His father was of old English colonial ancestry, and died in 1847, when Albe B. Whiting was twelve years old.
The oldest son in the family, much of the burden of family support fell upon his young shoulders. He became inured to toil, and worked early and late not only as a contributor to the household but also to supply himself with the necessary equipment of education. He attended the common schools, and also paid his way through a few terms at the Academy at Johnson.
When quite young he absorbed from his father and mother the abolition and temperance ideas which had much to do with his subsequent life. Thus he became interested in the struggle between the pro-slavery and the free state elements in Kansas, and that interest led him to ally himself with this section of the great western border.
In the spring of 1856 he set out, traveling by railroad as far as St. Louis, and there took a boat which took him to Westport Landing, now Kansas City. He had secured some preliminary training as a civil engineer, and it was his purpose to find employment in that line. After a week at Westport Landing, he, with his partner and a passenger, started West with a team of seven yoke of oxen drawing a covered wagon filled to the bows with supplies. This little party started for Fort Riley, and after about three weeks arrived in the Republican Valley some fifteen miles from the fort and just beyond the outposts of civilization. Mr. Whiting had a partner, B. E. Fullington, an honest, God-fearing, upright man, and their plan was to engage in farming--raising corn for the Government post at Fort Riley. Mr. Fullington soon became disgusted with the meager success that attended their efforts, and after one season returned East, leaving Mr. Whiting to conduct the business. Mr. Fullington agreed to furnish the capital while Mr. Whiting was to manage the business connected with the partnership. But Kansas looked better to Mr. Fullington after he got to Vermont and he came back the next spring to spend a long and useful life here. Mr. Whiting thinks that his locality was subject to one of the first scourges of grasshoppers in Kansas, and that pest almost destroyed his crops in 1857. The real grasshopper year was in 1874, though Mr. Whiting thinks the grasshoppers were just as numerous in 1857, though of course the damage done was not so great as Kansas at that time had very few farms and only a meager population. Grasshoppers were only a temporary pest, but scant rainfall was a more serious handicap to farm operations. Mr. Whiting and his associate constructed a log cabin, every stick of which was made of rough timber by hand labor. Later a thousand feet of pine lumber was bought at St. Louis, being shipped to Leavenworth by boat and was laid on the river bank there at a cost of $105. From there it had to be transported 140 miles by ox wagon.
Mr. Whiting has a range of recollection which includes all the more prominent features of the border days. During his early years in Kansas the buffalo was plentiful, antelope occasionally appeared on the plains, deer were in abundance, and livestock suffered considerably from the coyotes and wolves. The reservation Indians, Mr. Whiting states, were nuisances as beggars, but because of the fair treatment they received from the settlers they were probably more of a protection against hostile tribes than were the soldiers. For several years Mr. Whiting followed his occupation of farming along with an occasional excursion for hunting and in such other employment as was necessary at the time. With his partner he opened up extensive farm tracts, and all the supplies were brought by freight wagons and teams from the Missouri River. On some of these trips he experienced considerable trouble with the border ruffians. In the spring of 1861, Mr. Whiting went to Denver, transporting supplies of bacon and various farm products to the mining camps. Denver at that time had less than a thousand population, and was a town of tents ranged along one street.
He and others became interested in the establishment of a townsite. In the early days the machinery and fixtures for a mill had been shipped out by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, but the equipmet[sic] was raided and was thrown into the Missouri River at Wyandotte by border ruffians from Missouri. It was later recovered and sold to three men who used it to manufacture lumber from timber cut on the Government land. Eventually the mill property came into the possession of Mr. Whiting, and was by him converted into a flouring and saw mill, and established at what was then Batcheller, now Milford.
The scene of his early operations in Kansas was in what is now a part of Geary County. In those early days this county had not been organized or given a name. There he spent about twenty-one years and on the whole his business interests prospered and increased, and he was one of the very successful business men in that section.
In the fall of 1877, in order to give his children the advantages of better schools, he moved to Topeka, and is still living in the same house into which his family moved on Christmas Day of 1877. For several years he gave his time to closing up his affairs in Riley County, and at Topeka he became interested in a drug store which eventually he had to take over, and this he developed into a paint and glass business, both wholesale and retail, operating it for upwards of twenty-five years.
Mr. Whiting is independent in politics, though with republican tendencies. He has never aspired to office though unknown to him and without his sanction he was elected surveyor of Riley County in early days, though he never qualified for the office. After coming to Topeka he served at one time as president of the board of police commissioners by appointment from Governor Llewellyn. Mr. Whiting served as president of the Kansas State Historical Society in 1910. He has always been active in the cause of temperance and all matters of morality, and he and his wife were charter members of the Central Congregational Church.
In 1858 Mr. Whiting married Kate Amelia Whitney of Waterbury, Vermont. To their marriage were born six children, Annie Frances, dying at the age of four years, and William Wallace in infancy. Those still living are: Harris Lyon; Mary Helen, Mrs. Henry L. King; Katherine Louise, Mrs. Tallmadge Hand; and Lillie Bell, Mrs. Hampton L. Shirer. Mrs. Whiting passed away August 11, 1907, and was laid to rest in the cemetery she named Mount Hope.
Much of Mr. Whiting's time and attention in later years have been given to the benefit of various local institutions and some substantial philanthropies. Soon after coming to Topeka for the purpose of educating his children, he was made a trustee of Washburn College, and has served as a member of its board ever since. The efforts of Mr. and Mr. Whiting have been directed particularly in recent years to the Mount Hope Cemetery Company, which they organized, and of which he is president. It was not organized for profit, but is a truly philanthropic enterprise. They have established a beautiful place for the burial of the dead, and the profits from the enterprise, amounting to many thousands of dollars, are in the nature of an endowment fund for Washburn College, and also for the Young Men's Christian Association and Young Women's Christian Association, Christian charities, each of which gets a percentage of the profits. Thus for sixty years Mr. Whiting has been closely identified with Kansas in its making. His life has counted for good, he has always stood for morality, upright living and good citizenship, and his influence has been exceptionally great in behalf of religion and charity.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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