ALVIS BELL, of the Larned community, has successfully demonstrated the possibilities of Western Kansas as an intensive farming proposition. He grew up from childhood in Pawnee County and when he started life on his own account he had a very small acreage at his command. That is, it was a very small farm compared with the average size of Western Kansas farms. He realized that it must be handled rather differently in order to produce a living. While be grew wheat, as has been the general custom, he also specialized more and more on truck and garden crops, and by means of irrigation has made a very splendid thing of it. He now owns a large body of land, but most of it is handled in the same intensive way that he employed with so much profit on a smaller area.
The Bell family has lived in this section of Western Kansas since 1887. Alvis Bell was born near Powell Station in Knox County, Tennessee, August 29, 1880. He is a son of Robert P. Bell. Robert P. Bell was born in Knox County, Tennessee, July 17, 1845, and grew up on a farm. His father was Blackston L. Bell and the preceding generation was headed by Samuel G. Bell. Samuel G. Bell came from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia when about seventeen years of age with his father to Tennessee. The father bought a farm and founded a home below Knoxville. Samuel G. Bell attained the great age of 104 years and his death occurred in Eastern Tennessee about 1890. He married Peggie Ralston. Their children were Samuel F., James, Mrs. Josephine Johnson, Mrs. Matilda Bell, Blackston L., Mrs. Sidney Reynolds and Mrs. Jane Kincaid.
Blackston L. Bell was born and reared in the Powell Station locality of Knox County, and spent his life there, where he died in 1860. He married Elizabeth Johnson, who died in 1856. Their children were Mrs. Eliza J. McReynolds, Robert P., Henry, Mrs. Mary Wood, and Grenville and Thomas, both of New York.
Robert P. Bell grew to manhood in a section of Tennessee which was strongly devoted to the Union cause. Though a youth of only eighteen he enlisted November 1, 1863, in the Union army at Kingston, Tennessee, in Company H of the Second Tennessee Cavalry. His captain was Captain Wallace. He was under the command of Colonel Rea and later Colonel Cook. His service was in the Army of the Cumberland, Fourteenth Army Corps, under General Thomas. He marched from Nashville to Memphis, and was on the raid to West Point, being driven out of that place by General Forrest's cavalry. The next scene of operations was in Alabama. He was one of a detail sent back to Louisville, Kentucky, to get horses and returned with them to Nashville in November, just as Hood's army took station at that place. Thus he participated in the battle of Nashville, and after that overwhelming defeat of the Confederates he and his command prepared to go into winter quarters at Mussel, but instead they were rushed to New Orleans by boat. Remaining there a few days, the horses were turned over and Mr. Robert P. Bell returned to Vicksburg, where he remained on police duty until the close of the war. He was one of a command sent down to Davis' Bend on the Mississippi River to patrol and watch for the fugitive president of the Confederate States. When the latter was captured at Irwinsville, Georgia, the detail returned to Vicksburg, and Mr. Bell was soon discharged at Nashville.
Robert P. Bell married Mary J. Bell, a daughter of Washington and Susan (Conner) Bell. Washington Bell was a half brother of Samuel G. Bell, above mentioned. The children of Robert P. Bell and wife were: Otho, of Wellington, Kansas; Herbert, a mail carrier living at Larned; Mrs. J. H. Stilts, of Rozel, Kansas: Alvis; Joseph, a mail carrier at Larned; and Julian, a grain buyer for the Thompson Grain Company, of Plains, Kansas.
When Robert P. Bell brought his family to Pawnee County in 1887, he was not yet on the plane of financial independence. For several years he was a tenant farmer. His last connection in that capacity was in charge of the Evans Ranch. He left it to buy a tract of 240 acres in section 27, township 21, range 16, and there he spent the rest of his active life as a farmer. Raising wheat brought him to the verge of bankruptcy, and, finally carried him to prosperity. After several disastrous failures of his wheat crop he was ready and willing to abandon his equity in the farm. The New York mortgage holders, however, encouraged him to stay by the proposition, and in a short time the tide turned and he paid himself out of debt by his wheat harvest. Robert P. Bell is now living comfortably retired in Larned. In a public way he has served only as a township and school officer. He is an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic and an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
Mr. Alvis Bell was six years of age when he came to Pawnee County. Though his parents were not then in prosperous circumstances he managed to attend the common schools quite regularly and finished the course of district No. 6. He gave all the aid possible to his father and did something toward helping the family over the stony part of their careers. When he married, Mr. Bell secured forty-five acres of the old family estate, paying $1,000 for it. That $1,000 completed the paying off of the final indebtedness on his father's place. The only improvement on the land when he bought it was a wire fence. He went to work and put up a house and some other improvements, and began raising wheat and truck. It was on this small farm that Mr. Bell discovered the possibilities of profit in garden farming. His special crops were tomatoes, cabbages and melons. It was in 1905 that he bought the land, and in 1913 out of his profits he was able to purchase the remainder of the old homestead, 191 acres, contracting to pay $80 an acre. He was able to pay $2,000 down and the good seasons which followed gave him more than enough surplus to carry out his contract payments.
A great deal of publicity has been given to the Bell farm because of its splendid irrigation system. Mr. Bell built a pumping plant at a cost of $600. Visiting representatives at the Irrigation Congress which met in Larned in 1916, pronounced this plant to be the most efficient, considering the cost of building and operation, found anywhere in this section of the state. The fuel oil used costs 4 cents a gallon. One gallon of oil will run the engine an hour and the plant has a capacity of 500 gallons of water a minute, so that thirty thousand gallons can be poured into the irrigation ditches at a fuel cost of only 4 cents. In 1916 Mr. Bell paid for this plant and more too, with his crops of melons, potatoes and garden truck. His melons took second prize at the Hutchinson fair. He exhibited five splendid specimens, the largest weighing sixty-two pounds and the smallest fifty-seven pounds. These melons when exhibited at the Larned fair took both first and second premiums.
On a small scale Mr. Bell is also engaged in dairying. It is a very valuable adjunct to his farm. He has a small herd of Holstein cows, and his previous experiments have encouraged him to build up a considerably larger herd. He is a stockholder in the Solid Rock Creamery Company, the Pawnee County Grain and Supply Company, and the Ash Valley Telephone Company. In 1916 Mr. Bell erected a modern home on his farm. It contains ten rooms, and occupies the place of the old pioneer home. From time to time other improvements have been added, and there is not a more substantial, more prosperous, more contented resident of Western Kansas than this young man who grew up here and is identified with the locality both by childhood associations and by mature experience.
Mr. Bell has served as township trustee of Larned Township, also as treasurer and clerk, and for eight years was one of the directors of the school which he himself attended as a boy. Politically he is a democrat. He also belongs to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Woodmen of the World, and for several years was a trustee of the Larned Presbyterian Church.
On August 29, 1905, on his twenty-fifth birthday, Mr. Bell married in Pawnee County, Miss Welthy M. Keller. Her father, William T. Keller, was one of the most noted of Pawnee County's pioneers. He was famous as a hunter and trapper along the frontier and was there long before the settlers dug out some cabins that made any notable features in the landscape. He was born in Pennsylvania and came to Western Kansas in 1872. In his early manhood he had fought as a gallant soldier in the Union army during the Civil war. His later years have been spent quietly and prosperously on his farm. William T. Keller married Mary Wilber, who died in 1911. Their children were: George, who died in 1910, leaving a family; Lillie, Mrs. J. C. Gerlach, of Los Angeles; Blanche, wife of John Alison, of Larned; and Mrs. Bell. Children have shared the comforts of Mr. and Mrs. Bell's home and have given additional significance and meaning to their prosperity and happiness. The children are named Harold Alvis, Gladys Mary, Lester Thomas, Myrtle Rowena, Leo Keller and Ralph Avy.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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