WILLIAM J. BLACKBURN. The chief and pioneer establishment of the new Town of Elkhart in Morton County is the Blackburn & Firman Mercantile Company. This business, which has been established for a number of years, was moved to Elkhart in 1913, when that town first came into being with the railroad. It was formerly a partnership as Blackburn & Firman, but in 1916 the business was incorporated, with a capital stock of $20,000. Mr. Firman is president, W. C. Muncy, secretary, R. D. Haines, vice president and Mr. Blackburn, treasurer and general manager.
One of the oldest settlers of Morton County is Neriah L. Blackburn, who is now living retired at Elkhart, the father of William J. Blackburn, the head of the mercantile business. Neriah L. Blackburn has been identified with Morton County since 1885. He has been a resident of Kansas more than half a century and was born in Kentucky, August 31, 1844. His father, Jonathan B. Blackburn, was born near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and at the age of eighteen went to Kentucky with his mother. His mother subsequently, a number of years before the Civil war, moved to Utah and died at Salt Lake when one hundred and five years of age. Among the children of this remarkable centenarian were, Anthony, John, Jonathan B., Mrs. Rachel Overstreet, Mrs. Sarah Stratton and Mrs. Mary Weisgarber.
Jonathan B. Blackburn died in 1889, near Cushing, Oklahoma. He married Mary Lewis, daughter of a Kentucky farmer, and she died near Girard, Kansas. Their children were: Neriah L.; Samuel, of Cushing, Oklahoma; John, who died near Girard, Kansas; and Mrs. Amanda Whiteside, of Girard.
In 1846, when Neriah was two years of age, his parents removed to Christian County, Illinois, and in that country district he grew up and received his early education. In 1863, at the age of nineteen, he enlisted in Battery A of the Third Illinois Light Artillery. For a time the battery was under the command of General Thomas, but saw its chief service under General Steele in some of the heavy fighting through Louisiana and the Southwest. Mr. Blackburn fought in the battles of Jenkins Ferry, Cotton Plant, Yellow Bayou, Pleasant Hill. At the close of the war his command was stationed at Little Rock, and he was mustered out, a private from the ranks, at Springfield, Illinois, June 30, 1865. He is one of the comparatively few old soldiers who have lived to see the magnificent assembling of the youth of the country once more prepared for struggle in behalf of the principles of democracy. He has always taken a keen interest in his old comrades, has been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic for many years, was post commander at Hugoton, Kansas, frequently attended state encampments and once was in the national encampment at Denver.
About a year after he came out of the army Mr. Blackburn settled in Kansas, in 1866, locating in Crawford County, near Girard, where he followed farming until 1883. In that year he moved to Meade County, was there about two years, and was then in Sumner County engaged in the livery business at Argonia for three years. From there he came to Morton County, and the most satisfactory years of his life have been spent in this region.
He was at the time in search of a climate which would restore his depleted physical energies. Almost at once he noted an improvement, and while he came here weighing only 165 pounds he now has the stature and size of a man of 220 and his appearance and activities belie the fact that he is seventy-four years of age.
On coming to Morton County he entered a pre-emption in section 4, township 35, range 40. He proved up, improved his land, and lived there until he finally retired from active work as a farmer. The first shelter he constructed for his family was a dugout. Despite the untoward conditions which then prevailed he made a living by farming and stock raising, and also did some freighting from Syracuse to Richfield and other points in the West. He was one of the first to grow broom corn, maize and kaffir corn, but always combined his agricultural operations with stock raising. His country home was in Center Township. Through many years of consecutive efforts he accumulated a modest farm and ranch and has always lived the life of a private citizen. When Elkhart was established he was one of the first to interest himself in merchandising, and the pioneer building of the firm of Blackburn & Firman is still the main business house of the town.
Neriah Blackburn cast his first presidential vote for President Lincoln at Little Rock, Arkansas, while he was in uniform and not yet of age. He has been a republican all his life but has let the other fellow keep the offices. At Milan, Kansas, he joined the Masonic order and is a past master of the lodge at Argonia.
In Sumner County, Kansas, November 7, 1883, Neriah Blackburn married Miss Mollie Monahan, who died at Seely, Texas. Their children were William J.; and Myrtle, wife of Henry Crawford, of Saline County, Kansas.
William J. Blackburn was born in Sumner County, Kansas, August 24, 1884, and was not yet old enough to appreciate the fact when his parents moved from that section and settled in Stevens County. He acquired a country school education, and as a boy did everything on the farm and ranch and his early experiences would qualify him as a farmer. Before he was nineteen he began teaching school, and taught six terms in Stevens and Seward counties. At one time he was a member of the Stevens County Examining Board. From the work of the schoolroom he turned to merchandising at Hugoton as a member of the firm of Hodges & Blackburn. Two years later Mr. Firman bought the interest of Mr. Hodges, and thereafter the business was conducted as Blackburn & Firman until its incorporation in 1916. The Blackburn & Firman Mercantile Company handles the bulk of the general merchandise in and around Elkhart, and beside their heavy retail business they do considerable jobbing.
Since becoming a citizen of Elkhart Mr. Blackburn has filled the office of mayor, has been a member of the common council and is now trustee of Taloga Township. Politically he is a strong republican and has been an active leader for his party. He was a delegate to the convention at Hutchinson which named delegates to the national republican convention of 1916, and has also served as chairman of his party committee in Morton County. Fraternally he is a past noble grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
At Hugoton, Kansas, May 9, 1906, Mr. Blackburn married Miss Flossie Lamkin, daughter of Albert W. and Marian (Crawford) Lambkin. Her father is a native of New York, is an old resident of Kansas and is now living in Cowley County. Mrs. Blackburn was one of five daughters, her sisters being Mrs. Alice Smith, Mrs. Ed. Bowman, Miss Muriel and Miss Flora. The three children of Mr. and Mrs. Blackburn are William Rex, Claude and Nellie.
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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