ELMER ELSWORTH COFFIN. It would be difficult to name a citizen who has contributed in greater degree to the progress and welfare of Scott City and Scott County than has Elmer Elsworth Coffin. In business affairs, in agriculture, in public life and in the formation and continuation of public-spirited movements he has been found taking a leading part during the last quarter of a century, and his career has been representative of the best type of pioneer ability. Mr. Coffin has been a resident of the county since May 14, 1886, when he came as a young married man from Crown Point, Lake County, Indiana, where he had been born May 14, 1861.
John Coffin, the father of Elmer Elsworth Coffin, was born in 1818, at Leeds, Maine, and there acquired a liberal education and engaged in the lumber business. During the '50s he went to Lake County, Indiana, and settled there when that locality was a waste and a wilderness, and when land that is now a part of the City of Chicago could have been purchased for $1.25 an acre. While he was an industrious business man and a man held in respect in his community, Mr. Coffin passed his life quietly, preferring the quiet and peace of his home and privacy to the activity and doubtful honor of public life. He voted the republican ticket and was allied with no church. Mr. Coffin's death occurred in 1873. He married Miss Lois Townsend, who died in 1875, and they became the parents of the following children: Loesa, who died in Wisconsin as Mrs. Lewis George, and left two children; Avilda, who married Dan Sherman and resides at Chicago; Alfred T., who died at Crown Point, Indiana, leaving a family; Emily, who married William Scoates and resides in George; and Elmer Elsworth.
Elmer Elsworth Coffin received the ordinary public school advantages up to the eighth grade, and the loss of his parents when he was fourteen years of age caused him to be thrown upon his own resources. With boyish industry and ambition he applied himself assiduously to learning the trade of butcher, and when he had mastered it worked as a journeyman until he was able to go into business for himself at Crown Point. When he decided to come to Kansas, in 1886, he disposed of his Indiana interests and came to the Sunflower state, making the journey by rail to Garden City and by stage to Scott City, which was then a village containing a hotel and livery stable and little else. Upon his arrival he pre-empted the northeast quarter of section 24, township 17, range 34.
When Mr. Coffin came to this frontier community to locate as a settler he brought along with him as stock twelve head of horses and cattle. His first act of work here was the building of a sod house, which was a one-room affair, with curtain partitions, a primitive dwelling but one which furnished him with a home for six months, or until he proved up. Next he took a homestead adjoining, in section 13, the southeast quarter, which he still owns, and there dug a hole in the ground 12 by 14 feet for his pioneer place of abode, in which he lived during the following winter. The rebellion of Mrs. Coffin to this style of living resulted in the building of a three-room house, and in this dug-out his first son was born. Mr. Coffin's effort at getting on in the county was by raising feed and stock, and the same summer that he came to Scott County he engaged in butchering at Scott City. Subsequently he established a regular market, which he controlled for a number of years, and then turned his attention exclusively to the stock business, buying, raising and shipping horses for fourteen years to Connecticut, where they were used for farming purposes. While he never endeavored in the early days to engage extensively in the stock business, he never made a great deal of profit from this source, as cattle were so cheap that for a long time he sold good cows at $10 a head. In addition to introducing the Percheron and Clydesdale horses in this section Mr. Coffin shipped in many sires of this class and thus improved greatly the class of horses in the county. Ever since coming to Scott City Mr. Coffin has continued his ranching operations, and now has the oldest alfalfa field in the county, having 200 acres in that hay. He has also tried wheat-raising sufficiently to believe that it is a winning crop to follow up.
Mr. Coffin has been one of the most progressive citizens of the county. As a resident of Scott City he installed the first centrifugal pump, with a capacity of 500 gallons a minute, and operated it to demonstrate that the water was here in sufficient quantities to supply irrigation projects. He was one of the promoters of the Garden City, Gulf & Northern Railroad from Garden City to Scott City, and assisted in promoting the Colorado, Kansas & Oklahoma Railway, a road running from Scott City to its connection with the Union Pacific at Winona, and was a director of both roads. He is now one of the directors of the Scott City Commercial Club.
As a public official Mr. Coffin has twice been mayor of Scott City, following which he was a member of the city council for several terms, and in this service was influential in starting the movement toward an electric light and water plant. On two occasions he has been a member of the board of county commissioners, once by election and once by appointment, the latter being to take the place of one of the old board who had resigned as a result of severe criticism of their public acts in the establishment of the county high school. The board of commissioners of which he was a member succeeded in settling the long and expensive litigation with the people holding railroad bonds of the county by refunding the bonds without interest and on long time, and this resulted in the dismissal of the court proceedings on the bonds against the county. Mr. Coffin circulated the petition through the country for the purpose of getting names endorsing the high school movement which resulted in the establishment of that institution.
In politics Mr. Coffin began his political life as a republican and continued a supporter of that party until 1896, when the famous "Crown of Thorns and Cross of Gold" speech of William Jennings Bryan stampeded the democratic convention and Mr. Coffin became a democrat and has been voting so ever since, although during the populist movement he favored that party. He has frequented conventions, senatorial, judicial and congressional, and represented Kansas at the Irrigation Congress in 1903, held at Ogden, Utah, by appointment of Governor Hoch.
Fraternally Mr. Coffin is a charter member of the Modern Woodmen of America at Scott City, and is prominent in Masonry, having filled all the chairs in the Blue Lodge and being a member of the Grand Lodge, of the Scottish Rite Consistory at Wichita, and of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine at Salina.
Mr. Coffin was married in Lake County, Indiana, in October, 1883, to Miss Lillian M. Muzzall, a daughter of T. A. and Mrs. (Phillips) Muzzall, both of whom are buried at Scott City. Mr. Muzzall was born in London, England, and his wife at West Farm, Westchester County, New York. Mrs. Coffin is the oldest of four children, the others being: Frank, who resides at Crown Point, Indiana; Viola, who is the wife of John Klinfelter, of Nebraska; and Ralph, of Scott City. To Mr. and Mrs. Coffin the following children have been born: Pearl, who is the wife of G. E. Anderson, of Scott City, and has two children, Emanuel and Gustav; Herbert, a ranchman of Scott County, who married Adeline Van Scott; Miss Blanche; Jennie, who is the wife of Charles Wymer, of Scott City, and has two children, Arlene and Morris; and Philip, Alfred and Edwin, who reside with their parents.
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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