MILTON C. COMBS. Every county in Kansas owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneers, those men and women who endured the stress and strain of isolated existence while preparing the land and making homes beyond the border of the comforts and civilization which they had abandoned under that strong pioneer urge which has been responsible for the settlement of every successive portion of the United States. While it is right and proper that the memory of pioneer personalities and deeds should be cherished by later generations, it is only just to point out one strong failing in the pioneer character. This was its restlessness and lack of perseverance. It is probably true that a majority of the early settlers of every county in Kansas did not remain to enjoy the real fruits of their labors and sacrifices. Very often it happened that those who came on later and had only a tithe of the difficulties to contend with possessed themselves of the developments and the improvements of the pioneer class and reaped rewards disproportionate to their labors.
In Western Kansas it was particularly true that the first settlers did not possess the stamina to stay by their work until it was completed and bearing fruit. The discouragements were so many that those who moved away and abandoned their claims can hardly be blamed, but this gives all the more credit to those who stuck to their posts in spite of every difficulty and hardship. One of these presevering few is Milton C. Combs, who today is one of the largest land owners and most successful ranchers and business men of Morton County.
Mr. Combs made his first tour of Kansas in 1885. After several weeks spent in exploring the country he found the region of Morton County so pleasing to his eye that he entered a claim to a homestead, and after a hasty trip back to old Kentucky, where he closed up his business affairs, he returned and took possession on April 16, 1886. That old homestead, still owned by him, is the southeast quarter of section 13, township 32, range 42. There he made as temporary improvements a half dugout for his own shelter and a sod stable for his stock. He also put down a well ninety-eight feet.
Mr. Combs had come to Kansas from Kentucky with his brother W. Wallace Combs, another well known citizen of Morton County. At Lakin they joined a company of settlers seeking homes in this region, and all arranged to colonize at Richfield, where all the different families entered land. Many of the others commuted their entries, mortgaged them, and after a few trials of hot winds and other hardships common to Western Kansas plains, gave up the struggle and departed for other scenes. It was in the height of this discouraging condition that Milton C. Combs publicly declared that he would stay his five years out if he had to live on bread and water, and that at least one claim would remain free and clear of a mortgage in that county. Perhaps that spirited expression of determination carried him through many trials when otherwise he might have yielded to discouragement, and it is a specially noteworthy fact that his is one of the few farms that has never borne the incumbrance of a mortgage. After proving up a homestead he entered a preemption, the northwest quarter of section 35, township 33, range 42, and on this he built his permanent home and has lived there continuously since 1890. This residence stands on the bank of the Cimarron River, Cimarron Township.
On coming to Kansas Mr. Combs brought with him a carload of goods, including household utensils, eight mules, a driving horse, and a few brown Leghorn chickens. These hens also found Kansas soil and climate satisfactory, and unlike some other departments of the Combs establishment they went to work at once in a productive way, and their eggs contributed a good deal to the family while other crops and sources of revenue were being established. As a farming experiment Mr. Combs tried the growing of cane, millet, wheat, rye, and of them all the millet crop proved the most reliable. It did not take long to convince him that routine farming, that is the growing of crops from the soil, was exceedingly uncertain, and he was not slow in adopting some other resource. With some of the limited capital he had brought with him from Kentucky he invested in cows at from $7 to $9 a head, turning them loose on the prairie. About that time the colonists who had come with him to Morton County were rapidly abandoning their claims, and as these lands reverted to the public domain it enlarged the range for the cattle, so that never since were cattle raising operations on a large scale given a freer scope than about the time Mr. Combs entered the industry. At first he was satisfied to raise the common grades of stock, but he gradually began introducing Hereford strains and developed one of the fine herds of these cattle. Some years ago Mr. Combs exhibited cattle at the Kansas City Stock Show as "short grass cattle," and they were awarded the second money among the numerous exhibits, and even more significant is the fact that the stock brought 10 cents more on the hundred at the open market in Kansas City than the cattle that were awarded first prize.
Mr. Combs' pioneer home, after he moved from his homestead to his preemption, consisted of three rooms and a cellar. With passing years and the accumulation of wealth and the growing of a family this house has been enlarged to seven rooms, with many modern conveniences. After getting his preemption Mr. Combs began acquiring other lands, and gathered up a number of abandoned quarter sections at prices ranging from $150 to $1,000 a quarter. These different purchases brought him in time about thirty quarter sections, lying in two bodies, and all of it under fence. Mr. Combs now runs about 250 head of Hereford cattle annually, but this is only about half the number he formerly had on the range, the curtailment being due to the gradual repossession of the public domain by settlers. Another feature of his industry has been the raising of horses and mules, and these have been as reliable if not more reliable source of profit than his cattle. The Combs ranch comes as near being self supporting as any farm in Kansas, since nearly all the meat consumed on the family table is grown on the land and fattened by corn raised on the farm.
Naturally Mr. Combs has acquired other business interests. He is one of the directors of the Morton County State Bank at Elkhart, and was an original stockholder and vice president of that bank. He is a stockholder in the Casualty Insurance Company of Wichita, the Cattle Loan Association and the Jones Motor Company, all of Wichita.
The small amount of capital with which he came to Kansas Mr. Combs had earned by his labors and minor operations as a business man in Kentucky. Kentucky is his native state. He was born in Madison County October 11, 1852. His grandfather was a small slave holder in Kentucky, but the father, William B. Combs, though as a young man he had served as overseer of slaves on the Kentucky plantation, when the war came on was in the Union army as a wagon master and yard man. Several times he was taken prisoner. He was also an expert in the operation of saw mills, but his last years were spent as a farmer.
Milton C. Combs had only a public school education. As a youth he earned monthly wages as a farm hand and in other occupations, and his start was due to the thrift which caused him to save his money. He invested this in young mules and when these mules were broken to work he took a contract to haul the cut of a sawmill from Locust Branch to Richmond, Kentucky. Later for a time he was a merchant at Combs Postoffice, and the ten years he kept a country store in Kentucky was the source of most of the capital he brought to Kansas. In matters of politics he began voting as a democrat when a young man, and has always retained his affiliation with that party. He has served as treasurer of school district No. 4 for a quarter of a century. This has been his only public office and he has declined nomination for county positions.
Mr. Combs married in Kentucky his first wife, Miss Margaret Fielder, who was a sister of Mrs. Wallace Combs of Richfield, Kansas. Mrs. Margaret Combs died in 1891, leaving no children. In Baca County, Colorado, March 17, 1894, Mr. Combs married Hattie A. Herzberger. She is a daughter of Frederick and Doris Herzberger, who died at Fowler, Colorado. Her father, a native of Germany, was a Lutheran minister, but spent his last years in Colorado as a farmer. The Herzberger children were: Theodore, Herman, Richard, Emanuel, Mrs. Combs, and Emily, wife of Charles Stewart. Mrs. Combs was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 17, 1875. Mr. and Mrs. Combs may well take pride in their talented family of children. The names of these are Doris, Harold, Helen and Esther. They are all now in school at Winfield, Doris being a student of Southwestern University, while Harold graduated with the class of 1918 in the Winfield High School. These four young people are widely known as artistic musicians. Doris plays the trombone, Harold the cornet, Helen the violin, and Esther the piano, and thus they constitute a well balanced orchestra and as the Combs Orchestra they have been prominent in many social features and gatherings in Morton County and elsewhere.
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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