JOHN DEMAIN. Kansas has among its population comparatively few natives of unhappy Belgium. One of them is John Demain of Kinsley. His career is of more than ordinary interest not only because he comes from a country which for several years has attracted so much attention but also because of his successful experiences as a home maker and pioneer in the western part of the state. Mr. Demain has applied the thrift and energy which are characteristic of his people to the task of developing the western frontier, and is now rated as one of the wealthy men of Edwards County.
His birth occurred in that University city of Louvain, Belgium, and he was born January 12, 1849. While he has been away from his native land over forty-five years and has only twice revisited it, Mr. Domain can only with difficulty control his emotions when he refers to the beautiful scene of his birth and its ruthless destruction at the hands of the Germans in the great European war. The Domain family is an old and well to do one of Belgium. It has furnished professional men, lawyers and doctors, and also sonic farmers. His father was twice married, and John Demain is the only child of the second wife, whose maiden name was Catherine Noel. She died in Belgium. Of the first marriage there were the following children: Constance, who married Mr. Corvelain, of Wovre, Belgium; Frederick, Adolph and Theophilus, all now deceased; and William Demain, who came to the United States before the Civil war, served as a Union soldier with a Wisconsin regiment, and died in Wisconsin, leaving a family.
John Demain acquired his early education in the French language. He grew up an orphan boy, his father having died in 1852. When only fourteen he began earning his own way as workman on a Belgium railway, and for several years he continued his education by attending night school. At the age of twenty-one, when the drawing for soldiers in his community was made, he drew one of the high numbers and was thus exempted from army training.
He then secured a vacation from the government for a year and came to the United States to make a visit. He sailed from Antwerp, Belgium, for New York and was on the ocean twelve days. He went directly to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and soon found America so much to his satisfaction that he determined to remain. He arrived in Wisconsin on the day of the great Chicago fire in October, 1871. His previous experience as a Belgium railway man enabled him to secure a position running an engine in a saw mill at Green Bay. He remained six years with the lumber company. During that time he saved enough money to purchase eighty acres of timber land. When he gave up his job in the saw mill he built a log house on his land and started farming. Every acre had to be cleared before it could be put into cultivation. For two years he worked steadily, and in clearing up his land he peeled the hemlock bark and made railroad ties of the tree trunks. These ties were hauled to the lake to market. It was a difficult and arduous experience to make a living as a farmer in that section of Wisconsin, and in time he sold his land for $1,400 and brought the money to Kansas.
Mr. Demain arrived in Edwards County March 12, 1878. It was a distinctive epoch in his life, since it was a long step from a thickly populated community of Wisconsin, in the midst of a heavy forest, to the sparsely populated frontier of the plains. On coming west he stopped at Kinsley because that was then the terminus of the Santa Fe Railway tracks. He entered a homestead eight miles south of the town and built a sod house. With him came his wife and four children. The sod house had one room, without a floor, and it served them as a home for about five years. In the meantime the money he had brought with him to the west had disappeared, and it became necessary for him to seek work outside to maintain his wife and children. Almost every year he had to buy seed, and only occasionally was there a crop as reward for the sowing and planting. In 1881 the Santa Fe Company passed him free to the end of the line in New Mexico at Las Vegas, and he spent a year there working on construction. He brought back to Kansas with him a check for $900.
Some of this money he invested in cattle, and was making considerable headway as a farmer and stock man until the extreme dry years of the early '80s. They forced him away from Edwards County to Comanche County, where he found grass and water for his stock on Mule Creek. In that way he was able to save his stock, and he remained in that section about three years. On returning to Edwards County he found another man on his claim. Claim jumping was a sort of pastime then. Rather than enter upon a prolonged litigation or a personal contact to oust the jumper, Mr. Demain quietly submitted and entered a pre-emption, which he subsequently proved up. On the pre-emption he built a frame house, and from that time better comforts of living were the condition of himself and family. For a number of years Mr. Demain lived on his claim, and whenever he had a surplus hundred dollars or so he invested it in other lands. Thus in time his accumulations gave him 4 1/2 sections, which he devoted to farming on a large scale and to ranching enterprises.
Mr. Demain continued actively as a farmer and rancher until 1903, and then began selling off his land until he had left only a section of his original holdings. He soon bought a small farm near Kinsley, but finally sold that too and moved into a comfortable home in the town. Here he has built a modern residence, and among other property he is owner of the Demain drug store building, and he also erected one of the garages of the town and a brick theatre as well.
For about ten or more years Mr. Demain served as treasurer of school district No. 26 in Edwards County. He became a voter in Wisconsin, where he took out his first papers, and his final papers as a citizen were issued when he proved up on his preemption in Kansas. His first experience as a voter is noteworthy. He had been in Wisconsin only a few weeks. With others he was placed on a sled and taken to a polling place. He had no idea what was expected of him, and was in no wise familiar with the complications of American politics and the machinery of voting. On reaching the destination he was handed his ticket and told to vote it. He complied with that request, and he and his companions then resumed their place on the sled and were driven another eight miles, when the same performance was repeated. Thus in one day he cast two ballots, and to this day he could not recall a single name or any of the issues or principles involved in the election. It was his first experience in American politics, and it was several years, and after he came to Kansas, before he familiarized himself with the fundamentals of political action. Since then he has been regularly a democrat. He was reared a Catholic, but has no church membership now, although it costs him more money than if he belonged to one congregation. Fraternally Mr. Demain is a Mason. When in his prime he was a magnificent specimen of physical manhood, and this fact should be noted, since it is one of the reasons why he was able to make a success in spite of all hardships and handicaps imposed upon his course as a pioneer Kansan.
In 1875, at Kewaunee, Wisconsin, Mr. Demain married Mary Noel. Her father, August Noel, was a native of Belgium, from the same locality as Mr. Domain, and came to the United States many years before his son-in-law. Mrs. Demain was born in 1854, in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, and was the only child of her mother. Mr. and Mrs. Demain have a worthy family of children. The oldest is Joseph, a druggist at Macksville, Kansas. Catherine is the wife of George Welch, an Edwards County farmer. Josephine married Edward Welch, living near Kinsley. Fred was accidentally killed at the age of nineteen when a horse reared and fell upon him. Rose is the wife of Pete Welch, of Kinsley. John G. is a graduate in pharmacy from Wichita, Kansas, and was proprietor of the Demain Drug Store at Kinsley until he volunteered for radio service in the United States Army. He married Miss Ella B. Atherton, of Owensboro, Kentucky, daughter of Andrew and Sarah M. (Lytle) Bell. John Demain, the father, is one of the few Thirty-second degree Masons of Kinsley, he having taken all the degree work of the order.
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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