RUFUS EUGENE EDWARDS has truly been one of the active business men of Western Kansas. He is one of the oldest residents of Edwards County in point of settlement, and one of the widely known business men of the state. He was a pioneer in the best sense of the term and has distinguished himself as a hard worker, a good manager of men, a keen and resourceful man of affairs and faithful and efficient in the performance of all his obligations as a citizen.
For the enterprise which he possesses he is doubtless indebted to some extent at least to his splendid ancestry. Mr. Edwards was born in Cortland County, New York, February 24, 1841. His grandfather, Jonathan Edwards, was born at Worcester, Connecticut, and served in the ranks of the Continental army as a Revolutionary soldier. Jonathan Edwards was a very ardent Presbyterian and eventually willed all his property to that church. In the fall of 1804 he helped blaze the trail from Albany into Western New York along what is now the "state road." His chief occupation was farming, and he and his brothers inherited from the state a section of land which they located at Virgil in Cortland County.
Jonathan Edwards died in 1845, at the age of sixty-eight. He married Lucinda Skeel, whose brothers, Roswell, Rufus and Almet Skeel, were well known tea merchants on Broad Street, New York.
The father of R. E. Edwards was Judge Rufus Edwards, who was the only son among the five children of his father. Two of his sisters were Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Vunk, of Virgil, New York. Judge Edwards had the distinction of being the first white child born in Virgil, Cortland County, where he spent nearly all his life. He was a self-made man, and though he never studied law, his son says that "he was one of the best lawyers I ever saw." He laid down rules of procedure that his son has followed all his life and accounts for much of the latter's success. He was elected judge of his county, was politically a war democrat, and one of the founders of the republican party in his state. He served on the county bench for a number of years and always exerted a strong influence in his party. Samuel Reator, of Cortland, New York, and Judge Edwards founded the First National Bank of Cortland, a noted institution, being the seventy-fourth bank to be chartered by the United States. This bank has been solid as a rock through all the years of its existence and not a stockholder has ever lost a cent through its management and no depositor has ever regretted his confidence in the institution. While not an investor in railroad securities, Judge Edwards lent his influence to the promotion of railroad building in his state. He owned large amounts of farm land, was interested in cattle raising, and was a staunch factor in the agrarian interests of New York. During the Civil war he spoke his sentiments strongly and bravely for the Union and its preservation. Before the war he was judge on the bench when the law for the return of slaves was tested. He had been previously asked as to what he would do when a case involving the law was brought before him, and he replied that he would of course return the slave. When such a case did come before him he followed a different line of procedure. He "hitched up" his wagon, took the fugitive darky, wounded and desperate and found in a cornfield, carted him off under a load of hay with a bag of corn on top as if going to mill, and thus became an actual "underground railway conductor" until the negro was taken charge of by the next division of the "underground" line.
Judge Edwards died in Cortland County, New York, in March, 1887, at the age of eighty-three. While not a church member he was a strong supporter of the cause and, when young, regularly attended the Presbyterian worship. He married Orpha Hart. Her father, Jonathan Hart, whose permanent home was near Utica in Oneida County, New York, saw active service in the Revolutionary war. Among his other children were Theodore Hart, one of the early-day bankers of Canandaigua, New York; Hiram Hart, a prominent farmer near Utica; and David Hart, who went south and became a large slave holder in Mississippi. Mrs. Edwards died in 1892, at the age of eigthy-four.[sic] Of their children, Vastine never married, spent many years in New York and in St. Paul, Minnesota, and finally came to KinsIey, where she died in December, 1916. The second in age is Rufus E. William C., the next in order of birth, was a resident of Kansas from 1872 to 1880, when he removed to St. Paul, Minnesota. As a prominent early settler Edwards County, upon its organization in 1874, was named for this pioneer business man. He first became interested in the lumber business in Kansas at Strong City and subsequently removed from there to Hutchinson, and, following the Santa Fe during its course of construction to Garden City, located yards at the leading stations along the route. At the time of his death it is said that he owned more retail lumber yards, with one exception, than any other man in the United States. He married Nettie Johnson, of Tully, New York, and his two sons are now living in Chicago, Illinois. Hart Edwards, another of the Edwards brothers, died unmarried, while the youngest child, Caroline, became the wife of Albert B. Tobey, of Onconta, New York.
Rufus E. Edwards grew up within the environment of a comfortable home and under the influence of his professional and business-man father. He early became interested in business and had done much to develop his talents in that direction before he came to Kansas.
He came out to Kansas on a prospecting tour in May, 1875. His brother, W. C. Edwards, had been here a year or two before and had erected the first brick building on the site of Kinsley in 1874. While on this trip to Kansas R. E. bought a large part of the present townsite of Kinsley. The following winter was spent in Hutchinson, but in March, 1876, he came to Kinsley as a permanent resident. Since then he has been engaged in practically every form of business activity common to this region. He established the Kinsley Hotel, the Kansas Lumber Company, the Edwards County Bank and, in earlier years, gave much of his time to a general merchandise business, which he afterwards developed through several departments, including a hardware store and a livery and sales stable. So far as individual enterprise could be responsible for the founding and upbuilding of a town Mr. Edwards furnished the capital and energy for the early four years of Kinsley. Gradually he has classified his large enterprise into departments and proved a skillful judge of men in selecting capable managers for the head of each.
His interest has been almost equally divided between town and country. Many years ago he established a ranch on the head of Medicine river, and for years was a leading cattle man. He was one of the active men in that industry during the open-range period, and became well known at the markets of Kansas City. He still handles cattle on his Edwards County ranches.
In founding the Edwards County Bank he was associated with his brother W. C. Edwards. For several years they conducted the institution as a private bank, then made it a stock company under the same name and management.
There is a short story of some interest connected with the birth of this bank. A camera man taking pictures of the leading places of Kinsley for some boom edition of a newspaper or for some promotion scheme found the town without a bank, a situation which threatened to belittle his collection, and he went to R. E. Edwards and told him Kinsley must have a bank before night so that he could take a picture of it. An addition to the Edwards store was then under construction and through a partition in the salesroom a window was cut and over it was inscribed with paint or chalk "The Edwards County Bank." When it was noised about that a depository for money had actually been designated under the eye of Edwards Brothers people came hurriedly from every direction to unload their currency and very soon several thousand dollars were left with the temporary cashier and R. E. Edwards found it necessary to wire for a safe at once, and its installation marked the real opening of what is now the Kinsley Bank.
After selling his interest in this bank he was next identified with the Edwards Mercantile Bank, which in time was merged into the First National Bank, of which he became president. The First National was finally taken over by the present Kinsley Bank. This is a solid and influential institution, and has had a capital stock ranging from the lowest conceivable figure to $150,000, according as business conditions justified.
During the past quarter of a century Mr. Edwards has done much toward the development of the agricultural interests of Western Kansas. Large tracts of raw land in Edwards County have been brought to a place of productiveness and many of his farms he has sold to actual settlers and has lent every encouragement to solid and substantial people to locate in this district. He has been more or less actively engaged in wheat raising, and according to the seasonal variations has harvested crops ranging from nothing to 30,000 bushels.
It was R. E. Edwards who brought the first registered cattle into Edwards County. That was back in the early eighties. His interest in raising the standard of livestock has been continuous through all the years. His herd of Herefords is his special pride, and many of his animals have been secured by smaller farmers and the blood of his stock now circulates throughout this district of the state. Still another distinction attaching to his numerous activities is that he sowed the first alfalfa in Edwards County. He is a stanch advocate of alfalfa as a money-making and home-saving crop in Western Kansas. It has been a source of profit to him and to others, and its advantages cannot be gainsaid even though it "runs out" and has to be renewed at times.
Through all the years of his residence at Kinsley Mr. Edwards has been connected with merchandising. The firm has been Edwards & Noble for forty years and formerly they had branch stores at other points. When Mr. Edwards came to Kinsley over forty years ago, the town had four houses, one of them being the brick building erected by his brother. Among the local citizens whom he first met here were Judge Blanchard, Milton Hetzel, Prank Spring, William Gillard, and Mrs. Merwin, all of whom are still on the scene. At that time Mr. Edwards was unmarried and he made his first home in the hotel which he established. The house he lived in after his marriage has disappeared but it occupied the site of the present C. W. Beeler residence.
His notable range of business activities, which have been only briefly sketched herein, constitute in themselves a great public service, and aside from them Mr. Edwards has never been inclined to hold public office. He has always been a republican and he acted with that party until, as he declares, "Dave Mulvane destroyed the party." He then became a progressive. He was occasionally a delegate to state conventions and knew most of the party leaders of thirty or forty years ago. He was an ardent supporter of Governor St. John and Governor Stubbs. He knew personally Senator Plumb and Senator Ingalls, and declares that all the praise bestowed upon these great Kansans was well deserved. Mr. Edwards has never connected himself with any fraternal order and is not a church member, though for many years he has attended the Congregational Church and has contributed of his means and lent his encouragement to church establishments all over the county. He encouraged the then presiding elder to erect the first Methodist Church in Kinsley.
Four or five years after coming to Edwards County Mr. Edwards married here, March 9, 1880, Miss Elizabeth Sellers, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her ancestors were Quakers who came to Pennsylvania with William Penn, and the old Sellers home at Philadelphia passed out of the family control only within the last thirty-five years. Mrs. Edwards' father, Charles Sellers, was a farmer in early life and afterwards a wire manufacturer. He developed a successful business but through too liberal endorsements of others' notes during the panic of 1873 lost his fortune. Mrs. Edwards was the younger of two children, her brother being Jabez Sellers, of Bridgeport, Oklahoma.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards have two children, Charles Edwards and Marion. Charles has distinguished himself in theatrical circles as an organizer, and one of his troupes was the famous "Harlequin Players." The daughter, Marion, is the wife of Hon. Jouett Shouse, present congressman from the Seventh District of Kansas, of whom all parties in this district are very proud. Mrs. Shouse is a graduate of Wellesley College, and she and Mr. Shouse have two children, Elizabeth Armstrong and Marion Edwards Shouse.
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.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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