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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.


William Dilworth Erwin

WILLIAM DILWORTH ERWIN was a notable figure in the early days of Edwards County, where he located with the pioneers of 1876.

He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, February 16, 1853. His grandfather was known as "Big Andy" Erwin of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where he served as sheriff of the county. He was a Scotch-Irishman and was related to the Stewart family, so well known in that region. Mr. Erwin's father was John Stewart Erwin, a native of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. From there he removed to Memphis, Tennessee, and was engaged in the lumber business when the war broke out. Though a democrat, he was a strong Union man, and the southerners soon made it unpleasant for him in Memphis. Abandoning his business and home in the South, he took his family to Iowa and finally moved to Adair County, Missouri. There he resumed the occupation of farming and spent the rest of his days. He died at Kirksville, Missouri, when past eighty years of age. His wife followed him to the grave about a week later. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Wilson, a daughter of Hugh Wilson, also of Scotch ancestry. The Wilsons lived at Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

John S. Erwin was a strong Presbyterian, was well educated, and was a man of much force and power, though exercised in a quiet way. He and his wife had the following children: William D.; Mary, who married Samuel Anderson; Andrew, a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota; Joseph P., who died in Kirksville; and John A., of Kansas City, Missouri.

William D. Erwin lived in Northeastern Missouri from childhood and finished a liberal education at Kirksville. Not long after leaving school and with his education but no business experience and at the age of twenty-three, he came to Western Kansas. The presence of friends at Hutchinson attracted him to that then small city, and while visiting there he met the Edwards Brothers from Kinsley, comprising William C. and R. E. Edwards. They induced him to move to Edwards County where he took the position of clerk in R. E. Edwards' lumber and coal business. His ability and enterprise soon brought him a partnership in the firm of Edwards & Erwin, and he finally bought the interest of Mr. Edwards and continued business for a number of years as W. D. Erwin. On account of failing health he sold the business to the Heath people, whose interests have subsequently made them well known as lumbermen in this part of Kansas.

In spite of the fact that Mr. Erwin was not a politician and never had any personal ambition in that line, he was elected as a democrat to the office of treasurer of Edwards County. He served the full term and was re-elected. He resigned during his second term because of his election as county clerk. His popularity as a citizen brought him much strength from the opposite party, and the efficiency of his service commended him for continuance in public office. As clerk he succeeded D. D. Baxter. Mr. Erwin had hardly been in the county clerk's office a year when he passed away, November 6, 1907. For his successor his daughter, Florence, who had been his deputy, was appointed, and then by repeated elections she has held the office without a break and has one of the longest official terms to her credit of any woman in Kansas. The late Mr. Erwin had endeared himself to the German population of the county. German people generally have been hostile to female suffrage. But when it came to voting for Florence Erwin as the successor of her father they declared they must vote for her because "we would have starved if it hadn't been for Will Erwin."

The late Mr. Erwin read many books and magazines, the local and current news, and always passed as a man of unusual information as well as of splendid qualifications in character and personal integrity. He was a charter member of the Masonic fraternity, and belonged to the Knights of Pythias and the Ancient Order of United Workmen and the Improved Order of Red Men. The Masonic fraternity was his special favorite, and he was both a Chapter and Commandery Mason. He served as church clerk of the Congregational denomination, and as a young man was habitual in Sabbath school attendance.

At Dorchester, Massachusetts, January 29, 1881, William D. Erwin married Miss Alice Loring Humphrey. Mrs. Erwin was born in Cumberland Center, near Portland, Maine, a daughter of Nicholas Loring Humphrey, whose name deserves special mention herein as a Western Kansas pioneer.

Nicholas L. Humphrey was born in the same locality of Maine as his daughter, on September 2, 1810. He was a self-made man of many experiences. At the age of twelve he went to sea, and eventually became captain of a coasting vessel. The sea was his home and occupation for twenty years. President Lincoln appointed him consul at the Port-of-Spain on Trinidad Island in the West Indies. On returning to Maine he gave up the sea service and engaged in merchandising. Frequently he was elected an official in Cumberland Center. He was an ardent advocate of freedom for the black man and a strong republican. In the spring of 1873 he left New England and established himself with other members of the Massachusetts colony on the Kansas frontier. Preempting a quarter section two miles north of Kinsley, he proved it up and began breaking the virgin sod with a yoke of oxen. However he was much better off than many of his neighbors and contemporaries in Western Kansas. This is indicated by the fact that his Kansas home was one of the best built in Edwards County. The lumber was shipped from Emporia, and between the walls was a sheeting of building paper, a protection against the cold such as perhaps no other Kansas house of that time possessed. Mr. Humphrey continued to make his home out on the prairie in the midst of the waving buffalo grass until after he had proved up his homestead. He was elected in the meantime county treasurer, and rode back and forth from his farm into Kinsley to look after its duties. During one term his daughter, Mrs. Erwin, was his deputy. Mr. Humphrey was afflicted all his life with asthma, and it was to relieve himself from that malady that he came to the high altitude of Western Kansas. When this climate proved no longer sufficient he removed to Pueblo, Colorado, and died in that city in July, 1885. Mrs. Humphrey was ten years younger than her husband, bore the maiden name of Lucy Willis Weston. Her parents were close friends of the great American poet Nathaniel P. Willis and for him she was named. Her father, Rev. Isaac Weston, was of ancestry that went back to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Rev. Weston married Mary Emmons. Their children were: John, who died in Pueblo, Colorado; Mrs. Frances Rowe; Miss Harriet; and Mrs. Erwin, who is the youngest. Mrs. Humphrey, the mother of these children, died September 14, 1905, in Pueblo, Colorado.

To Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Erwin were born the following children: Miss Elizabeth, now of Fresno, California; Miss Florence; Grace, now Mrs. James Hills of Edwards County; Lucy, who married C. A. Baker and died in Chicago, leaving a son, Charles William; Donald Loring, now a naval cadet at Annapolis; and Joseph E., a junior in the Kinsley High School.

Miss Florence Erwin graduated from the Kinsley High School, spent a year in Bethany College at Lindsborg and then became deputy county clerk under her father. She is a democrat in politics.


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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

Volume 4 - Table of Contents

Tom & Carolyn Ward
Columbus, KS

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