HON. WILLIAM JAMES FITZGERALD, who served as lieutenant governor of Kansas during a term each of the Hoch and Stubbs administrations, has been actively identified with Kansas and especially with Dodge City as a farmer, stock man, business factor and public leader for over thirty years.
He was born at Monroe, Wisconsin, November 1, 1861. His father, James Fitzgerald, was born in Dublin, Ireland, and, coming to the United States as a young man, he settled in Wisconsin and in early life followed railroad contracting. During the Civil war he was member of a Wisconsin regiment. In later life he engaged in farming, and died in Adams County, Iowa, in 1885. His wife, Mary O'Shaughnessy, was born in Limerick, Ireland, and died in Adams County, Iowa, in 1888.
When Governor Fitzgerald was nine years of age, in 1870, his parents moved to Illinois and settled in Knox County. The future lieutenant governor of Kansas completed his education in Lombard College at Galesburg. He taught country school in Knox County and for a year was principal of the schools at Cromwell, Iowa.
At the age of twenty-two, in 1883, he came to Kansas, locating in Meade County and entering a preemption near Odee post office on Crooked Creek. He was then a single man and equipped only with a farmer boy experience and a college education. During the year he remained there he proved up on his land, and then located in Dodge City. The Arkansas Valley appealed to him as a fertile region, and Dodge City was effective for its promise of a good business future.
Governor Fitzgerald came to Kansas with little money and no special influence. At one time he needed money and utilized his previous experience as a teacher to supply a place in the Dodge City schools for two months. In that school he encountered a bad lot of boys, whose conduct had been such that the woman teacher had resigned. The young fellows tried similar tactics on Mr. Fitzgerald. Some of the boys brought knives, some pistols and some whiskey to school. The teacher wisely took with him the first day he entered the school room his saddle quirt, and the loaded end of that instrument was what saved his reputation as a disciplinarian and also won the respect of the young cowboys in his school room.
Buying land in Ford County, Mr. Fitzgerald engaged in the cattle business. His ranch headquarters were on his land east of Dodge City in the Valley. He also owned another ranch on Sawlog, and for over thirty years has been an active factor in the cattle industry. He raised and bred cattle, handled young stock and finally acquired a herd of pure bred Shortborn cattle. He is still a dealer and breeder of pure bred Shorthorn cattle, and pure bred Belgian horses. At the same time he showed his faith in the future of this valley as a farming proposition, and and has raised alfalfa, wheat and large quantities of feed. Among his improvements was the first large barn erected in Ford County. It was built after the type of the old fashioned Pennsylvania bank barn. At first it was characterized as "Fitzgerald's Folly." His judgment and foresight were justified and he has always regarded the barn as the best investment he ever made. Many others came to approve of his initiative and hundreds of similar barns have since been built over the county. Governor Fitzgerald introduced into Ford County the first manure spreader, and has always been a leader in the agricultural domain. He has continued the building of barns until his land now has a large group of substantial structures, comprising the best improvements of this character in the county. As a cattle man from the first he believed in supplying his stock with good shelter and an abundance of feed, and that has accounted for the minimum of losses he has sustained.
A business man of great vigor and of successful achievements, Governor Fitzgerald probably inherited from his Irish ancestry a tendency to politics. The first office he was ever elected to was as a member of the school board. His political career has been significantly identified with the welfare of Dodge City and Ford County. A number of years ago he was selected by the citizens of Dodge to go to Chicago and appeal to the management of the Santa Fe Railway Company to build the Elkhart branch of the road. This service was carefully performed. Mr. Ripley promised him to send a man to the region and investigate the data supplied by Mr. Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald took the railway agent over the entire route of the proposed line and demonstrated conclusively its value and secured approval of the project. He was also instrumental in securing the right of way for the road from Dodge City to the west line of Gray county and then to the west line of Haskell County and later to the Oklahoma line in consideration of the company building without aid bonds.
Besides his service on the board of education Mr. Fitzgerald was a member of the city council of Dodge City when Mayor Gluck was ousted from office for noninforcement of the prohibition law. As president of the Council he then became ex-officio mayor. He had some decided ideas as to law enforcement, and as mayor he appointed Pat Sughrue as marshal, and with the co-operation of the county attorney, Ed Madison, the saloon business was closed up in Dodge City. This trio of determined officers went to work with little ceremony smashing stocks of liquor wherever found and without authority from the courts, and throwing the liquor vendors into jail and keeping them there. Their efforts were the first to inaugurate a settled policy of law enforcement in Dodge City which up to that time had been a "wideopen" town.
Governor Fitzgerald was brought up as a republican. In 1894 he was elected on that ticket to the Legislature from Ford County, entering the House in January, 1895. Lobdell was then speaker. Mr. Fitzgerald was assigned to the ways and means committee, and was chairman of a sub committee appointed by S. S. Benedict to investigate old claims and accounts against the state. He introduced the bill to regulate the "state, printer graft," and it passed the House, being killed in the Senate. When Mr. Fitzgerald was re-elected in 1896 he was the only republican who was successful in Ford County. That year the House was strongly populist, but he was assigned to the ways and means committee. In the debate which made the session of 1897 famous he belonged to the "violent minority," which, in the familiar language of the time, was accused of "obstructing legislation." Though the minority was a very small one, they succeeded in preventing much vicious legislation by the so called reform party. In this House were some of the prominent and able men of Kansas of that day, including C. E. Lobdell, Judge Barker, H. J. Bone, Newt Ury, Ike Lambert, James K. Cubbison and Judge Stuart. While in the Legislature Mr. Fitzgerald secured some important legislation for the Soldiers Home at Dodge City, including the irrigation plant which has made it possible for the home to raise an orchard and garden and carry on other farming. He also secured appropriation for the building of some of the cottages and other improvements. During the session of 1897 he secured the repassage of the "printer's bill," but it was again defeated in the Senate.
After leaving the Legislature in 1897 Mr. Fitzgerald was not a candidate for any office until 1906, when he made the race for lieutenant governor and was elected with Governor Hoch. He won the nomination in the convention by seventy per cent of the delegates. Mr. Fitzgerald was lieutenant governor of Kansas four years and presided over the Senate during three sessions. In all that time only one appeal was taken from his decision, and that was decided by the Senate in his favor. The period of his lieutenant governorship is still fresh in the minds of Kansans and was marked by an era of important and progressive legislation. It was also characterized by much controversy, and there were many stormy sessions of the Senate. Through them all Governor Fitzgerald sat in fair judgment upon the deliberations of the body, and it is doubtful if the Senate ever had a more efficient and impartial presiding officer.
Since leaving this office Governor Fitzgerald has lost none of his interest in politics, has attended state and district conventions, and has remained a steadfast republican. At the same time his large business interests have claimed most of his time. He still gives active supervision to his ranch and farm, and for four years has been finance commissioner of Dodge City. In that capacity he was instrumental in extending the water works system, in the extension of the sanitary sewer system, and the street paving.
Governor Fitzgerald married in Ford County, Kansas, December 27, 1888, Miss Irene Sippell, daughter of Charles E. and Kate (Zerbe) Sippell. Governor Fitzgerald now has as his active associates two stalwart sons, William R. and Carl E., both of whom are with their father in business and both still unmarried. Carl is a graduate of St. Johns College of Salina and also attended the State Agricultural College at Manhattan. William R. finished his education with a business course at Hutchinson.
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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