JOHN E. GEORGE. Much of the romance as well as the early history of the southwestern country around Liberal is treasured in the memory and experiences of John E. George, an old-time cattleman and leading man of affairs. It is customary to consider men who established permanent homes in this region as early as 1885 pioneers, but Mr. George had driven cattle, had followed buffalo and had fought Indians over nearly all the counties now comprised in Southwest Kansas, Western Oklahoma and much of Texas long before a single homesteader had inserted the plow like a wedge of civilization into these prairies.
Western Kansas when he came to it was about as nature had finished it, filled with all the game ever allotted to it, including the buffalo, and thousands of these noble animals were seen and eagerly hunted for their pelts and meat. The wild horse was yet plentiful, and the antelope in herds and droves fled the presence or sight of man like the wind. The bark of the coyote broke the silence of the night, and the beaver, otter and badger slid in and out of their holes utterly careless of the changes so rapidly consummating about them.
Mr. George's experiences in this state may be held to have begun at Dodge City in 1877. That year he accompanied a drove of cattle of J. L. Driskill & Son up the old Chisholm trail from below Corpus Christi on the Gulf of Mexico, where the stock had been taken off their range. Mr. George's home was at San Marcos, Texas, and he was born in Comal County, that state, and there he had put on the vigor of youth and had acquired the training and education for the duties of life. He was only seventeen when he reached Kansas, and having been reared in a cattle country and among cattle it was but natural that this industry should hold his attention and be the object of his energetic effort while it flourished. Just before coming to Kansas he had entered the service of the Driskills. He remained on their ranch in Clark County, this state, 5 1/2 years, and when they moved on north he remained and soon began his independent operations with a small herd of cattle he had gathered while with the big outfit. Later, however, he was in the service of Beverly Brothers and also George Anderson, until his own cattle increased to a point where they demanded all his care.
Probably the most exciting of all his early experiences occurred while he was with the Driskills. In 1878 the Cheyennes made their last raid into Kansas, a renegade band passing through Clark County, killing stock and murdering a cowboy here and there, and creating general consternation among cowmen. Though only eighteen years old, Mr. George joined the soldiers rushed from a fort to the defense of the region and the protection of the scattered settlements and rescue of marooned camps. He was in the desultory fighting as the hostiles trailed across the country northward, his pistol or rifle barking vindictively and with little mercy for the red marauders.
With his herd Mr. George finally established himself in the Neutral Strip now known as Beaver County, Oklahoma, in 1885. In January of the next year he lost about all the stock he had in the famous and disastrous blizzard of that month, which every western man and especially stockmen probably remember with more vividness than any event of recent years. In order to recover lost ground, or, rather, get a new start, Mr. George took a bunch of cattle on the shares, and for two years held them in New Mexico, near Nar Vica. He then returned to the Beaver River of Oklahoma, where he established his grazing grounds and where he has held them ever since.
His possessions on returning from New Mexico amounted to perhaps 300 or 400 head of mixed cattle. Little respect was then paid to the grade of cattle"a cow was a cow" with the old-time stockman. His headquarters was a "soddy" on the Beaver and his feeding grounds the almost limitless public domain. For practical purposes the Beaver was the south line of his pasture, but he grazed the country to within a few miles of Liberal, and his periodical roundups occurred anywhere within a radius of fifty miles. As the country settled the limits of his cattle range were curtailed, and only then did he realize the necessity of acquiring land of his own. He developed in Beaver County a ranch of 13,000 acres, and more recently one in Texas County, Oklahoma, of 3,560 acres. Naturally with all this land he is properly looked upon as one of the few remaining cattle kings, though his herds and his outfits are nowhere near so pretentious as when the range cattle industry was at its zenith. He is one of the few cattlemen never to change his brand, which is the "T bar T." But the breed of cattle has not merely changed, it has been revolutionized. His Herefords of the present day are as a new race of cattle altogether compared with the slabsided mongrel stock he handled thirty years ago. At that time his market was through Dodge City or Harper until the building of the Rock Island. While in New Mexico he drove one herd to Tyrone, Oklahoma, for shipment. He is a member of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, and was formerly a member of the Texas Cattle Raisers' Association.
Naturally he has done much to develop his farming interests, chiefly to furnish rough feed, oil cake and hay to sustain his stock through the winters instead of letting them shift for themselves, as was once the custom.
In 1899 he established his home in Liberal, his ranch having been his home all the preceding years. Coming to town, he has done as townspeople do, entered the marts of trade. He acquired a third interest in the dry-goods house of Kilgore, Hayes & George, finally buying out his partners and later selling the entire establishment. From that he went into the grocery business, first with J. P. Odell & Company, until be acquired the entire interest, and now the title of the firm is the J. E. George Grocery Company.
Many people in this part of the country know him chiefly as a banker. He was one of the promoters of the Liberal State Bank, with a capital of $10,000, was elected its first president, and when the charter was changed to the First National Bank of Liberal its capital was increased to $25,000, and at present it is $50,000 with surplus and undivided profits now standing at $32,000. Mr. George is president of the institution, L. A. Etzold is vice president, and C. E. Woods, cashier.
His other banking activities deserve a brief paragraph. He organized a bank at Mosco, Kansas, of which he is a director; helped reorganize and convert a state bank into the First National Bank of Dalhart, Texas; was an organizer of the State Bank of Tyrone, which has since been nationalized; organized the First State Bank of Beaver City, which was later liquidated and the depositors paid off. He is also a stockholder in the First National Bank of Guymon, and the First National Bank of Goodwell, Oklahoma.
The first brick business house at Liberal is a monument to his improving enterprise, and is now sheltering his store on the corner. He also put up one of the finer homes of the town. He has contributed to the building of churches and schools over Beaver and Seward counties, but to record the sum of his helpfulness in even the principal items would he beyond the limits of this article. He has rendered good service both as councilman and mayor of Liberal, but practical politics have been a minor interest with him since moving into Kansas. He has always been of the democratic faith, and his first presidential vote was given to Grover Cleveland in Clark County, Kansas. He was one of a numerous body of Texans who voted there that day. He was a real factor in politics in Beaver County, Oklahoma, and in 1896 was elected a member of the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature. The speaker of the House that winter was J. C. Towsley, a populist, with Thomas H. Doyle speaker pro tem. The democrats controlled the House and Mr. George was chairman of one of the important committees. The platform and express object for which he was sent to the Legislature was to get through "a free range and quarantine bill." It did not fall to his lot to introduce these measures but he helped pass both of them. The purpose of the latter was to quarantine Texas cattle from Oklahoma. He also voted to locate the Alva Normal School and gave his support to other appropriations for educational and other state institutions. Mr. George is both a York and Scottish Rite Mason and member of the Mystic Shrine.
It remains to note briefly his family history. He was born July 22, 1859, and had only the advantages of the country schools in Comal and Hays counties in Texas. His father, E. Ben George, a native of Florida, went to Texas as a young man and at Seguin married a member of a prominent family in that section of the state, Miss Mary DeWeese, daughter of Thomas DeWeese. She was born in Mississippi, and moved with her parents to Illinois and then to Texas. She died about 1869. E. Ben George, who was a stockman and merchant at Hays Springs, Texas, survived her some twenty-five years. He was a soldier of the South, and went through the war without wounds or capture. He and his wife had four sons: John E.; Alonzo and Oscar, who left home and their fate has never been known to the family; Edgar, a stockman in New Mexico.
In Kingman County, Kansas, John E. George married Miss Belle Whims, who died in 1913. Mr. George married for his present wife Mrs. May (Smith) Sutton, who has two children, Harold and Francis Sutton. Mr. George's children, by his first wife, are: Maud, who attended Milford, Texas, Presbyterian College and finished her education at the Kansas Agricultural College; Edna, who was educated in the same schools as her sister Maud; Rose, who attended Milford College and is now finishing in Christian College at Columbia, Missouri; Allen, who is the soldier of the family and is in the United States Navy, when last heard from was stationed at Cavite, Philippine Islands.
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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