WILLIAM ARNOLD GILL is one of a family with many notable experiences that serve to illustrate and amplify the history of Western Kansas. Mr. Gill is one of the leading retired farmers of Walnut Township, Pawnee County, a resident of Larned, and is one of the earliest settlers of the county.
He arrived in this vicinity March 29, 1874. He was in charge of two carloads of equipment owned by his father and brought to this country as preliminary to a farming venture. William A. Gill came with the determination to make his home here, and he accomplished his purposes, though not without vicissitudes and setbacks that would in themselves make a long story. He filed upon an eighty acre homestead tract and pre-empted another eighty in section 32, township 21, range 16. He built a structure on his homestead 14 by 16 feet, and it is still part of his present larger and more commodious home. His father, W. H. Gill, settled on section 8 of Larned Township.
The equipment with which William A. Gill began a career in Kansas consisted of a team and wagon, a sod plow and a dozen chickens, "every one of them with a name." At first he worked with his father, who fed the team and paid the taxes while the son was getting started. The first year, acting on his father's advice, he joined his brother in planting 100 acres of corn in one field. The idea or principle was that in case grasshoppers or army worms began their devastation the outer edge of the field would be destroyed, leaving the center intact. Mr. Gill well recalls the date, July 27, 1874, when the hoppers began to rain down from the sky. Before night they had completed their work of destruction and not a blade remained on a single hill of 100 acres of corn. Written merely as history of a past event, it is impossible to conceive the enormity of this calamity which befell not alone the Gills but many other aspiring farmers of Western Kansas. The Gills were not to be discouraged, though Captain Gill, the father, is said to have shed tears over the loss. The sons also were deeply dispirited, but there was no question of quitting. It was money owned by the senior Gill that saved the family that winter. In the years that followed, 1875-76-77-78, there were good crops, corn, wheat and oats. It was the prosperity of these years that gave Mr. Gill and his wife their real start in Kansas.
On coming to the state Mrs. Gill had begun teaching, and was paid $35 a month for a school in Larned. She next taught in district No. 2, and after that she gave up this as a profession. Her wages were very important to the household at the beginning and Mr. Gill gives her credit as "saving the day."
Their first wheat crop was raised in 1876. They sowed the Fulse variety, then popular, and in 1878 they put in their first hard or Turkey wheat.
Mr. Gill's preliminary experiment as a cattle man was by borrowing a cow. He never entered the cattle business on an extensive scale until the period of failure that afflicted the county after 1878. During those years the Gills milked many cows, made butter, and this was an important resource and an unfailing revenue.
Mr. Gill was a practical thresherman when he came to Kansas, and after several years he bought a threshing outfit. The expense of maintenance more than eat up the profits. Crop failures came too frequently to permit of a steady or long run of threshing, though Mr. Gill kept up this side line of his main business for about twenty years, until he was assured that he had enough and then abandoned it.
Many years ago Mr. Gill varied his enterprise in the direction of horticulture. He planted a number of fruit trees, and has had considerable success, especially with apples and cherries. He has studied the matter of growing fruits and his success is largely due to careful attention to details and to regular pruning and spraying. The apples under Western Kansas climate become fine flavored and well colored, and it is possible to resist the attacks of bugs and parasites by regular spraying.
Soon after coming to Western Kansas Mr. Gill bought a quarter section of railroad land in section 31. This, together with other lands acquired from time to time, he has devoted chiefly to grain raising. He is very much pleased with his experience in growing alfalfa and this crop has never failed. It has produced four cuttings a year, with a yield of four tons per acre. In 1890 the present Gill home was built, a handsome two-story nine-room house, while the barn, 34 by 50 feet, was erected in 1903. For nine years Mrs. Gill was a director of the Gem School, and both of them helped organize district No. 58. For some years Mr. Gill was township clerk. Aside from these local affairs his interest in politics has been confined to voting. He and his wife are active Methodists, assisting in organizing the Ash Valley Church, and Mr. Gill as overseer did much of the building construction and was one of the heaviest contributors. He has served both as trustee and steward of the church, and it fell to him and his wife to collect the pastor's salary on many occasions. He served as the first superintendent of the local Sunday school, conducted at the Gem schoolhouse, and later was superintendent of the church Sunday school. He and his family are members of the Grange, and they have always encouraged the progressive movements in agriculture.
William Arnold Gill was born in Lee County, Iowa, September 5, 1851. He was educated in the country schools and one term in the Fort Madison Academy, and he lived at home until his marriage and was practically part of the family household when he began his career in Kansas, as has been indicated.
His father, Captain William Henry Gill, who died in Pawnee County February 29, 1888, was a prominent citizen both here and in his former community in Iowa. He was born in Franklin, Ohio, June 19, 1827, grew up there, and was the son of a small farmer, Selman Gill, whose people came out of Virginia to Ohio. Selman Gill's mother was an English orphan girl, adopted and reared by a Methodist preacher in Illinois. Selman and wife had the following children: Edward S., Selman (Doc), William H., Margaret, Mrs. Matilda Bailey, and Ellen.
In Lee County, Iowa, William H. Gill entered the Union Army in 1863. He and Captain Adams raised Company E of the Nineteenth Iowa Infantry and he was elected first lieutenant. He also had charge of the drilling of the company and was a very industrious and faithful officer. By nature he was a leader of men, and was very popular with his army associates. When ordered to the front the regiment went to St. Louis, participated in some skirmishes in Arkansas, and from there went to Vicksburg by boat and had a part in the campaign and siege of that city. It was during the Vicksburg campaign that Captain Gill fell ill, and on being sent home was granted an honorable discharge. He never recovered from the army experience and was more or less afflicted the rest of his life. He took a keen interest in Grand Army of the Republic affairs, was an ardent republican and did a good deal for his party. While naturally forceful and a man of great influence in his community, he was by nature modest and retiring. He was strongly religious, his home was the stopping place of ministers and other church leaders, and he took an active part in the Sunday school and served as superintendent of Pawnee County.
Captain Gill was married in October, 1850, to Miss Euphemia B. Arnold, a daughter of William B. Arnold, an Iowa farmer. Her brothers, John and Dr. William Arnold, were pioneers of Pawnee County. Mrs. Captain Gill died March 28, 1904. Their children were: William A.; Pearl I. of League City, Texas; and Minnie, who married John Shea and spent her life in Pawnee County.
William A. Gill was married March 18, 1874, eleven days before his advent into Pawnee County, to Miss Mary J. Pyle. Mrs. Gill was born September 7, 1853, a daughter of Cheney and Mary A. (Anders) Pyle. Her father was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, March 27, 1804, was educated in the West Chester, Pennsylvania, Academy and for twenty-five years was a teacher in the public schools of Ohio and Iowa and was known as one of the ablest of his profession. His scholarly accomplishments also extended to surveying, in which he was a practical man, and he also investigated astronomy and other scientific subjects. He came out to Western Kansas in 1877 and died August 20, 1882, while his wife passed away in Anderson County, Kansas.
Mrs. Gill was educated in Denmark, Lee County, Iowa, and at the age of fifteen taught with her father. This work was her profession even after her marriage, and she taught her last school in Pawnee County. Mr. and Mrs. Gill have three children: Eugene Cheney, a professional musician, was for three years connected with the Alva State Normal of Oklahoma and now has a studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He married Jennie Brandenstein. Gertrude E.. the second child, is the wife of William R. Haun, of Pawnee County. Bessie E. is the wife of John Fleming, of Larned, and their children are Vincent, Gertrude, Carl, Francis and Allen. The Gill home has also been the home of several orphan children. Those to grow up here and take their places in the world are Daisy Crigler, wife of Elisha Milton, and Thornton Shope. Five of the children so reared were of Mexican parentage and most of them have attended Winfield College.
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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