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 P. Griffith

WILLIAM P. GRIFFITH. The fact that Mr. Griffith has been identified with Ash Valley Township of Pawnee County since 1878 is an all sufficient reason why his experiences should be selected as a suitable topic for mention in this history. His career has an even wider interest. He is a man now who has passed the three-quarter century mark, and has lived intensely throughout his career. He is an honored veteran of the Civil war and success with him has been a matter of achievement not of any lucky chance or circumstance.

He was born February 7, 1840, and his birthplace is credited in Hertfordshire, England, though he was reared at Bristol, Somersetshire. His parents were John and Susan (Lloyd) Griffith, both of Welsh stock. It was not customary for boys of his time and station to receive much education, and his schooling was quite limited. Between the ages of eleven and eighteen he worked as a general clerk and office boy in a dry goods store. An older brother had in the meantime come to the United States, and it was to follow his example that Mr. Griffith embarked on a sailing vessel at Liverpool and set out with his face toward the sunset. He was put off with other passengers at Castle Garden on July 11, 1858. A few days later he joined his brother in Lee County, Iowa. Here he put his strength and manhood to test as a farmhand at wages of $8 a month. Mr. Griffith recalls the fact that for some of his wages he received pay in the form of the issues of the old State Bank, known as "shin plasters." His farmhand experience continued until June, 1861.

Then came the call to sterner duties when he volunteered to serve his adopted land in the battle for freedom. He enlisted in Company D of the Seventh Iowa Infantry, under Captain Harper and Colonel Lauman. This regiment did its preliminary drilling at Burlington, and in August, 1861, was sent to Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. From there it went by way of Iron Mountain and Pilot Knob to Cape Girardeau, then to Birds Point, and the first real fighting was at Belmont, Missouri, where General Grant first came into fame as a real soldier and officer. Mr. Griffith subsequently followed the fortunes of that great general through the sieges of Fort Henry and Donelson, in the battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, Iuka, and the battle and siege of Corinth on October 3-4. His command was next sent under command of General Granville M. Dodge to clear the road to Decatur, Alabama. From there it went on to Chattanooga, where Mr. Griffith did guard duty chiefly. He was mustered out at the foot of Lookout Mountain in 1864. He had served throughout as a private, and the only wound he sustained was a slight one at Corinth. Fifty years later he visited the Shiloh battlefield, and looked with all admiration at the marvelous transformation perfected by the Government in converting the battle torn wilderness into a magnificent Government park and National cemetery.

Having fulfilled his patriotic duty Mr. Griffith resumed civil life as a farm hand in Iowa. In 1865 he went to farming on the shares. He had married on the 25th of January of that year and felt the need of taking a more responsible and bigger part in life in order to provide properly for his family. He managed to live in fair comfort and had a part interest in a farm of forty acres in Iowa when he decided to try his fortunes on the frontier of Kansas. Of his experiences in Kansas the record should enter into greater detail.

Mr. Griffith arrived in Pawnee County in December, 1878. He homesteaded the southwest quarter of section 10, township 20, range 17. He brought with him to this frontier locality his wife and seven children. His cash capital had it been divided would have given about $1 to each child. From Lee County, Iowa, he had made the journey overland. His chief property aside from the money above mentioned were a pair of mules and a horse. As an old soldier he was entitled to the bounty of the Government in the distribution of its land. On his homestead his first act was the building of a shelter for his family. He lived in a sod house of a single room without a floor. The owner confesses that he was "afraid of snakes" and for that reason he put on a board roof, whereas many of the early comers were content with a straw or sod roof. He used his work animals to break up the sod of the virgin prairie, and he did similar service for the other settlers when he could make a little money thereby. All the old timers of Western Kansag remember the disastrous year of 1879, in which he had put in his first crop. There was almost a total failure of every kind of crop in Western Kansas, and it was the first general failure after several years of great promise and fruitfulness. There was not enough yield from his land to support the family, but he was diligent in accepting every opportunity to earn a little money away from home and the next year he put in his crops with renewed faith and hope. There were several years after that when very meager crops of wheat were harvested, and in 1884 came the first satisfactory harvest. Through all the years, good and bad, Mr. Griffith has never lost his faith in wheat. In all that time his experience has recorded three total failures. Only in one year did he find it necessary to leave home for work. That year he went to Sedgwick County, Kansas, and husked corn for several months. Unlike many of the pioneer comers he never went into the industry of picking up buffalo bones as a matter of profit. However, he conformed to the general custom and burned buffalo chips for fuel, and he now wonders how the people could have lived without that indispensable item.

One of the most important sources of revenue in the early days to the Griffith family was butter and eggs. Sometimes eggs sold as low as 6 cents a dozen and butter as low as 15 cents a pound. Mr. Griffith in those times sold cows as low as $12 a head, though he paid $33 apiece for them. Some of the horses grown on his pastures brought prices between $45 and $50. The first cow he had he bought on credit and he had not finished paying for the animal when she died. Mr. Griffith had real enterprise. When one avenue of profit was shut off he quickly sought another, he worked here and there, and his determination finally brought him a condition of prosperity. After a few years he built up a herd of from twenty-five to forty-five head of cattle and he usually milked from ten to a dozen cows and sold the butter or cream.

His record crop as a grain raiser was about thirty-four bushels to the acre. The largest threshing of grain in his experience totaled 16,000 bushels. He has proved the value of persistence by holding on to his crops when others were selling freely, and the lowest he ever sold wheat was 50 cents a bushel, though the prevailing price only a short time before had been 35 cents. The best price ever secured for this staple grain by Mr. Griffith was $1.90 a bushel. After two years he had proved up his homestead, and he then sold it for $200, and, as he says, was "glad to get the money." On leaving the homestead he moved to his present home in 1882. He took this with a shack house on it, and this was the shelter of his family for some time. About 1895 he began buying land, paying for his first additional tract $1,600, while the next one cost him $800 and when land went up, to $5,500 a quarter he stopped buying. Mr. Griffith is now one of the big land holders and farmers of Pawnee County in the Ash Valley District. His possessions include six quarter sections, two with building improvements, and he is cultivating about five quarter sections. His home is a good substantial residence of nine rooms, and he has one barn 42 by 52 feet with mow capacity for seventy-five tons, and another barn 15 by 32 feet, with granary capacity for 6,000 bushels. Recently a new enterprise has been inaugurated on his farm in the breeding of French draft horses. This is conducted by his youngest son.

Mr. Griffith is also a stockholder in the Pawnee Grain and Supply Company, in the Moffet Brothers National Bank at Larned, in the First State Bank of Larned, the Farmers State Bank of Larned, and the Rozel State Bank.

His fellow citizens are testimony to the fact that Mr. Griffith has never neglected the public zeal, even though his participation involved some sacrifice. He has been road supervisor, for about thirty years was director of his school district No. 11, was also trustee of his township, and from 1891 to 1894 was a county commissioner. His colleagues on the county board were Thomas Penrose of Larned and A. J. Nelson of Garfield. This was a county administration when the settlers were still poor and the county likewise, and practically no improvements were possible in the way of construction of roads or bridges. The main improvement by the administration recalled by Mr. Griffith was the building of the county barn.

In politics Mr. Griffith has been steadily a republican for more than half a century. His first presidential vote was cast for Mr. Lincoln in 1864, while he was with the army at Holly Springs, Mississippi. For many years he regularly attended conventions, including county, congressional and state conventions. He helped nominate W. C. Edwards secretary of state, assisted in naming Chester I. Long and Victor Murdock for Congress, as an old soldier he has been deeply interested in the welfare of his comrades at arms, and this interest has been chiefly manifested through his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic. Mr. Griffith has been a delegate to most of the encampments of the order in Kansas, and has attended national reunions at Denver, Kansas City and Chicago. In 1865 he became a Master Mason at West Point, Iowa. He has no church affiliation.

On January 25, 1865, not long after he was let out of the army, Mr. Griffith married Miss Sophia Baldwin. Her father, Thaddeus Baldwin, was from Rutledge, Vermont, was a farmer, and married a Miss Enlows. Mrs. Griffith was one of their family of six sons and four daughters, all of whom subsequently removed to Kansas. The death of Mrs. Griffith occurred very suddenly while she was on the streets of Larned on November 18, 1913. They had reared a large family, consisting of the following children: J. William, of Conkling Township, Pawnee County; Edward A., of Utica, Kansas; Minnie, wife of C. W. Munger, of Sitka, Kansas; Lizzie, wife of L. E. Arnold, of Rozel; Charles A., of Coldwater, Kansas; Elmer A., of Burdett, Kansas; Miss Hattie, still at the old home; Nettie, wife of George E. Burres, of Burdett; Bert, at Coldwater; Ralph, a farmer in Ash Valley; and George, the youngest, who is unmarried and is managing the home farm.


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

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