ROBERT ALEXANDER HARPER, president of the Meade State Bank of Meade, came into this section of Southwestern Kansas when it was a region occupied only by herds of livestock and their tenders, the cowboys. He drove cattle across Meade County more than thirty-five years ago. and soon afterward he took up a claim and spent the active and vigorous years of his life as a prominent stock farmer.
Mr. Harper is a Texas man by birth, and his paternal ancestry goes back to that Harper family which established Harper's Ferry in Virginia about the time of the Revolution. His father, Capt. Robert Alexander Harper, was a native of Winchester, Tennessee, where he was born April 24, 1829. He had a practical training and education and at the age of twenty-one left Tennessee and moved to Mississippi, where he married Martha Ann Blair. In 1854 they migrated to Texas, settling in Lavaca County. They made the journey to Texas by boat to New Orleans and by stage from that city. Captain Harper was a planter and stock raiser in Southern Texas, and being loyal to the Southern cause he joined the Confederate army at the outbreak of the war. He entered the service as captain and for bravery was promoted to major. He served in the eastern department, and while in Kentucky within the Federal lines suffered a severe illness. On his recovery he made his way back to his comrades without being captured. Having a thorough knowledge of stock, he was transferred to the commissary department, being given the rank of colonel, and used his ability in extensive stock purchases for the army. He always took a lively interest in the veterans of the Confederate army after the war. The war left him in poor health and greatly discouraged because of business conditions, and he never completely recuperated his financial losses. During a portion of the reconstruction period he was in Old Mexico, and made considerable money trading in livestock. In the early '80s he removed to Coleman County in Western Texas, and died at Santa Anna in 1912. He was a splendid figure of a man and measured up in character to his physique. He weighed 200 pounds, was straight and stately and a picture of manly bearing and soldierly appearance. He possessed great personal courage and lived absolutely without fear. In the early days in Texas he proved his steadfastness and valor at a time when personal combats were numerous. He was extremely generous, kindly, fond of his family and of young people generally. He was a democrat but had no part in politics as a profession. A member of no church, he believed in the good work of churches. He was a Knight Templar Mason and took great pride in the work of that order. Personally he was of a reserved temperament and had no personal ambition for the conspicuous honors of public affairs. His wife died at Santa Anna, Texas, in January, 1918. Their children were: Samuel D, of Santa Anna, Texas; Robert A.; William B., of Santa Anna; and Mattie B., who died while teaching school in Coleman County, Texas.
Robert A. Harper, Jr., was born in Lavaca County, Texas, near the old Town of Sweet Home, May 21, 1858. While he was growing up that was a region devoted almost entirely to the cattle industry and his school advantages were extremely limited. He waded across the prairies and sloughs two miles to a schoolhouse. The building in which he was taught was so roughly constructed that a small dog could crawl between the cracks of the timbers. His father having been a slave holder and having suffered severe reverses at the close of the war, there was nothing left for the youth but to go to work and make his own living as soon as age and strength permitted. Thus it was that from earliest boyhood he has been at home in the saddle, and is familiar with the old days of the ranch and range as well as modern stock farming. He acquired a fondness for horses as he grew up on his father's ranch and acquired great proficiency and expertness in handling a horse and also in the general management of cattle and horses as a business.
In February, 1880, Mr. Harper took a contract as trail rider for James Boyce, one of the well known horse ranchmen of Southern Texas. He helped drive 650 horses over the northern trails to the railroad at Dodge City, Kansas, starting from Conception in the southwest part of Texas. During several weeks they were exposed to weather and all the concomitant hardships of the trail, finally arriving at the Government post of Fort Dodge and selling the stock to Wright and Langdon, the pioneer stockmen of Dodge City. On completing this contract Mr. Harper remained in Texas and held cattle for Wright and Langdon on the river near Dodge until the fall of that year. He then took some of their stock to the southeastern part of Meade County, and remained with that firm about two years, being promoted to foreman. After leaving Wright and Langdon he was with other outfits in a similar capacity until 1886, when he engaged in business for himself on his homestead just south of Meade.
During his rides over the grass and lands of Meade County he entered a homestead and pre-emption in 1884 and these constituted the nucleus of the modest Crooked Creek ranch comprising a section and almost a quarter of land which he developed and substantially improved. Like most pioneers he began with a sod house and into that he took his bride a few years later. It was a building 12 by 14 feet, floored, plastered, with sod roof. He afterwards gave it a frame addition, and this home he and his wife occupied until 1892, when they acquired a better house and moved to his tree claim.
As an independent cattleman Mr. Harper's beginning was made with twenty-three head of Texas cattle of the old Longhorn variety. These he bred up to better grades and with increased profit developed all the departments of his ranch and eventually had a fine herd of White Faces. His first brand was three "L's" on the left side, but after selling his first lot of cattle he changed the brand to bar on shoulder and circle on left hip.
His pioneer ranch in Meade County Mr. Harper substantially improved with good buildings, also developed groves of forest trees, and had floods of artesian water and spring water. He was a pioneer in the sinking of an artesian well in 1888. In 1899 he sold that ranch to J. J. Singley and then transferred his activities to the old Ed Carroll ranch, which he leased and finally bought. This ranch lies along Spring Creek, which rises from the big spring so widely known in this section of Kansas. After purchasing the Carroll lands he developed by further purchase a ranch of about 5,000 acres. When in the prime of his activities he was running some 700 head of cattle. After many years of service he retired from the business and sold his cattle holdings to D. E. Ballard.
This business naturally brought him active association with the old time cattlemen and cattle interests and he was a member of the Cattle Growers' Association, of Southwest Kansas and a member of the Fort Worth Livestock Association. He was also interested in merchandising at Meade as a partner in the Harper and Roberts Mercantile Company. On retiring from ranching he entered banking with several Meade County friends and in June, 1903, he bought the Berryman inteests[sic] in the Meade State Bank, of which he has since been president. The other officers are Louis Boler, cashier, B. F. Cox, vice president, and the other directors are B. S. McMeel and S. D. Adams.
In May, 1908, Mr. Harper and associate opened the Fowler State Bank, and he has also been president of this institution for the past ten years. The bank at Meade has a capital of $30,000 and that at Fowler of $25,000. The vice president of the Fowler Bank is Vol Pinnick, the cashier is F. D. Morrison, and the directors besides the officers are William Carr, J. Gip Clark and Louis Boler. Mr. Harper was also formerly identified with other business affairs at Fowler, being a member of the Fowler Mercantile Company, the Fowler Lumber Company, the Fowler Artesian and Milling Company, from all of which he has since retired.
As a citizen Mr. Harper has always given his loyal support to every worthy movement in his community but has sought none of the honors of official life. As a democrat he cast his first ballot in 1880 for General Hancock.
On January 12, 1887, Mr. Harper married Miss Florence I. Dorland. Mrs. Harper is one of the interesting women of Kansas. She typifies the frontier and since girlhood has been almost as much at home in the saddle and out under the open sky as in the kitchen and parlor. Mrs. Harper was born in Indiana November 11, 1861, daughter of Nathan and Mary (McCormick) Dorland. Her father was born in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, October, 22, 1821, and prior to the war moved to Northern Indiana, near LaPorte. While in that state he did some active service for the provost marshal of the Ninth Congressional District of Indiana during the war. In 1872 the Dorland family came to Kansas and located near Chetopa in Labette County, where Mr. and Mrs. Dorland spent their last years. Their children still living are: Jessie, widow of Niram Philips, of LaPorte, Indiana; John D., of Fort Morgan, Colorado; Mrs. Harper; and Rose, wife of Colonel Cook of Chautauqua, Kansas.
Mrs. Harper received most of her education in the country schools of Labette County. It was while visiting a married sister in Meade County in 1885 that she met Mr. Harper and less than two years later they were married. As Miss Dorland she was in this region known for her skill and prowess as a rider and in practically every other test of skill and proficiency in horsemanship and the work of the ranch. When she married she was prepared by experience to share enthusiastically with Mr. Harper the work and hardships of western life. She entered a homestead south of Meade, and was well accustomed to the cabin life which she and Mr. Harper continued when they married. She also made a hand in the hay making work of the ranch and was equally skillful in helping in a "round up." She not only breathed in and came to understand the wonderful work of nature but has been able to express this appreciation through many handsome landscapes which she has painted and which adorn the walls of her home at Meade. Her ability and charm as a home maker have not been less notable than her other attainments, and the Harper home at Meade is a splendid center of hospitality and of neighborly consideration and good cheer. Mr. and Mrs. Harper are members of the Presbyterian Church, where both have been active in its auxiliaries and where Mr. Harper has met some of the responsibilities in directing church affairs.
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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