JAMES CALEB HOPPER, president of the Central State Bank of Hutchinson and a leading financier in Western Kansas, as well as a leading breeder and farmer of the region, identified himself with Kansas thirty-three years ago, in 1886. At that time there might have been seen along one of the trails leading into Ness County a cloud of dust rising over a herd of cattle. One of the figures in that cloud of dust was James Caleb Hopper. He was helping drive the cattle. The owners of the cattle were his two uncles, and he was getting his board for the service he rendered them. He came into Kansas on foot. When the cattle were put on pasture in Ness County he left this employment and had not a cent to his name at the time. Later his father back in Missouri sent him as a capital for making a start in Kansas $175, which represented the savings derived from teaching country schools and which had been invested in a bunch of calves. But he showed too much trust in a man who apparently needed the money more than he did and the capital disappeared in a loan which has never since been liquidated.
Kansas is very proud of its farmers. Some of the greatest in the world have lived in Kansas. Practically all Kansas farmers and a great many in other states know something of James Caleb Hopper's achievements and the influence he has exercised. Now that something has been said concerning his inauspicious arrival in the state, it will be proper to proceed with the narrative of some of his other early experiences.
He was in his twenty-fourth year when he reached Kansas. His previous experiences had been chiefly as a country school teacher. He was born at Brownstown, Indiana, December 26, 1862, and was a farmer's son. His father, William R. Hopper, who died in 1916 in Holt County, Missouri, at the age of seventy-three, was born in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and of Virginia parentage. His ancestors were of the slaveholding class, but William R. Hopper himself was a Union man and saw active service in Company C of the Forty-second Indiana Infantry in General Sherman's army, which he accompanied on the march to the sea. The hardships of that march weakened him physically and were eventually the cause of his death. William R. Hopper married Permelia Goin, whose father was also a Virginian and she a native of Tennessee. She died in Ness County, Kansas, in 1914. James C. was the oldest of nine children to grow up, there being twelve altogether in the family.
When he was eight years of age his parents removed to Holt County, Missouri, and he spent about fifteen years in that locality. He had training in the country schools and for one year was a student in the Kirksville State Normal. He began teaching when still in his teens.
After coming to Ness County he preempted a claim four and a half miles northeast of Beeler. While proving up he taught a little school nearby, a school supported on the subscription plan. That was the only teaching he did after he came to Kansas. After getting the deed to his claim he mortgaged it for $500, all he could get on it - that being long before the days when the Federal Government was willing to advance money to farmers. This $500 he invested in stock, accumulating about fifty head of horses and 150 head of cattle. With that nucleus he went to a homestead in the Nonchalanta community in Ness County. For about a year he lived on the Sweet Home ranch, and in that locality his first years of married life were spent. In June, 1890, a stallion bit off his left hand, and for a time it looked as though that injury would handicap him for life. He sacrificed all his stock to clear up his debts and started over again with nothing but his land claims as capital.
Mr. Hopper, in looking back over his career in Kansas, states that all his success has been achieved since he married. As a factor and partner in his career it seems appropriate that some mention should be made of Mrs. Hopper before proceeding further with this article. In Mound City, Missouri, November, 21, 1888, he married Miss Martha J. Terhune, a daughter of George and Fannie M. (Pelt) Terhune, who were Kentucky people and farmers. Mrs. Hopper was one of five children.
After the accident mentioned above Mr. Hopper was advised to leave the farm and take other employment. For a time he worked in the office of the clerk of court in Ness City and was subsequently elected county clerk, an office he filled two terms. While his official record was one of absolute competence and efficiency, he was at the same time, with the aid of his wife, pursuing a rigorous regime of economy. Practically every cent of his wages he saved. He and his wife lived on $5 a month. It was the fruit of these several years of self-denial that enabled him to make a better start in the world. From time to time he invested in cheap land, paying from $100 to $200 a quarter section, and this became the nucleus of his valuable estate and the extensive ranches and farms he now owns.
His largest ranch is the Big Four Ranch and Ideal Farm, containing over 7,800 acres. Mr. Hopper fenced this and invested some $13,000 in improvements. It is devoted to horses and grade cattle. His stock is the high-grade white-face Herefords, and his ranch has shipped out thousands of head for the markets of Kansas City. His "Home Stock Farm" is located near Ness City, containing 3,600 acres, and its improvements represent an investment of about $20,000. This farm Mr. Hopper has devoted to fine Herefords, and he has a large herd of polled Herefords on one farm and horned Herefords on another. It is claimed that his is the best herd in the state. A thousand head of these fine cattle, all registered, can be seen on his farm now. As a farmer Mr. Hopper and his associates make a specialty of raising enormous quantities of feed for their stock, and for years he has been one of the leading grain raisers of Ness County. Mr. Hopper owns a number of other farms and ranches, including the Model Stock Farm of 660 acres, the Long View Ranch of 1,600 acres, twelve miles south of Ness City, devoted to cattle raising, and his home farm of 200 acres adjoining Ness City. There are six great barns, of the most modern equipment and construction, on his different farms, and he has been one of the leaders in the construction of the silo. His favorite type of construction is the pit or underground silo.
For the past six years there has never been an edition of the local paper which has missed Mr. Hopper's contribution of articles written for the purpose of promoting the development of agriculture, of water conservation and tree growing. His articles have brought him much publicity from metropolitan papers and even the Associated Press has solicited articles from his pen. He is one of the foremost advocates of real conservation of natural resources in America today. A great deal of attention has been attracted to his plan for the conservation of the surplus waters of Kansas. Again and again he has advocated the building of a great canal across the state for the purpose of bringing the waters from the Black Hills across Kansas and forming a great artificial river. The question of saving the surplus rainfall lies nearest his heart, and he will count it his greatest of many achievements when every farmer who owns a farm "dams his draws" and subirrigates his land and plants trees, developing a sort of forest reserve on each individual farm. As a means of measuring the influence of his plans and opinions Mr. Hopper keeps a file of clippings from the widely scattered and prominent papers of the country, and these clippings represent notices of his work in conservation projects, and they are almost unanimous in complimenting his idea and discussing its feasibility.
Mr. Hopper was a farmer and stockman first and then a banker. At the present time he is one of the most potent factors in the financial affairs of his section of Kansas. He first became a banker in 1898, when he established the Citizen State Bank of Ness City. Associated with him were John Engel as cashier and J. M. Ford as vice president. Mr. Hopper became president of the bank, which was incorporated with a capital stock of $7,000. In 1906 the charter was changed, and it became the Citizens National Bank and now has capital, surplus and undivided profits of more than $80,000 and carries deposits of $400,000. This bank is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank. Mr. Hopper is also president of the Kansas Investment Company, an auxiliary of the Citizens National Bank. Associated with him in this are George A. Borthwick, O. L. Lennen and E. B. Hopper, his son, who is treasurer of the company.
After the Citizens National Mr. Hopper next organized the Citizens State Bank of Utica, with a capital of $12,000. This now has deposits of $200,000 and is one of the most prosperous banks of Ness County. It was organized in 1900 and Mr. Hopper is the chief stockholder and a director. The Bazine State Bank was organized in 1908 with a capital of $10,000 and it has $100,000 in deposits. He is one of its board of directors. In 1910 he brought about the organization of the Citizens State Bank of McCracken, with a capital of $15,000 and its deposits now aggregate $325,000. He is president and one of its directors. In 1916 the Beeler State Bank was organized with a capital of $15,000 and with Mr. Hopper as president. He was also a director and stockholder and one of the organizers of the Farmers National Bank of Hutchinson, but sold his interest there and bought an interest in the Central State Bank of this city and was elected president. He was a district vice president of the Kansas Bankers' Association. In July, 1918, he was active in the organization of the Central Cattle Loan Company and is its president.
Mr. Hopper is now representing his home district in the State Legislature. He is a member of the banking, irrigation and tax committees, and has been a forceful personality in the House and has brought about the enactment of some very valuable legislation. He secured the passage of an act for experimental irrigation dams. He was also instrumental in getting the act passed to prevent the taking of tax deeds without notice. Another measure he advocated was the punishment of persons who maliciously misrepresent the standing of banks so as to cause a run and subsequent failure of such an institution.
In the building up of his herds Mr. Hopper has brought some of the finest blooded cattle from the eastern states to his Ness County ranches. The bulls from his ranches have acquired enviable fame, and are now bringing fancy prices at his annual sales. His stock has been exhibited in the State Fairs and one of his bulls was awarded the blue ribbon and a heifer from his herd took second premium.
Mr. and Mrs. Hopper have one child, Earl B., who is assistant cashier of the Citizens National Bank of Ness City. By his marriage to Miss Lucy Wolfe he has a daughter, Cleo Martha.
Mr. Hopper takes an interest in politics for the good of his state and for what he can accomplish to further the wide and progressive views which he entertains toward agriculture and other subjects. He is a democrat, a Master and Knight Templar Mason, and belongs to the Baptist Church. He has assisted liberally in the erection of churches of his denomination in Ness City and elsewhere. He has also built several substantial business blocks, and his own fine home in Ness City is said to have cost $8,000.
In such a sketch as this it is possible to give only a suggestive outline of his varied experiences and achievements as a Kansas banker and farmer. Those familiar with the more intimate details of his life know him as a lover of children and a profound respecter of old people. One of his pleasures is providing the vehicles to take the children of his community for a day's outing, and for some years he has given an annual feast to the ancients of his city who have reached the age of seventy-five.
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.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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