HON. OLIVER P. JEWETT. The career of Hon. Oliver P. Jewett since his arrival in Lane County in 1891 has been one illustrative of the vicissitudes and varying experiences which have characterized the lives of some of the most prominent men of this section. During the last quarter of a century he has made several fortunes and has known both poverty and affluence, but out of his experiences he has gained a clear and sane outlook upon life and has fitted himself for leadership among the people of his community, whom he is now representing in the Kansas Legislature.
Mr. Jewett was born January 3, 1853, at Whitefield, Maine, and belongs to a numerous American family which was founded by two English brothers who came to this country in 1638 and settled at Rowley, Massachusetts, in the following year. The older brother was Maximilian, and the younger, Joseph Jewett, and it is from these two that all the Jewetts in the United States descend. Joseph Jewett, from whom Oliver P. Jewett descends, was the forefather of posterity which drifted into Maine and later into the western states. Moses Jewett, the grandfather of Oliver P., was a native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, born February 1, 1776, and was a small farmer and lumberman, working in the pineries. He and his wife, who before her marriage was Sarah Peaslee, were the parents of eight children, and among these John was the sixth in order of birth.
John Jewett was born April 29, 1811, in Whitefield, Maine, a community in which the Jewetts were early settlers, and as a young man went to work in the lumber woods of his native state, where he was employed for many years. He was married there to Nancy Plummer, of Olney, Maine, and having after some years come to a realization of the fact that he would never make a success of life in New England, he set out for the West, his destination being Nevinville, Iowa, a rural community settled largely by people from the New England states. After traveling by boat to Boston, Mr. Jewett went by rail to Buffalo and by canal and lakes to Chicago, and in 1858 arrived in Iowa, where he purchased forty acres of land for $25. He remained very poor for years and when his son Oliver P. came to mature years he had nothing with which to endow him for the opening of his career. Mr. Jewett was a member and captain of the Home Guards at Whitefield, Maine, and his son still retains his sabre. In politics he was a whig and later a republican, and while he never joined a church he lived as religious a life as though he had belonged. He passed away in April, 1886, while Mrs. Jewett survived him until 1908. Their five children were as follows: Sarah, who became Mrs. F. N. Ball and spent her life in Iowa; Adelia, who married H. H. Whipple and died at Hotchkiss, Colorado, in 1902; John Q., who died as a soldier of the Union during the Civil war; Oliver P., of this review; and Clara A., who married A. S. Delaney and died in Lane County, Kansas, in May, 1916.
Oliver P. Jewett was five years of age when he accompanied his parents to Iowa, and there he had only poor educational advantages and very little chance for schooling. He grew up amid rural surroundings at Nevinville, Iowa, and remained with his parents until he was twenty-two years of age, at which time he launched himself upon his independent career and chose farming as his vocation, being a lover of the development of plant life, of which he had made somewhat of a study. Mr. Jewett rented land, and, as he had no capital with which to start, bargained for property, but was never able to complete his payments on it. He put the profits of his labor into improvements on his farm, and finally discovered that he would never be able to get ahead in Iowa, and finally, in 1891, loaded an emigrant car with a threshing machine and other goods and started for Kansas. Mr. Jewett believed that he could win out on the frontier if others could, and after landing at Dighton purchased a relinquishment to the northeast quarter of section 32, township 19, range 29, and upon this tract moved his family the next year. Mr. Jewett had brought along the threshing outfit with the expectation of selling it, but subsequently found that he needed it here himself, and later operated it for a period of twelve years. When he arrived he found himself possessed of a few cents over $116, and he put a part of this into building a small frame house on his claim, borrowing the rest of the money. He broke land and undertook to raise crops at once and was fortunate in getting something of a crop the first year. During the first year also he made enough out of his threshing outfit to make a payment on it, he having purchased it on time, and to lath and plaster his house. The following years were rather lean ones, but he was able to get through with the aid of his machine, although he had to resort to work otherwise for family subsistence as late as 1893. During the summer of that year, particularly, he worked tirelessly at carpentering, repairing harness and shoes, and at any other employment that furnished the means of earning an honest half dollar. When his fine prospect of a wheat crop in 1894 was hailed out at the brink of harvest time he was fortunate enough to secure the Star Route contract for carrying mail from Dighton to Sutton, which yielded him $32.10 a quarter, in which he made three trips a week. In 1895 Mr. Jewett secured one of the best wheat crops of his experience, although there had been no rain until May 30th of that year and the grain showed no prospect of a crop. He sold some of his grain and bought lumber with which to build a granary for the rest of his barley, and has never been without feed for his horses since. Mr. Jewett pinned his faith principally to wheat, although he also did some operating as a cattleman, and his best wheat yield was in 1914, when he raised better than twenty bushels to the acre on an average, while the highest yield was forty-five bushels an acre. In 1903 he raised about 20,000 bushels of wheat and 10,000 bushels of other grain and undertook to ship his product, but was interfered with by the grain trust, which was headed by Mr. Smiley. To overcome this obstacle Mr. Jewett undertook to "buck the trust" by building an elevator and shipping himself. During the continued crop failures he had to sell a quarter section of land occasionally to pay interest and did so as long as land could be sold, and when there was no more sale for it his interest began to pile up on him. His land sales for interest, in the meantime, had reduced his holdings to about twenty-five quarter-sections of land. After 1895 light crops were harvested every year, and Mr. Jewett, prospering bought additional quarters of land adjoining him, until when he left the ranch he had thirty-six quarters, 250 head of cattle at the ranch, thirty head of horses and mules and eighteen miles of fence, and was out of debt and with $8,000 in the bank. In the three years of crop failures mentioned above he had lost heavily. To build his elevator he had put a mortgage on his land for $2,500 additional capital. Light crops continued until the fall of 1914, when he was $30,000 in debt, with everything mortgaged, nothing to pay interest and taxes with, and a refusal from the banks for money with which to buy seed wheat. The Dighton Bank informed him that he could have only until the first of January to raise a part of the money owing, and he offered his horses and mules in payment, but this offer was refused, as the only way the bank could come out even was through a wheat crop. Finally Mr. Jewett secured 900 bushels of seed wheat, in the fall of 1913, and scattered it over 2,000 acres of land, and in the summer of 1914 he and his sons harvested over 50,000 bushels of wheat. Mr. Jewett's share of the profits was a little over 23,000 bushels, and this he disposed of at $1.30 net, which cleared up his debts with the exception of about $7,000. His 1915 crop of wheat amounted to about 9,000 bushels and his 1916 crop to about 7,000 bushels, and he is now the owner of twenty-one quarter-sections of land, with about 2,000 acres under cultivation, in addition to which he has given each of his sons a quarter-section. In 1904 Mr. Jewett purchased a farm near Dighton and occupied it until 1916, when he disposed of it for $21,000 and moved to Dighton, where he has since built himself a modern bungalow home.
In politics Mr. Jewett was brought up a republican and continued as one for a number of years. About the year 1900 he became convinced that men should be more independent in politics and became less a party man. His first political race was for the Kansas Legislature, as a democrat, against Mr. Simmons, who defeated him by a small vote. In 1908 he was again nominated on the democratic ticket and was elected by a large majority in a republican county. He was a member of the Lower House of the 1909 Legislature and belonged to the committees on railroads, charities and temperance, but made no attempt, seriously, to legislate. In the fall of 1910 he was defeated by one vote for the reelection, but in 1912 was again the nominee for the House, and polled more than double the democratic vote of the county. He served on about the same committees as before and took positive stand for the better enforcement of the prohibitory law and for the encouragement of western irrigation by demonstration plants in different localities. He was returned to the House in 1914 by a large majority, and in addition to virtually the same committee assignments was made chairman of the temperance committee, succeeding in getting every measure or bill coming from the attorney general's office through the House which made the enforcement of the prohibition law more effective. In 1916 he made the race again under protest, feeling that his tenure of office had been long enough to satisfy the people, and this, together with the opposition of the whiskey element and some other matters, the result of local prejudice, came near to causing his defeat, for when the votes were counted he had but seventeen to spare.
Mr. Jewett has long been an experimenter along agricultural lines. He has spent much time and considerable money in seeking new seeds, new methods of farming, and new departures to make the West a profitable community for people to live in. He has been a delegate to several farmers' congresses and to the Farmers National Congress for fifteen years, during which time for three years he acted in the capacity of second vice president. While in the Legislature it was his effort to secure laws that would protect the people who had small investments in stock companies and from the sending out of monies for insurance premiums when they might be invested at home.
As a member of the Farmers Congress Mr. Jewett was one of the organizers of the Farmers National Life Insurance Company. He is a stockholder of the Casualty and Guaranty Company of Wichita; a stockholder of the Central States Fire Insurance Company, of which he is agent at Dighton; a stockholder in the Jones Motor Car Company, for which automobile he is agent at Dighton; and a stockholder of the Baldwin Standing Grain Thresher Company, and a stockholder of the Baldwin Sales Company, the Globe Life Insurance Company of Salina, and the McLaughlin Cash Register and Adding Machine Company of Kansas City, Missouri.
Mr. Jewett was married first in Iowa, March 22, 1877, to Miss Bessie Skelton, who was born in Buffalo, New York, a daughter of William and Ann (Horton) Skelton. Mrs. Jewett died in Iowa, August 4, 1885, the mother of these children: Quinby H., born March 12, 1878, married in December, 1902, Marie Palmer, and has two children, Bessie E. and Harry Palmer; and William A., born February 24, 1883, married in November, 1904, Fidelia Halbick, and has one son, William Dale. Mr. Jewett was married March 10, 1886, to Miss Emma V. Wheeler. a daughter of Samuel and Miranda (Waite) Wheeler, the former a carpenter by trade, natives of County Stanstead, Quebec, Canada, where Mrs. Jewett was born December 6, 1868. She was eight years of age when brought by her sister and brother-in-law to the United States, the family first locating in Illinois and five years later going to Iowa. Mrs. Jewett was educated in the public schools and met her husband in Iowa. They became the parents of three children, namely: Oliver W., born May 26, 1887, married Elpha Moody, and lives at Dighton; John, born September 30, 1888, married Ethel Yates, and also lives at Dighton; and Harry Archer, born June 26, 1890, married Laura Minger, and they are living at Pendleton, Oregon.
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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