JACOB KEENER. Forty years have come and gone since this veteran Union soldier unloaded his family and goods and began a permanent residence in Barton County. So far as economic fruitfulness and the well being of the inhabitants are concerned, all the history of Barton County worth mentioning has been made in these four decades, and in that epoch Jacob Keener has played no unimportant part as a home maker, farmer and good citizen. He is now living in comfortable retirement at Hoisington.
Mr. Keener was born about eight miles northeast of Harrisburg in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, July 27, 1844, a grandson of Frederick Keener and member of a family of early settlers in the Keystone state. Jacob Keener, Sr., a native of the same section, was a stonemason by trade and died in Dauphin County. He saw active service with a Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil war. His wife, Barbara Weltmer, who died at the age of eighty-four, was the mother of one child.
A thorough school education was denied Mr. Keener, partly due to the fact that he was only seventeen when he enlisted at Harrisburg in Company D of the Hundred Twenty-seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, under Colonel Jennings, and marched away to fight the battles of the Union. During this ten months' term he was with the Army of the Potomac in the defense of Washington and in two of the hardest fought battles of the war, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He then re-enlisted, joining the Twentieth Pennsylvania Cavalry under Colonel Winecoop. Most of this service was in the Shenandoah Valley, fighting at Piedmont, Lynchburg, Ashby Gap, Winchester, Martinsburg, Somerset, with Sheridan's cavalry in the Deep Bottom campaign, and was at Appomattox when Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. At Chancellorsville a shrapnel slug struck him in the groin, without inflicting a serious wound. Another time, after coming off picket duty with two Confederate prisoners, and while cold and exasperated, he jammed his carbine into the ground, causing it to explode, the ball grazing the cheek and knocking him numb without quite breaking the skin of his face. He was in the Grand Review at Washington, and was mustered out a private at Philadelphia, with a dozen or more battles to his credit, and with more than two years of real service to commend him to the patriots of our day.
As a civilian he took up the stonemason's trade, and for several years his work was with the mallet and chisel and trowel. For five years he was in a blast furnace, making pig iron at Harrisburg, and then had three years of practical farming experience before making his final and best adventure as a Kansas pioneer.
On April 18, 1878, a train brought him to Great Bend. In the party were his wife and four children, his mother, and his uncle, Abraham Weltmer, who spent his last years in Dauphin County. The family remained at Great Bend a few weeks until he found suitable land and location. In Eureka Township he bought a quarter section of railroad land on six years' time, according to the company's plan of selling then. His first home was a two-room single-story house, 16 by 18 feet. His capital was sufficient only to make his first payment, build this house, buy a span of mules and harness, but his breaking plow and wagon had to he obtained on credit. His first sod crop matured and gave him some feed. In the fall he sowed twenty-six acres to wheat, and the yield was so encouraging that he remained a wheat grower as long as he remained on the farm. He was one of the unusually thrifty and good managers of that time, and never failed to meet his payments on his land, though not without more sacrifices than he cares to recount in detail. For several years he had no fences, the herd law protecting his crops from the inroads of the cattleman. Moreover, the health of his family was good, and there were no misfortunes beyond those of the regularly recurring droughts.
At the end of six years, his first home being paid for, Mr. Keener bought an adjoining quarter, at some advance in price over the first, which cost $4 an acre, and this, too, he paid for by careful management. Mr. Keener was one of the exceptional men who could prosper in spite of circumstances, adverse conditions of climate and unfavorable markets. One year he hauled wheat to Great Bend at a cost of 5 cents a bushel and sold it for 35 cents a bushel. During practically all his experience as a farmer the price for wheat ruled less than a dollar, but even so each year found him a little better off than that preceding. He wisely combined live stock with grain, and nearly always had something to sell to meet obligations. Eventually he owned three improved quarter sections, had increased the original house to five rooms, and then moved from it to a commodious home of his own construction on another quarter.
Some reference should be made to his experience in horticulture. The family planted bush and tree fruits of different kinds, but the only thing that ever seemed to justify the labor and pains was peaches, and one year the grasshoppers ruined the orchard, and after that it was practically abandoned. Mr. Keener was a farmer on his own land for twenty-two years, at the end of which time he and his good wife felt their strenuous toil deserved a rest, and they accordingly moved to Hoisington, where they built a home and have since taken life leisurely.
While in the country Mr. Keener was a member of the school board in District No. 25 and later in District No. 45, where his children received most of their early advantages. His younger daughters attended high school at Hoisington, while the youngest went to Campbell University at Holton, Kansas. After one term as trustee of Eureka Township Mr. Keener was re-elected, but resigned the office. He has been a republican voter since he first helped elect Grant in 1868. He is a member of the United Brethren Church, and his wife is one of the "Brethren" congregation.
In his native County of Dauphin, March 10, 1868, Mr. Keener married Elizabeth Zeigler. She was born March 13, 1844, daughter of Emanuel and Anna (Eshleman) Zeigler. Her father, a native of Lancaster County, that state, was a wagon maker for several years, and afterwards a farmer. Mrs. Keener was one of three children, Daniel, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Anna Grubb, deceased, and was a small girl when her mother died. Her father then married Mary Sullenbarger, by whom he had three children. Mrs. Keener is the last survivor of the family. Mr. and Mrs. Keener have seven living children: Emanuel, of Hoisington, first married Dora Hamilton and, second, Clara Hanson. His two children by his first wife, John and Hamilton Keener, were soldiers in the war with Germany. Samuel, the second child, is a farmer in Barton County, and by his marriage to Fannie Fiester has six children, named Fred, Dorothy, Lillian, Sarah, John and Glen. Mary, wife of Al J. Brown, of Hoisington, is the mother of Mark, Ralph, Cora, Roy and Alleen. Daniel, a farmer of Barton County, married Myrtle Shaw. George, also numbered among the agricultural element in this section, married Beatrice Harper, and they have Orville and Clara. Cora Keener became the wife of Ed Mathewson, of LaCrosse, Kansas, and their children are William and Frieda. Ella, the youngest of this interesting family group, is the wife of Floyd Wingert, of Hoisington, their children being Keener, Jadine and Barbara May.
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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