GEORGE K. LEE. While most of the names of Pawnee County settlers recorded herein represent men who were homesteaders in this frontier community, George K. Lee of Burdett came into the country as a stock man, and while farming has engaged his attention it has been largely incidental and as an instrument in forwarding his enterprise as a stock man. He is one of the veterans of the industry, and has done perhaps as much as any other one individual in improving the standards of stock and animal husbandry in this section of the state.
Mr. Lee was born in Knox County, Illinois, August 30, 1856. He is of old New England stock. His grandfather, Amos Lee, came from Connecticut to New York and had a farm near Ontario. He reared a large family of children, including George, Chapin, Myron, William A., Eliza and several other daughters.
William A. Lee, father of George K. Lee, grew up near Rochester, New York, but in the '40s became a pioneer in Knox County, Illinois. He spent his active life as a farmer, though during the '5Os he was one of the gold seekers who went out to Colorado and participated in the Pike's Peak excitement. His principal success was as a farmer and stock feeder, and he owned a large farm in that rich and prosperous section of Northern Illinois around the City of Galesburg. He was a man of substance and influence and was called upon frequently to serve his community in official positions. He was a republican. His death occurred at the age of eighty-three. The maiden name of his wife was Betsy Knowles, daughter of Judge Knowles of Avon, New York. Mrs. Betsy Lee died in 1870. They had only two sons, George K. and William A., Jr., the latter now owning and occupying the old Lee farm at Galesburg, Illinois.
George K. Lee spent his early life on his father's farm and there became acquainted with practical agriculture and the handling of stock. From the Illinois farm Mr. Lee went to Kansas City, Missouri, and for several months was connected with the firm of Wood Brothers & Company, livestock commission men. He left that city with stock to deliver to people in Abilene, Kansas, and in the course of his stay at Abilene he responded to the strong inducement to go to the western plains country and handle cattle as a range proposition. Thus it was that in the month of September, 1877, he first became identified with the community around Burgett[sic] in Pawnee County. The country at that time presented a pleasing aspect to a practical cattle man like Mr. Lee, and he located for the purpose of cattle raising at the fork of the Pawnee and Buckner creeks. In the spring of 1878 he shipped out to Western Kansas a car of Shorthorn cows from Galesburg, Illinois. These animals were all registered stock. He located them on the disputed lands west of Brown's Grove. He soon discovered that this region was too far west for successful handling of blooded stock. At least, it was too far west at that time. It was a number of years in advance of the real blooded cattle business of Western Kansas. He soon disposed of his herd, and then began handling the southern stock, brought in over the trails. Mr. Lee drove the Kansas-Texas trail from 1880 to 1884 as the senior member of the firm of Lee and Curtis. Their principal work was handling Southern Texas horses of the Mexican pony breed. These horses they gathered together in large bands in the South and drove them north across the plains, selling them among the settlers all the way up into Northern Kansas. Their cattle which they handled in a similar manner were the native Texas Longhorns.
This proved a profitable business and was only abandoned because the settlers were coming in so rapidly as to break up and destroy the range and make it impossible to manage a large herd.
On leaving the trail Mr. Lee returned to the Burdett locality of Pawnee County. Here he bought considerable railroad land and began raising cattle and horses as a ranch farm proposition. In 1884 he bought and brought into Pawnee County the first Galloway bull. This original bull, which became the head of his herd, was one of the first Galloways imported to this country from Scotland. It was brought over in 1883, the importer being A. B. Matthews of Kansas City.
The years 1877-78 were the time when Western Kansas was being opened up and when the country gave every promise of permanent settlement. In those two years there were bountiful crops to repay all the efforts put upon the land by the pioneers, these crops proved the will o' the wisp which lured hundreds and hundreds of home seekers into this region which was blasted by drought during the next succeeding years. The dry weather set in in the fall of 1878, continued all through 1879, and also with little intermission through 1880, 1881 and 1882. At the end of four years few of that enthusiastic throng that had taken up claims on almost every quarter section were left. The few that did remain were either unable to get away or had that persistence which was born partly of faith and partly of dogged determination to stick to the end. In these years, in spite of the fact that the settlers about Burdett gathered at old Brown's Grove to pray for rain and climatic afflictions, it never rained, and the country presented one vast aspect of parched desert. Mr. Lee recalls the year 1878 as one in which the happy prosperity of that season was interrupted by an Indian scare. It was reported that the Indians had left their reservation at Camp Supply in Western Indian Territory and were on the war path to Kansas. Word was sent out through this region of Pawnee and Hodgeman counties to the settlers to gather at Brown's Grove for defense. But the Indians avoided this point, going further west, and did no serious damage beyond scaring the settlers and killing some stock.
After the long drought period ending in 1882 climatic conditions so improved that immense crops favored the farmers during 1882, 1883, 1884 and 1885, but in 1886 there was another decline and succession of reverses. By this time Mr. Lee had accumulated several hundred head of cattle. These he exchanged at a good price for land in Dodge County, Nebraska. During the winter of the historic blizzard of 1884 he lost most of his stock. He always considered himself unfortunate in having saved so many from the cold, since the burden of feeding them until the following spring and the price he eventually received put him close to bankruptcy. During the profitable crop seasons up to 1893 Mr. Lee shared in the prosperity along with the other settlers, but in 1893 another period of drought set in and continued for several years. Little was raised from the land, and taking it all in all those who placed their dependence on stock were better off than the purely agricultural men. In the meantime cattle prices became more staple and firm, and gradually increased, and this encouraged the remaining settlers to improve their stock raising.
Through these years Mr. Lee steadily continued breeding Galloway cattle. In time he developed a herd of full bloods, registered, and has been breeding that strain continuously since 1884. He is now one of the oldest Galloway breeders in this part of Kansas. His main ranch, a splendid estate, has been developed just west of Burdett. Mr. Lee has handled cattle on the Kansas City market ever since coming to Pawnee County, and is frequently pointed out there as one of the veteran stock men of Western Kansas. Besides what he has raised he has fed large numbers of cattle, and has also handled much of the stock raised by his neighboring farmers. From the proceeds of his varied industry on Kansas soil he has gathered under his ownership about 800 acres. It is Mr. Lee's convictions that no place on earth, provided there is sufficient rain, produces more to a given acreage than this section of Kansas. Mr. Lee is a stockholder in the Farmers Elevator at Burdett and one of the early directors of the bank there. He built the pioneer livery barn of the village, and was in the livery business as long as he dealt in Texas horses.
Mr. Lee's present home at Burdett has considerable historic interest to the people of that region. It is the house which was framed in Wisconsin by D. Y. Saben. The timbers were shipped to Larned and then freighted out to Brown's Grove and erected on the site it still occupies. It is a substantial two-story frame structure of seven rooms, and the quality of the material is well indicated by the fact that the roof which was first nailed on is still protecting the family from the weather. The first owner of this house sold it and it fell into the hands finally of T. C. Wilson. Doctor Brown pre-empted the tract and Brown's Grove here is named for him. Doctor Brown occupied the house until as a result of some transactions his presence in the community became distasteful and he thought it better to seek a home elsewhere. Doctor Brown was a rather noted character of the locality. He sold railroad lands, practiced medicine and also preached all over this section of the state.
Mr. Lee has served as an officer in Brown's Grove Township, has been a member of the school board of the Burdett district, and has shown a good citizen's interest in politics as a democrat. A number of years he frequented the conventions of state and county and helped nominate congressmen from the Big Seventh District. He has been an active member of the Masonic Order since attaining his majority, having joined in Knox County, Illinois. He is now past master of his lodge.
Mr. Lee was married October 12, 1880, to Miss Katie Bowman. She is a niece of the late Colonel Bowman of Larned. Mrs. Lee was born in Greene County, Illinois, and came from that county to Kansas with her stepfather, Thomas H. Brown, in 1879. Her mother's maiden name was Saxon, whose father was one of the first settlers in Greene County, Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. Lee have four children: Maude, the oldest daughter, is the wife of Peter Seward of Fort Worth, Texas. Rex B., the only son, is a partner in the stock business with his father under the name George K. Lee & Son. The two younger daughters are Cora M. and Eula. The latter is now a student at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.
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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