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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.


William McNabney

WILLIAM McNABNEY was born in County Antrim, Ireland, December 20, 1846. In the intervening space of more than threescore and ten years a great many moves, changes, experiences and achievements have made up his destiny. He has been an American since childhood, fought for his adopted flag in the Civil war, has farmed in Illinois and Kansas, and is now enjoying the fruits of well spent years at Liberal in Seward County, with many of his family near him.

His father, James McNabney, was also born in County Antrim, but was of Scotch Presbyterian ancestry. He married in his native land Elizabeth A. McNabb. In 1854 they emigrated with their children and established a new home in Perry County, Illinois. James McNabney was a sawyer in Ireland, but in Illinois devoted himself to farming, and died in Perry County, Illinois, in 1876. He never naturalized himself as an American and took no interest in politics. His widow died in Hodgeman County, Kansas, in December, 1887. Their children were: Robert J., who died in Lyon County, Kansas, leaving a family near Americus; William; Elizabeth, who married J. M. McMillan, of Greeley, Colorado; Rebecca, wife of Robert Irvine, residing at College View, Nebraska,; Anna, who married James Irvine, of Americus, Kansas; Maggie J., wife of John Craig, of Evans, Colorado; and Matthew S., a wholesale grocer at Coffeyville, Kansas.

William McNabney, it will be seen, was eight years old when he went to Illinois, and the little training he had secured in Irish schools was supplemented by the American district schools. In April, 1863, before he was seventeen, he was a volunteer in the ranks of the Union army, ready to fight the monster of secession. He was in Company H, under Captain Cox, in the Fifth Illinois Cavalry. As a recruit he joined the regiment before Vicksburg, and had almost immediate introduction to some of the severe duty occasioned by the siege of that stronghold, the fall of which he witnessed about three months after he went to the front. After the fall of Vicksburg the Fifth Illinois Cavalry did some arduous work in scouting, hunting down guerrilla bands, and guarding railroads over Arkansas, Mississippi and part of Tennessee. He was present during brief cavalry skirmishes at Woodville, Mississippi, Meridian, in the same state, and Ripley, Tennessee. The only definite personal injury he sustained was at the siege of Vicksburg. A shell exploded close by and destroyed the hearing of his left ear. At the close of the war his company was on detached duty in Tennessee guarding railroads, but on July 4, 1865, they took boat at Memphis for Alexandria, Louisiana, where they joined eleven other regiments of cavalry under General Custer. On the 8th of August this expedition started for Mexico with the intent of driving Maximilian from that country and upholding the spirit and letter of the Monroe doctrine. When they reached the Brazos River in Texas word came of the capture of the foreign invader and imposter. Then the command dissolved, and Mr. McNabney and his comrades set out for home, taking cattle cars at Hempstead over the old Houston and Texas Central, going down the bayou from Houston to Galveston, and thence by ocean steamer to New Orleans, by steamboat to St. Louis, and on October 27, 1865, he hailed the glad day of his discharge at Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois.

His nineteenth birthday occurred after he had got home with his folks and had become somewhat dulled to the routine of civil life. He worked for his father and for other Illinois farmers several years, secured money to get a team, and then rented and continued tenant farming as long as he was in Illinois. His first experience in Kansas was in 1871, in the spring, when he prospected over the state, and bought a tract of land in Lyon County near Americus. But nine years passed before he occupied the land and did his first Kansas farming, and as in the meantime he had married and assumed the responsibility of a family it seems proper to refer to that portion of his record.

It was in Perry County, Illinois, on November 5, 1875, that Miss Emoretta Nelson became his wife. Her father was a native of Missouri, had a blacksmith and wagon repair shop near Iron Mountain, but to escape the conditions of that country during the war he refugeed to Illinois. Several years later he and a daughter started back to old Missouri, and neither was ever heard of again. Mrs. McNabney is, so far as known, the only living survivor of the family.

After several years of life on his farm in Lyon County Mr. McNabney came into the region of Western Kansas late in 1884, seeking a location on free public lands. He homesteaded in the central part of Hodgeman County. There for almost twenty years he remained a factor as a farmer and modest stockman. In the meantime he acquired a section of land and placed upon it some substantial improvements. On going to Hodgeman County he shipped a few cattle and horses to Dodge City, and also had the usual equipment of household goods and about $600 in cash. His pioneer home was a sod house of two rooms, boarded and sodded over and ceiled with native plaster, making a comfortable place except when the mice ate through and perforated the walls. His family continued to live in that and others of similar construction until the fall of 1898, when they moved into a new frame home—an event which excited much pride in them all, but was destined to be of brief duration, since in a few weeks a cyclone came along and destroyed not only the house but much of the furniture. It was such a wind as has seldom visited any part of the West. It blew some stone posts off and took a pump out of a well on the McNabney farm.

The worst years of Mr. McNabney's entire experience were those spent in Hodgeman County, and those between 1888 and 1892 comprised a period of general hardship and destitution to nearly all the people of the western region. Butter and eggs, although distressingly cheap, were an important resource to the family and to many others who practiced strict economy in those days when want was occasioned not by scarcity but by abundance. Whenever the opportunity presented itself Mr. McNabney put in a day of labor for the farmers of the community to secure a little ready money, and though the future seemed dark and forbidding he continued to improve and cultivate his own land. He occasionally hired himself to do reaping or mowing with his machinery, as he was one of the few to have such implements. About that time the government allowed him a small pension, and that was probably the chief factor in keeping the family from migrating, as they had contemplated doing.

While in Hodgeman County Mr. McNabney served his township as trustee and took an active part in county and district politics. He was elected to the first schoolboard of the township in which he lived. He was perhaps the leader and prime mover in the organization of a United Presbyterian Church. An old feed store was moved out from Jetmore and roughly remodeled for worship, but it was abandoned because the country itself was abandoned and almost depopulated, and even the church organization failed.

After more than a score of years in that country and after passing through the fires of adversity such as have only been hinted at, Mr. McNabney sold his land there for $12.50 an acre and moving to Kingman County bought another farm nine miles from Kingman, northeast. The five years spent there brought considerable success as a farmer, and when he made another change he disposed of his holdings to good advantage. As has been the practice with Americans of the last generation, on impelling cause of change and removal was the desire for cheap land, and it was this motive that brought Mr. McNabney to Seward County. Near Liberal he became owner of an entire section, and he developed it both for grain and stock farming. While he and some other members of his family have kept their home in Liberal, his sons have been the active factors on the farm. His present holdings are in the corner of Seward County just south of Satanta, where his sons comprise a small colony of stockmen and farmers.

The oldest of his children is Miss Lydia, of Liberal. Libbie, who married Thomas M. Baldrey, of Montrose County, Colorado, has children named Thomas, Gwendolin, Elbert and Marion. William Howard, whose death on June 1, 1916, was a sad break in the family circle, married Anna Baldrey, and was survived by three daughters, Berdina, Natina and Grace. Dorothy Hope married Harry Shook, and died in Hodgeman County, without surviving children. James Martin, one of the farmers and stockmen near Satanta, married Lelia Leonard and has a daughter, Wilma Bella. Herbert, the other son, on the ranch near Satanta, married Hazel Harris and has a son, Herbert Verne.

William McNabney began voting as a republican and has never discovered a sufficient reason to change the practice. His first ballot for a president was given General Grant in 1868, and he has never failed to cast a vote at a general election. As already noted, he was doing his part in local politics in Hodgeman County and was a delegate to the convention that nominated St. John for a third term, a fact he lived to regret because of the results at the polls that year. He was in the state convention that nominated Governor Hoch at Wichita. For a number of years he has been of the progressive branch of the party. In 1912 he prevented the movement for a separate progressive ticket in Seward County, and has been one of the chief harmonizers of the two branches of the party. For the past six years he has served as chairman of the republican committee of Seward County. In 1915 he was chosen chief doorkeeper of the House of Representatives at Topeka, and served through the session of that year. This office gave him an opportunity to know the Kansas men who make sentiment and the laws of the commonwealth, and all in all he considers it the best source of his political education. And this closed his political service in any official capacity.


Pages 2234-2235.


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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

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