GEORGE NOLAN. There are very few men of late years who by personal recollection know the actual conditions on the Kansas frontier forty or fifty years ago. One of the few was George Nolan, who passed away at his home in Larned in 1918. He was known as the oldest settler, and he proved up the first soldier's homestead in Pawnee County.
When Mr. Nolan as a prisoner of war was in Andersonville, Georgia, his comrades were dying around him and where all were suffering the extremities of exposure, bad food and other ill treatment he would probably have shared a like fate had it not been for his invincible determination not to die. "Never say die" is an old and hackneyed phrase, but it best expresses a quality of character which took George Nolan through enough experiences and hardships for two ordinary men and made him one of the most successful and honored characters in Western Kansas.
He was born at Albany, New York, April 4, 1844, and "the slings and arrows of misfortune" began to assail him very young. His parents, John and Margaret Nolan, both succumbed to a scourge of cholera at Albany and the disease also carried away their children with the exception of George, who was thus left an orphan and the only representative of his family. His father was a blacksmith. George Nolan grew up at Albany and in Oswego County, New York, and had an exceedingly limited education.
Soon after the war broke out and when he was only eighteen years of age he went to New York City and enlisted in Company C, New York National Guard. The Sixty-Ninth New York is one of the oldest military organizations in America, having been in existence for many years before the Civil war and is still maintained and in the nation's service. Mr. Nolan enlisted in 1862. He went with the regiment to Newport News, Virginia, and spent the first winter at Suffolk, where the command was besieged by General Longstreet's corps for several weeks. In the summer of 1862 the command returned to Washington and was ordered to Centerville, Virginia, from which point Mr. Nolan took part in several raids. He was in the battle of the second Bull Run, and after that disaster his regiment fell back to Fairfax Court House, where they spent the winter of 1862-63. In the spring of 1864 his command was sent to Rappahannock Station and made a part of Hancock's Second Corps in the Army of the Potomac. Mr. Nolan was in the battle of the Wilderness and throughout that terrific campaign waged by General Grant he took part with his command in the Army of the Potomac. He fought at North Anna River, Spottsylvania, and at Cold Harbor, where 14,000 men were killed and wounded in twenty minutes. At Cold Harbor on June 3d, Mr. Nolan was wounded and taken prisoner. He was marched to Libby prison, only ten miles from the battlefield, and ten days later was started with others for Andersonville, Georgia. He spent more than four months in this notorious stockade of suffering, where for a time the Federal prisoners died at a rate of 150 a day. The only provision consisted of a half pint of raw cornmeal with ground cob issued every twenty-four hours. Mr. Nolan was better favored as to water, since he owned a tin bucket to draw the water from the well within the stockade and he secured something of a proprietory interest in that source of supply. When the cornmeal was cooked it was made into "corn dodgers" and each man given a piece about three inches square, that being all the food for an entire day. No meats were rationed out at all. From Andersonville Mr. Nolan and a number of his comrades were sent to Florence, South Carolina, and spent the winter in that prison. It was worse if possible than Andersonville, there being no shelter and the weather throughout the winter damp and foggy. The chief diet at Florence was beans. For a long time after the war Mr. Nolan was almost nauseated by thought of beans or cornmeal and would eat neither of them. While in these prisons the Union soldiers became so emaciated and so afflicted with scurvy that even the youngest of them looked old. One result of the scurvy was the loosening of the roots of the teeth and many of the prisoners extracted their teeth in order that they might not fall out and be swallowed while they were asleep. In the meantime General Sherman's army was approaching and the Confederate authorities becoming alarmed paroled the men and started them from Florence for Wilmington, North Carolina. The men were loaded on flat cars, and from Wilmington went on through Goldsboro and Raleigh and then started back toward Wilmington. The train ran right into the midst of the Union army.
Mr. Nolan was one of many of the prisoners who were unable to walk to Wilmington, and he and his suffering comrades were sent to that place on a little steamboat. On getting into the Union lines they were granted ample supplies of salt pork, hardtack and coffee and many of his comrades gave way to the temptation to overeat and some of them were dead before the next morning. Mr. Nolan was next ordered on a transport for Annapolis, Maryland, and there went to the hospital with other weakened men and remained six weeks. He was next transferred to the United States Hospital in Baltimore. While in the Baltimore Hospital news came of Lee's surrender and that came to him as one of the most grievous disappointments of his entire life, since he wanted above everything else to get back into the army and derive some satisfaction from fighting the people who had brought upon him and his comrades such intense sufferings. However, he was granted his honorable discharge at Baltimore on June 24, 1865.
On leaving the army he returned home, and in 1866 went west to Springfield, Illinois. While there he did some book canvassing and four years later went to Kansas. He came to this state by railroad, and for the first two years lived at Topeka.
He then decided to take his place in the vanguard of pioneers along the frontier, and traveling by train to Wichita and from there by team he arrived in Larned in 1872. The railroad had been graded and tracked to Larned, but no trains were yet in operation. Seven companies of soldiers were stationed at Ford Larned, while the village comprised four saloons, four dance halls and a grocery store. Of all the variegated life of that time and those who were factors and participants in it, George Nolan was the last survivor to remain in Larned. He was present at the first election held in the county in November, 1872. At that election his fellow citizens burdened him with the duties of county clerk, clerk of the district court and township clerk, though to tell the truth the aggregate duties of all those offices were not enough to cause him to work overtime. His office was first established in the office of the Santa Fe Railroad. The commissioners met in the passenger room and the county books were kept in a box in the freight room. Later the county rented an old shack of a building, and into this Mr. Nolan moved his office, served out his term, and while there issued his own certificate as register of deeds, to which he had been elected in 1874. He served through that term, but during the two years recorded only four deeds, and these he entered at half price as an inducement to get the work done.
As already stated, he proved up the first soldier's claim in Pawnee County. In proving he built a little sod house with portholes in it to provide against surprise and attack by enemies. A number of Indians were still about the region and thus there was some reason to make a private home a fort. As protection against possible raids from Indians there was organized Company F of the Second Regiment, Kansas National Guard, made up largely of old soldiers. George Nolan was chosen first sergeant of the company. About two years after coming to Larned he had secured his patent for his homestead, and it was the first patent issued in the county. For a time he looked after his land and farmed it, but not long after proving up and when times were still prosperous in this section of Western Kansas he sold 130 acres of his quarter for $5 an acre. The purchaser kept it twenty-five years, but even at that he sold it too soon, since he received only the same price per acre as he had paid Mr. Nolan. That same land today could not be bought for $150 an acre.
After his experiences as an official and as a homesteaded Mr. Nolan engaged in the ice business at Larned and then for twenty-five years or so in the coal and feed business. For a number of years before his death he lived retired from business affairs, enjoying the fruits of his strenuous experience of earlier years. Mr. Nolan was always a republican. He joined the Masonic Lodge when it was organized in Larned, and was also a charter member of the Grand Army Post and a past commander. He attended state encampments of the Grand Army. He was also a past noble grand in the Lodge of Odd Fellows.
He came out to Western Kansas a bachelor, but in September, 1876, he was married in this county to Miss Agnes Seman. Mrs. Nolan was born in Germany, daughter of Andrew and Agnes (Bloker) Seman. Mr. Seman brought his family to the United States and after a residence in Pennsylvania came to Kansas and homesteaded a farm in Pawnee County and spent the rest of his life there. Mr. Nolan spent his later years in the comfort and companionship of his family, consisting of his good wife and several children and a number of grandchildren. His oldest son, John, died at Pueblo, Colorado, at the age of twenty-six, having been an employe of the shipping department as check clerk of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Company of Pueblo, Colorado. Margaret married C. O. Case, local agent of the Anthony and Northern Railway, and she has a son, Miles Woodrow. George W. Nolan is a merchant at Larned, and by his marriage to Elsie Boyd has two children, Marguerite and Robert James. Tillie married G. A. Yeager, a Pawnee County farmer, and has one son, Charles. Nellie is the wife of George Graybeal, a jeweler and optometrist of Larned. Dorothy, the youngest of the family, is the wife of Emil A. L. Mesner, manager of Kresge's 25 to 50 cent store of Toledo, Ohio.
Mr. Nolan passed away April 7, 1918, and his wife followed him to the life beyond on September 26th of that year.
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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