CAPT. ROBERT MILLER PAINTER, a pioneer of Meade County, is undoubtedly one of the best known men in Kansas. He grew up in a district of Iowa which was then well out toward the western frontier, made a gallant record in the Civil war, went into Colorado as a participant in the rough and wild epoch of that state, and since coming to Kansas has been a business man, farmer, ranchman, attorney, and almost constantly for over thirty years has been burdened with some official responsibility, usually of a character that carries much work with it without corresponding remuneration.
He was born in Van Buren County, Iowa, July 4, 1845, while Iowa was still a territory. It is the family tradition that the Painters were brought to America by his great-grandfather from Ireland. This ancestor was a gunsmith by trade. His grandfather was Rev. Mr. Painter, a Methodist minister, who did some pioneer work for that church in Ohio. He died about 1825.
Captain Painter's father was Rev. John Wesley Painter, who was born in Champaign County, Ohio, in 1821. He spent his life in the ministry and about 1839 moved into Southwestern Iowa find carried on the work of a missionary over a large section of that state. He was a member of the Southeastern Iowa Conference until late in life, when he represented the Methodist Book Concern of Cincinnati. He died in Wapello County, Iowa, in July, 1874. He was an ardent abolitionist and in the early days was one of the conductors on the Underground Railway, his log barn being one of the stations on that route. In politics he began voting as a whig, afterwards was a know-nothing, and finally assisted in organizing the republican party in his section of Iowa. He married in Van Buren County, that state, Kerrilla B. Miller, daughter of Thomas and Sarah (Hunter) Miller, the former a native of the north of Ireland and the latter of Roanoke County, Virginia. Mrs. J. W. Painter died in Montgomery County, Kansas, in 1885. Of her children the oldest is Capt. Robert M. Joshua spent some years in the West with Captain Painter and died while practicing law at Chicago, unmarried. The other children all died in infancy.
Captain Painter grew to manhood in Van Buren County, Iowa, and his education was the product of the public schools and the Congregational Seminary. He learned the printer's trade at Keosauqua, Iowa, and for a time worked at Keokuk on The Gate City under the famous Mark Twain. By occasional correspondence he kept in touch with that great American humorist from 1887 until his death.
Captain Painter first went into the western regions of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in 1876. In the fall of 1879 he identified himself with that region as he supposed permanently. For four years he was a resident of Colorado, was engaged in the newspaper business at Salida, also practiced law, and did some mining in Leadville. For two years he was sheriff of Chaffee County. While in the Rocky Mountains he developed some mining properties in the Creede District, but left these mining claims for what they were worth when he came to Kansas. In 1880 he and his brother founded the Daily Clipper in Buena Vista, Colorado, and later established the Maysville Miner in Chaffee County. He also worked on the Daily Mail at Salida and in 1886 he and his brother founded and conducted for a time the Border Ruffian in Coolidge, Kansas. A few years later they bought and conducted the Garden City Herald at Garden City, in association with G. J. (Buffalo) Jones. His work as a newspaper man and in public affairs has brought Captain Painter a large acquaintance with literary celebrities. While he was doing some newspaper work in Colorado he became acquainted with the famous "Bill Nye" at Laramie, Wyoming. He was also a friend of Eugene Fields when the latter was employed on the Denver Republican. For many years Captain Painter has been a contributor to magazines and papers in many parts of the Union and on many subjects, though chiefly dealing with incidents and history of the early settlement of the West.
Captain Painter arrived in Kansas in October, 1884, selecting a location along the Dry Fork of Sand Creek in Meade County. He has been actively and conspicuously identified with the affairs of the county ever since. He came here with very little property, chiefly a span of mules, a pair of mares, wagons and a few household goods. He also brought with him his wife and five children. He looked upon Kansas as a proper place in which to live and rear a family partly because of its climatic conditions and also because of its temperance environment. He was strongly averse to bringing up his sons under the conditions that then prevailed in Colorado, abounding in saloons and in every other temptation to a wild and reckless life.
In Kansas Captain Painter entered the northeast quarter of section 18, township 34, range 26. His first home there was a one-room soddy. After breaking up some land he planted his first crop. When he reached this locality he had less than $5 in cash. In the spring of 1885 he began locating settlers upon claims, keeping in close touch with the land office at Garden City. This work brought him enough to enable him to live and also to buy a horse to replace one that had died and which made him short of a team. He also bought with his earnings two milch cows. He continued locating settlers until all the available lands were taken up. This experience gave him some unusual qualifications as a lawyer in land office practice, and he represented many contestants for claims. In the spring of 1886 Captain Painter opened a law office at Meade for general practice. From April of that year until the fall of 1889 he was attorney for the First National Bank of Meade. In the spring of 1890 he left his family on the claim and went out to Utah, practicing law at Ogden for one year. Of his experience as a lawyer in that territory it is interesting to note that before he reached his destination at Ogden and while at Salt Lake City he was engaged to defend a young man charged with murder. He won an acquittal for his client before a jury and this verdict went far toward establishing him almost instantly in the favor of the locality and brought him much reputation as an able lawyer.
After returning from Utah Captain Painter resumed law practice in Meade and at the same time engaged in farming and stock raising. While attorney for the First National Bank he established the nucleus of his herd of cattle. Under the foreclosure law the bank had to accept a large number of cattle as security for its notes, and Captain Painter took this stock and added them to his own holdings. Thus in a few years the prairies were dotted with cattle owned by him or under his control. In the early '90s Captain Painter began buying land and he continued increasing his holdings until he had a ranch and farm of 4,000 acres, comprising some ideal range country and also much land valuable for agricultural purposes. Of this tract he put 1,000 acres under the plow. He also built as headquarters for the ranch a substantial eleven room house, and other building equipments consisted of a barn 36 by 78 feet, poultry sheds, etc. Captain Painter continued the active operation of this property until 1916, when he retired. He bought as well as raised cattle and for a number of years was one of the large shippers out of this section. He trained his younger son as his successor in stock ranching.
For the past thirty years Captain Painter has continued the practice of his profession. He has been known as an able civil and criminal lawyer, and has been connected with every murder case except two tried in Meade County. He has been attorney for the defense in all but two of these cases. As a prosecutor he helped break up the cattle stealing industry which flourished in former years in this part of Kansas. Captain Painter has the distinction of having tried the first case before a jury in Meade County and he was similarly engaged in the first jury case in Beaver County, Oklahoma.
Having been active in politics in Colorado Captain Painter was from the first recognized as a political leader in this section of Kansas. For eighteen years he was chairman of the Republican County Central Committee. Among various other distinctions he was the first representative from Meade County to the State Legislature, elected in December, 1885, soon after the county was organized. He served one term, and was on several of the important committees. He was again elected a member of the Lower House in 1895, and rendered some valuable service in electing Charles E. Lobdell as speaker, and under him served as a member of the insurance committee and other house committees. On the insurance committee he made a strenuous fight to save the beneficiary orders. Those orders owed much to him at that time, since without his efforts they would have been placed under the same regulations as governed the old line insurance companies. In 1901 Captain Painter was elected sergeant at arms of the State Senate and was in Topeka throughout that session. Officially or privately he has been active in politics in all the years, has attended every local, district, senatorial and congressional convention for thirty years, and has been in every state convention since 1886. While in Colorado he was a delegate to the national convention in 1884, when James G. Blaine was the nominee of the republican party. He was one of the men in that delegation who refused to remain with General Grant for a third term. Captain Painter is a veteran campaigner, and his ability as a speaker has been such that the State Central Committee has always kept his service in readiness in every campaign. He did some work in the campaign of 1916.
Captain Painter is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. His present wife belongs to the Christian Science faith.
As an old soldier Captain Painter has long been prominent in the Grand Army of the Republic both locally and over the state and in the national organization. He joined the Grand Army in Colorado during the early '80s. He was post adjutant at Salida for three years. He organized and was the first post commander in the County of Meade Post No. 388, and filled that office three terms. He has been a delegate to national encampments many times and is a past department commander and a life member of that body. He was aide de camp to commander-in-chief General Monfort, national commander, and has been on the staff of many of the Kansas Department Commanders. In 1916 he was elected department commander of Kansas, and in appreciation of his services then and at other times the department presented him as a token of their esteem with a beautiful diamond studded badge, showing his company, regiment and corps. He has for a dozen years been commander of the Southwestern Association of Kansas and this association presented him a gold mounted cane.
It is said that Captain Painter holds more offices in Kansas without pay than any other citizen. He is president of the Kansas State Historical Society, president of the Southwestern Veterans Association, president of the Meade County Bar Association, county chairman of the National Food Conservation, chairman of his county of the "Four Minute Men" and a member of the legal advisory board of the County Draft Board.
Captain Painter's record as a soldier of the Civil war is as follows: He enlisted November 4, 1862, in Company K, Ninth Iowa Infantry, under Capt. Abraham Bowman and Colonel Karskadon. The regiment rendezvoused at Benton Barracks and went to the front as a part of the Trans-Mississippi Department. It was attached to the 16th Army Corps when Captain Painter joined it and after a subsequent consolidation it became a part of the 15th Corps. The first important battles in which Captain Painter took part were in the campaign against Atlanta. He was with Sherman's army until it left Atlanta, going north on detail with prisoners, first to Camp Morton, Indianapolis, then to Camp Douglas, Chicago, and on to Rock Island, Illinois, where the remainder of the captives were disposed of. Returning from there his squad took back a lot of recruits to Nashville. He was in the battle of Franklin and remained in General Thomas' army till after the fall of Nashville, following Hood's army into Alabama. Returning north, his command shipped out of Annapolis, Maryland, for Savannah and joined Sherman's army there and went with him through the Carolinas to the close of the campaign and surrender of General Johnston's army near Raleigh. The command then was ordered to Washington to the Grand Review. Captain Painter was mustered out at Louisville, Kentucky, and discharged at Clinton, Iowa. In the Nashville engagement Captain Painter was a provisional officer, commanding a company of colored troops under General Steadman. He was himself wounded in the foot in that fight.
Captain Painter married in Brown County, Illinois, January 1, 1870, Miss Emily C. Hackworth. She was born in Wapello County, Iowa, October 10, 1845, and died in Kansas January 31, 1911. Her father, George D. Hackworth, was born on the Roanoke River in Virginia, and was a civil engineer by profession. In 1844 he went out to the territory of Iowa, and made some of the original surveys of land in Wapello, Mahaska and Jefferson counties. In the '70s he came to Kansas, and died soon afterward near Winfield. His children were: James T., of Ottumwa, Iowa; Mrs. George W. Bowman, who died in Ottumwa; another daughter that died in Cowley County, Kansas; Mrs. Mary Porter, who died in Ottumwa, Iowa; Mrs. Painter; Barbara L., of Greenwood County, Kansas; and Mrs. James Hollister, of Greenwood County.
Captain Painter may well be proud of his sons and daughters. His oldest son, William H., born December 18, 1870, was a graduate of the Kansas Agricultural College, and in the flower of his young manhood enlisted to serve with the Fourth California Regiment during the Cuban war, and afterwards went to the Philippines with the Fourth-Fourth United States Volunteers. He was killed in the battle on Cebu Island January 29, 1901. At that time he was a first sergeant of his company. The second child, Mary K., also a graduate of the Kansas Agricultural College, was a teacher in the public schools, and is now the wife of Samuel N. Rogers, of Goodwell, Oklahoma. Her children include Lydia, Shirley and Immel. Carrie V., the third child and second daughter, is a graduate of the Kansas State Agricultural College, and married Edmond DesMarias, a ranchman of Meade County. Emma E., a graduate of the Kansas State Normal School, married V. P. Pinnick, of Fowler, Kansas. John R., the only living son of Captain Painter, had a common school education and is now engaged in farming and stock raising as his father's successor. He married Grace Bateman, and their children are Robert, William, Edith, Fred and Gwen. Sue E., the youngest child of Captain Painter, graduated from the State Normal School, from its musical department, from a private conservatory at Emporia, and did post-graduate work in the Wichita Conservatory of Music. This talented young woman is the wife of D. W. Lockhart, of Howard, Kansas, and has one child, Vivian.
On November 5, 1917, a marriage that attracted much attention because of the prominence of the contracting parties was celebrated at Kansas City, Missouri, between Captain Painter and Mrs. Maud A. Gilyeat. Mrs. Painter for fifteen years was assistant state auditor of Kansas, and for almost twenty years was special reporter and stenographer for the Department of Kansas Grand Army of the Republic. She is the only Kansas woman who is an honorary life member of the Kansas Grand Army Of the Republic. She was born in Illinois, but has lived in Kansas since young womanhood. Mrs. Painter by her former marriage has one daughter, Marjorie, now a student in the Woman's College at Oswego, 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.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project