THOMAS B. PORTER, now living retired at Garden City, is a pioneer. He spent his boyhood amid the frontier conditions of Western Missouri. As a young man he had many experiences during and following the war along the middle western border, has been on the great plains when they were covered with Indians and wild buffalo, and many years ago, before courts and civil government were established in Morton County, Kansas, he went there as a sod house resident and rancher and is personally familiar with every hardship and obstacle the old timers of that section had to endure and overcome.
Mr. Porter comes of pioneer stock, representing that class of people who bore civilization westward from the Atlantic Coast to the western edges of the continent. Benjamin and Ann (Campbell) Porter came from England and settled in the colony of Virginia in Orange County in 1730. One of their children was Benjamin Porter, and his son, Abner Porter, was grandfather of Thomas B. Porter of Garden City. Abner Porter was born in Orange County, Virginia, in 1775. He married a Miss Grigsby. Both the Porters and Grigsbys were of Revolutionary stock, and members of each family served in the War of the Revolution. Abner Porter and wife had nine children, one of whom was Samuel S. Porter.
Samuel S. Porter was born in Virginia May 27, 1795, and died in Clay County, Missouri, at his home on Clear Creek some years after the Civil war. He married Mary Beckham, daughter of Thomas and Frances (Grigsby) Beckham, the former of Fredericksburg and the latter of Rockbridge, Virginia. Thomas Beckham was born in 1770, was a slave holder and planter, and died on his large estate on the Rapidan River in Culpeper County, Virginia, in 1855. Samuel S. Porter and wife had the following children Abner, who died near Kearney, Missouri; Eliza, who married Doctor Crosby and died in Clay County, Missouri; Hannah, who married Emerson Green and died at Liberty, Missouri; Lucy, who married Joseph Swan and died in St. Joseph, Missouri; Maria, who became the wife of William S. Dykes and also died at St. Joseph; Thomas Beckham; James A., who lives at Plattsburg, Missouri; William S., who died in Clinton County, Missouri; and Benjamin, who died at Osborn, Missouri.
Thomas Beckham Porter was born in Orange County, Virginia. December 4, 1835. He was eight years old when in 1843 his parents emigrated westward to Clay County, Missouri, establishing their home near Liberty. That was then a new country, without railroads and with few of the improvements and institutions of civilization. Thomas B. Porter grew up there, and had to walk seven miles from his home to the nearest school. He learned much outside of books, since the woods were full of squirrels and other wild game, and he had a boy's appetite for the black haws and red haws, the pawpaws, the hickory and walnut nuts and other similar weed fruits that grew in such abundance. In school he rested his feet on the old time puncheon floor and studied his principal lessons from the reader, spelling book and arithmetic. His boyhood was by no means one of unemployed or misdirected energies. He helped his father and older brothers clear up the hazel brush on the land, and helped plant and raise hemp crops, which were a staple part of Missouri agriculture at that time. His boyhood memories go back to an old fashioned log house, and all the children slept above the principal room in what was known as the loft. He was trained and disciplined to manual labor, though his parents prior to the war were slave holders and had a few black people to perform the heavier labor.
About the time he reached his majority Mr. Porter went back to Old Virginia, spending two years on the plantation of his uncle, James A. Beckham. He helped on the plantation and at the same time attended school, acquiring a considerable knowledge of surveying. Just before the Civil war broke out he returned to Missouri and during the period of hostilities was employed chiefly as a teamster, bullwhacker and freighter in Kansas. He was close to much of the fighting that went on along the border of Missouri and Kansas. He drove team and wagon loaded with government supplies from Leavenworth to Fort Riley, Fort Scott, Fort Lyon, Colorado, and all along the Santa Fe Trail, when red men were much more numerous than whites in Kansas. He was at Springfield, Missouri, when the battle of Wilson Creek was fought. In that battle his brother, James A., lost a leg while wearing a Confederate uniform.
After the restoration of peace Mr. Porter returned to Missouri and settled upon a tract of land inherited from his father. He also merchandised at Haynesville, and for several years exercised his influence in behalf of law and order in a district which shared some of the characteristics and unsettled conditions of reconstruction days.
In Carroll County, Missouri, September 25, 1878, Mr. Porter married Miss Eliza Beaty, daughter of Harvey and Eliza (Campbell) Beaty and a sister of Alvin R. and John W. Beaty, who are recalled as among the early and very prominent ranchers of Southwestern Kansas. Mrs. Porter was born in Carroll County, Missouri, May 6, 1853. She attended high school at Carrollton, and entered the normal department of the University of Columbia, and after one year at this institution she began teaching in the public schools of Missouri. She then drifted to the new and sparsely settled Arkansas Valley in Colorado, and taught the first public school at Rocky Ford, on the Arkansas River. It was the old crossing from which the present Rocky Ford derived its name. This was in the year 1872, four years before the Santa Fe Railroad was built. When the election was held and the bonds voted Miss Beaty went with a party fourteen miles up the valley to a point where they met A. A. Robinson, who received the election returns.
It was a typical pioneer ranch house, made of unhewed logs and roofed with sod where the superintendent or engineer of the great Santa Fe was a guest. When the team had been fed and rested and the party had partaken of a good warm sunper they returned home feeling they had done their bit toward the onward march of civilization. During the Centennial year Miss Beaty had the pleasure of returning to Missouri over the new Santa Fe road. During the last two years prior to her marriage she taught in the counties of Carroll and Monroe, Missouri, and was not identified with school work thereafter until 1896 and 1907 when, as Mrs. Porter, she was elected county superintendent of schools of Morton County. Mr. and Mrs. Porter have two sons, James Beaty the older, is a merchant at Hugoton, Kansas. He married Alice Harrell, of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, Thomas Beckham, Jr., also a merchant at Hugoton, married Helen Judy. They have two children, Jack and Geraldine.
For a number of years Mr. Porter was a Missouri farmer. He finally sold his Missouri farm for $11,000, and with that capital he moved west to Colorado, and for a short time lived at Manzanola. He then came over the line into Kansas and with his original capital and $2,000 of borrowed money he went into ranching on a large scale, investing the entire sum in cattle. The scene of his ranching enterprise was in Morton County, before that county was organized. The location was nine miles southeast of Richfield, near old Sunset City. There he entered a homestead, pre-emption and also a tree claim, and proved up on all of them. His timber claim was improved with a good growth of timber, but this grove and the homesite were finally swept away by the encroachment of the Cimarron River. His home improvement there was a two-room sod house. It was covered with dirt, and the roof was shaped like a car roof. Simple and primitive as it was, it had to serve the purposes of a family abode for twenty-two years. Mr. Porter's son Thomas was born in that house.
There is one disaster that old time Kansans, especially stockmen, will never forget. It was more calamitous even than the grasshopper scourge or the two years' drought. It came in January, 1886, in the form of an unprecedented blizzard, destroying many lives and property of untold value. Practically the entire herd which represented Mr. Porter's accumulated capital and what he had borrowed was swept away in a few short days and when the snows melted he found himself worse than penniless. But he and his family elected to remain and fight it out, and to do that required fifteen years of strenuous economy. When Mr. Porter looks back to those days he regards the privations and limitations of food supply imposed by the necessities of war as a trifling inconvenience. He and his family resorted to the strictest economy, for fifteen years burned "chips" without a pound of coal on the place, and otherwise struggled with adversity until they outrode the storm and created a ranch of 3,100 acres. In 1907 this ranch was sold at $5 an acre.
Mr. Porter after coming to Kansas soon found that farming on the Missouri plan was not adapted to this climate and soil. He therefore put his dependence more and more in livestock and after the blizzard gradually accumulated and built up a herd of good grade Herefords and a number of horses. Out of these two lines of stock industry he finally promoted himself to success and independence. After the family had suffered its reverses in the blizzard, they also resorted to melon raising, putting in a patch of two acres, and the $75 realized from these melons went a long way toward supplying provisions and other necessities. For several years Mr. Porter also supplied the butchers of Richfield with beef for local consumption.
After selling his Morton County ranch Mr. Porter located on the Sand Flats near Rolla, where his sons took claims and the family again began initial improvements. Farming in that region was more profitable than in earlier times. Eventually the family accumulated a modest ranch and farm of 1,280 acres in that region. On abandoning that location Mr. and Mrs. Porter moved into Garden City, while the sons entered merchandising at Hugoton as above noted. While the Porters lived on their pioneer ranch in Morton County the nearest school facilities were at Richfield.
Mrs. Porter was reared as a Baptist, but in later years she has given her support to the Christian Church. At Garden City, where she now resides, she has interested herself in various civic and social movements, and through her former experience as a teacher is able to give much aid and counsel in community affairs.
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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