ROBERT PINKNEY ROARK. Members of the Roark family have had a close and virile relationship with the growth, development and welfare of Scott County for thirty years. The founder of the family here is Mr. James W. Roark, who passed through the successive trials and vicissitudes of the Kansas homesteader and for many years has been a merchant at Scott City. One of his sons, Robert Pinkney Roark, is regarded as one of the keenest and ablest business men of the county, and is a member of the Scott County Land Company.
James W. Roark was born in Macon County, Tennessee, January 23, 1861. His father, Neadom Roark, was born in the same county, and died at Canton, Kansas, in 1884. His first wife was Mary J. Fishburn, who was the mother of three children: Celia, who died at LaCenter, Kentucky, the wife of James Freeman; James W.; and Moses M., living at LaCenter, Kentucky. Neadom Roark married a widow for his second wife, her first name being Elizabeth. Their children were: Will, of Barber County, Kansas; Marlin, also of Barber County; Nellie, who died in Pratt County, Kansas, the wife of Jack Morris; and George, of Winona, Oklahoma.
James W. Roark had little education as a boy. When he was fourteen years of age his parents moved to Pope County, Illinois, where he grew up in the country. His education was derived chiefly from two text books, the old blueback speller and a reader. When he was sixteen years old he left home and hired out on a farm at wages of 50 cents a day. After two seasons he bought a small place, subsequently married, and began the task of establishing a home of his own. He and his wife did not even have a cook stove in their first equipment. She had one horse and he had another, and that made the team which they did their farm work. His wife also provided the bedding, and one of the first additions to their household equipment was a sewing machine.
In 1884 they left Pope County, Illinois, and in company with fourteen other families traveled to Kansas by railroad, leaving the train at McPherson. In the fall of that year Mr. Roark hired out as a teamster, and hauled wheat and also did some plowing of the virgin prairie. He took a pre-emption on Indian land in Edwards County, paid out on it, but before he had made many improvements sold and moved to Scott County.
In Scott County James W. Roark located a homestead in Valley Township, the northeast quarter of section 2, township 20, range 34. He put up a sod house 10 by 12 feet. This house was erected in the fall, and when he brought his family to it in the winter the lumber used in the construction had been carried away. In order to make the house habitable he had to spread a wagon sheet over it. Into that small room he moved his family of five. His total capital consisted of between $30 and $40. He went to Garden City to buy a supply of lumber, and brought back enough to erect a box house of a single room. He also cultivated some of his land, and as a farmer he tried corn growing. The following season some fine stalks developed, but there were no ears. By that time he was reduced to a low ebb financially, and was willing to take any work that would buy groceries. He did digging and cleaning of wells, farming, improving timber claims for absent settlers, and once when in sore straits he left the county and worked on the Amazon ditch. He soon confined his efforts as a farmer to the growing of forage crops and as soon as possible acquired a nucleus of livestock. His first livestock consisted of a cow, a team of mules and three ponies. Through his wages he bought another cow, and from time to time invested in calves, buying them for $3 or less. He proved up his homestead claim and lived there for seven years. Improvements came from time to time, and he increased his house in size and comfort, having bought another house and moved it to the land. He afterwards exchanged the original homestead for another tract, and eventually owned all four quarters of section 16, township 20, range 33. He made that his home and the scene of his principal activities for fifteen years, and in that time put up two complete sets of farm buildings. About 400 acres had been brought under the plow, and he prospered as a crop grower and livestock raiser. As a stock man he developed a herd of White Face Herefords and also found the horse business a profitable source of revenue. After he became a merchant he followed the practice of accepting calves or colts in settlement of accounts, and that proved a source of considerable profit to the firm.
In October, 1902, Mr. Roark began merchandising in Scott City in company with his son Robert P., under the name Roark & Son. That firm title still continues, though Robert's place was subsequently taken by his brother Frank. Mr. Roark and son paid about double what the stock of the business was worth and it soon became evident that they were facing failure. In order to divide the responsibilities Robert P. took the implement and hardware department while the father retained the stock of dry goods and groceries. During the following year Robert Roark "climbed the hill" and also was able to give assistance to his father. The original home of this business was in the old First National Bank Building, but after a few months they confined their stock to the rear end of that building. Later J. W. Roark & Son erected the first cement business block in Scott City. In 1916 this was succeeded by the firm's present home, a splendid twostory brick and basement building 50 by 140 feet, the building and equipment representing an outlay of over $15,000. The firm now has a complete department store, handling dry goods, groceries, clothing, women's ready to wear garments, and is the chief place of trade in Scott City.
James W. Roark helped to organize the school district in Valley Township where he lived, was a member of the board, and performed similar servce in district No. 7 before leaving the farm. He was brought up a republican, joined in the populist movement in Kansas, and from that gravitated into the democratic party. He was a supporter of Mr. Wilson both in 1912 and in 1916.
On January 2, 1880, James W. Roark married Mrs. Rachel Angeline Frizell, a daughter of J. C. and Mary (Cale) Jackson. Mrs. Roark was born in Pope County, Illinois. They are the parents of seven children. The oldest is Robert P., of Scott City. Ernest, of Scott City, married Sophie Styles, and their children are Melba, Vivian and Charles. Ed J., of Scott County, is married and has a child, Basil. Lewis Franklin, now partner in the firm of J. W. Roark & Sons, married Modra Baker and has a son, Olen. Delbert, a farmer in Scott County, married Helen Deaton. Inez is the wife of Jesse Bright, of Scott County. The youngest of the family is Otis.
Robert Pinkney Roark, a son of James W., was born in Pope County, Illinois, November 28, 1881, and was brought as a child of three years to Kansas. His education came from the country schools of Scott County. During his boyhood he experienced some of the trials and difficulties of life on the western prairies. When a boy he spent much of his time wandering over the prairies on foot after the cattle of his father and other neighbors. At the age of twelve he had reached a point of strength and experience where he was able to make a hand on the farm, and he did plowing and other general duties. He also worked out at country wages as a farm hand and as a sheep herder, being paid $8 a month for the latter work during the summer. When about seventeen he was employed on a cow ranch, and another item of his early experience was thirty days of hard labor on a section gang of the Santa Fe Railway. Thus he had a full amount of experience, developed a good physique, came into contact with the world in its different aspects, and by the time he had reached his majority he had in addition to his experience a cash capital of about $500.
About that time he became associated with his father in the mercantile business at Scott City. Reference to the beginning of this association has already been made. When he took over the hardware and implement department he did well as long as he remained by himself, but after a year he took in two partners. Apparently the firm continued to prosper. but after a time Mr. Roark discovered that conditions were not favorable to his own welfare, and he took advantage of the bankruptcy law and got out of the entanglement with only his home left.
He had to start all over again, although he still had the confidence of the community. He made a start in the land business, associated with W. B. Culbertson as a member of the Scott County Land Company. This firm was organized October 4, 1909. At the time the land business in this section of Kansas had no vitality of its own, and only as the partners stimulated it was it able to realize any profit from the transaction. The partners did all they could, and finally contented themselves with the philosophic belief that they must merely hold until the future would bring about a change. They ceased to worry about all profits and about anything connected with the business beyond the point of securing enough postage for their correspondence and to pay the small bills of advertising by which they kept their business before the public. If one of their agents brought in a prospect and they did not have money to hire livery to show land, they would make a clean breast of the situation to the agent and get him to advance enough money to complete the sale, repaying the agent out of the profits of the deal. This was one of the many incidents which reveal how near the bottom the firm's business rested for several years. Mr. Roark's family and friends advised him to give up a business which seemed to be absolutely destitute of promise. He resisted all such efforts to win him away from his settled purpose, and he thought even then that the harvest would come and he meant to remain long enough to get his share of the crop. He has had the supreme satisfaction of witnessing the harvest and participating in its blessings, and it has been one of his most agreeable experiences to find his friends and family congratulating him upon the success due to his persistence.
The Scott County Land Company has become the principal immigration concern in Western Kansas. It works in direct connection with the Missouri Pacific Railway Company, and has active connections with some of the highest class immigration men in Illinois, Iowa and the Dakotas. After the revival of prosperity in Western Kansas this firm has located many hundreds of substantial and prosperous settlers in this section of the state. The members of the firm are individual dealers in land, and their efforts have brought about the colonization of the entire northeast part of Scott County. They have done much to establish a settlement here of Central Kansas wheat raisers, and have done much to exploit the advantages of the Turkey variety of wheat.
Mr. Robert P. Roark comes of a democratic family and he cast his first presidential ballot for Judge Parker in 1904. He was a member of the Scott City Council when the first sidewalks were laid. He is one of the directors of the Scott City Commercial Club, and he is a member of the Dunkard Church.
Mr. Roark married Miss Pearl Finkenbinder, daughter of Dr. George Finkenbinder, concerning whom further reference is made in the following paragraphs. Mr. and Mrs. Roark have six children: Velma, Harry, Walter, Dorothy, Evelyn and Roberta. The family reside in one of the modest but comfortable homes of Scott City.
Dr. George Finkenbinder, father of Mrs. Robert P. Roark, is one of the pioneer physicians of Scott County, though he is now largely retired from professional work and gives most of his attention to farming and merchandising in Scott City, and the supervision of his extended landed interests in Lake and Valley townships.
Doctor Finkenbinder was born in Stark County, Ohio, August 1, 1846. His grandfather, George Finkenbinder, belonged to a colonial family of Pennsylvania, and some of the ancestors were patriot soldiers in the War of the Revolution. George Finkenbinder married a Miss Lehman and had a large family of sons and daughters.
William Finkenbinder, father of Doctor Finkenbinder, was born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and married Catherine Snyder, a native of Lancaster County, that state, and a daughter of Michael Snyder, a soldier of the War of 1812. William Finkenbinder was a potter in Stark County, Ohio and on removing to Illinois became a teamster and farmer. He was a member of the Dunkard Church. He died in January, 1867, and his wife in 1909.
Doctor Finkenbinder was reared from the age of three years in Stephenson County, Illinois, had a country school education, and his early experiences were those of the farm. At the age of twenty-five he began reading medicine with Dr. P. W. Hayes, a graduate of the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia. While working on the farm he pursued his reading for four years, and began practice in Nebraska. He went to Humboldt, Nebraska, and spent fifteen years in that state as both a physician and farmer. He has never practiced medicine exclusively, and has always maintained some active connection with land and its products.
Doctor Finkenbinder came to Scott County, Kansas, September 15, 1885. He settled in Valley Township, took up a homestead, acquired a pre-emption and also a tree claim. His homestead was section 30, township 20, range 32, and his pre-emption and tree claim were in section 25 of township 20, range 33. He started farming and development work with several teams and with some cattle, having driven across the country from Nebraska with his possessions. His pioneer home was a half dugout and sod house of two rooms, roofed with sods, and he and his family lived there until it was succeeded by a more comfortable frame house. While farming and stock raising he also lent his services as a physician to the people of the surrounding community, and by his varied enterprise he steadily prospered. Doctor Finkenbinder lived in that locality twenty-two years, and he still has extensive land holdings there. Altogether he accumulated about three sections of land, one section of which is under complete cultivation. Doctor Finkenbinder was one of the pioneers in the raising of alfalfa in this county, having sown his first seed in 1887. In that year he invested his last dollar in alfalfa seed at Garden City. He has had alfalfa on his farm ever since, a period of nearly thirty years, but has never sown any additional seed. Doctor Finkenbinder while living in Illinois became personally acquainted with General Grant, though he cast his first presidential vote for Horatio Seymour, who was the democratic presidential candidate opposing Grant. For twenty-four years continuously he served Pratt County as coroner.
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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