MICHAEL W. SUTTON, who spent his last days retired at Dodge City, had a professional career as a lawyer in Western Kansas covering over forty years and of more than ordinary successes and distinctions. As an attorney he tried in the course of his long practice every kind of suit from those heard in the justice courts to those which come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. For many years he was also a figure in Kansas politics and in the public affairs of the state and his home city.
For a man who reached his seventieth year he lived a most intensive life. He was born in Orange County, New York, January 8, 1848. As to his early ancestry the tradition is that the first American Suttons belonged to the Puritans of New England. Some of his posterity dissented from the Massachusetts colony, settled in New Jersey, and from this branch descended Michael W. Sutton. The latter's grandfather was Aaron Sutton. He married Experience Sutton, of the same name but not a relative. They had eleven children, and most of these children bore Biblical names.
Among them was Thomas Stewart Sutton, who was born near Belvidere in Warren County, New Jersey, December 25, 1823. He was a farmer's son and made farming his own vocation. After his marriage he moved to New York, just before the birth of his son Michael, and died in Tompkins County, that state, in 1899. He was a plain farmer citizen and had no church or lodge affiliations and in politics voted for James K. Polk in 1844 but subsequently became a republican. His first wife, Elizabeth Van Auken, of Dutch colonial stock, died when her son Michael W. was five years old. Her children were: Mrs. Martha Talby, of Seneca County, New York; Michael W.; and Miss Harriet, who has lived with her brother in Dodge City since 1889. The father married for his second wife Elizabeth Grant. They had two children, Horace G. and Josephine. Horace lives on the old Sutton homestead in New York, while Josephine died in that state the wife of Mr. McWhorter.
In 1863, when he was fifteen years of age, Michael W. Sutton enlisted in Company B of the Sixth New York Heavy Artillery. However, this regiment was used as infantry. He was under the command of Captain Gilbert and Col. J. Howard Kitching. He received his baptism of fire in the battle of the Wilderness, and was afterwards at Spottsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Weldon Railroad, Hatchers Run, the battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864, the siege of Petersburg, Deatonsville, Farmville, Jettersville, and he witnessed the closing scenes of the war at Appomattox. His regiment was the Second Division, Third Brigade, Fifth Corps Army of the Potomac. At Spottsylvania Court House he received a slight wound but did not leave the ranks. Though only a boy when he enlisted, he did all that was demanded of his older comrades, never fell out of a line of march, never attended a doctor's call nor missed drawing rations. After the surrender of Lee his regiment went to Petersburg and did guard duty and maintained law and order in a community which was then perfectly lawless and without any civil officials. From there the regiment was sent to Washington and Mr. Sutton received his honorable discharge at Fort Simmons on August 24, 1865.
When he left the army he was only a little past seventeen and on returning home he finished his education in the Trumansburg Academy. Two years later, in 1867, he went out to Missouri, and at Warrensburg, that state, did some teaching also owning and operating a farm during summers. He read law in Warrensburg and was admitted to the bar there.
From Missouri Mr. Sutton came to Kansas in 1871. He spent a short time in Topeka, getting his bearings and looking over the country, and then moved to Wellington. He located there as a lawyer and tried his first Kansas lawsuit in the town. He well remembers this suit, since it was a case for damages against a trail drover for spreading Texas fever over the Kansas grass and inoculating Kansas cattle. It was a case involving issues which are vital and live even today. In December, 1872, Mr. Sutton became connected with the Town Company and went to Barber County to the townsite of Medicine Lodge. He was one of the first lawyers there and he had the distinction of trying the first lawsuit in the county. However, the first eleven months were spent on the plains as a buffalo hunter, since this was the best means of earning a living. One day he returned to the new town for supplies and for the purpose of selling his hides. He and some of his companions were close by when the proprietor of the brickyard of the town mentioned that he had been sued and that his opponent had hired the only lawyer in the town. Mr. Sutton's companions volunteered the information that Sutton was a lawyer and advised his employment. Mr. Sutton wore overalls and a pair of coarse heavy shoes, but with this attire he entered the courtroom and won his case. He soon afterwards located in law practice and developed a good business until grasshoppers and Indians attacked the locality in 1874. He then returned to Wellington for the winter, while most of the other settlers refugeed to safer places. In the spring he returned, resumed practice, and gradually the settlers trailed back and the country filled up as before.
By 1876, the law business in Barber County having played out, Mr. Sutton changed his location to Dodge City. He was identified with Ford County from May of that year. In Dodge City he opened his office on Front Street, in what was then called the "Court House." While driving across the country his coat fell off the wagon and he arrived in town without that garment. Accompanying him to Dodge was an old buffalo hunter named Eckley, who came to town to get supplies.
Mr. Sutton had $5 when he reached Dodge City and one-half of this went to buy another coat. Thus he had only $2.50 for expenses, and he had to meet the competition of several other local attorneys. However, there was plenty to do in the line of the law, and after his first case he never needed a dollar which he did not have. His business included all kinds of cases from murder to theft, and for a number of years he had the pick and choice of the clientele. He tried hundreds of criminal cases, nearly always on the defense. One of these was the trial of Hardesty for murder; the prosecution of Madison or "Medicine" in Meade County for the Southwest Cattle Company for stealing, a case that required fourteen days; and many other notable legal battles involving incidents and accidents in the bad days of Dodge City and the Southwest.
For thirty-nine years Mr. Sutton was local attorney for the Santa Fe Railway Company and was connected in a similar capacity with the Rock Island Railway Company for nineteen years. He left the service of these two companies only when he retired from the practice of law. For two terms Mr. Sutton served as county attorney of Ford County, and was twice a member of the Legislature from that county. His first term was from 1889 to 1891. While in the House he secured the establishment of the State Soldiers Home at Dodge City. Most of his work in that session was on the judiciary committee. He was again elected a member of the House for the session of 1893 and was a member of the Douglas House and one of the party of republicans who stormed and broke into the House which had been locked and bolted by the populists. They held the fort until the decision of the Supreme Court brought about a settlement between the two factions, but so much of the legislative term had been wasted that little was done except the passing of appropriation bills.
Most of the old timers in Kansas politics are familiar with Mr. Sutton's public career. He cast his first presidential vote in 1868 at Warrensburg, Missouri. He began attending republican conventions in Kansas in 1877, when he was at Wichita and participated in the fight between Ryan and Peters for Congress. He was in state conventions and helped nominate half a dozen of the early governors of Kansas and for twenty years never failed to attend such meetings. He was always in the Seventh District political battles, and was an active supporter of Long, and later of Bristow. President McKinley appointed Mr. Sutton collector of internal revenue for the District of Kansas and Oklahoma, and he filled that office four years and six months, continuing into the Roosevelt administration. Later he was appointed one of the managers of the State Soldiers Home at Dodge City and resigned that post only after four years and six months. Mr. Sutton was among the first to champion the progressive movement in Kansas, and attended every progressive state and congressional convention. In IS88 he was a delegate to the National Republican Convention which nominated General Harrison, and he voted for republican presidents from Grant down to and including Roosevelt.
Many other interests and associations identified Mr. Sutton's name with Kansas and with Dodge City. For a number of years he was a director of the National Bank of Commerce at Dodge City and was a stockholder of the Southwest National Bank. He founded the Ford County Republican, a paper that was afterwards merged with the Globe. In earlier days he encouraged all the real enterprises that were vital to the upbuilding of Dodge City. He joined nearly all the fraternal orders represented in the city, but continued his membership only in the Mystic Shrine of Masonry and in the Grand Army of the Republic. As indicated above, his interest was always a very warm one in his army comrades and he has attended many of the state camps and a dozen of the national encampments. Mr. Sutton also did something to improve local real estate, including his substantial home on Central Avenue.
On October 1, 1879, at Dodge City, Mr. Sutton married Miss Florence S. L. Clemons, of Genesee County, New York. Her father was George Clemons and her mother's name was Botsford. Mrs. Sutton while visiting the family of A. B. Webster in Dodge City met Mr. Sutton and they were married soon afterward. She died June 6, 1888, leaving a son, Stuart C. Sutton. Mr. Sutton remained a widower all these years, having the companionship of his son and his sister in his borne.
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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