JAMES W. UNSELL, whose home is in the Santa Fe community of Haskell County, has experienced several successions of fat and lean years since he came to Kansas thirty-five years ago. He has been a homesteader, stockman, pioneer farmer, oil operator, public official, and is well known over a number of the western counties and also in the oil districts of the state.
Mr. Unsell was born in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky, December 5, 1858. His ancestors some generations back were of the sturdy Pennsylvania German stock. About the close of the eighteenth century his grandfather, Henry Unsell, moved over the mountains into Kentucky. The father of James W. Unsell was Frederick Unsell, who was born on the same farm in Muhlenburg County as his son and lived and died in that locality. A brother of Frederick was Henry Unsell, one of the most interesting characters of the frontier epoch in the Middle West. He participated as a soldier in the War of 1812, and is said to have fired the last shot in the battle at New Orleans and the last in the war. The incident was more readily marked down in the memory of those who participated there because the gun burst, and while its owner escaped injury the shot did all that was expected of it and killed a British soldier. After the war Henry Unsell participated in the marketing between the North and South under the conditions that then prevailed. He was a flatboatman down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and it is said that he made fifteen successive trips going down the Ohio with merchandise loaded on the flatboat, selling the timbers at New Orleans and walking back to his Kentucky home with the proceeds of his venture.
Frederick Unsell, father of James W., died in June, 1892. He married Rebecca A. Casselberry, daughter of Sampson Casselberry. She died in June, 1907. Their children were: Henry B., a Union soldier, went with Sherman's army to the sea, and died at Chanute, Kansas; Mrs. J. S. Hughes, of Logan County, Kentucky; John S., of Henryetta, Oklahoma; and James Wesley.
James Wesley Unsell was reared on a Kentucky farm and his early life was by no means one of luxury. He earned his first dollar as a boy splitting rails at 50 cents a day. While going to school he did chores for his board. On starting for Kansas in 1882, at the age of twenty-three he walked the entire distance from Kentucky, carrying a shotgun on his shoulder. He was in company with a party of homeseekers. The only property he brought into the state was a trunk and a jack. This animal he later traded for a team and wagon. His first settlement was in Barber County, where he pre-empted land, proved up, but was in that county less than two years. Moving to Meade County, he took a homestead and timber claim, and in July, 1884, had the distinction of turning the first sod in Mertilla Township. Meade County continued to be his home for eleven years. He proved up his claim, and developed some prosperous interests as a farmer and stockman. He also served the township as treasurer and trustee and for five years was a director of his local school district. All that time, nine years, he lived the life of a bachelor, and not only did his own farming but his own housework. From Meade County he returned to Barber and Pratt counties, farmed for three years and finally bought a tract of land in Pratt County, where he made considerable success from his agricultural and stock raising enterprise.
Having converted his lands and property into cash, Mr. Unsell moved to Chanute, Neosho County, and tried his fortune as an oil operator. He leased lands, drilled and developed wells, and raised large quantities of oil to the surface but was unable to connect with a market. His operations as an oil man came at that peculiarly unfortunate time when the State of Kansas was attempting by legislative enactment to force the Standard Oil Company to take the oil from the independent operators through its pipe lines, but without success. It was for this reason that Mr. Unsell failed as an oil operator, and he sank practically all his modest fortune in the business.
About all that was left was a little town cottage, which he traded for a few horses, and then rented a gumbo farm and resumed agriculture. That was also a failure, and after five years he returned to the short grass country to begin life all over again. This was in 1915, and since resuming his adventures in Western Kansas he has in two successive seasons gathered together considerable stock, has raised all the feed they required, and has every reason to feel that his former success in this district will be repeated. During 1917 he raised a crop of about nine tons of broom corn.
Mr. Unsell has always been a republican, and cast his first presidential vote for James G. Blaine in 1884. He is affiliated with the Woodmen of the World and his wife is a member of the Christian Church. In Gray County, Kansas, November 2, 1892, he married Miss Martha J. Newby.
Martha J. (Newby) Unsell came from Seymour, Indiana, to Garden City, Kansas, in 1884, homesteaded in South Grey County and was successful as a school teacher for ten years. Her father, Robert G. Newby, brought his family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, to Kansas in 1884. He enlisted in the Fourth Indiana Cavalry in the first year of the Civil war and served until the close. He came home with a gunshot wound in his thigh. He was of English Quaker stock, was a blacksmith by trade, and followed this calling even while living on his homestead. Of his eight children only four are living at this writing: Martha J. Unsell; Robert Dick Newby, who resides in Los Angeles, and has been in the Rural Route Mail Service for over thirty years; Mrs. Emma McClelland, of Pueblo, Colorado; and Mrs. John J. Miller, of Santa Fe, Kansas. Of sturdy pioneer ancestors, the Newbys were early settlers in the Carolinas, and emigrated to Southern Indiana while it was yet a territory. Mrs. Unsell's maternal ancestors were Scotch and Irish. Marguerite Ferguson left her Virginia home and with her family floated down the Ohio River on a flat boat and settled north of Jeffersonville, Indiana. Her maternal grandfather was born in Virginia and fought with General Harrison at Tippecanoe. Her father had four brothers in the Civil war as had also her mother.
Mr. and Mrs. Unsell have four children, William Robert, Walter Thomas, Willard Frederick, and Miss Mary Newby Unsell. William R. lives at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and married Mrs. Marie Shea; Walter T. enlisted in the Machinist Department School at St. Louis and is awaiting call for service; Willard Frederick, nineteen years old, enlisted in the One Hundred and Twenty-Third Aero Squad, and is training in Eberts Field, Lonoke, Arkansas.
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