WILLIAM BROWNING WASHINGTON is by a margin of some years the oldest active member of the bar of Wichita County. He has had his home in that county since May, 1886, the year when settlers first began appropriating the soil of this section. During these thirty years Mr. Washington has been prominent as a lawyer, in business affairs, and also in the political life of the county.
He was born in Hopkins County, Kentucky, July 21, 1853. His grandfather, Woodson Washington, saw active service as a soldier in the War of 1812 and died at the age of ninety years in North Carolina. By his marriage to Miss Philpott he had eight sons and five daughters. George T. Washington, father of the Wichita County lawyer, was born near Raleigh, North Carolina. He had the ordinary advantages of the common schools and became a contractor and carpenter. Before his marriage he moved to Kentucky and spent his years chiefly in work at his trade in Hopkins and Henderson counties, Kentucky, and later in Kansas. He moved to Kansas in 1878, and died at Wellington in 1909, when about seventy-eight years of age. Born and reared a Southerner, his sympathies were with the South during the war. He himself owned slaves before the war set them free. He was a strong democrat and did all he could as an individual to promote the success of his party. He was an active member of the Christian Church and faithfully practiced the rules of the church. For more than half a century he was a member of the Masonic Order and had also been a member of the Knights of Pythias almost from the founding of the order. He lived a long life and was a man of great physical vigor. Though without special literary tastes he always kept up with current reading and was well informed on affairs of citizenship. George T. Washington married Nancy Waller. Her father, Squire Waller, was also from North Carolina. She died in 1910. Their children were: William B.; Sarah D., who married T. J. Barnett, of Wellington, Kansas; Jimmie H.; a daughter who died unmarried, and George, whose home is at Rogerson, Idaho.
William B. Washington acquired his education partly in Christian College at Princeton, Kentucky, and graduated from the high school at Henderson, Kentucky. His preceptor in his law studies at Henderson was John Young Brown, afterwards governor of Kentucky and nationally famous as a member of the commission which settled the presidential contest between Hayes and Tilden. He was widely known as "John Young Brown the Tiger."
Mr. Washington was admitted to the bar in Kentucky before Judge Ben C. Cissel. He remained in the office of Mr. Brown, his preceptor in practice, and later opened an office of his own. He served as city prosecuting attorney of Henderson for two years. His first case in the District Court of Henderson County was a suit prosecuted for carpenter work against a wealthy tobacconist. Mr. Washington won the case, although the trial almost resulted in a fight in the court room because his opponent hurled at him the epithet of "upstart." His practice in the City Court gave him experience that well qualified him for defense work and he appeared in many criminal cases. In Kansas one of his noted suits was his defense of Aaron Hooper, who was charged with arson by an insurance company. His associate in this case was Judge Peters of Newton. They secured a verdict in favor of their client. Mr. Washington's practice of recent years has been largely land and civil cases. He has made a record on collections that is rarely exceeded. He represents and for a number of years has represented R. G. Dun & Company, Bradstreet and Wilbur and other large collection agencies.
Mr. Washington came to Kansas about 1884, and spent two years in Meade and Summer counties. He was thirty-one years of age when he came to the state, and for a year was engaged in the cattle business at Wellington and continued the same work at Meade Center. He was admitted to the Kansas bar and began practice at Meade Center. Then in May, 1886, he came out to Wichita County and set up in practice as the pioneer lawyer of Leoti. Since coming to this county he has always practiced alone. For two years he served as county attorney. In that office he prosecuted and handled settlement of the jail cell contracts for the county, at a saving of a thousand dollars. He also handled for the county the management of the suit to defeat the collection before the Supreme Court of the Chase-Waters-Tillottson attorneys contract, by which they were to be paid $30,000 to defeat the railroad bond issue.
In business affairs Mr. Washington has had considerable success, although on several occasions his losses brought him near to the brink of financial bankruptcy. Early in the history of Wichita County he demonstrated too much faith in the "come back" of land values, and purchased equities and assumed mortgages and paid taxes until the burden almost crushed him. At another time he took over the Leoti Mill and tried to steer it through its difficulties, but the trust hampered him and eventually ruined both him and the plant. After each financial defeat he renewed the battle against adversity by the practice of his profession, and has always retrieved his losses and has acquired financial independence and credit. Besides numerous business interests Mr. Washington has the agency in Wichita County for the Maxwell car, and is thereby contributing something substantial toward the life enjoyments due those who have achieved financial success.
Mr. Washington was reared a democrat and for many years was active in Wichita County politics. He usually attended the state conventions and came to know all the leaders of the party in Kansas. For some years he controlled the vote of a number of western counties in the state convention, and thus was a man to be reckoned with by all who were seeking state offices. He has also been prominent in Masonry, has attended all the Grand Lodges for years, and was Grand Marshal of the Grand Lodge of Kansas. He was District Deputy Grand Master of Masons for two years, and formerly was in the habit of spending much time each year acquiring the secret work in both Masonry and Odd Fellowship. He has attained the thirty-second degree of Scottish Rite and is a member of the Mystic Shrine.
In Henderson Kentucky, April 27, 1885, Mr. Washington married Miss Julia H. Held, who was born at Henderson, daughter of Jacob and Louisa (Lohmeyer) Held, both of whom were of German stock. Mrs. Washington was one of a family of five sons and four daughters. Mr. and Mrs. Washington have four children. Herbert W. is connected with the Central Shoe Company of Kansas City. By his marriage to Frances Brown he has a son Lee. Harry M. was in the employ of the United States Government at Wichita until December, 1917, when he established an office there, as a public accountant, with income-tax returns a specialty. He married Grace Bassett and has a son, Lawrence B. William B., Jr., was connected with the Riverview State Bank at Kansas City, Kansas, until he entered the aviation service and is a lieutenant. He has equipped three squadrons with supplies, and is stationed at Postfield, Fort Sill. Herschel L., the youngest, is taking the literary and law work of the State University of Kansas. He took the first officers training course at Fort Riley. In spite of the fact that he was not yet of age and had not been admitted to the bar, he was elected to the office of county attorney of Wichita County in November, 1915. As a student he was chosen, in 1918, president of the Junior class and at the close of the school was elected president of the Men's Student Council of the University for the ensuing year.
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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