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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.


James C. Whitehead

JAMES C. WHITEHEAD. Of that time and condition in Western Kansas which has been described as "Sunrise and Sunset, but no seed time and never a harvest," Mr. James C. Whitehead, now living retired at McCracken, had abundant experience and can testify not from what he has heard or read but from the book of his own life.

Mr. Whitehead was one of the early settlers of Rush County. He came into the county and entered a homestead near the present town of McCracken in 1878. The last of the buffalo and the wild Indians had only a short time before disappeared forever over the horizon. The month of May found him a newcomer in this section. As a homesteader he entered the south half of the northeast quarter and the south half of the northwest quarter of section 8, township 16, range 20. This land is situated six and a half miles north of McCracken. Accompanying him to Kansas was his brother-in-law, J. A. Yawger. Both of them were married and had families at the time, but these families they left behind in the East until they could do the preliminary work of establishing a home. The two men "batched" in the dugout which was built on Mr. Whitehead's homestead, and they had adjoining claims in the same section. When Mr. Whitehead brought his family to Kansas in 1879 they continued to live in the dugout homestead for ten years.

Before detailing some of the pioneer experiences of Mr. Whitehead it will be appropriate to mention his family history and relationships. The earlier generations of Whiteheads in America lived in the Connecticut colony. Mr. Whitehead himself was born in Steuben County, New York, February 11, 1846. His father, Benjamin Whitehead, was born in Chautauqua County, New York. January 30, 1818. Growing up in the time that he did he received a very little education, but spent his life as a successful farmer and died in Steuben County in 1902. He married Sarah A. Bevier, who was of French ancestry, and her father had fought on the Colonial side in the Revolutionary war. She was born July 29, 1817, and died in 1894. Their children were: Mary E., who died in Schuyler County, New York, the wife of Veloris Switzer; Orrin B., who spent his life in Steuben County, New York; James C.; Eliza, who married Mr. J. A. Yawger, of McCracken, Kansas, and is now deceased; Freeman, who lived in Steuben County; Polly A., who married Eugene Little and still lives in Steuben County; Franklin P., of Clinton, Iowa; Emmyrilla, who married and died in New York State; Delaphine, who died unmarried; and David S. and Charles, who still live in Steuben County.

James C. Whitehead grew up on a farm, attended the country schools, and in September, 1867, when he was a little past twenty-one years of age, he was married in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, to Miss Emma Brown. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1840, a daughter of Dehella and Sarah A. Brown, whose other children were Cyrus, Jerrie and Hettie, who married David Bevier. Mrs. Whitehead's brother Jerrie was a Union soldier and died while a captive in Libby prison. The children of Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Whitehead are: Hettie, Laura and Benjamin. Hettie married for her first husband Thomas Russell, and the son of that union, Clyde Russell, died in Montana, leaving four children. For her second husband, she married B. H. Hicks, of Ardway, Colorado. Laura, who is the wife of Charles Horton, of San Bernardino, California, has three children, Mabel, Guy and James Lewis, Guy being a soldier in France. Benjamin, who is a carpenter living in San Bernardino, California, married Ellen Horton and has two children, Claude and Glenn, the latter being with the A. E. F. as a soldier in France.

Mr. Whitehead's early experiences in the East had not netted him a fortune, and consequently he arrived in Kansas without capital. He had secured for the comparatively low figure of $120 a yoke of oxen, and those animals he used to break up the virgin soil of the prairies and also for hauling his supplies from Hays City. When he had a crop, and that was not very frequent in the early years, he used the oxen to haul the grain to market. With few exceptions the early settlers in Western Kansas had to depend upon some other resource than farming their land. Crops were short on account of drouth and other conditions, and also because of lack of experience on the part of the early settlers, who had not yet learned what were the most available crops or how to manage the soil. Consequently it was customary for the men to leave the farm during portions of the year and secure work in more prosperous communities. Thus Mr. Whitehead hired out at different seasons, and for a time he went as far from home as Kansas City, where he was employed with the old firm of packers, Plankington & Armour. At another time he went to Colorado and engaged in logging and lumbering. He cut down many of the trees which were made up into lumber for the bridge timbers, depots and section houses along the Denver and Rio Grande Railway in Southwestern Colorado. He remained at that work for eight months. It was his last trip away from home for the purpose of working out. The year he spent in Colorado he had sown a few acres in wheat, and at harvest time he threshed 500 bushels. That seemed like a big crop to him then, and when the proceeds of the grain were combined with what he had earned in Colorado he was practically fortified against all future assaults of adversity, and never found it necessary again to leave home to get work. After that he found it profitable to remain at home, engaging in farming, and continued as a factor on the farm until 1912.

Out of his long extended experience as a farmer in this section of Western Kansas, Mr. Whitehead reports his most profitable crop as wheat. At the same time he has made money as a cattleman, and has usually handled the better grades of stock. The old dugout in which he and his family first began housekeeping was after a few years supplanted by a substantial frame house, and he also put up a barn capable of housing ten head of horses and much other grain and supplies. To his original homestead he added four quarter sections, and has brought 640 acres under cultivation. Like other Western Kansas farmers he has raised great quantities of forage, and his favorite crops of this kind have been sorghum and millet. Though he retired to a comfortable home in McCracken in 1912, Mr. Whitehead still owns his farm.

As he had children to educate, he naturally took an interest in the establishment of schools when he came to Kansas, and assisted in organizing district No. 60 and became a member of its first school board. The first schoolhouse was a sod house, built by the neighbors before the district was organized, and the first teacher was Charles Coon. Beyond his participation in the management of local school affairs Mr. Whitehead, though always a public spirited citizen, has not been in politics. As a boy he was reared in a democratic home, and since casting his first presidential vote for Horatio Seymour in 1868 he has been a consistent supporter of the democratic party candidates, though in 1908 and 1912 he was absent from the state and consequently lost his vote. While not a church member, he and his family have Methodist leanings, and he has been concerned about the welfare of the church and has done what he could to secure proper influences in the community. Since he was twenty-one years of age Mr. Whitehead has been affiliated with the Blue Lodge of Masonry.


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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

Volume 4 - Table of Contents

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