Pages 810-814, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.


810 cont'd HISTORY OF ALLEN AND  

THOMAS HOUSTON DAVIDSON.

THOMAS HOUSTON DAVIDSON was born near New Castle, Pa., February 2, 1816, died at Kalida Farm, Woodson County, Kansas, February 2, 1889.

His father, James Davidson, was in early life a surveyor, but afterwards, became a prosperous farmer and sheep raiser in Western Pennsylvania, in the early part of the century. He was one of the stalwart, substantial and patriotic citizens of the Republic. He served as captain in the war of 1812.

In a large family of children, Thomas H. Davidson was, after the education of that period, prepared for mercantile life. He successfully conducted general merchandise ventures at Enon Valley. New Brighton and Jamestown, Pa. He was located at the last named place when the the news of the firing on Fort Sumter was flashed throughout the country. He was fired with a patriotic zeal to emulate his father and to offer his services as on the first call of President Lincoln for troops. Two things, however, prevented this: he was a few months past the "age limit" of forty-five years, and in addition to this fact he could not, in the early clays of the war, have passed the rigid physical examination then required. While he was a hale and robust man all his life, with a splendid constitution. Still in his younger days, while assisting at a "barn raising" he had, in his effort to prevent a serious accident which threatened to result in injury and even death to several persons, thrown himself into the breach, and, by an exhibition of physical strength which seemed alsmost increditable at the time, received all the injury himself, escaping with a broken leg and a slight rupture. The latter injury, though apparently insignificant, re-

  WOODSON COUNTIES, KANSAS. 811

mained with him throughout the balance of his days, and, though it gave him no special inconvenience, it was sufficient, nevertheless, to catch the attention of the medical examiner, and, when taken in connection with his age. bar him from enlistment in the volunteer army.

So persistent was he, however, that he made a trip to Washington, sought and obtained a personal interview with President Lincoln, convinced him of his physical soundness and his physical endurance, and received a promise from the President that he would make an exception in his case and assign him to a captaincy at an early date. This, however, never came about, and the war came to conclusion without his having seen service, except as a member of the "Home Guard."

In 1866, with the return of peace, Mr. Davidson was siezed with a desire to escape from the close confinement of the store room, and naturally, in common with many other men at that time, turned his face toward the rising young commonwealth of Kansas. He disposed of his mercantile business in Jamestown and, with his family, resolved to become a pioneer in the development of the border state.

He arrived in Kansas an the second day of August, 1866, and immediately purchased a farm near Ft. Scott, in Bourbon County. Here he resided for four years. During this time he was actively engaged in farming. A few weeks after his arrival came the great "grasshopper raid" so memorable in the early history of the state. This did not discourage him, however, and while the state was recovering from the effects of this "disastrous visitation," he and his son James resolved to "file on" some suitable government land within easy reach of the farm at Ft. Scott.

They carried out this resolve in the winter of 1866-1867, the son taking what is now the east half of the present town site of Girard, the present county seat of Crawford County; the father taking the claim adjoining this on the south. A town company from Ft. Scott "jumped" the son's claim and laid out the town of Girard. Then followed the contest so famous in that section of the state, between the railroad land grants and the settlers, which ended so disastrously to so many of the Crawford County settlers, the Davidsons among the number.

After having spent much time and money on the improvement of these claims and then losing them, Mr. Davidson resolved to seek a location, and an opportunity for investment farther west in the state. After prospecting for a location for some time, he moved with his family to the little town of Chellis, in Woodson County. This was in the spring of 1870. In September of that year he purchased a controlling interest in the town site of Chellis and on September 24 changed its name to Kalida—a Greek word, meaning beautiful—certainly a most appropriate name—for a more beautiful site for village, town or city it would be impossible to find in any state in the Union.

Here he lived for nearly a third of a century, to the date of his death in 1889. Besides his town interests he became a stock raiser of great mag-

812 HISTORY OF ALLEN AND  

nitude and was known far and wide as a most successful trainer of oxen, through skill which he had acquired when a boy on his father's farm in Western Pennsylvania. Many a yoke of oxen trained by him became competitors of the "iron horse" in the "freighting business" on the Western plains.

His chief ambition in the early days of his settlement of Woodson County was directed toward the improvement of Kalida. He "laid off" wore town lots, broadened its streets, and laid the foundation for a metropolis, had not fortune ruled to the contrary. In 1873 Woodson County became involved in a "county seat war," with Kalida as the strongest contestant in the field. Kalida won, but within less than four months a new election changed the location to Defiance, three miles east of Kalida.

Mr. Davidson always stoutly insisted that there were enough illegal votes cast in the election of February, 1874, to entitle Kalida to a majority of the bona fide votes of the county, if the same could be determined. Many prominent citizens shared his views. He may have had some knowledge of "irregularities" on election day, and naturally sought some explanation for the defeat of Kalida, but the fact remains that the figures at this day, as shown by the official election returns, would hardly warrant, necessarily, the conclusion which he drew. In the election of November 3, 1873, the vote was as follows: Kalida, 530; Defiance, 506; total, 1,036; majority for Kalida, 24. In the election in question—that of February 23, 1874—the vote was Kalida, 491; Defiance, 643; total, 1,134; a majority for Defiance of 152. In this election it appears that Kalida was 49 votes under her previous vote and Defiance 137 votes above. The total vote cast at the second election was but 102 votes above that of the first. However, whether irregularities existed or not, after that second election both Kalida and Defiance were short-lived towns.

The following year Kalida dropped out of the fight, and a contest among the villages of Defiance, Neosho Falls and Yates Center (the latter located in the geographical center of the county) took place, in which none of the places received a majority of the votes cast, the vote being as follows: Neosho Falls, 301: Defiance, 235: Yates Center, 335; total, 871. This necessitated a final election in September 1876, in which Yates Center was the victor, receiving 488 votes to Neosho Falls, 426, the total vote cast being 914.

Thus ended Woodson County's "county seat war," and with it ended the dream of Kalida, "The Beautiful."

One year later both Defiance and Kalida were moved bodily to Yates Center, but Kalida still lives in the name "Kalida Farm," now one of the most beautiful of the prairie farms of the Sunflower state, made so by the persistent and indomitable energy of its owner, Thomas H. Davidson. He had nothing of the "sour" in his disposition; he yielded gracefully to the popular will and went incessantly to work to develop a beautiful farm on the ruins of his town.

There are a few men in a county whom practically everybody knows,

  WOODSON COUNTIES, KANSAS. 813

Thomas H. Davidson was one of these. He took a commendable interest in human affairs, and his Republicanism, and his support of "this or that" which was known to be of good report, were markedly well known. During the life time of Kalida he encouraged its churches, its schools and public enterprises by substantial service and aid. He served for years as a member of the school board of the Kalida school district, and was an elder in the United Presbyterian church from the date of its organization in Pittsburg, Pa., in the 50's to the time of his death. He was the promoter of the Woodson County "Advocate," published at Kalida. He was one of the most honored and respected justices of the peace Woodson County ever had. His knowledge of law was something remarkable, and especially so since he had acquired it by self education. He could have prepared himself and plead a case before any court in the country. He was a director of the Charter Company of the Ft. Scott & Wichita railroad of the early 70's. He was a splendid scholar, a deep thinker, and a diverse reader. He was what even in this day would be styled a highly cultivated and educated gentleman. Mathematics was his special delight, and what to many were problems of difficulty, to him were but self evident truths. Up to the hour of his death he took an active interest in everything which tended to the public good. He brought to Kansas in cash what even today would be called a small fortune and sacrificed it all in the interest of the public enterprises in which he put his heart and soul. When he died he was in but comfortable circumstances so far as this world's goods were concerned, but in good deeds, lofty thoughts, kind sets and high ideals, he bequeathed to his family and the community in which he lived a rich inheritance. He ever frowned on evil and encouraged good, and in memory he lives today as a splendid type of our Scotch-American citizenship—an ideal type of those rugged pioneer days when the foundation of our commonwealth was laying broad and deep.

Mr. Davidson married Miss Anna M. Mehard, and his widow now occupies the Davidson homestead in Woodson County. The Mehards were also among the early families of Pennsylvania. James Mehard, Mrs. Davidson's father, was of Scotch-Irish descent. He married Christian Orr, who bore him nine children. Of this family, Mrs. Davidson is the sole survivor. In the Mehard family were found successful farmers, able ministers, a mechanic, and a college professor.

The union of Thomas H. and Anna (Mehard) Davidson produced seven children, five of whom survive and are residents of Kansas: James, the active head of the family in Woodson County; Marguerite; Elizabeth, a teacher in the Topeka High School; Will. M., Superintendent City Schools, Topeka, Kansas, and Samuel, who represents the Columbus Buggy Company as a traveling salesman. James Davidson, the oldest son, has passed an active life in Woodson County, and is one of the successful farmers of the state. While he is a farmer, still his success in other directions as well has brought to his efforts ample reward. He is the planner and projector of

814 HISTORY OF ALLEN AND  

the massive architectural attractions for which the Davidson homestead is noted far and wide.


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Pages 810-814, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.


Tom & Carolyn Ward
Columbus, KS

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