WILLIAM E. BROOKS one of the most successful of the pioneer farmers of Neosho township, Cherokee County, owner of what is known as the "Forest Fruit Farm," was born in DeKalb County, Illinois, October 14, 1844, and is a son of Henry E. and Samantha (Meade) Brooks.
The Brooks family as established in Vermont, about the time of the Revolutionary War, by four brothers, of Welsh-English extraction. The name is variously spelled in different sections, one branch adopting the form of Estabrook. The father of our subject spent his early life as a ship-builder, on Lake Champlain, but later removed to Illinois and subsequently to Iowa and finally, in 1867, came to Cherokee County, Kansas, and died in Chautauqua County at the home of his son, John Brooks, at the age of 80 years. He was a large farmer and stock-raiser and owned several extensive tracts of farming land in Cherokee County. He married Samantha Meade, who was born near Dayton, Ohio, and was a cousin of Gen. George B. Meade who gained distinction during the Civil War and was the hero of Gettysburg. Mrs. Brooks died in Iowa at the age of 72 years. Their children were: John, a resident of Chautauqua County, Kansas; William E., our subject; Mrs. Jane Nugent, of Iowa City, Iowa; and Mrs. Laura Woolwine, of Waterloo, Iowa.
William E. Brooks was reared in Illinois until 1853, when he accompanied his parents to Black Hawk County, Iowa. They located on a farm near Waterloo, and there our subject attended the district schools and assisted his father on the farm until 1861, when he offered his services, although but a boy of 17, to his country, enlisting on November 19th, in Company I, 16th Reg., Iowa Vol. Inf., under Col. Alex Chambers. Mr. Brooks was discharged on November 16, 1864, but served until April, 1865. These years of danger, hardship, sickness, imprisonment and excitement changed the sturdy young farmer boy into a grizzled veteran, with a record for courage. valor and fidelity. He participated in many of the hardest fought battles of the war, including, Pittsburg Landing; siege of Corinth and battle of Corinth; Iuka; siege of Vicksburg; and the battle of Kingston, Noth Carolina in 1865.
Mr. Brooks was also a member of General Sherman's army that made the memorable "March to the Sea." At Atlanta, Georgia, he was unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner; he was sent to Andersonville Prison, where he was kept for two of the longest months of his life. On September 22, 1864, he was exchanged at Rough and Ready Station, near Atlanta, and was then sent to the convalescent camp at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in order to be treated for prison scurvy which had infected his wounded leg. This terrible imprisonment reduced his weight from 160 to 107 pounds. Upon recovering sufficiently, he was detailed to Block House, No. 14, Chickamauga Creek. It was while located here that he had some amusing adventures. Being detailed as quartermaster of the Block House, it was incumbent upon him to look after the commissary, and this entailed considerable skirmishing through the enemy's country. While on one of these expeditions he became acquainted with a family of Confederate sympathizers by the name of Knowles. They were probably hospitable Southern people of great kindness of heart, for they took pity on Mr. Brooks and invited him and his partner to dine with them and enjoy the festivities of Christmas Day. Youth is youth, and, as there were young ladies in the family and as such tempting offers came but seldom in their lives at that time, the two young Union soldiers did not hesitate long before accepting. The occasion was also an old-fashioned quilting party and all the maidens of the neighborhood had gathered, according to custom, and the succeeding festivities were at their height, about 10 o'clock in the evening, when they were startled by the rattle of sabres coming over the rail fence. Mr. Brooks and his companion for a few moments felt they had been betrayed and prepared to defend themselves from what they supposed a posse of Confederate soldiers. In answer to a loud demand at the door, they met the intruders with pointed revolvers, but fortunately did not shoot, as the two visitors, when stripped of their Confederate coats, showed the Union blue beneath and disclosed the fact that two other Block House men were also out seeking recreation.
In February, 1865, Mr. Brooks reported to his regiment at Goldsboro, North Carolina, although his term of enlistment had expired four months previously. While camped at Vicksburg, in 1863, a member of Crocker's brigade, many forms of amusement were tried by the weary and homesick soldiers, and Mr. Brooks was never behindhand in thinking up new ones. The place where they were located had many Confederate arsenals in the vicinity, and the Union soldiers were in the habit of amusing themselves by exploding the cannon cartridges they found there, For various reasons this amusement did not find favor in the eyes, or ears, of General Crocker, and he gave orders that the next offender should be deal with. The tents were wedged together, with bunks of poles stretched two feet from the ground and a plank passing through to serve as a table. As may be imagined, one of the greatest discomforts of these small dwellings were the swarms of flies, which in Southern countries amount to intolerable pests. Upon one occasion when Mr. Brooks came into his tent, he saw his companion lying apparently asleep, while the flies were holding a kind of carnival. With the best intentions in the world, he decided that at least one tent should be freed from them and set about his preparations accordingly, by pouring molasses in the middle of the tent table and surrounding it with a goodly amount of powder from a six pound cartridge. When the molasses seemed to have attracted every fly under the tent curtains, he reached inside, with a lighted paper, and it is his conviction that the tent went at least 60 feet in the air. Fortunately Mr. Brooks' tent-mate was only blackened with the powder and nearly frightened to death, but probably not more so than Mr. Brooks himself, as he was completely dumbfounded by his success. Doubtless many other members of the old 16th Iowa can recall the incident.
Mr. Brooks returned to Iowa after the close of the war and farmed there until 1869, when he followed his father to Kansas, accompanied by his wife and one child. The journey was made in 22 days in a prairie schooner, which served as a home until he completed a log cabin, 12 by 14 feet in dimensions. He purchased a tract of 160 acres of land, half of which he later gave to his children. It is well located, in section 1, township 35, range 22, in Neosho township, and has rewarded him well for the labor and expense he has put on it. Trading his team for a yoke of oxen, he began to break his land on June 15, 1869, but after two days of plowing found he could do nothing more that season on account of the rains setting in. He then hauled coal from the Neosho River and surrounding territory to Baxter Springs, receiving 25 cents a bushel. When winter set in he went with his cattle to the woods, procured hickory and maple, and fashioned ax-halves and ox-yokes, receiving 35 cents for the former and $2.50 for the latter, averaging $5 a day. Although he could earn this amount by being industrious, the price of living was proportionately high for he paid $9 per hundred for flour, 30 cents a pound for meat and $2 a bushel for corn. Kansas City was the nearest railroad point and a triweekly mail passed from Baxter Springs to Chetopa. Deer were plentiful in those days and he went on many hunting expeditions with J. A. R. Elliot, a champion shot of the world, who married his niece and now lives in Kansas City.
For some years Mr. Brooks has devoted himself to the raising of corn and hogs. He set out a fine apple orchard of 60 acres, has a large evaporator and cider press and gives much of his attention to the growing of fruit. He has also five acres of forest trees, there being more on his quarter section than on any other farm in the county, and it deserves the name of the "Forest Fruit Farm." In 1900 he built a new and modern home and now has one of the best houses in the township.
On December 30, 1867, Mr. Brooks was married to Sarah Jane Tallman, who was born in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, November 16, 1843, and is a daughter of John R. and Jane (Corson) Tallman, both natives of Pennsylvania. They have had four children: Joseph, a teacher of music, located in Colorado; Mrs. Alice Owens, of Neosho township; Rosa, who died at the age of two years; and John, who lives on a farm adjoining that of his father.
Mr. Brooks has been treasurer of the township for two years, elected on the Republican ticket, but in political matters he is independent. For a number of years he serve as a school officer. Fraternally he has been an Odd Fellow and a Woodman, and in the latter organization still continues. He has also been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and of the A. H. T. A.
Being a great lover of music, Mr. Brooks in 1882 organized a band of 16 members, which for 16 years was the leading band of the county. He still maintains for pleasure and local passtimes an orchestra of five pieces.
History of Cherokee County Kansas and its representative citizens, ed. & comp. by Nathaniel Thompson Allison, 1904, transcribed by Casey Metcalf, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, 12/11/96.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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