ABIEL SAMUEL DENNISON, of Columbus, whose portrait accompanies this sketch, is a son of Alvin and Rhoda Dennison, and was born on his father's farm, in the town of Floyd, Oneida County, New York, November 24, 1828.
On his father's side he is descended from William Dennison, who came from the north part of England, and settled in Roxbury, Connecticut, in 1631, and on his mother's side from George Potter, who emigrated from England, and settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1638.
His ancestors on both sides fought in Cromwell's army in England; in this country fought for the English King in the French and Indian wars; against the King in the War of the Revolution, and the War of 1812; and for the Union in the War of the Rebellion.
He attended district school until 14 years old, then went to the Whitstown Seminary three years, after which he taught district school four years, returning home every year until 21 years old to work on the farm during harvest.
When about 21 years old, he commenced the study of medicine with Dr. Babcock, who resided in Oriskany, Oneida County, New York. After studying with the doctor about a year and a half he attended one course of lectures at the Albany Medical College. Dr. Babcock was a popular doctor, and had a very large practice, conducted by himself and a Dr. White, assisted by one or more students. On entering the office as a student, he was immediately supplied with a horse and sulky, saddle-bags, medicine, tooth instruments, and put on the road to practice medicine, and kept on the road every day, including Sundays.
In the summer of 1851 his health failed; he was weary in body and mind, with symptoms of the dreaded disease consumption. Rest and change of climate were prescribed, and a trip to Chicago recommended. In September, 1851, he traveled from Rome, New York, by passenger boat on the Erie Canal to Buffalo, from Buffalo to Detroit by lake steamer, from Detroit to New Buffalo by the Michigan Central Railroad, then by steamboat to Chicago.
Chicago was then a city of from 25,000 to 30,000 people, with mostly wooden houses, located on a mud flat, from six to eight feet above the waters of the lake. The streets in many places were almost impassable, loaded teams often being stuck in mud holes in the business streets; there were no railroads, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad being then in process of construction, running a few miles north by west, but not in condition to do much business; there was no good money, the money then used in Chicago having only a local value; times were hard and trade poor, and everybody wanted to sell out at almost any price, a lot near the lake front 100 by 120 feet being offered him for $100. Mr. Dennison remained in Chicago about two weeks and then traveled from Chicago by stage to Rockford, which town he made his headquarters for about a month, visiting Janesville, Belvidere, Dixon and other towns. During this period he hunted and got lost on the vast unsettled prairies, fished in Rock River and other streams, and had a splendid time, being greatly improved in health.
Here was a fine looking, fertile country, with a healthy climate, that produced wonderful crops, but there was no market for anything, no railroads, or any prospect for railroads, no navigable rivers and no canals. Some grain three years old was still in stacks, not worth threshing and hauling to market.
The people had no money, lived in poor houses unsuitable for that harsh climate with very little furniture, wore poor clothes, but had plenty to eat, such as they raised. When they needed salt or medicine, two or more farmers clubbed together, hauled loads of pork or wheat to Chicago, camped out on the trip, and sold pork from one to two cents a pound, wheat at about 30 cents a bushel, the trip consumed from five to eight days.
From Rockford to Galena, Illinois, he traveled by stage, the last day of the trip being election day. Galena was then famous for its lead products, but it had seen its best days, and the production of lead was decreasing rapidly.
As Mr. Dennison could not figure out any speedy outlook of prosperity for Chicago, or the country tributary to it, he concluded to visit the Sunny South.
Here was the mistake of his life, but considering the experience and information he then possessed, no other conclusion could be reached. His own native country in a hundred years had made very slow progress, notwithstanding it had a navigable river (the Mohawk), later the Erie Canal, and still later the New York Central Railroad. The building of railroads at that time progressed very slowly. Capital avoided railroads. He could not foresee that Chicago and the country tributary thereto would in a few years be literally covered with railroads, and the country built up as by magic.
Mr. Dennison journeyed on a Mississippi River steamboat to St. Louis and found that city a dead town. Alton was then claiming to be the coming city.
After staying in St. Louis about a week, he went on to New Orleans by river steamer. New Orleans was a live, prosperous city. The amount of property in cotton and sugar piled on the river front was astonishing. Business was rushing. He accepted a position as professor of mathematics in the Franklin High School, corner of Royal and Esplanade streets, at a big salary, and remained in that position until the school closed for the summer vacation.
Immediately on the closing of the school, he accepted a position in a drug store at an increased salary, soon received an offer of a better salary in a wholesale drug house, and in about three months received an offer of a larger salary in a wholesale cotton and sugar house, first as shipping clerk, afterwards as cashier. He remained with that house until August, 1853, when the yellow fever drove him, and every other person that could get away, out of the city. He went to St. Louis, and soon engaged in the manufacture of hardwood lumber with William Martin, their saw-mill being located in North St. Louis. He continued in that business until March, 1857, when he took a railroad construction contract on the Kenosha & Rockford Railroad, for grading and rock excavation near Rockford, and for building culverts and bridges from Harvard, Illinois, to Rockford, Illinois, with headquarters at Rockford, Illinois, and then at Poplar Grove, and Chemung, Illinois. He completed this work in June, 1859, after experiencing a great deal of trouble because of the financial crash of 1857. The railroad company failed to pay the money due for construction and finally Mr. Dennison settled with it by taking its securities, mostly farm mortgage bonds, at 80 cents on the dollar. He took another railroad contract for grading in Minnesota, with headquarters at Winona, but sold out this contract before it was completed in order to take another contract on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in the State of Mississippi. Here was the second great mistake of his life, leaving the North to go South.
In the fall of 1859 he took a contract for grading and furnishing ties on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad with headquarters at Baldwin, Guntown, Booneville and Corinth. He finished this work in April, 1861, after experiencing serious trouble, owing to the disturbed condition of the country caused by the commencement of the Civil War. He had agreed to take a contract to build a railroad from Meridian to Vicksburg, but it was impossible to perform the work. All the energies of the people were used in preparing for war to whip the Yankees and Abolitionists. It became necessary to get out of the country as soon as possible, or join the Southern army to fight the North. He went north, arriving at Cairo, Illinois, about the time the Northern forces took possession of that place. He purchased a fractional half-section (338 acres) of raw prairie land, half a mile east of Hoyleton, Washington County, Illinois. He fenced it and put the land under cultivation, built two houses on it, divided it into three farms, and in the summer of 1864 sold the last farm.
On November 9, 1864, Mr. Dennison married Philena J. Chubb, and immediately settled in Bloomington, Illinois, where he remained about one year, without engaging in any regular business. In November, 1865, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he remained until February, 1867. At the time he moved to Lawrence. Kansas City had one railroad, the Missouri Pacific,with its depot in the south part of the city. The Kansas Pacific Railway, commenced at Wyandotte (now Kansas City, Kansas), and ended at Lawrence. While in Lawrence, Mr. Dennison was engaged in building. In February, 1867, he moved to Baxter Springs, Cherokee County, Kansas. The move from Bloomington to Lawrence was made to avoid the wet, cold climate of the former place, and the move from Lawrence to Baxter Springs was made to avoid the cold, harsh winters of Northern Kansas.
At first in Baxter Springs he engaged in the real estate business, buying lots, erecting buildings and selling the same. He also engaged in the drug business with G. G. Gregg.
In May, 1869, Mr. Dennison was chosen president of The Joy City Town Company, composed of G. Vanwinkle, J. E. Slater, A. S. Dennison, W. H. Hornor, G. G. Gregg, William Street and William Armstrong of Cherokee County, Kansas, Almond Botsford of the State of Ohio, David Philips of Kansas City, Missouri, and J. B. Grinnell of Iowa. This company purchased the squatter right (no other title could be obtained at that time) to about 2,000 acres of land at the cost of about $20,000, for the purpose of building a town about six miles west of Baxter Springs. The Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad had located its road to Columbus, Kansas, and it was intending to build the road south from Columbus through these lands to reach the Kansas State line in the valley of the Neosho River, to receive from the United States the only north and south right-of-way through the Indian Territory, granted by the Indians to the United States by treaty. This great prize the United States offered to the railway running north and south through the State of Kansas, that first reached the south State line of Kansas in the valley of the Neosho River. The Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad, running from Kansas City, Missouri, south and the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway, running from Junction City south were competing for this right-of-way, the former leading. Unexpectedly, the Missouri River, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad Company located its road from Columbus to Baxter Springs, arriving at Baxter Springs and the State line first with weeks of time to spare. The United States decided that Baxter Springs was in Spring River Valley, and the road lost the right-of-way. The coveted right-of-way was awarded to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway that reached the State line at Chetopa. That road enjoyed the monopoly of the only north and south railroad through the Indian Territory for many years.
The town company lost its prospective profits and some of its capital. The railroad company, by losing the right to reach the Gulf of Mexico, was only a short road from Kansas City to Baxter Springs, and in a short time went into the hands of a receiver, then was sold at master's sale on mortgage foreclosure.
In January, 1874, Mr. Dennison was appointed under-sheriff of Cherokee County by Sheriff Alfred Palmer, and in 1876 was reappointed for another term.
In 1877 he ran for the office of sheriff, and with the entire Republican ticket was defeated. Soon after the election, it was rumored that fraud in two wards of Empire City was the cause of the loss of the election. The election was contested and he lost. The Republican County Central Committee, believing fraud had been perpetrated, insisted the case of the sheriff should be appealed forthe[sic] purpose of exposing the fraud. The case was appealed, but the cost of bringing a large number of witnesses to court was so great that a change of venue was taken, so the depositions of the witnesses could be taken, and it required about the remaining term of the office to take the depositions, so the case was dismissed. The proof, however, showed to the satisfaction of the people of the county that the ballot-boxes in which the voters' ballots were placed in the first and second wards of Empire City were, after the election was closed at night, while the judges of the election were at supper, changed for similar boxes that had been stuffed.
In 1879 he was elected sheriff, and re-elected in 1881. On November 22, 1875, he was appointed United States Circuit Court Commissioner for the district of Kansas, which position he held about seven years, and then resigned, not having time to attend to the duties thereof.
On June 29, 1878, he was admitted to the bar of the District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District of Kansas.
On the 14th day of April, 1877, Dr. William Street of Baxter Springs and A. S. Dennison bargained with Egidius Moll, for the west half of the southeast quarter, and the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 14, township 34, range 25, in Cherokee County, for the consideration of $10,000. This purchase was the commencement of the organization of the Galena Town & Mining Company, composed of W. H. Fairbanks, S. H. Sanders and John M. Cooper, who founded the city of Galena.
In March, 1881, Mr. Dennison moved from Baxter Springs to Columbus, and in a few months thereafter built a residence on a 10-acre lot in Salamanca township, a quarter of a mile west of the west line of Columbus, and has resided there (23 years) up to this date.
Since 1884 he has been engaged in the real estate and loan business and the practice of the law.
Politically he is a Republican, and has often served as chairman of the Republican County Central Committee. His fraternal associations are with the Masons, Odd Fellows, and Knights of Pythias. In religious connection he is a Congregationalist. He was the organizer, in its present form, of the Old Settlers' Association of Cherokee County, Kansas, and was its president for several years.
Mr. Dennison has had seven children in his family, of whom Eva, Clarence, Ernest and Ralph died in infancy and in early childhood; Nina, Samuel and Rhoda survive. Nina is a successful teacher; Samuel is engaged in mining in Arizona, and Rhoda is married and resides in Arkansas.
History of Cherokee County Kansas and its representative citizens, ed. & comp. by Nathaniel Thompson Allison, 1904, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, instructor from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, 11/19/96.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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