Thomas R. Duncan

THOMAS R. DUNCAN, one of the pioneer settlers of Cherokee County, a substantial and representative farmer of Lyon township, owns 160 acres of highly cultivated land,—the northeast quarter of section 27, township 34, range 23. He was born at Martinsville, Indiana, February 10, 1839, and is a son of William and Amanda M. (Hutsel) Duncan.

Robert Duncan, the grandfather of Thomas R., was born in Scotland and accompanied his two brothers to America, all probably settling in the State of New York. There William Duncan was born and learned the cabinet-making trade before going to Indiana. Failing health caused him to remove in 1856 to Illinois where his sons could engage in farming. He took part in the Black Hawk War. In early days he was a Whig, but afterwards voted for Stephen A. Douglas and was subsequently identified with the Republican party. He died in Illinois, in 1879, at the age of 72 years. His wife was born September 20, 1815, near Lexington, Kentucky, and died at Martinsville, Indiana, November 22, 1847, when Thomas R. was not quite nine years old. Their children were: Thomas R., who weighed but two and a half pounds at birth: Peter, a farmer of Mineral Spring, Missouri, who belonged to Company H, 27th Reg., Illinois Vol. Inf., in the Civil War: Giles, who belonged to Company D, 81st Reg., Illinois Vol. Inf., and died in the service in February, 1863; and Jesse H., who resides near Murphysboro, Illinois. The father married three times, and three children of each union still survive.

Thomas R. Duncan was 17 years of age when his parents moved to Jackson County, Illinois, and he was engaged in farming there from 1856 to 1862, when he enlisted on August 12th, in Company D, 81st Reg., Illinois Vol. Inf., under Captain Ward and Col. James J. Dollins. He took part in many severe battles, and endured much hardship. He participated in the battle at Thompson Hill, May 1, 1863; at Raymond, Mississippi, May 12, 1863; at Jackson, Mississippi, May 14; at Champion Hill; Brownsville; Spanish Fort; in the Red River expedition; and in the three battles at Vicksburg, and the skirmishing all about this region. When serving with the ambulance train at Spanish Fort, he spent a whole night in hauling away the wounded. Mr. Duncan was captured with 700 of his comrades and was confined in Andersonville Prison for two and a half months, at Savannah for one month, and at another point, for a month and a half, and was then paroled. He reached Annapolis, Maryland, in a condition resembling a museum skeleton, and was still too weak for service when he reported for duty, after a furlough of 30 days. He was determined, however, to rejoin his regiment, which he did, at Eastport, Mississippi, in January, 1865, after an unavoidable absence of six months. Shortly afterwards he was honorably discharged and now receives a pension of $6 a month. After the review and grand encampment at Columbus, Ohio, he returned to Illinois, in 1865.

In the spring of 1869, Mr. Duncan started for Kansas, with his wife, two children and his brother. Each of the brothers took up 160 acres of "Joy" land, but the subject of this sketch did not possess enough capital to immediately build even a log house, and all lived together in the brother's log cabin, 12 by 14 feet in dimensions, for the first four years. They had brought three horses with them, but neither of the brothers had much money, and during the first winter they endured many hardships. For a long time their diet consisted entirely of corn bread and molasses, excellent warming food, but rather palling as a steady diet for months with nothing else. The brothers broke up the sod for corn and had to pay $1.50 per bushel for seed corn. During the second year. however, Mr. Duncan raised 100 bushels of wheat, and had plenty of vegetables and melons. In recalling those days, Mr. Duncan remembers one delightful episode and that was the Christmas dinner to which the family was invited by neighbors in better circumstances. He remembers it as it had to serve as the only satisfactory meal of that gloomy winter. It was four years before he felt able to build a house of his own, and this has been several times replaced. The present one, situated in the midst of a beautiful maple grove, the seeds of which he planted himself, and flanked by a productive apple orchard, is one of exceeding comfort. The telephone inside and the rural mail carrier at his door sufficiently connect him with neighbors, friends and business associaates,[sic] and mark very plainly the difference between life in Cherokee County in 1869 and in 1904. Mr. Duncan's farm is well watered, and all of it can be made to produce grains and grasses, and feed stock and cattle.

Mr. Duncan has always been identified with the Republican partvy since the Douglas campaign, and he has frequently served as a delegate to the various conventions. In religious belief, he is a Missionary Baptist, and has been very liberal in his support of this religious body. During the erection of the new house of worship in Lyon township, in the past year, he contributed 18 days' work and $100.

On October 22, 1866, Mr. Duncan was married to Sarah A. McClure, who was born in Jackson County, Illinois, August 5, 1840, and is a daughter of John A. and Clarinda (Nace) McClure. Mrs. Duncan's father was born in Ohio, and her mother in Pennsylvania. The children of this marriage were as follows: Clarinda, wife of Allen Jarrett, who has two sons,—Robert and Estel; Maria, who died aged two years; John A., of Columbus, who has four children; Edward H., of Lyon township, who has three children; Kate, wife of Robert Roger, of West Mineral, who has one child; Laura, wife of James A. Sizemore, of Lyon township, who has five children; Dora, wife of Frederick Divens, of Washington; and Jarretta, wife of Jesse Roper, of Lyon township, who has one child.

With tireless hands the subject of this sketch and his noble wife worked to insure for their children the comforts which have been theirs for many years. Mr. Duncan is well known throughout this section, and is a valued member of the local Grand Army post. His life has been one of more than usual hardship, during its earlier part, and he well deserves his recompense of material comforts, and the general esteem in which he is held by his fellow citizens.


History of Cherokee County Kansas and its representative citizens, ed. & comp. by Nathaniel Thompson Allison, 1904, transcribed by Lacey Garvin, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, 12/26/96.


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