One of the old landmarks of Cloud county and a trapper of the "60's" J.W. Billings who came to Kansas in April, 1868, is a native of Michigan, born and reared on a farm situated near the lake. he is a son of Walter and Sarah (Wilson) Billings, both natives of New York, born near the city of Rochester. They settled in Michigan in 1835, an early period in its settlement and before there was a railroad in the state, traveling by the way of the lakes and Erie canal. The father died three years ago and his mother in 1881.
Walter Billings was a soldier of the Civil war, serving in the Eighth Michigan Cavalry. He was captured and placed in prison, and from there was taken to Florence where he was detained six months, and during that period contracted disease from which he never entirely recovered. He drove one horse from Michigan to Kansas a half a dozen times or more and "Old Bill" was as well known as any of the Billings family.
During the primitive days of Kansas J.W. Billings followed trapping. He associated himself with Sam Doran, Uriah Smith and Frank Rupe and arranged a bachelor home with all its comforts and discomforts. He followed trapping and hunting as a livelihood for several years. At first he sold to local buyers his numerous beaver, otter and coyote skins, later to New York, and more recently to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which latter place he found to be the best market. He did not take up a homestead until 1875 and later sold eighty acres of his claim to procure a team, harness and wagon. The next year a prairie fire destroyed his team, harness and cow, leaving him nothing of his deal but the wagon.
He is still fond of hunting and fishing, but now it is for pleasure and luxury, while in the early days it was a matter of necessity to appease hunger. His first buffalo hunt was in May, 1868. He was one of a party of eight who killed nine buffalo and one antelope the next day after staring out. In September of the same year, during one expedition, they killed and dried a load of buffalo meat which in those days was a royal banquet. They did not suppose the herds that numbered thousands could so soon be exterminated. He has also killed many elk. Mr. Billings has farmed, trapped, taught school and done almost everything but preach, and possessed the ability for that calling had he ever been in a position where his services were needed. He is of a family of trappers, and has three brothers, all of whom but one are fond of the vocation. Politically he is a republican but does not aspire to office. Two of his friends labored the greater part of one night to induce Mr. Billings to allow his name to be brought up before the convention as a candidate for sheriff, but he absolutely refused.
Mr. Billings enlisted December 10, 1861, at the age of sixteen years and served almost two years in Company B, 13th Michigan. He was then transferred to the United States Signal Corps, served until the close of the war and was honorably discharged before he had attained his twenty-first year. His regiment arrived just in time to witness the finale of the first battle of Shiloh. They were at Perrysville and Stone River where they lost heavily and at Chickamaugua where they only lacked one man of losing half their regiment, and of his immediate company of eighteen men, but four escaped. Mr. Billings enlisted as a private and was promoted to sergeant. The captain of his company was wounded and Mr. Billings was placed in command, holding that position as a non-commissoned officer two months, at that time being but seventeen years of age. His company participated in the battle of Chattanooga and in the Atlanta campaign, and he was continuously in the service except a brief time when home on a furlough. He was a brave soldier, always at the front in the thickest of the fight; was never sick, wounded or in prison and seemed to lead a charmed life. He was in the employ of the government after the close of the war, his corps being sent to Texas and discharged at San Antonio in May, 1866. He served under Generals Buell, Rosecrans, Sherman, Thomas and Sheridan. Mr. Billings was also a member of the militia raised by the government to protect the settlers on the frontier, serving three months under the command of Captain Sanders.
Mr. Billings was married, in 1875, to Miss Kate Prince, whose parents are residents of Concordia, and were among the early homesteaders of 1871 in Aurora township. Mrs. Billings has taught several terms in the best schools of the county; she was engaged in the primary department of the Jamestown school one year. She is an untiring temperance worker. At the Grand Lodge of Good Templars held at Scranton, in October, 1900, she was appointed Grand Superintendent of the Juvenile Templars of the Independent Order of Good Templars, and unanimously re-elected at Clyde and Delphos in 1901 and 1902 respectively.
To Mr. and Mrs. Billings three children have been born. Eugene, the eldest son is a resident of Clyde and employed as clerk in the L'Ecuyer grocery establishment; he is married and has one child, a little daughter, Eunice, aged four years. Kate, is a prepossessing and intelligent young lady living at home, and Emory, the youngest son, assists his father on the farm. The family are members and regular attendants of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Clyde. Mr. Billings has served two years as commander of the Clyde Grand Army of the Republic Post.
"Jack" Billings, as he is known to all his friends, is one of the most highly esteemed citizens of the community in which he lives, and when he is spinning the hunting tales of pioneer days he seems to virtually live them over again, and as he rehearses these expeditions and adventures the suns of fifty-seven summers that have come and vanished for him, are forgotten - and he is "just as young as he used to be." - [Since the above sketch was compiled, Mr. Billings, who numbered his friends by the score, has been called to his "eternal home." He was one of the most companionable of men and a central figure in the group of pioneers, trappers and hunters of the early days. He was deceased early in May, 1903. - Editor.
Transcribed from E.F. Hollibaugh's Biographical history of Cloud County, Kansas biographies of representative citizens. Illustrated with portraits of prominent people, cuts of homes, stock, etc. [n.p., 1903] 919p. illus., ports. 28 cm.
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