Biographical History of Central Kansas, Vol. I, p. 168
published by The Lewis Publishing Co, Chicago & New York, 1902
JUDGE W. B. CONNER
Judge W B Conner is an honored pioneer settler of Rice county. He came to this portion of the state many years ago and found the broad prairies unmarked by the homes of settlers, the land being in its primitive condition. Wild prairie grass, waving in the wind, resembled a billowy sea of green. Buffaloes, antelopes and other wild animals found here excellent pasturage, and the most far-sighted could not have dreamed that within a brief interval of time a great transformation could have taken place, changing the broad prairies into richly cultivated farms. In the work of improvement and progress Mr Conner has borne his part, and his name is thus inseparably interwoven with the history of central Kansas, in whose advancement and improvement he feels just and commendable pride.
He was born in Butler county, Ohio, April 7, 1825, and was reared to the honest toil of the farm, while in the common schools he pursued his education. His parents, James and Jane (Brooks) Conner, were both natives of Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania, and were there married, while the grandfather, Caliph Conner, was born on the green isle of Erin. Crossing the Atlantic to the new world, he took up his abode in the Keystone state and became a prominent farmer there, following that pursuit until life’s labors were ended in death. He had but two children, the elder dying in Pennsylvania. Both the grandfathers were soldiers of the Revolutionary war.
James Conner, the father of our subject, remained in that state until his marriage and soon afterward removed to Butler county, Ohio, becoming one of the pioneer settlers there. He entered land from the government, developed a farm and there remained until 1829, when he removed to Montgomery county, Indiana, where he again purchased land and carried on farming. On selling that property he went to Kankakee county, Illinois, where he purchased a farm, but after his children were married and had left home he broke up housekeeping and went to live with a daughter in Iroquois county, Illinois, where he died in 1863, at the venerable age of eighty-eight years. In early life he had learned the trade of a stone and brick mason, and also weaving, but during the greater part of his business career he carried on agricultural pursuits. In politics he was a stanch Democrat, yet never aspired to office. Reared in the faith of the Presbyterian church, he always adhered to that doctrine, and was man of stern disposition and sturdy integrity. His children were: James, who died in Ness county, Kansas; Eleanor, deceased wife of E Richardson; Agnes, who married L Tender and after his death became the wife of Rev E Sargent; Susanna, the wife of J R Frogg; Elizabeth, who married A R Frogg; Mary, the wife of J Wadkins; W B, of this review; John, who died in Iowa; and Martha, who died in childhood.
W B Conner was reared in Indiana, where his parents remained during his early childhood. He remained at home until eighteen years of age, when he went to Will county, Illinois, and secured a claim. Subsequently he sold that property and entered another tract of land, on which he made improvements. On again selling out he removed to Iowa and entered land in Mahaska county, making it his home for two years, when he disposed of the same and returned to Will county, Illinois. There he purchased and sold a farm and bought another one, and on the second place he remained until 1872, when he again disposed of his property and came to Kansas, locating in Rice county. Here he secured three claims and homesteaded a pre-emption and a tree claim, all of which he proved up and still owns the land, yet residing on the old homestead claim. At different times he purchased other property and has sold four hundred acres, but still owns a tract of more than four hundred acres. He was first to locate upon a farm which has since been his place of abode, and it was then five miles distant to the home of any neighbor. He hauled lumber from the town of Ellsworth in order to build his house. Game of all kinds was plentiful, and from his doorway he has shot buffaloes. Wild geese and other kinds of game were also in the neighborhood. Mr Conner brought with him horse teams and soon began breaking his land, carrying on stock farming. His home became self-sustaining, although at times crops have not been very good, and in 1874 the grasshoppers destroyed nearly everything raised in this section of the country. Many people became dissatisfied and left Kansas, but it was a time of merely temporary depression, as almost uniformly the fields yield good crops, so that the farmers have a splendid return for the labor and time which they bestow in cultivation. Many years have passed since Judge Conner first won a place among the substantial citizens of the county. In addition to general farming he has engaged in stock-raising, and his labors in this direction have been crowned with prosperity.
While residing in Indiana the Judge was united in marriage, in 1846, to Miss Besty A Mullen, who was born in Ohio, but was reared in Indiana, and was a daughter of Samuel Mullen, of New Jersey. Her father was a cooper by trade, but followed farming through much of his life. He died in Indiana. His children were: Asenath, who became the wife of P Mitchell; Betsy A, wife of Judge Conner; William, a banker, who died in Winfield, Kansas; Almyra, who married H Harlan and after his death became the wife of John Rose, while her third husband was John Funk; and Kelsey, who completes the family. The parents were members of the Methodist church. By his first marriage Judge Conner had five children: James, now of Chicago; John, who died in Rice county; Mrs Matilda J Rife; Mary, the wife of James Pogue; and Abraham L. The mother was a consistent member of the Methodist church from the age of eight years. She was called to the home prepared for the righteous in September, 1872. In 1873, the Judge married Mrs Sabine Ambrose, a widow, and a daughter of Owen Johns, of Ohio, who removed to Illinois and in 1872 came to Kansas, locating in Rice county. He built a hotel at Atlanta, which he carried on for some time. He also owned a farm, and when Lyons was made the county seat he removed his hotel property to that place and there resided until his death. He voted with the Democracy. His children were: Owen, a resident of Wilson county, Kansas; William; Mrs Jane Chison; Mattie, the wife of a Methodist missionary minister; Sabine; and Belle, the wife of John Keys. The marriage of the Judge and Mrs Conner has been blessed with four children: Cora, now the wife of E Wilson; Mary, who is attending college; Frank B, at home; and Hugh, who is a student in Winfield college.
Judge Conner has ever been known for his marked loyalty to his country and its interests, and during the war of the rebellion he enlisted as a defender of the Union, joining the army in Will county, Illinois, in 1862, for three years’ service or during the war. He became a member of the One Hundredth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, under command of Colonel Fred Bartleson, and was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland, with the Fourth Corps, Second Division, Third Brigade. He saw much arduous service, was in many skirmishes and in eighteen hotly contested battles, went on many long and tedious marches and was with General Thomas on the campaign after General Hood. On the 19th of September, 1864, at Chickamauga, he was struck by a minie ball in the right shoulder. He acted as chief sergeant of his company and was detailed to serve as commander at Gallatin for four months. His wound troubled him and he was granted a forty days’ furlough, but as he had not recovered on the expiration of that period the time was extended to eighty days. He then joined his command, with which he remained until the close of the war, and was at Bull’s Gap at the time of General Lee’s surrender. Mustered out at Nashville, Tennessee, he then returned to Chicago, where he received an honorable discharge, after which he made his way home. He had been reared in the Democratic faith, but in 1856, when the Republican party was organized, he voted for Fremont and continued with the party until Grant’s second term, when he joined the Greenback party. Later he assisted in organizing the Reform or Populist party, attending its conventions and doing everything in his power for its progress. He was a delegate to the first county Republican convention in Rice county, but he there bolted and had many followers and admirers who nominated him for the office of probate judge, to which he was elected by a large majority, being the second person chosen to that office in Rice county. During his term he resided in Atlanta, then the county seat. He has always been a leading factor in political circles, has been active in naming successful candidates and his opinions carry weight and influence in party councils. During his early life he studied law and was the first young man admitted to the bar in Rice county, but he has never engaged in practice to any extent. He has filled many local offices of honor and trust, including that of township treasurer, in which he served for two terms. He is indeed a citizen of worth, loyal and faithful to every trust reposed in him. On account of advanced age he does not take an active part in public affairs as he formerly did, but in 1900 he attended the Populist convention at Clay Center, where he was heard with interest. He is yet a member of the county central committee of his party. His acquaintance is very wide and the circle of his friends is almost co-extensive therewith. His life has been an honorable and upright one, commending him to the confidence and respect of all.