Biographical History of Central Kansas, Vol. I, p. 312
published by The Lewis Publishing Co, Chicago & New York, 1902
In pioneer days in the development of Rice county Robert McKinnis came to Kansas and secured a homestead, which has been his place of abode since 1871. His wife was the seventh white woman within the borders of the county, and the first white female child born in the county came to them in their little sod home. Great changes have occurred during the years which have since come and gone, as the early settlers have coped with the hardships and difficulties of pioneer life in transforming the wild land into richly cultivated farms. Good homes have been erected, churches and school-houses built and the work of progress and civilization has been carried forward until Rice county now occupies a foremost position among the counties of the common-wealth.
Robert McKinnis is a native of Hancock county, Ohio, where his birth occurred January 28, 1845, and upon the farm he was reared to manhood, while in the common schools he was educated. His parents, James and Lucy (Wickham) McKinnis, were natives of Pennsylvania and New York, respectively, and their marriage occurred in the Buckeye state. The McKinnis family, however, is of Scotch lineage and was founded in America by Robert McKinnis, the grandfather of our subject, who on coming to the new world settled in Pennsylvania. He served as a teamster in the war of 1812 and later removed to Ohio, where he remained for a number of years. There his wife died, and subsequently he went to Iowa, in 1849, making his home with his son James, in Dubuque county. There he passed away. His children were Philip, Charles, James, John, Rachel, Polly, Sarah and Eliza.
James McKinnis, the father of our subject, was born in the Keystone state, but was reared in Ohio, and a number of years after his marriage he went to Dubuque county, Iowa, where he purchased some land and also entered large tracts, improving a very extensive farm. He carried on agricultural pursuits, and in addition to the production of grain engaged in raising cattle. He was one of the leading and influential farmers of the community, a successful business man, and excellent financier, and by persistent labor and diligence accumulated a competence for old age. He was a broad-minded, intelligent gentleman, charitable and kindly, and the latchstring of his pioneer home always hung out so that the wayfarer might be sure of a welcome. No one was ever turned from his door hungry, and among his friends and neighbors he was held in the highest esteem, his many excellent qualifications winning him warm friendship. He voted with the Whig party until its dissolution, when he joined the Republican party but later became a Democrat. He held the office of Justice of the peace and many minor township positions. At length he sold his property in Dubuque county, Iowa, and in 1876 came to Rice county, where he purchased a farm, making his home thereon for twenty years. His death occurred July 8, 1896, at the very advanced age of ninety, and his wife passed away November 20, 1900, at the age of eighty-eight. They were Presbyterians in religious faith and their Christian belief moulded their entire lives and won for them unqualified confidence. They had eleven children: Crayton, of Kansas; Lovina, who became the wife of J Pierce, who was a soldier in the Mexican war and went to California in 1849, soon after the discovery of gold; John, who was a Union soldier and is now living in Colorado; Barbara, the wife of W H Kirk, of Rice county, who also defended the stars and stripes; George, who served for over four years in the war of the Rebellion and died in Iowa; Robert, of this review; Fulton and William, who have passed away; Elizabeth, the wife of L Wood; Lydia, who married T R Basom; and James, who died in childhood.
Upon the family homestead in Iowa Robert McKinnis was reared, remaining under the parental roof until eighteen years of age, when his patriotic spirit was aroused and he resolved to aid in the defense of the Union, enlisting as a member of Company G, Ninth Iowa Infantry, for three years, or during the war. The regiment was assigned to the Army of Tennessee and he saw some hard service. He was with Sherman until wounded at Atlanta, on the 22nd of July, 1864, after which he was sent home on a furlough. When he had sufficiently recovered he rejoined his command, at Raleigh, North Carolina, and was detailed as assistant cook. Prior to the time when he was wounded he was always found with his regiment on the field of duty, loyally defending the starry banner of the nation. When Lee surrendered the command marched to Washington and participated in the grand review, after which the regiment was transported to Louisville, Kentucky, and there mustered out. Mr McKinnis was then sent to Clinton, Iowa, where he received an honorable discharge.
Making his way home in Dubuque county, Iowa, our subject resumed farm work, performing such duties as his health would permit, for he had not then recovered from his wounds, nor has he ever fully regained his original health and strength. He had been struck by a minie ball in the left shoulder, which broke his collar bone. The ball was extracted at the lower part of the shoulder blade, and he yet retains the piece of rebel lead as a souvenir of his army experience. Throughout the intervening years he has suffered to greater or less extent from his wound, which seems to grow worse as the years advance.
After his marriage Mr McKinnis remained with his parents for two years. His marriage was celebrated at the old homestead in 1869. In 1870 he came to Kansas, spending the succeeding winter in Crawford county. In the spring of 1871, however, he came to Rice county and secured a homestead. At that time there were but few settlers within its borders. Only six white women were living in the county at the time of his arrival. He first built a sod house, with dirt floor, and within the summer his wife killed upon the table a rattlesnake of considerable length. While they were living in that primitive pioneer home twins were born unto them, a son and daughter, the latter being the first baby girl born in the county. The homestead farm comprised one hundred and sixty acres in the valley of Cow Creek, and with characteristic energy he began its development and improvement. Later the secretary of the interior canceled his homestead rights in favor of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Company. He then began a fight for the recovery of the property and would ultimately have won it, although at considerable cost, but he effected a compromise by paying two dollars and a half per acre, which gave him undisputed title to possession. He has made substantial improvements, including the erection of a good house and barn and other substantial outbuildings. He has also planted an orchard, and everything about the place is thrifty and neat in appearance. The fields are well tilled, and the farm is pleasantly located two miles west of Lyons. Mr McKinnis continued the active cultivation of the land until a few years since, when he rented it. He is familiar with all the experiences of frontier life here, from the days when wild game was plentiful and wild beasts, including buffalo, elk and antelope, roamed over the prairies, Turkeys and prairie chickens furnished many a meal for the settlers, and as Mr McKinnis enjoyed hunting, wild game was always to be found on the table. He has killed buffalo from his own door-yard and his wife has driven them from her garden. Roaming bands of Indians on hunting excursions frequently came to the neighborhood, but they were always friendly, although at one time the community became frightened at the approach of the red men and the McKinnis family spent two days from home on this account, but no harm was done. For several years they secured supplies from Ellsworth, but in 1876 Lyons was platted, and after the county-seat was located there the rapid work of development and progress was continued, so that Mr McKinnis is within easy reach of the advantages of the city.
Mr McKinnis chose as a companion and helpmate for the journey of life Miss Elizabeth Collins, who was born in Galena, Illinois, June 19, 1845, and she has indeed been a valuable assistant to him. She was reared in Iowa, but was left an orphan when thirteen years of age, by the death of her mother, her father having passed away when she was three years of age. She was a daughter of John and Vinson (Ray) Collins, the former a native of Pennsylvania and the latter of Boston, Massachusetts. When fourteen years of age her father left his home in the Keystone state and came west. He never returned, so that little is known concerning the history of the family. He devoted his life to agricultural pursuits. His wife was a Presbyterian in religious faith, and their children were: Henry W, who was starved to death in Libby prison while a member of the Union army; Elizabeth, now Mrs McKinnis; and William H, who entered the army but never returned, so that his whereabouts are not known. After the death of her first husband Mrs Collins became the wife of F Farrell, and they had three children, - Samuel, Francis and Thomas. The marriage of Mr and Mrs McKinnis has been blessed with three children: James W, who was born in Iowa and is now a blacksmith of Lyons; and George A and Laura A, twins, who were born in the sod house on the old family homestead. The former is now a farmer and the latter is the wife of Charles E Moody, an agriculturist living in the Indian Territory. They also have three grandchildren, George K, Frank L and Ira D, sons of James W McKinnis.
The subject of this review is in religious faith a Universalist, and in political faith is a stalwart Populist. He has been called upon to fill some township offices, but has never been a seeker for political preferment. He has desired rather to give his time and attention to his business affairs and has therein prospered. As one of the honored pioneers of the county he certainly deserves mention in this volume, and with pleasure we present his record to our readers.