Historic People of Kansas – B

Willis Joshua Bailey

Willis Joshua Bailey

Willis Joshua Bailey (1854-1932) – U.S. Representative and 16th Governor of Kansas, Bailey was born in Carroll County, Illinois on October 12, 1854. He was educated in public schools before continuing his education at the University of Illinois, where he graduated in 1879. Soon after completing college, he accompanied his father to Nemaha County, Kansas, where they engaged in farming and stock-raising and founded the town of Baileyville. He also became active in politics, casting his lot with the Republican Party. In 1888 he was elected to represent Nemaha County in the State Legislature; was re-elected in 1890; was president of the Republican State League in 1893; was the Republican candidate for Congress in the First District in 1896, and in June 1898, was nominated by the state convention at Hutchinson as the candidate for Congressman at large. After serving in the Fifty-sixth Congress he retired to his farm, but in 1902 was nominated by his party for governor. At the election in November, he won by a substantial majority and began his term as governor in January 1903. At the close of his term as governor, he moved to Atchison, where he worked as a Vice-President and Manager of the Exchange National Bank. Shortly after his retirement from the office of governor, he was prominently mentioned as a candidate for United States Senator, and in 1908 a large number of Republicans of the state urged his nomination for governor. Bailey was always interested in the welfare of the farmers of the country, and from 1895 to 1899 he was a member of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. He was elected a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri in 1914 and lived in Mission Hills, Kansas until his death on May 19, 1932. He was interred in Mount Vernon Cemetery, Atchison, Kansas.

Thomas W. Barber (??- 1855) – A Free-State martyr in Kansas, Barber was a native of Pennsylvania and a son of Thomas and Mary (Oliver) Barber. In the early 1830’s he moved to Richmond, Indiana where he was engaged for some time in operating a woolen mill. Soon after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he moved to Kansas and settled on a claim some seven miles southwest of Lawrence. Being a sober, honest, and industrious citizen, he made friends among his neighbors. Early in December 1855, when the pro-slavery forces were threatening Lawrence, Barber decided to go to the assistance of the town. He had no children but his wife, who seemed to have had a premonition of impending danger,  begged him to remain at home, but he laughed at her fears and set out on horseback for Lawrence. On the morning of December 6, 1855, in the company of his brother Robert and a man named Thomas M. Pierson, he started for his home, unarmed, promising to return as soon as he had arranged matters to permit his absence.

When about four miles from Lawrence, on the California Road, they saw a party of 14 horsemen approaching, two of whom rode on in advance of the others for the purpose of holding a parley with Barber and his companions. These two men were George W. Clark, an agent of the Pottawatomie Indians, and a merchant of Weston, Missouri, by the name of Burns. They tried to induce the Barbers and Pierson to join them and meeting with a positive refusal, one of them drew his revolver and fired twice, mortally wounding Thomas W. Barber. He concealed the fact that he was shot until they had ridden about a hundred yards when he informed his brother, who at first thought such a thing impossible, but a few minutes later the wounded man was seen to reel in his saddle. His associates eased him to the ground, where a little later he inhaled his last breath.

James G. Blunt

James G. Blunt

James G. Blunt (1826-1881) – Physician and abolitionist, Blunt rose to Union Major General during the Civil War. He was born in Hancock County, Maine on July 21, 1826, and lived on his father’s farm until he was 14. His restless disposition then led him to run away from home, and for the next four years, he worked as a sailor upon the high seas, visiting ports in many parts of the world. In 1845, he gave up the sea to take up the study of medicine and on February 20, 1849, he graduated from the Sterling Medical College at Columbus, Ohio. The following January he moved to New Madison, Ohio, where he practiced his profession until late in 1856. He then moved to Kansas, settling in Anderson County. He quickly became an ardent Free-State supporter and when the Civil War broke out in 1861 he enlisted as a private in the Third Kansas Regiment, subsequently being promoted to lieutenant-colonel. He served under General Lane at the Battle of Dry Wood and then commanded a force that penetrated far into the Indian Territory and broke up a notorious band of rebels, killing the leader. In April 1862, he was commissioned a brigadier-general and placed in command of the Department of Kansas.

At once he began active operations in Missouri and Arkansas, distinguishing himself for bravery and military skill in the battles of Cane Hill, Prairie Grove, Boston Mountains, Fort Van Buren, Honey Springs, and Newtonia. After the war, he settled in Leavenworth and engaged in business, spending a large part of his time in Washington, D.C. In about 1878 symptoms of softening of the brain appeared and he was taken to an insane asylum in Washington D.C., where he died on August 3, 1881. General Blunt was not a brilliant man, but he won and retained the confidence of the men under his command and rendered Kansas important service as a soldier.

Justin De Witt Bowersock

Justin De Witt Bowersock

Justin De Witt Bowersock (1842-1922) – U.S. Congressman and businessman from Lawrence, Bowersock was born in Columbiana, Ohio on September 19, 1842. He was educated in public schools, after which he went to Iowa City, Iowa, where he engaged in business as a grain merchant. In 1877 he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he saw the possibilities of water power. He built a dam across the Kansas River, and with the power thus developed established several manufacturing plants. He was later made president of the Kansas Water Power Company; organized the Douglas County Bank (later the Lawrence National) in 1878, and was elected president of the bank in 1888. He was also president of the Bowersock Mills & Power Company, the Kansas Water Power Company, the Griffin Ice Company, the Lawrence Iron Works, the Lawrence Paper Manufacturing Company, and the Kansas & Colorado Railroad Company. He always took an active part in municipal affairs and in 1881 was elected mayor of Lawrence, which position he filled until 1885.  On September 5, 1886, he married Mary C. Cower, of Iowa City, I Iowa, and the same year was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. In 1894, he was elected to the State Senate. In 1898 he was nominated by the Republican Party of the Second District for Congress, and in November was elected. His record during his term commended him to the people of his district, who honored him with four re-elections. He was not a candidate for re-nomination in 1906 and returned to his banking and manufacturing business in Lawrence. He died on October 27, 1922, and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery. 

Charles H. Branscomb – Along with Charles Robinson, Branscomb was one of the founders of Lawrence and a free state advocate. A native of New Hampshire, he grew up to attend Phillips Academy in Exeter before attending Dartmouth College, where he graduated in 1845. Subsequently, he studied law at the Cambridge Law School, was admitted to the bar, and practiced for six years in Massachusetts. Upon the organization of the Emigrant Aid Society, Branscomb became one of its agents. He came to Kansas in July 1854 and went up the Kansas River as far as Fort Riley to select a location for a town, but finally agreed with Dr. Charles Robinson on the site of Lawrence. On July 28, 1854, he conducted the pioneer party of 30 persons sent out by the society to Lawrence, where they arrived on August 1st. The second party, also conducted by Mr. Branscomb, arrived in October. He continued to act as an agent for the aid society until 1858 when he permanently settled in Lawrence and opened a law office. He immediately began to take an active part in the political life of the territory; was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives; was a member of the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention. He later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was a member of the Missouri Legislature.

David J. Brewer

David J. Brewer

David J. Brewer (1837-1910) – An attorney and Jurist, Brewer was was born to a family of Congregational missionaries in Izmir, Turkey June 20, 1837. He returned with his parent,  Josiah Brewer and Emilia Ann Hovey Field, to the United States in 1838 and settled in Connecticut. Brewer was educated at Yale College and the Albany Law School, and in June 1859 moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he began the practice of law. He was United States Commissioner in 1861-62; judge of the probate and criminal courts of Leavenworth County from 1863 to 1865; Judge of the District Court from 1865 to 1869; County Attorney in 1869-70; associate justice of the Kansas Supreme Court from 1870 to 1884; resigned his position on the supreme bench on April 8, 1884, to become United States Circuit Judge; and on December 18, 1889, was commissioned Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court where he remained until his death. Always a friend of and a believer in popular education, Judge Brewer was the president of the Kansas State Teachers’ Association in 1869, and he also served as a member of the Leavenworth school board. He was the author of several books on legal subjects. Judge Brewer was twice married. On October 3, 1861, he married Louise R. Landon of Burlington, Vermont. She died on April 3, 1898, and on June 5, 1901, he married Emma Minor Mott of Washington, D.C. Judge Brewer died at Washington of apoplexy on March 28, 1910.

Joseph Little Bristow

Joseph Little Bristow

Joseph Little Bristow (1861-1944) – A journalist and United States Senator, Bristow was born in Wolfe County, Kentucky, on July 22, 1861, a son of William and Savannah (Little) Bristow. He came to Kansas with his father in 1873; married Margaret Hendrix of Flemingsburg, Kentucky, in 1879; and in 1886 graduated at Baker University, Baldwin, Kansas. From the time he attained his majority Mr. Bristow took an active interest in political affairs, and the year he graduated was elected clerk of Douglas County, which office he held for four years. Upon retiring from the clerk’s office in 1890 he bought the Salina Daily Republican and edited the paper for five years. In 1894 and again in 1898 he was elected Secretary of the Republican State Committee. His work in the campaign of 1894 commended him to Governor Morrill, who, when inaugurated in January 1895, appointed Bristow his private secretary. The same year he sold the Salina Republican and bought the Ottawa Herald, which paper he owned for ten years, during which time he directed its policy and wrote many of the editorials himself. In March 1897, he was appointed fourth assistant postmaster-general by President McKinley, and in 1900, under the direction of Mr. McKinley, investigated the Cuban postal frauds.

Three years later, under President Theodore Roosevelt, he conducted a searching investigation of the post office department. In 1903 he purchased the Salina Daily Republican-Journal, and in 1905 he was appointed by President Roosevelt a special commissioner of the Panama railroad. In August 1908, he was nominated by the Republicans of Kansas at the primary election for United States senator, and the following January he was elected by the legislature for the term ending on March 3, 1915. Bristow fought fiercely for the direct election of Senators, which, until the passage of the 17th amendment in 1912, were elected by or appointed by the State Legislatures. Bristow was defeated in his 1914 re-election bid. He spent the rest of his days farming his Virginia estate, Ossian Hall. When he died in 1944, his body was returned to Kansas for burial next to his wife Margaret in Salina’s Gypsum Hill Cemetery.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated February 2021.

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About the Article: The majority of this historic text was published in Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar,  A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912. However, the text that appears on these pages is not verbatim, as additions, updates, and editing have occurred.

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