Biography of Bertrand Rockwell, Captain

Bertrand Rockwell, who had had his home at Kansas City, Missouri, since 1906 was one of the constructive figures in Kansas from the close of the Civil war until he retired from business. Apart from the individual interest of his career, his activities have had the greatest value in connection with Junction City and that section of the state.

Before he had reached his majority he had left school and entered the army, and came out with the rank of captain. Two weeks after being mustered out, in September, 1865, Captain Rockwell reached Leavenworth, Kansas. From there he was carried by one of the Kansas stage line stages to various towns and cities, visiting Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Junction City, and Council Grove. His object was to find a suitable location for business. He finally cast his lot in with beautiful Junction City, then a town of 300 or 400 people. His first task was to erect a frame building 20 by 50 feet. Ten feet at the rear was partitioned off for a sleeping room. He was then unmarried and for several years he lived and worked in one building. The rest of the space he filled up with a stock of groceries and men’s furnishing goods. This frame building gave way to a larger and better structure, and B. Rockwell & Company attained its position among the foremost merchandise firms over all that section of Kansas. For twenty-five years Captain Bockwell put in sixteen hours a day at his business and his success grew in proportion to his energy and enterprise. His father was also associated in business with him for a time, and subsequently George A. Rockwell, a brother of Captain Rockwell, became a partner. In 1892 the business was incorporated as the B. Rockwell Merchandise & Grain Company, with Capt. Bertrand Rockwell as president, George Rockwell, his father, as first vice president, and George A. Rockwell was second vice president. Captain Rockwell retired from the active business in February, 1905, and was succeeded by George A. Rockwell as president. This is one of the oldest commercial enterprises of the state, with a record of more than half a century of existence. Measured by the annual volume of its trade transactions, the business was hardly second to any similar establishment in the larger cities of Kansas.

A number of years ago Captain Rockwell gave to Junction City a handsome token of his loyalty to that community. He built for the Ladies Reading Club a neat stone club house. It is the only recorded instance in which such a structure was built and donated by a man for a ladies organization. The building was dedicated September 1, 1896. The president of the club at the time was Mrs. Newell F. Green. The principal address of the evening was given by Noble L. Prentis, and it was an occasion long to be remembered by those who attended, since there were a number of people of prominence in Kansas who participated in the program, much of which was made up of reminiscences of bygone years in Kansas life.

Capt. Bertrand Rockwell was born at Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois, April 25, 1844. He is a son of George and Catherine Cole (Westlake) Rockwell. His father was born at Ridgefield, Connecticut, October 12, 1815, and his mother was born at Newburgh, New York, November 16, 1820. This branch of the Rockwell family goes back to John Rockwell who came from England to the Massachusetts colony about 1640 and subsequently resided at Stamford, Connecticut. He died at Rye, New York, in 1676. In the earlier generations the lineage is traced to Sir Ralph De Rocheville, a Norman knight who went to England in the train of Queen Maud. John Rockwell the first American of the name, was the father of John Jr., who died at Stamford, Connection, in 1673; Thomas, son of John Jr., was born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1667, and died there June 17, 1712; Thomas Jr., in the next generation, was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, December 13, 1708, settled at Ridgefield, Connecticut, and died there November 4, 1779; Lieutenant James, son of Thomas. Jr., and great-grandfather of Bertrand Rockwell, was born at Ridgefield in 1750, attained his rank as a soldier in the War of the Revolution, and died at Ridgefield November 25, 1808; Thomas H. Rockwell, son of Lieutenant James, was born at Ridgefield May 2, 1776, was a cabinet maker and farmer, and died at Ridgefield in 1865. George Rockwell, father of Captain Rockwell, was a teacher in Connecticut and Illinois, in 1840 established a drug store at Warsaw, Illinois, and a few years later became a participant in the Mormon war in Illinois. He was with the troops which killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage, Illinois, June 27, 1844. He also served three years in the Civil war, being with the Seventh Missouri Cavalry in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. He participated in numerous battles and skirmishes and was mustered out as a captain of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry. Soon after the war he disposed of his business interests at Warsaw and joined his son Captain Rockwell at Junction City, Kansas. He died there January 13, 1896.

Catherine C. Westlake, mother of Captain Rockwell, was a daughter of Rev. George Westlake, formerly of Newburgh, New York. George Rockwell and wife had several children who attained prominence. Their daughter Anna Frances became the wife of Lieut.-Gen. Adna R. Chaffee of the United States Army, who commanded the American forces in China when Pekin was captured. Dr. Thomas H. Rockwell rose to distinction as medical director of Equitable Life Assurance Society of New York City.

Capt. Bertrand Rockwell received his early education in the Warsaw public schools of Illinois. He left school in order to enlist in the army. In August, 1861, he went with the Iowa Home Guard from Chariton, Iowa, to Northern Missouri to repel the rebel invasion. On July 23, 1862, he enlisted as a private in the Thirty-fourth Iowa Infantry, and was in service until mustered out as captain September 5, 1865. He was in Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia, and took part in battles and skirmishes in all these states except Virginia. He had the unusual experience of witnessing five surrenders of Confederates. These surrenders were: Arkansas Post, Arkansas, January 11, 1863, where 4,760 Confederates surrendered; Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, 31,600; Fort Gaines, Alabama, August 8, 1864, 900; Fort Morgan, Alabama, August 23, 1864, 1,000; and Blakely, Alabama, April 9, 1865, 4,000. The Thirty-fourth Iowa Infantry had the honor of receiving the surrender of Morgan, and Captain Rockwell’s Company was the first to take possession of the fort after its surrender. He also participated in the last charge of the War of the Rebellion at Blakely, Alabama. Lee had surrendered three hours before the charge was made. On the right of the Union lines was a brigade of colored troops under General Pile. The Confederates seeing these colored soldiers advancing at double quick with fixed bayonets, ran from that portion of the line in order to surrender to white soldiers.

Since the Civil war Captain Rockwell had been a merchant, banker, lumber dealer, and contractor for state and army supplies. In all those years there was only one in which expenses were more than income. That was in 1874, the year grasshoppers devoured every green thing in Geary and adjacent counties of Kansas and laid waste the entire state. For several years Captain Rockwell was president of the First National Bank of Junction City, Kansas, and had been a director in other national banks.

He is a man of broad interests and had cultivated these interests by a varied participation in business and civic life and by much travel. Captain Rockwell had made four trips to Europe and made one tour to China, Japan and the Philippines. Though always interested in local affairs he never held office. A stanch republican, he was a delegate to the National Republican Convention at Chicago in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt was first nominated for president. He is a member of Union Lodge No. 7 Ancient Free and Accepted Masons at Junction City, is a Knight Templar Mason, belongs to the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Commandery of Kansas, and was its commander in 1900, and is affiliated with Grand Army Post No. 132 at Junction City. At Kansas City, Missouri, he had membership in the Kansas City Country Club, the City Club, the Knife and Fork Club. Captain Roekwell attends the Episcopal Church.

At Junction City, Kansas, September 29, 1870, he married Julia Marshall Snyder. She is a daughter of George Snyder of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Mary Love Scott of Bush Hill, Fairfax County, Virginia. Her mother’s grandfather, Gustavus Scott, was a very prominent man in the early life of our nation. In 1795 he was one of the three commissioners to erect public buildings, including the capitol in Washington. In 1797 at the request of President Washington he gave his private name as collateral security to Holland bankers who were not satisfied with the state securities of Virginia and Maryland which were being furnished to complete a capitol building of the United States in Washington, District of Columbia.

Captain and Mrs. Rockwell have five daughters, all of whom are living: Mrs. James R. Edwards of Santa Rosa, California; Signora Carlo Gino Venanzi of Assisi, Italy; Miss Mary Rockwell of Kansas City, Missouri; Mrs. Francis H. Crosby of San Franciseo, California; and Mrs. John Beyers Love of Kansas City, Missouri.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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