Biography of William J. Combs

William J. Combs. Among the families which have been known in business circles of Leavenworth for more than half a century, one which had always borne an honorable reputation and a name for absolute integrity combined with notable achievements is that of Combs, as represented here by the late William J. Combs, who was connected with a number of business enterprises dating from the year 1858 until his death, and his son, George W. Combs, general superintendent of the Great Western Manufacturing Company, and the inventor of several appliances which have made his name widely known.

William J. Combs, with his wife and two eldest living children, settled at Leavenworth in the pioneer days of the spring of 1858. The original home of the family was at Hartford, Connecticut, where Mr. Combs had been born, reared and educated, and where he was married to Miss Frances P. Flower, who was a member of an old and well known New York family and a relative of Governor Flower of New York. In 1854 Mr. Combs journeyed to Indianapolis, Indiana, from whence he came, as noted, to Leavenworth in the spring of 1858, at that time the foremost city on the frontier of western civilization. He was a butcher by trade and his first establishment was a small shop on Cherokee Street, and while his start was small he soon began to make his progressive spirit and enterprise felt and built and run a large establishment on the levee where he supplied meats and ice to the numerous steamboats then running on the Missouri River and became fairly prosperous. He was the first to store ice extensively at Leavenworth, and had a plant on the present site of the Schalker Packing Company’s building, at the southwest corner of Third and Choctaw streets. Before the building of the Union Pacific Railroad he branched out as a freighter and transported goods to Fort Riley and also became interested as senior partner in a livery business located on Shawnee Street, where is now situated the Tholen Brothers heating and plumbing establishment. Mr. Combs was a republican and in the trying days of border ruffianism had no hesitancy in voicing his opinions. Because of this he was frequently threatened and was twice shot at by hidden desperadoes. When the Confederate Price invaded Kansas, Mr. Combs joined the state militia as a home guard, and was stationed behind the breastworks erected in the city. Mr. Combs was noted as a great lover of the sport of hunting. Sometimes alone, and frequently accompanied by friends, he would make trips to the plains, where deer, wild turkey, prairie chicken and various other game abounded, and such was his skill as a nimrod that he rarely returned to his home without a full bag. He was one of the most highly esteemed among the early residents of Leavenworth, and at his death, which occurred May 5, 1872, he left behind him a name unsullied in business circles and respected for citizenship. Mr. and Mrs. Combs, the latter of whom survived her husband for many years, became the parents of six children, namely: George W.; Mary, who died in infancy; Nellie, who became the wife of Samuel Foster; Frank; Martha, who died at Indianapolis, Indiana, in infancy; and Annie, who died as the wife of Thomas Burnham.

George W. Combs, the eldest of the six children of William J. and Frances P. (Flower) Combs, was born at Hartford, Connecticut, January 18, 1851, and was but seven years of age when brought to Leavenworth, Kansas, by his parents at the age of thirteen years and while attending the public schools of this city he showed a natural aptitude for mechanics and free hand drawing, and because of his ability in the latter line was employed by the commandant of the fort for about one month at $3 per day to draw outline maps of the territory adjacent to Leavenworth. This was during the war, at the time General Price was making his raid north. Subsequently, he attended college at Pleasant Ridge, Missouri, but suddenly abandoned his studies to become a peanut vendor, or “butcher,” on the old Platte Valley Railroad, running from St. Joseph to Weston and Savannah. At the age of eighteen years he started in as a pattern-maker for the Great Western Manufacturing Company, at Leavenworth, and with the exception of about one year had ever since been with this concern. This exception was when, owing to failing health, he joined the surveying outfit of Deafendorf and Mitchell, as flagman, this concern having contracted to survey the Osage Indian lands. By the time the work was completed Mr. Combs had not only regained his health, but was in charge of one of the surveying gangs. After, spending about 3½ years as pattern-maker for the Great Western Manufacturing Company, he was promoted over six journeymen who had been in the shops when he came, to become foreman of the department. For many years he had been general superintendent of the corporation and at this time had been connected with this company nearly half a century. His natural aptitude for mechanics had led to his inventing many devices of public utility, the best known of these being, perhaps, the “Great Western Automatically Balanced Controllable Flour Sifter,” which is generally used by all the great flouring mills of the country, and the “Combs Portable Electric Gyrating Foundry Riddle,” a device for sifting sand by electric power, which had a wide sale throughout this and foreign countries. Mr. Combs is a Methodist in religion, votes with the republican party, and is well known in Masonry, being a York Rite and Knight Templar Mason and a member of the Mystic Shrine.

In 1872 Mr. Combs was married to Miss Nellie S. Cooke, a native of London, England, and three children have been born to them: Dr. Frederick D., a dental practitioner of Leavenworth; Dr. George Ralph, one of the best known physicians and surgeons of Leavenworth; and Nina, who is the wife of E. H. Barkmann, of this city.



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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