Biography of Edward Secrest

While his hundreds of well wishers and admiring friends in Riley County speak— as they often do—of Mr. Edward Seerest, they seldom use his full name, but a term of more significance and affection–simply “Uncle Ed.” In a country where titles of nobility are forbidden, there is more of genuine honor and esteem accompanying these words than are signified in the more august titles so prevalent in the undemocratic comtries across the sea.

There have been several enechal events in the career of this honored pioneer settler of Riley County. The first came when he was fourteen years of age. At that time he was the oldest of four children–Edward, Solomon. Esther C. and Jacob–included in the little household of John Ulrich and Regula (Fryhofer) Secrest who were thrifty and honest residents and freeholders of Canton Zurich, Switzerland, dwelling near the Town of Winterthur. John Ulrich Secrest was a weaver of linen. The son Edward up to that time had attended somewhat regularly the public schools of his native land. In the winter evenings and at other times the family had again and again disenssed the advantages and opportunities of the wonderful country of America. These discussions had become more and more deflnite. and at the time just mentioned the family were on the point of undertaking the great adventure of immigrating to the New World. Edward Secrest had been born April 21, 1833, and it was in 1846 that the little family set sail from Havre, France, and after a sea vovage of seven weeks landed in New Orleans. From that southern seaport a steamboat took them up the Mississinpi and Ohio rivers. and they finally located in Jackson County, near Sevmour, Indiana. Thus Edward Secrest found himself on American soil, and this change in circumstance gave a completely new direction to his individual destiny. His father became an Indiana farmer, but in 1860 he and his wife came out to Kansas and located in Jackson Township of Riley County, where he died at the age of seventythrce in 1867. The widowed mother survived him for eighteen years and was at the venerable age of ninety-three when called to final rest.

For about ten years after he came to this country Edward Secrest lived a comparatively uneventful career. He assisted his father on the Indiana farm, and also had the advantages of several terms of schooling in the institutions of learning maintained in Indiana sixty or seventy years ago. He was one of the family circle back in Indiana until he was twenty-two years of age.

In the meantime, about the time he reached his majority, the people of Indiana and the antire nation were engaged in a general discussion over the enormous question of whether Kansas should enter the Union as a free or slave state. It was in the solution of that problem that Edward Secrest had his next distinctive exporience. An ardent anti-slavery man, as would be natural of a citizen born in democratic Switzerland, he determined to contribute his share toward making Kansas free.

In the spring of 1855 Mr. Secrest was at the site of the present Kansas City, Missouri. He was soon afterward among the Wyandot Indians, where he was given employment by their chief, Mathew Mudeater. In November, 1856, he and his brother Solomon and Henry Shellenbaum were returning from a Buffalo hunt with the Indians on the Saline River. They passed up the Blue River in search of Mr. Henry Coudray, an old acquaintance who had located near the mouth of Mill Creek the previous year. The vital point of their journey came when they reached the Fancy Creek valley. With the beauty of this marvelous landscape they were fascinated, and all three of these men determined then and forthwith to make the valley their future home.

Thus it was that Edward Seerest was led into one of the finest sections of Riley County. He was one of the earliest settlers there, and as such he nobly performed his part in developing the region then a wilderness into a state where it now represents some of the most advanced methods of farm husbandry. With all the prosperity that had crowned his years of useful toil, Mr. Secrest had at the same time lived according to those fine ideals which are the outward expression of a noble character. It is interesting to note that he had never relinquished title to his original homestead in Faney Creek valley. That land is now highly developed, and it is ornamented with a fine stone residence and other improvements. Naturally as his prosperity increased he bought more land, and eventually was one of the large land ownere and leading stock raisers in that community.

He had not been a Kansan long before the war broke out. August 28, 1862, he volunteered his services in defense of the Union. Enlisting in Company E of the Thirteenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry, he took part in several of those notable battles which distinguished the campaign in Southern Missouri and Arkassas, among them Prairie Grove, Cane Hill and Van Buren. He was the first color bearer of his regiment. He saw nearly three years of effective and faithful service, and at Fort Leavenworth on June 27, 1865, was given his honorable discharge with the rank of first sergeant. For many years Mr. Secrest had been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The honors of civic life have also been bestowed upon him. In 1867 he was elected county commissioner of Riley County for the term of two years. In 1869 his fellow citizens sent him as their representative to the state Legislature. He was elected to that office on the republican ticket, but in 1870 was re-elected as an independent. He was one of the men who helped to bring about the program of constructive legislation in the early days of Kansas. Mr. Secrest is not what might be called a “stand patter.” He had allied himself with the party movement which he felt would bring the greatest good to the greatest number. In late years he had found socialism as the political creed which offers the greatest degree of salvation to the country. Throughout he had been an ardent supporter of the cause of education. Many years ago Governor Llewellyn appointed him a regent of the Kansas State Agricultural College of Manhattan, and he ably served two years and helped to advance the school in some of the higher ideals which now distinguish it. For one year he was treasuror of the board of regents. He had always taken a commendable part in such measures as have tended to the advancemont of his community, and while he is a plain spoken and practical farmer, people also recognise him as a man who can speak forcibly and to the point and write with the same charaeteristies of style. He is an honored member of the Riley County Old Settlers Association, and had contributed several valuable papers on the early history of Riley County, particularly the northern section of the county.

In the spring of 1866, not long after he returned from the army, Mr. Secrest married Miss Sophie Axelson. Mrs. Secrest was born in Sweden, coming to this country with her father, Nels Peter Axelson who located in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, in 1858. After nearly forty years of happy married life Mrs. Secrest died July 29, 1905, at the age of sixty-five. She was a noble woman, possessed of sterling qualities of heart and mind and was well fitted for her part in pioneer affairs in Kansas and also for the training of her sons and daughters to noble careers. She was the mother of the following children: Florine, who is the wife of John Edward Linderman, of California; Emma, who died unmarried at the age of twenty-seven; May, now a teacher of domestie seience in California; Lillian and Jacob Ulrich, twins, the former the wife of Amos Roth, of California, and the latter a farmer on his father’s place in Fancy Creek valley; Grace Anna, who died while a student in Columbia University in 1902, at the age of twenty-seven; Otto D., who is also following agriculture on the homestead in Biley County; Edmund R., who is now chief forester of the State of Ohio and married Helen Hoover. There were also two children that died in infancy. All those who grew up were given the best of educational advantages, and all except Otto D. graduated from the Kansas State Agricultural College, and he was a student in that school for three years.


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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