Biography of John Knox Rankin, Col.

Col. John Knox Rankin, who died at his home in Lawrence, October 29, 1915, was a distinguished citizen of Kansas. He was a territorial pioneer, had served with credit in the many scenes of the Civil war enacted in this state, and was well described as “an ardent advocate of the activities that promoted the welfare of state and city, and a splendid embodiment of the best of Kansas citizenship.”

The many qualities and characteristics that found expression during his long life were undoubtedly inherited in part from a notable ancestry. He was descended from John Rankin, who was of pure Scotch descent and had emigrated from County Donegal, Ireland, sailing from Londonderry and arriving at Philadelphia in 1727. He settled near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and from him have descended many of the prominent Rankins of this country. His second son was Capt. Thomas Rankin, who was born in 1724 and died in 1810. Capt. Thomas Rankin early joined that conspicuous center of Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania in Washington County. From that district he organized a company that did valiant service in the Revolutionary army. Four of his sons were members of that company, including Richard Rankin, who was born in 1756 and died in 1827. This Richard Rankin was the grandfather of the late Colonel Rankin. Many of the Rankins and their relatives helped win the struggle for independence during the Revolution. An uncle of the late Colonel Rankin was also in the War of 1812 and was killed in the battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 21, 1814, on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama. His commander was Gen. Andrew Jackson, and it was during the campaign against the Creeks and Cherokees.

The father of the late Colonel Rankin was Rev. Robert Henderson Rankin, who was born on a farm in Jefferson County, Tennessee, in 1810, and died in 1840. Though his life was brief, he did a notable service for humanity, and was a pioneer missionary of the Presbyterian Church in the State of Indiana. Rev. Mr. Rankin married Eliza R. Lowry in 1833. She was related to the John C. Calhoun family of the Carolinas and also to Sam Houston, the hero of the battle of San Jacinto and one of the founders of the Texas Republic and the State of Texas.

John Knox Rankin was born November 3, 1837. At the time of his birth his parents were living in Cass County, Indiana, which was then in the pioneer era of its settlement. Colonel Rankin, partly by his own efforts, acquired a liberal education. He began his higher studies in Wabash College, Indiana, but completed his college career at Iberia College in Ohio, where he was graduated during the winter of 1858-59. His education completed, the spirit of his ancestry urged him to the new and untried fields of the West. He came almost immediately to Kansas, arriving in the territory May 1, 1859. During that year he was appointed to a clerical post in the Kansas Territorial Legislature. At Lawrence, on May 14, 1861, he enlisted in the Second Kansas Infantry, and was soon elected a lieutenant of Company C and subsequently transferred to Company H when the regiment was reorganized as cavalry. In 1862 he was detached as personal aide de camp to Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, remaining on staff duty until the expiration of his service February 22, 1865. During his service he participated in many battles, including Wilson Creek, Missouri; Perryville, Kentucky; Stone River, Tennessee, and Chickamauga, Georgia. Immediately after the expiration of his services on staff duty he was appointed colonel, paymaster and inspector general by Governor Samuel J. Crawford, and in those capacities served in the Indian wars and during Crawford’s two terms as governor.

Colonel Rankin was one of the last survivors of the Quantrill massacre at Lawrence. He was in Lawrence on the morning of that tragedy, August 21, 1863. He had a personal encounter with a band of guerrillas, and with his cousin, Capt. William A. Rankin, drove six of the outlaws from the street after a pistol duel. In the forces organized by Gen. James Lane to pursue the invaders he was an active member and had his suggestions been followed at that time a large portion of the gang would have been captured or exterminated. Colonel Rankin was chairman and presided at the fiftieth anniversary memorial services of the massacre, held in Lawrence in the summer of 1913. He wrote an exceedingly interesting account of his recollections of the incidents of that day and this paper is now preserved in the files of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Colonel Rankin was appointed engrossing clerk of the House of Representatives in the first Legislature of Kansas in 1861, and in 1866 was elected a member of the House of Representatives and again served in a similar capacity in 1888. During the early ’80s he became connected with the United States Pension Office at Washington, and for about eighteen years he was with the Interior Department as special allotment agent among the Indians. This work took him away from home much of his time. His services among the Indians through the West were especially conspicuous. Under Government license he traded at the various reservations with the Osage, Sac and Fox, Pottawatomie and Kickapoo tribes and as special agent his duties brought him into close relations with the Indians over much of the western United States, including Indian Territory, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Montana and Nebraska. Colonel Rankin to a notable degree gained the confidence, love and respect of the Indians. The Indians found him a tried and true friend. His diplomacy and tact gave him a great power among the Indians in his task of selecting allotments, and the Indians never questioned his word or his decision.

Colonel Rankin twice held the office of mayor of Kansas, during 1874-75, and during Grant’s administration was postmaster of the city. He also held many minor local offices, and was a director in numerous business organizations. At one time he was treasurer and a quarter owner of the Carbondale Railroad, from Lawrence to Carbondale, and was treasurer of the Pleasant Hill line from Lawrence to Pleasant Hill, Missouri. He was also a banker and owned a large amount of land. At the time of his death he was manager and half owner of the Griffin Ice Company and Cold Storage Plant at Lawrence, of which his son, R. C. Rankin, is now manager. He organized and for a number of years was cashier and president of the Lawrence Savings Bank. Long after his business prestige was secured Colonel Rankin took up the study of law and was admitted to practice by the District Court in Douglas County, May 25, 1896. In politics he was a lifelong republican, and was an active member of the Presbyterian Church.

On receiving his discharge from the army Colonel Rankin went to Connecticut and on March 21, 1865, was married at the home of the bride’s sister in Terryville to Miss Laura Finney. She was a daughter of Rev. Thomas Finney of Ohio and Jane (Orr) Finney. Her grandfather was David Thompson Finney, a Revolutionary soldier, record of whose service is found in Sharff’s “History of Delaware,” volume 1, pages 216, 218, 222. Colonel Rankin brought his bride to Lawrence, Kansas, and she lived there until her death on May 12, 1875. Two sons were born to them: Robert Crawford Rankin, now manager of the Griffin Ice Company at Lawrence, and Herbert John Rankin, who served as chief hospital steward in the First Territorial Cavalry, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, in Cuba in 1898, and later while with the regular army in the Philippine Islands died at the General Hospital at Manila in 1902. September 5, 1878, Colonel Rankin married Augusta Fisher, whose parents came to this country from Germany. To the second marriage were born five children: Carl Rankin, Mrs. Anna Laura Cross, John Whistler Rankin, who died in infancy, Mrs. Alice Mary Gafford and Mrs. Gretchen Augusta Warner.


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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