Biography of Alexander Carraway Spilman

Alexander Carraway Spilman, living at McPherson at the age of eighty, is one of the few survivors of the true pioneer epoch of Kansas. The range of his experience seems remarkable even for a man of his age. He was in Kansas as a witness and newspaper correspondent of the factional turbulence of territorial days. He is a civil engineer by profession and was a member of the United States surveying party which surveyed Kansas west of the sixth principal meridian in 1858. It is probable that he is the only living pioneer or the oldest settler west of that meridian in Kansas. He knew the country when it was an absolute wilderness, a vast expanse of prairie and buffalo grass roamed over by the wild Indians and the buffalo. He fought as a soldier in the Civil war. He was one of the original company that founded the Town of Salina, and had been almost equally prominent in McPherson since that city came into existence.

Captain Spilman was born at Yazoo City, Mississippi, October 5, 1837, a son of Dr. James F. and Margaret (Carraway) Spilman. His paternal grandfather Spilman, whose name was Benjamin, was born in Virginia. Dr. James F. Spilman, one of a family of eleven children, five sons and six daughters, was born in Kentucky in 1788 and died at Bunker Hill, Illinois, in 1870. He became a prominent and successful physician. He gave military service during the Black Hawk Indian war of 1832, in which Abraham Lincoln served as a captain of Illinois volunteers. In 1816 Doctor Spilman married Miss Margaret Carraway, who was born in Tennessee in 1790 and died at Yazoo City, Mississippi, in 1838, when Captain Spilman was an infant, and the youngest of her four children, one daughter and three sons. Captain Spilman is the only survivor of his parents’ children. In 1838 Doctor Spilman removed from Mississippi to Illinois, traveling by steamer up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Doctor Spilman located at the historic old Town of Edwardsville in Southern Illinois, and remained there in the practice of medicine during the rest of his active life.

Captain Spilman acquired his early education in the public schools of Edwardsville and also attended Illinois College at Jacksonville. He took special work in civil engineering at the University of Michigan, where he was a student during two years, 1856-57.

Fresh from university, with energy and courage and eager for the big things of life, Captain Spilman arrived in the Territory of Kansas in September, 1857. He was a young man without capital, with a technical education, but with little experience. Locating at Lawrence, he remained there until the following March and acted as special correspondent for eastern newspapers. At Lawrence he met and made the acquaintance of many of the picturesque and prominent pioneers of Kansas, including James H. Lane, Preston B. Plumb, Solon and T. Dwight Thatcher and others. As a spectator and newspaper correspondent he visited the pro-slavery convention at LeCompton, which was then the temporary capital of Kanzas Territory, as the name was frequently spelled in those days.

In March, 1858, at Lawrence, the town company of Salina was organized. Captain Spilman was chosen its secretary. The townsite was located on March 4, 1858, and on the 18th of March Captain Spilman came into the new community from Lawrence driving an ox team and wagon with a load of provisions. He was entrusted with the task of making the survey of the site and made the original plat and laid out the original streets. As secretary of the company he also attended to the sale of the lots. This original company comprised five of the stalwart pioneers of Kansas, Colonel William A. Phillips, Alexander M. Campbell, James Muir, David L. Phillips and Alexander C. Spilman. The latter is now the only survivor of the original company. When Saline County was organized in 1860, Mr. Spilman was appointed a member of the board of county commissioners to organize the county. He was clerk of the board, and in 1860 was elected the first register of deeds of Saline County.

Experiences followed rapidly in those days in Captain Spilman’s life. He had hardly become settled in his duties as a civil official when the war broke out early in 1861, and he enrolled in Company F of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry. He was made sergeant, and after a year was commissioned first lieutenant of Company B, Third Indian Regiment. Later he became captain of the company and was in service with that rank until the close of the war. Captain Spilman fought in the decisive battle of Wilson, Creek, at Cane Hill, and in several of the campaigns through Indian Territory, being at the battle of Webbers Falls. At the close of the war he was mustered out at old Fort Gibson in Indian Territory.

On returning to Saline County Mr. Spilman filed on a claim of land adjoining the Town of Salina on the east. For a number of years he held the office of county surveyor of Saline County. In 1867 he represented that county and the attached districts in the State Legislature. In the Legislature he was a member of the ways and means committee. His name and service are a permanent part of the annals of early Saline County.

Captain Spilman in 1871 sold his interests in Saline County and bought land in the newly organized County of McPherson. He looked after his land as a farmer until 1886, and in that year retired to the Town of McPherson. In the same year he was elected probate judge of the county, an office he filled with conscientious care and efficient administration for six years. He also served several years as a member of the city council and for four years was mayor.

Captain Spilman had been a loyal and active republican almost since the formation of the party. He is a Knight Templar Mason and a member of the Mystic Shrine. He is a life member of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Captain Spilman had been twice married. In 1866, soon after the close of the Civil war, he married Mary A. Kenison, who was born in Iowa in 1846. Her death occurred March 17, 1871. There were three children: James A. is now a farmer in McPherson County. May is the wife of Andrew Jacobson, a farmer in McPherson County. The third child, Albert, died in infancy. On December 30, 1879, Captain Spilman married Harriet Stevens, a native of Pennsylvania. There have been three children also by this marriage. Mignon is a successful teacher, and was educated in the University of Kansas and holds the degree Master of Arts from the University of Chicago. Marion, an instructor in the high school at McPherson, is a graduate of the University of Kansas. Charles Clay, a graduate of the University of Kansas, is now a chemical engineer at St. Joseph, Missouri. Captain Spilman resided in one of the comfortable homes of McPherson, and though well advanced in years still looks after an abstract business which he had built up since his retirement from public office.



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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