Biography of Benjamin Lynn Wilson

Benjamin Lynn Wilson. A forceful factor in Salina’s commercial, civic, educational and religious life was the late Benjamin Lynn Wilson, one of that city’s pioneer merchants. He had gone to Salina when it was on the edge of civilized things in Kansas, and he did his big life work there and the generous prosperity that rewarded his efforts came from that community, to which he was stanchly loyal to the end of his life and which remembers him with fidelity and gratitude for the much good he did.

The late Mr. Wilson was born at Bealsville, Ohio, January 13, 1845, and died at the close of a long and useful career at Salina, Kansas, January 15, 1917, at the age of seventy-two years and two days. He was a son of Elisha R. and Margaretta (Ratcliff) Wilson. His father was a native of Ohio and his mother was born in England. Among his early contemporaries in the business field at Salina Mr. Wilson possessed perhaps better than an ordinary education. Besides the common schools he had attended a normal school at Dayton, Ohio, and also had the advantage of a thorough course in the Bryant & Stratton Business College at Chicago.

When he was a little past his twentieth birthday he enlisted on February 14, 1865, in Company G of the One Hundred Eighty-sixth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was made a corporal, but saw little active service since the war was almost at an end when he enlisted, and he was at Nashville, Tennessee, when mustered out September 18, 1865. For a year after the war Mr. Wilson worked on the farm owned by his father, who in the meantime had moved to the vicinity of Carlisle, Illinois. With the hope and enthusiasm of a young man he naturally sought his opportunities in the newer western country, and in 1870 arrived at Salina. His associate was J. M. Wilson, his brother-in-law, and they became one of the first firms of merchants in Salina. Their progressive methods which characterized the business as long as it existed is well illustrated in the fact that they were the first to employ a free delivery wagon at Salina. They always studied means of improving their mercantile service, they handled high class goods and sold them with their personal guarantee, and with all that they prospered exceedingly.

Mr. Wilson continued as a Salina merchant until 1887. Having invested considerable money in land, he then turned his attention to farming and stock raising, and was in that industry on a large scale. He prospered in that as he had as a merchant, and at the end of eighteen years he retired from active business life in 1905 with an ample competence and financial independence.

At different times he had been interested in local banking and at the time of his death was vice president of the National Bank of America at Salina. Not only individual institutions but the community as a whole had many reasons to appreciate the worth and strength of this citizen. At different times he served as a member of the city council. He was especially interested in educational progress and he was one of the men chiefly instrumental in securing the establishment at Salina of the Kansas Wesleyan University, and as a member of its board of trustees he helped to upbuild and strengthen that institution and its work. He was an active leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church, gave generously to its various causes, and at the time of his death was president of the board of trustees. For many years and until his death he served as treasurer of the Northwest Kansas Conference of that church. He took the greatest of pleasure in his membership in the Brotherhood Sunday school class. He was also loyally identified with the Masonic order and an exemplar of its central principles, and had attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite.

Mr. Wilson was twice married. On September 21, 1871, at Salina he married Miss Margaret A. Jeffries. She was born in Pennsylvania April 26, 1849, and died at Salina May 20, 1885, having been married not quite fourteen years. She was the mother of six children, three sons and three daughters: William Robison, born September 14, 1872; Mary Lynn, born May 29, 1874; Catherine, born April 26, 1876; Matilda, born May 21, 1877; John M., born September 7, 1879; and James Ratcliff, born February 29, 1884.

Five years after the death of his first wife Mr. Wilson married, on January 22, 1890, at Waukon, Iowa, Miss Emma Julia Miller. Mrs. Wilson was born at Waukon, Iowa, December 28, 1855, daughter of Enoch and Elizabeth (Maxwell) Miller, both natives of Ohio, where her father was born in 1827 and her mother in 1833. Her father died in 1903 and her mother in 1906. They were married in 1850 and Mrs. Wilson was one of four children: Albert James, Sarah Margaret, Emma Julia and Phoebe Ellen.

Albert Lynn Wilson, the only child of his father’s second marriage, was born at the old Wilson home at 331 South Santa Fe Avenue in Salina September 4, 1891. He is one of the active young business men of Salina and had a liberal education. He attended the Salina High School, the Kansas State Agricultural College at Manhattan, and the Kansas Wesleyan University and Business College at Salina.

When the name of Benjamin Lynn Wilson was added to the list of Salina’s honored dead many articles were written commemorating his life and work, and among them were the resolutions adopted by the board of directors of the National Bank of America, Salina, Kansas:

“Whereas, on the 15th day of January, 1917, Mr. B. L. Wilson, a Vice President of this Bank, was stricken with a fatal illness and died almost instantly.

“Be It Resolved, that the Board of Directors express their sympathy with his widow and children in their great loss, and also their own regret, and, as it seems the death of such a man should not pass without more than verbal expression of regret, we, therefore, desire to write on the record book of this Bank our high appreciation of the man who had passed away.

“Ben Wilson was of exceptional high character. He possessed about all of the human virtues. Always kind and considerate in the small details, his brother officers and clerks in the Bank will greatly miss the spirit of comradeship which was inseparable from his presence; always cheerful; always endeavoring to save others from doing for him what he could do for himself; clean of speech and clean minded, his companionship was elevating and ennobling a worthy model of a man for the people in the Bank.

“As he was in the Bank, so he was in the community–a fine citizen, much respected and much admired for the sterling qualities which a residence among us many years had proved. Absolute honesty in all things, great and small, became in time the most noticeable feature of his life.

“For many years a Director in this Bank, he aided largely in giving this institution the confidence of the people, and we are proud to acknowledge his connection, and we desire to cite him to future citizens of Salina as a business man worthy of all respect.

“Signed: M. C. Stevenson. J. R. Crawford. D. K. Bean.”



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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