Biography of Col. Thomas W. Scudder

Few of the Kansas territorial pioneers are still living. One of them is Col. Thomas W. Scudder, of Topeka. Colonel Scudder made a splendid record as a soldier with the fighting columns of the First Kansas Cavalry during the Civil war. He also had many interesting experiences in the border warfare in 1857. Much of his Kansas experience was on a pre-emption claim of 103 acres, the place where he now lives, before the war in Shawnes County, and he has long been a resident of Topeka, where he has enjoyed the association and friendship of many prominent men.

He is of very old and prominent American stock. He was born on Long Island in New York State, September 15, 1834, and is now in his eighty-third year. His father was Thomas Scudder, and the ancestry before him contains four successive Thomas Scudders. The Scudders were of English origin and coming to America in colonial days settled in Boston and afterwards moved to Long Island, New York, where members of the family established the Town of Huntington under charter from King William and Queen Mary. Many of the early Scudders were sailors, but now for many generations have been chiefly land owners and identifled with agricultural pursuits. The most numerous branches of the family are still found in the Eastern states.

Thomas W. Scudder grew up on Long Island, received a common school education, and also attended the old Huntington Academy. The experience which more than anything else had bearing upon his future destiny was his early employment in the store of Jacob Willits. When Mr. Willits came out to Kansas in 1855 he was accompanied by young Scudder. Colonel Scudder was in his twenty-first year. He had youth, enthusiasm, courage and all the qualities necessary to cope with the dangerous circumstances founcil in the Kansas of that time. Mr. Willits, his employer, bought the first store in Topeka, and Colonel Scudder has some interesting things to relate of his employment as a clerk there for several years.

It was from this store that he was called to take part in the border warfare. He accompanied a party of men who went to Holton to clear the way for the escape of John Brown, who had become involved in trouble with the authorities on account of aid given to runaway slaves. For a long time this expedition was known in Kansas annals and referred to in a facetious manner as the “battle of the spurs.”

At the outbreak of the Civil war Colonel Scudder assisted in raising a company. That was in April, 1861, and as the real meaning of the tremendous struggle had not yet been realized and as there seemed to be no need for the services of this company, it was not mustered in until July 16, 1861. It then became Company A of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry. From that time until the following March Colonal Scudder was with his company largely engaged in border patrol. He participated in the engagement at Oscepla, where his commander, Colonel Johnson, was killed, and in a number of small skirmishes. From Fort Scott the company was ordered to Springfield and then to Rolla, Missouri. By this time Mr. Scudder had been promoted to adjutant of the regiment with the rank of first lieutenant. He and his comrades were then ordered down the White River to the Mississippi to join the rest of his regiment, the junction taking place at Helena, Arkansas. They fought at Helena, and participated in raids too numerous to mention in various points along the Mississippi and in Arkansas. In the fall of 1862 Mr. Scudder was made major of his regiment. In the fall of 1864 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and, as the colonel had been promoted; Colonel Scudder remained in active command of the remnants of Clayton’s brigade, consisting of the First Indiana and the Fifth Kansas Cavalry. At first the command was attached to McClernand’s Army Corps and later to Hurlbut’s Corps. After the fall of Vicksburg it became a part of the Seventh Army Corps commanded by General Steele. This command was sent to Little Rock, where Colonel Scudder and his comrades participated in a fight with the Confederates, and later they fought at Pine Bluff. In the fall of 1864 Colonel Scudder was sent to scout the movements of Kirby Smith. During that expedition he encountered the enemy in what proved to be a very severe skirmish. That practically ended Colonel Scudder’s active military career.

In January, 1865, he was mustered out. During his service he had received a severe gunshot wound in the right knee. Following the war he spent two years in Arkansas raising cotton on a plantation he had bought, but from there removed to Chicago and engaged in the brokerage business. Since then Colonel Seudder has made his home chiefly on his farm just on the outskirts of Topeka. He still carries on his farm. Soon after he came to Kansas he pre-empted 103 acres in Mission Township adjoining the Topeka Township line and 2 1/2 miles from the capitol building. He conducted active farming operations on that land for many years and he still owns forty acres of it.

Colonel Scudder is a stalwart standpat republican in politics. He is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. His first wife, Julia Brent, died in 1872. His second wife was Mrs. Helen (Mitchell) Smith, who died in October, 1908.


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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