James William Bell, a resident of Topeka for more than thirty years, has built up a business and reputation as a buyer and dealer in horses which is by no means confined to the State of Kansas. His operations extend practically over the entire country. He has been a prominent exporter to foreign markets.
James William Bell was born in Greenbrier County in what is now West Virginia but was then Virginia, December 18, 1854. The Bell family goes back to Scotch-Irish antecedents and the first of the name came to Virginia in colonial times. David Henderson Bell, father of James William Bell, was born at Rockbridge, Virginia, in 1818, and when a young man removed to Greenbrier County in what was then the western part of the Old Dominion. Acquiring a large tract of land in that rugged region, he farmed and raised stock on an extensive scale.
For the pursuits of his mature years James William Bell had the equivalent of a liberal literary training. Most of his education was acquired in a school and under a prominent educator. This educator was Doctor Macalhaney and the school was known as Louisburg Academy. Outside of school his other experiences as a young man comprised much work on the home farm, and he also entered a store belonging to his uncle. After several years of clerical experience he removed to Richmond, Kentucky, where he was identified for several years with a large mercantile house, and then established a mercantile business of his own. During his career as a merchant Mr. Bell acquired solid and substantial success.
It was for reasons of ill health due to the confining nature of his business that he finally sold his interests in Kentucky and in 1885 sought recuperation in Topeka. His health was quickly restored in this invigorating atmosphere, and in the meantime he had become so fond of the city that he concluded to remain there permanently. Here he met and married the lady of his choice, a Mrs. Annie Belle Murray. At first he was in the real estate, loan and insurance business, but at the same time became interested as a dealer in horses and mules. This latter branch of the business was the basis of the activities which have constituted his real success in Kansas.
Mr. Bell soon confined himself to the buying of high class coach, driving and harness horses. These horses he shipped to all parts of the United States, Mexico and Canada, and also bought extensively for export. After the automobile came into general use and displaced to a large degree the great demand for coach horses, he turned his attention to draft and express horses. He has also bought extensively all classes of war horses for artillery, cavalry and other branches of the service. He is a recognized authority on every phase of the horse business and has had during his thirty years of experience some unusual incidents and achievements. He and Mr. W. A. Gilchrist as his partner bought a span of dappled gray draft horses who at the age of five years weighed 2,860. In a few months they increased the weight of these animals to 4,140. While the purchase price was $200 each, the pair were soon afterwards sold at auction for $2,050.