Biography of John A. Pottorf

John A. Pottorf. When a man reaches the seventy-fourth milestone of his life’s journey it may be taken for granted that he has had a wealth of experience which, if properly written out, would fill a volume. In the case of John A. Pottorf, who has already passed his seventy-fourth birthday, long life means more than length of years. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and even when he came to Kansas a little over thirty years ago he had to begin as a farm renter. The overcoming of obstacles to success has been a vital part of his experience. The honors due him are not solely on account of his success as a farmer, but also because of his service in the Union army during the Civil war and the influence he has radiated from his character and the worthy children who have grown up under his roof.

He was born November 25, 1842, in Pike County, Illinois. His parents, Andrew and Lavina (Umbaugh) Pottorf, were both natives of Carroll County, Ohio, where their respective families were among the pioneers. In ancestry both father and mother were of the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. Grandfather Pottorf was a native of Pennsylvania. In 1841, soon after their marriage, Andrew Pottorf and wife removed to Pike County, Illinois, and there, when their first son and child was born, they gave him the name John A. Three other children were born, but all were daughters. John A. was eight years of age when his mother died, and his father then returned with the motherless children to Ohio and placed them in the homes of relatives.

John A. Pottorf grew up in the home of his father’s brother, whose wife was his mother’s sister–in other words, each of these worthy people was related to him in the degree of uncle or aunt. His uncle being a farmer, Mr. Pottorf grew up amid the scenes of an Ohio farm. He acquired valuable lessons of industry and perseverance, and those have stood him in good stead in his later career. He also had the advantages of the common schools.

Reaching the age of eighteen he went out to his old birthplace in Illinois. He was there when the war broke out, and on September 1, 1862, he enlisted as a private in Company E of the Seventy-eighth Illinois Infantry. He was in service nearly three years, and was granted an honorable discharge as corporal on June 7, 1865. As a soldier he followed the fortunes of his regiment, and was never wounded severely and spent less than two weeks in hospital because of illness. Many of the great battles concerning which every American schoolboy is familiar formed part of the military experience of Mr. Pottorf. He fought at Chickamauga, and then was in the many days of continuous fighting up to Atlanta and after that in the march of Sherman’s troops to the sea. He was in the last battle of the war, at Bentonville, South Carolina. Following that he participated in the grand review at Washington. Early in its organization Mr. Pottorf became a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and through that organization has kept in touch with his old army comrades.

He made the transition from soldier to civilian very quickly. Becoming a farmer in Adams County, Illinois, he lived there until 1884, when he came out and settled in Riley County, Kansas. After renting land for a time he was able to purchase a small tract in section 12 in the northwestern part of Ogden Township. That has been his home ever since. He started with exceedingly limited capital, but his industry and ambition more than made up for lack of money. With the aid of his devoted wife he has come into the possession of more than 600 acres of farm lands, and has utilized these resources so that he well deserves a rank among the most successful farmers and stock raisers of Riley County. For many years his specialty has been the raising of hogs, and without any disparagement of others he might be well referred to as an authority on that branch of animal husbandry. At the same time he has brought his farm to a maximum state of productiveness, and has from time to time improved his lands with substantial buildings.

There is an interesting contrast on his home place today. Like many Kansas farmers he is the owner of an automobile. His garage is a building that was converted from its original purposes, as his first and humble home in Kansas, and Mr. and Mrs. Pottorf have many of their most precious memories centering around what is now the garage. In 1889 they moved out of the first house into a large and more convenient one, and that is their home of today. Mr. Pottorf has not been a silent witness of the remarkable changes that have occurred in Kansas during the past thirty years, but has done his part in bringing such changes about.

Even today he is busy and there has never been a time in his long life when he could not turn his hand to something useful. When he was sixty-five years of age he made a violin from timber taken from maple and apple trees which he had planted on his farm, and it is an instrument of excellent tone and Mr. Pottorf can play upon it skillfully. In matters of politics he has never aspired to office. He has preferred the quiet life of the farmer citizen, though he is a stanch republican, and belongs to that party by choice and principle, since his father before him was a democrat.

September 3, 1866, a little over a year after he left the army, Mr. Pottorf married Miss Martha Lawson. They were married in Adams County, Illinois, where Mrs. Pottorf was born August 23, 1848, and where her parents, Francis Miller and Emily Clark (Powell) Lawson, were early settlers. Her father was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, of Scotch-Irish lineage, and her mother was a native of Tennessee.

Four children have been born into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Pottorf: Clara married Lemuel Carpenter and they live in Canada; Mary is the wife of George Cutter of Riley County; Frank Miller, who lives on a farm in Riley County, married Pearl Wills; Andrew J., who graduated from the Kansas State Agricultural College in 1899, is a farmer in conjunction with his father, and married Lucy Maria Cottrell, who is a graduate of the same college with the class of 1898.

Mr. and Mrs. Pottorf are active members of the Methodist Church. They have journeyed together as husband and wife for fully half a century, sharing with fidelity each other’s sorrows as well as joys, and now in their declining years are enjoying the fruits of industry, frugality and exemplary conduct. They have reared a respected family and have gained the esteem and confidence of all who have been so fortunate as to be their neighbors and friends.


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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