Biography of John Gardner Shelden

John Gardner Shelden, of El Dorado, had made himself a man of success and influential leadership in spite of handicaps and obvious disadvantages. In his early life he was a farmer and school teacher, lost a leg in the railroad service, continued to fight the good fight regardless of physical conditions and in recent years had become one of the leading oil and gas operators in this section of the state.

There are many sound reasons why the name Shelden rings honorable and true in Butler County. It is good sound Ameriean stock, of the pioneer type. The story of the trials and sufferings of Mr. Shelden’s mother is one that can not be too often repeated. Another son of the family was the late Alvah Shelden, who came to rank as one of Kansas’ foremost newspaper men in ability and influence and the results of whose career will always be impressed upon Butler County’s history.

The life of John Gardner Shelden began with his birth at Helena in one of the southern counties of Texas, May 27, 1858. His parents were Benjamin and Louisa (Vaught) Shelden. His father was of Pennsylvania-Dutch descent. He was a man of Union sentiments in a district of slave holders, and because of his independence of views he was shot and killed in his own dooryard by a Southern sympathizer. That tragedy came to the family when John G. Shelden was about a year old. The mother, Louisa Vaught, was born in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky, November 13, 1820, of Holland Dutch descent. She died in 1908, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. T. L. Mantor, in Arkansas City. Kansas history can well afford the space to recall some of the trials and virtnes of this woman, in the language of an article found in a local paper at the time of her death.

“She was widowed in June, 1860, her husband dying in Southern Texas and leaving her with five children, who were with her prior to her passing. They were Mrs. Olive Mantor, of Arkansas City; Marion Shelden, of Topeka; John G. Shelden, of El Dorado; Mrs. Mary Farnsworth, of El Dorado; and the late Alvah Shelden.

“She was a noble woman, a most devoted and loyal mother and a friend whose fidolity never wavered or flagged. She came with her family to Chelsea, Kansas, in 1868, and the few remaining pioneer friends there know how truly her character is thus described. She was sincere in every thought and act and right thinking and right doing and she left the impress of such teachings upon her children.

“Mrs. Shelden belonged to the old order, to the time of slow, homely, crude things, of limited education and knowledge. In 1827, with her father’s family she was taken to Edgar county, Illinois, then a wilderness. She was the oldest in a family of thirteen children. The manufacture of all apparel was in the homes of the people and she learned to cleanse wool, to color, card, spin and weave it into cloth, and to eut and make garments from it; and so she understood the making of linen articles from the hackling of flax to the suiting of it to all domestic purposes. Nor did such duties as these circumscribe her energies, for many a day she raked and bound grain behind her father’s cradle; and she and the other children piled and burned brush and ‘niggered’ in two the great logs in the clearings on the pioneer homestead. Her schooling was limited, and yet she had the liberal education which comes to the omniverous reader; since in childhood, youth, middle life and old age she was a constant reader and student of the world’s progress. Within the span of her life were discovered the application of steam, the discovery of electricity, the invention of telegraphy, telephone and wireless telegraphy, the amazing discoveries and equally astonishing applications of chemistry, the progress of medicine and surgery and all the advancement in the arts and sciences. She spanned in her life all of lighting, from the larded rag in the saueer to the dipped candle, kerossne, gas and to electricity; everything from the packhorse and the pillion to the locomotive, electrie engine, transmission of electric power by wire and to the auto car.

“She was of heroie mold, too. She was left in extreme Southern Texas, her property of nominal value in that wild country, but no money. Her brother Martin Vaught, an 1857 pioneer in Butler county, braved the dangers of the time among the Indians and worse white men of the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, and rode a pony from Chelsea across the Territory and State of Texas to within sixty miles of the Gulf of Mexico, to the relief of her and her family of three girls and two boys, the eldest girl twelve and the eldest boy ten years of age.

“The family, except the ten year’ old boy who rode a pony, were loaded into a great heavy lineh-pin wagon, of the kind used by the Government in freighting army supplies, drawn by three yoke of oxen and followed by two or three hundred long horned Texas cattle. They traversed the long, dreary miles to Chelsea–alow and a most trying journey. It was not unmixed with loss and danger, for Osage Indians on ponies slipped in among the wild Texas cattle and opening dry buffalo robes shook them while yelling like demons. The cattle stampeded, inclnding the yoke cattle, and some were recovered next day as far away as fifteen miles. Many were never recovered. There were no bridges and the cattle swam two or three rivers, including Red River, while the wagon was crossed by rope ferries.

“The year 1860 was characterized by the greateet drought in Kansas known to the state’s history. Only the very strongest springs flowed. The streams failed and the fish died in countless numbers. Wells were universally dry. The prairie grass was simply a fuzz upon the prairie. The ground cracked open so wide that riding a horse was very dangerous. The grasshoppers ravaged the territory. Under these sorrowful conditions, with her brood in the linch-pin wagon, drawn by three yoke of long-horned Texas cattle, again accompanied by her brother, she took her way across Kansas, Missouri and Illinois to the home of her father near Paris, Illinois. Here she remained eight years and until after the Civil war. Her eldest children in the meantime had been twenty months in school. In 1868 with a team, wagon, harness and one hundred sixty dollars in money she returned to Chelsea. That was a meager beginning, but hers was a stout heart with an unfailing trust that God helped those who helped themselves. She commanded and the family fought its way through to competence and comfort with probably no more than the average privation of the pioneers of that time.

“How marked and strong are the impressions of childhood and youth. When her physical powers were waned almost to their sundering and her mind sympathized with the weakness of her body, she returned to the days and duties when her life was in its bloom. Again she whirled the wheel and spun and wove. The tired hands so long wearied with labor for those she loved, the mind that unceasingly planued, the soul never daunted or despairing, now rest in that land serene and fair and restful.”

Martin Vaught, whose name had been introduced in this connection, came to Kansas in the middle period. of the ’50s. He was a prominent man in Butler County, during its earliest development and organization and was very active and a recognized leader in loeal, county and state politics. He held several offices of importance.

John G. Shelden obtained most of his early education in the schools of Butler County. He spent his last year in school when fifteen years old. At the age of sixteen he began teaching there. His first school was in the winter of 1876-77, and in 1877 he attended the first Teachers’ Institute held in the county under the state law. Altogether he put in twelve winter terms teaching, and the summers were spent in work on the old homestead north of Chelsea. Several summers he also clerked in stores at El Dorado.

In 1881 Mr. Shelden, going to Arkansas City, engaged in the mercantile business, but abandoned that in 1885 and returning to El Dorado taught three more winters of school. For two summers he was employed in the Registrar of Deeds office under Daniel Doyden.

In 1891 Mr. Shelden took employment in the train service of the Missouri Pacific Railway. After less than three years he lost a leg while on duty, and on coming out of the service he became clerk and cashier of the Missouri Pacifie Station at Coffeyville and El Dorado, later was local freight agent, and finally freight and ticket agent at El Dorado. Mr. Shelden gave up his long continued railroad work in 1916 and had since been identified with oil brokerage and speculation business and in the development of oil properties. He is secretary of the Oil and Gas Company of El Dorado, being one of the organizers. The officers of this company are: Dr. F. E. Dillenback, president; D. J. Fair, of Sterling, Kansas, vice president; Lee Scott, treasurer; J. G. Shelden, secretary; and other directors are D. J. Brown, president of the Citizens State Bank of Sterling; E. G. Woleslaget, secretary of the Kansas Central Indemnity Company at Hutchinson, and W. J. Robinson, formerly superintendent of schools at Ramons, Oklahoma, who recently removed to Winfield, Kansas. Mr. Shelden is personally interested in a number of oil and gas leases in Butler, Elk, Labette, Chase, Marion and Franklin counties.

The years have brought an ample prosperity. Besides other business connections he owned four residence properties in El Dorado, including his fine modern home recently built at 221 North Atchison Street. Fraternally he is a member of the Knights of the Maccabees, the Woodmen of the World, and the Knights of Pythiss. He is past chancellor and a member of the Grand Lodge of the latter order. He had served as deacon and elder in the Christian Church and for years had made it his practice to identify himself with every laudable undertaking in the community.

On September 21, 1880, at El Dorado, Mr. Shelden married Martha C. Calvert. She is of very old Amerienn stock, with original connections with the Cecil Calvert family of Maryland. Mrs. Shelden was born in Iowa, and her father, Charles Calvert, was proprietor of the Morris Hotel at Leavenworth during the exciting days of the Civil war. This hotel still stands on Second and Seneca streets. Five children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Shelden. Gladys, the eldest, graduated from the local high school and is now the wife of W. J. Robinson, of Winfield, already mentioned in connection with the oil and gas company. James T. B., the oldest son, is assisting his father and is also in the insurance business at El Dorado. Wildey C., is a travcling man for the Heinz Company and had his home in Concordia. Olive Abigail, usually known as Gail, is the wife of D. A. Reed, of Lawrence, Kansas. Martha Eugenia, the youngest, is now in the third year of the El Dorado High School.



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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