Biography of John Melville Kimball

Kansas has many octogenarians. The soil and climate and other conditions are conducive to bringing men and women to a happy and contented old age, but few of them have lived so long in the Sunflower State as John Melville Kimball, who at the age of four score is still young in spirit and can enjoy the wonderful retrospect of years which goes back to the very establishment of the institntions of the state. He is a pioneer settler of Riley County, and for half a century was successfully identified with farming in Manhattan Township until he retired to his city home in Manhattan.

It was in the spring of 1856 that Mr, Kimball, together with his brother J. Augustus Kimball, came out to Kansas Territory, partly for the purpose of founding a home and also to lend their aid in making the territory a free state. They had come from the East by railroad as far as St. Louis, and from that city a steamboat carried them up the Missouri to what is now Kansas City. With a wagon and an ox team they came overland to their destination, keeping close to the banks of the Kansas River until they arrived in what is now Riley County.

Thus it was that sixty years ago Mr. Kimball helped drive an ox team over the rude trails which passed as the best of Kansas highways in that time. An interesting comtrast is the fact that he has many times driven an automobile over the first class roads where many years before the sturdy tramp of oxen raised the dust.

It was in April when the brothers arrived in what is now Riley County. They secured by land warrants 160 acres each in what is now Manhattan Township, just west of the city of that name. Their first task was to build cabins on their respective land. While John Melville busied himself with the work of the claim, his brother Augustus hauled lumber with the oxen and wagon. On one of these trips Augustus accidentally fell under his team, and the wagom was drawn over him, resulting in his death. This pioneer tragedy occurred in June, 1856. It was a tremendous bereavement to the younger brother, who was then a young man of twenty years and who was suddenly deprived of the companionship and counsel in carrying out their ambitious plans for establishing neighboring homes.

Some reference now should be made to the ancestry and early life of John Melville Kimball. His Kimball ancestors make a long line back to the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay colony, and Richard Kimball was one of those who came from England and settled along Massachusetts Bay in the early part of the seventeenth century. John Melville Kimball himself was born at Goffstown, New Hampshire, May 11, 1836, a son of John and Sarah Collins (Putnam) Kimball, the former a native of New Hampshire and the latter of Danvers, Massachusetts. She was a lineal descendant of General Israel Putnam of the Revolution, and her mother was a daughter of General Collins, also of Revolutionary fame. John and Sarah Kimball had nine children: Cordelia, Joseph Augustus, John Melville, Richard Henry, Sarah Putnam, Charles Wesley, Edward Willis, Ella Maria, and Carrie May Belle.

In spite of the grievious disappointment due to the death of his brother, John M. Kimball did not give up his undertaking and his plans of making a home in Kansas. With undaunted courage he proceeded with the task which he had undertaken in the wilds of Riley County. He soon wrote home to his people in the Granite State and induced his brother Richard H. also to come west. This brother joined him early in January, 1857. In the same spring the parents and the other children came out to Kansas. John Kimball, Sr., settled in Manhattan Township, and lived there to the advanced age of eighty-six, while his wife passed away at sixty-eight. Three of their sons, John Melville, Richard Henry and Charles Wesley, became Union soldiers, all of them serving in Company G of the Eleventh Kansas, which was first an infantry and afterward a cavalry organization.

John M. Kimball served two years and nine months with the Eleventh Kansas. He was discharged with the rank of commissary sergeant of the regiment at the close of the war. He was in the hard fighting of the campaign through Southern Missouri and Northern Arkausas, and arnong other battles participated at Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Cane Hill, and also was in the pursuit of the troops under “Pap Price.” Though enduring the usual hardships of army life, he was never wounded or captured.

After the war Mr. Kimball resumed his uninterrupted work as a Riley County farmer. In that location he achieved success. For half a century his home was on the tract of land which he chose on coming to Riley County, and from that he developed a splendid farm and though in early years he experienced the hardships of dry years, grasshoppers and other plagues, he lived to realize the fruits of all his trials and hardships. In 1897, when he had reached the age of seventy-one, he gave up active farming and has since lived in the City of Manhattan. Not long after the war Mr. Kimball completed a beautiful stone residence on his farm, and that is still standing and serves its purpose admirably at the present day. Along the lane between the highway and the house he set out walnut and other trees, and these now rear their trunks aloft and excite gratitude in the minds of all beholders.

Mr. Kimball has long been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and is a charter member of his post. Politically his alignment has been staunchly with the republican ranks, and he served one term as treasurer of Riley County. About the close of his term there occurred the great populistie uphcaval in Kansas, and he was defeated for reelection. Among minor offices in which he has served were township trustee and membership on the school board. He is now the oldest living member in point of years of membership but not the oldest man of Lafayette Lodge, No. 16, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. Mr. Kimball is a member of the Biley County Historical Society, and in former years was identified with the Grange.

In April, 1870, he married Miss Mary Ellen Barney. Miss Barney, who was born at Battle Creek, Michigan, the daughter of Milton Barney, had come out to Riley County to visit her uncle, the late A. J. Whitford, and while in this state met Mr. Kimball and their acquaintance rapidly ripened into the affection which has made them lifelong companions. To their marriage were born six children: Albert Barney, who married Myrtle Whaley, is a rancher in New Mexico. Charles Augustus, who married Maty Toothacker, is now editor and publisher of the Manhattan Tribune. John Milton, who married Annie Day, is a farmer on his father’s place in Manhsttan Township. He bought the farm when his father moved to Manhattan. Pearle Putnam, who married Mildred Fultz, is a farmer in Ashland Township of Riley County. Ned W., who married Marjorie Russell, was for a number of years well known as the editor and publisher of the Manhattan Mercury, and is now deceased. Mary is unmarried and living with her parents in Manhattan.



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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