Biography of Oliver W. Sparks

Oliver W. Sparks. In a greater degree than is true of most towns the City of Galena is the result of the enterprise of a comparatively small group of men. Oliver W. Sparks came along and discovered zinc and lead on the Schermerhorn farm. That marked the opening chapter in the industrial history of one of the most progressive mining towns of Southeastern Kansas. After his first strike Mr. Sparks opened up other mineral deposits on the Maston land, later on the Bunco farm, and now for many years he had been continuously operating in that vicinity. Today he is the largest mine operator in the Galena district, and there is no question that Galena had become a city largely as a result of his and a few other men’s operations and the results that have grown from his enterprise.

Both he and his father were among the pioneers in this mining district. His father, the late Samuel Sparks, who died at Galena, in 1907, came to the Stanley diggings in Cherokee County in 1877. Oliver W. Sparks was at that time seventeen years of age and he gained his first experience in Cherokee County with his father. In 1879 father and son went to Leadville, Colorado, remaining there three years, but then returned to Galens, where Samuel Sparks continued his business as a zinc and lead miner until his death in 1907.

Samuel Sparks was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1835. His ancestors came from Ireland, were early settlers in Kentucky, and his father, Henry Sparks, was born in Kentucky, was reared and married there and became a pioneer farmer at Shelbina, Missouri, where he died in 1873. Samuel Sparks spent most of his early life at Shelbina, and was reared and married on a farm at the edge of that town. His early experience was all connected with farming, but in 1873 he removed to Joplin, Missouri, and took up lead and zinc mining. During the Civil war he was a captain in the Confederate army and was in active service from the beginning to the end of the struggle. In a fight at Granby, Missouri, he was wounded, but otherwise escaped any serious injury. Politically he was always a democratic voter. Samuel Sparks married four times. His first wife was Lydia Lewis, who was born in Shelbina, Missouri, in 1839 and died September, 1862. Her children were: Mary Ellen, who married Baptist Patton, a school teacher, and both are now deceased; Jennie, who died in infancy; and Oliver W., who was born August 5, 1862, at Shelbina, Missouri, only a few days before his mother’s death. His father married for his second wife Catherine Adams, who died in Joplin, Missouri. She had two children: Ed, who is a farmer at Klondyke, in Cherokee County; and Lulie, who lives with her half-brother, Oliver, and is the widow of Lafayette Rowe, who was a mine operator and for a number of years served as deputy sheriff of Cherokee County. The third wife of Samuel Sparks was Nancy Stanley, who died at Galena, without children. His fourth wife, Maggie Stoopes, now lives at Empire City, Kansas.

Oliver W. Sparks is an illustration of the fact that the ambitious and energetic man is not dependent upon schools and liberal advantages either for his education or his success in life. Altogether he spent only about one year in public school and that was in Joplin, Missouri. Nevertheless, he is a well-informed man. Thus he had acquired, partly by experience and partly by reading and study, a habit early acquired, of turning every experience to his advantage as an asset for future action. He was with his father up to the age of nineteen, and as already stated, came with the elder Sparks to Cherokee County, in 1877, and two years later went to Leadville, Colorado. At the age of nineteen he began mining on his own account, and now had been in that business continuously for about thirty-five years. As already mentioned he was one of the first operators in and around Galena.

At the present time Mr. Sparks is general manager and treasurer of a group of mining companies, whose properties are located in Jasper County, Missouri, as follows: The Sparkler Mining Company, of which he is owner; the Dick Turpin mine, the Yellow Pup mine, the Lock mine, and the Alpha mine. He also owned an interest in and is manager of the Allsparks mine at Miami, Oklahoma.

He is individually owner of a large amount of mineral lands, including 314 acres in Spring River, Cherokee County; 270 acres adjacent to Galena; 119 acres where the Yellow Pup mine is located; and 400 acres at Clinton, Oklahoma.

With all his strenuous participation in business affairs Mr. Sparks had not neglected the public welfare. He spent two terms as mayor of Galena, was also on the city council two terms, and from 1907 to 1912, five years, was sheriff of Cherokee County. While he was sheriff a law was passed requiring a uniform term of office throughout the state. In his individual case Mr. Sparks resisted the application of this law, defeated the suit brought against him, and therefore served the extra year until his successor was elected at the next general election. A few years ago he was candidate for representative to the legislature against C. S. Westcott, republican. Mr. Sparks is an active democrat and had many times represented his party in county and state conventions. Mr. Sparks was elected a member of the state legislature for the sessions 1917-18, and is a member of the judiciary committee, utilities commission, mines and miners’ committee and labor committee of cites of the second class. He is also father of the segregation bill, separating the white from the colored children in the public schools.

Fraternally he is affiliated with Galena Lodge No. 677, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Aerie No. 266, Fraternal Order of Eagles, and was formerly a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Knights of Pythias.

In 1888 at Galena he married Miss Ida Keller, who died in 1899. There are three children: Dorothy, wife of Peter Demertin, a mine operator at Galena; Una, still at home; and Warren, who is assisting his father in business. In 1903 at Columbus, Kansas, Mr. Sparks married for his present wife Ambrosia Newton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Newton. Mr. and Mrs. Sparks have one son, Oliver Wallace.



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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