Biography of Oliver Wilson Fail

Oliver Wilson Fail. One of the most popular citizens of Cherokee County is O. W. Fail, recently clerk of the District Court at Columbus, and now engaged in the real estate business at Baxter Springs. Mr. Fail had had a varied and active career. He had been a hard worker, had associated with men who work with their hands as well as with their brains, and he long held a card of active membership in the ranks of that army connected with the operation of street and interurban electric lines. In all the relationships of his life he had shown himself worthy of trust and confidence, and it was this stable feature of his character which brought about his election to his public office.

He was born in Lenexa, Johnson County, Kansas, May 23, 1883. When he was three years of age his parents removed to Lansing, Kansas, and he began his education in the public schools there. Later, when his parents removed to a farm at Springhill in Johnson County, he attended the rural schools from 1892 to 1896. In 1896 they removed to Argentine, Kansas, and he finished his education in the grade schools there.

In 1902 Mr. Fail, then nineteen years of age, took up the serious responsibilities of life on his own account. Going to Wyandotte, now a part of Kansas City, Kansas, he entered the service of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company as conductor. He resigned his position in that capacity in 1905 to live on a farm west of Kansas City, near Edwardsville for a couple of years. In 1907, returning to Kansas City, Kansas, he spent a brief period of service with the Metropolitan Street Railway Company, and then for one year was conductor with the Kansas City Western Railway Company. In August, 1908, he came to Pittsburg, Kansas, and was one of the efficient conductors for the Joplin-Pittsburg Railway Company until January, 1913. His home during that time was at Scammon.

Having a large following of loyal friends and becoming well known over Cherokee County, Mr. Fail was elected in the fall of 1912 to the office of clerk of the District Court, and filled that position with admirable efficiency from January, 1913. On taking office he removed to Columbus, and after the close of his term as clerk of the District Court he entered the real estate business at Baxter Springs. In Columbus Mr. Fail and family resided at 219 North Florida Avenue, but he owned a residence at 313 South Vermont Avenue and had some real estate in Craig County, Oklahoma.

Since casting his first vote Mr. Fail had been an active republican. He is a member and deacon in the Christian Church, and fraternally is affiliated with Prudence Lodge, No. 100, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Columbus, Columbus Lodge of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Fraternal Order of Eagles at Galena, Kansas, is a former member of the Improved Order of Red Men, and belongs to the Amalgamated Association of Electrical Street Railway Employes of America. His membership is also with the Anti-Horse Thief Association and the Fraternal Aid Association.

Mr. Fail represents some old and prominent stock. His paternal ancestors were originally from Germany, but settled in Virginia in early colonial days. His great-grandfather, John Fail, was born in Virginia in 1774, and was one of the early pioneer settlers of Lawrence County, Illinois, where he followed his vocation as a farmer until his death in 1849. This ancestor was a soldier in the War of 1812.

George W. Fail, grandfather of the clerk of the District Court at Columbus, was born in Lawrence County, Illinois, in 1816. He was reared in his native county and at Keokuk, Iowa, spent many years as a farmer in Davis County, Iowa, and shortly before his death removed to Schuyler County, Missouri, where he died in 1891. He was one of the early California gold seekers, having gone to the Pacific Coast in 1852. He spent seven years in the far West, and was rather more successful than the average seeker of fortune in that land. After returning from California he spent the rest of his active career as a farmer. In politics he was a whig and later a republican, and a member of the Christian Church. George W. Fail married Nancy Agnes Orr, who was born in Lawrence County, Illinois, in 1820, and died at Hamilton, Illinois, in 1856. Their children were: John, who died in childhood in Lawrence County, Illinois; Sarah, who died young; Phoebe, who died at the age of three years; William, who died at the age of two and a half years; Samuel W., referred to more at length in the succeeding paragraphs: George W. Fail married for his second wife Mary Woods, who was from Davis County, Iowa. She was the mother of one child, Nicholas, who was a car worker and died in Colorado in 1910.

Samuel W. Fail, father of Oliver W., was born at Keokuk, Iowa, June 1, 1844, and received his early education in the public schools of McLean County, Illinois, and Davis County, Iowa. His early life was spent on his father’s farm, and he was only about eighteen years of age when he volunteered his services for the defense of the Union. He had a notable military record. He enlisted August 2, 1862, in Company B of the Thirty-sixth Iowa Infantry, and was in service until finally mustered out and given his honorable discharge on October 26, 1865, more than three years. He was present at the battle of Fort Pemberton, Mississippi, April 4, 1863, at Helena, Arkansas, July 4, 1863, at Little Rock, September 10, 1863; and early in the following spring took part in the noted expedition against Camden, Arkansas. He and his comrades left Little Rock March 23, 1864, and during their progress fought at Prairie D’Ane and at Camden on April 20, 1864, and at Marks Mills, on April 25, 1864. At Marks Mills the entire brigade was captured and made prisoners of war, being sent to Camp Ford in Tyler, Texas. Samuel W. Fail remained a prisoner of war from April 25, 1864, until he was exchanged on February 26, 1865.

Following this experience as a brave and faithful soldier of the Union he took up farming in Schuyler County, Missouri, where he lived until 1870. In that year he removed to Johnson County, Kansas, was a farmer in that locality until 1896, when he removed to Kansas City, Kansas, and from there in 1912 came to Columbus, where he had since been retired. For six years he was an officer in the State Prison at Lansing, but the rest of his active career since leaving the army was spent as a farmer. He owned a residence at 407 North Highland Avenue in East Pittsburg. Politically he is a republican, is a member of the Christian Church, is affiliated with Ben Hur Lodge, No. 322, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, at Kansas City, Kansas, and was formerly a member of the Knights of Pythias and the Ancient Order of United Workmen. He had long taken an active part in the organizations of his old army comrades, and is a past commander of John A. Dix Post, No. 59, Grand Army of the Republic, at Columbus.

In 1866, in Schuyler County, Missouri, Samuel W. Fail married Miss Ann Briddle. By this marriage there were two children: Sarah, wife of S. N. Kinion, in the produce business at Amarette, Missouri; and George W., a farmer in Bates County, Missouri. In October, 1873, Samuel W. Fail was married in Jackson County, Missouri, to Luthira Bookout, a daughter of Wright and Sarah (Black) Bookout. She died in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1908. Her children were: Carrie A., wife of H. W. Levi, a car repairer at Kansas City, Kansas; A. H. Fail, a farmer near Pomona, Kansas; Cora P., wife of Marion Brooks, who is a car repairer at Kansas City, Kansas; O. W. Fail, who is the fourth in age among his mother’s children; Edith, wife of Tony Brizendine, a clerk in the postoffice at Kansas City, Missouri; and L. A. Fail, a railroad conductor at Yuma, Arizona.

A prominent factor in O. W. Fail’s successful career had been his womanly and cultured wife. In September, 1903, at Kansas City, Missouri, he married Miss Hannah Matella Smead. The only child of their union, Nina, died at the age of ten months. Mrs. Fail was born in St. Lawrence County, New York, in the same house which was the birthplace of both her father and grandfather. Her grandfather, Suel Smead, was born in St. Lawrence County, New York, and at his death, in 1882, lacked only sixteen days of being 100 years old. He was a farmer all his life. The father of Suel Smead was of Holland Dutch descent, and was a pioneer in St. Lawrence County, New York, having built there the old house in which members of the three following generations were born.

Benjamin F. Smead, father of Mrs. Fail, was born in St. Lawrence County, New York, in September, 1843, and died at Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, in February, 1901. He was reared and married in his native county, became a carpenter and builder, but after his removal to Northwestern Iowa in 1876 took up farming. In 1881 he removed to Montgomery County, Illinois, where he followed his trade, and he continued work as a carpenter and builder from the date of his removal to Ray County, Missouri, in 1884 until his death. During the Civil war he was employed in an arsenal of the Union Government. Politically he was a democrat, was a member of the Masonic order and belonged to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Benjamin F. Smead married Mary Melissa Abbott, who was born in Ogdensburg, New York, in 1849, and died in Adair County, Missouri, in 1888. She was reared in St. Lawrence County, New York. Mrs. Fail is the oldest of her parents’ children. The next younger, Frances, married for her first husband Harry Thomas, who was a mason by trade, and for her second husband, A. H. Fail, a farmer near Pomona, Kansas, and a brother of Oliver W. Fail; Frederick, who is in the bakery and confectionery business at Klamath Falls, Oregon; Nina, who died at Lansing, Kansas, shortly after her marriage to Harry Taylor, who had been an officer in the State Penitentiary for many years and lives at Wichita; Albert, who is a soldier in the United States army; and four other children that died in infancy.

Mrs. Fail received her early education in the public schools of Richmond, Missouri, and finished her training in a boarding school at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She takes an active part in the Christian Church, and also belongs to Columbus Chapter of the Eastern Star.



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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