Biography of William Colfax Markham

William Colfax Markham, son of the late Dr. L. A. Markham and younger brother of Dean Markham of Baker University, is a Kansas man distinguished by exceptional talents and a versatile ability which have caused him to be referred to as editor, poet, playwright and enterprising citizen.

He was born at Bolivar, Ohio, September 10, 1868, and he spent his youth in the various places where his father was engaged in his ministerial labors. For three years he was a student in Baldwin University at Berea, Ohio, and in 1886 he moved with his parents to Missouri and subsequently entered Baker University at Baldwin, Kansas, where he was graduated A. B. in 1891. During the six years he spent in college his entire allowance was only $400, and he supplemented this by working as a janitor and at other sources of profitable employment. Mr. Markham was very prominent at Baker, and became founder of the class organization, the House of Hanover. This organization had been perpetuated at Baker to the present time. He also founded the Alpha Omega fraternity, which eventually became part of the Delta Tau Delta. He had the distinction of having been initiated by the Karnea at Cleveland, Ohio, when the Alpha Omega was incorporated in the Delta Tau Delta.

Immediately after graduating from Baker Mr. Markham went to Lamar, Colorado, where he was employed a year as deputy in the county treasurer’s office. In 1892 he entered Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore and specialized in history and politics. While there he was a pupil under Woodrow Wilson.

Mr. Markham’s chief vocation had been that of a newspaper man. Returning to Baldwin in the spring of 1893 he bought the Baldwin Ledger in August, and that paper had been under his editorial and business management ever since. The Baldwin Ledger is now in its thirty-fifth year. Mr. Markham was appointed postmaster at Baldwin, February 2, 1908, and served continuously in that office until February 9, 1915, when he was arbitrarily removed to make room for a democrat. While postmaster he served as secretary of the Kansas Postmasters’ Association, composed of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and during the life of the organization he was its secretary-treasurer. He also established and was editor of the Southwest Postal News located at Kansas City. He published this paper as a daily during conventions of the association. In 1914, at Denver, he was elected secretary of the National Association of Postmasters, and when the national convention met at St. Paul in that year he published daily issues of the Daily News.

In August, 1916, Mr. Markham was elected secretary of the Republican State Central Committee of Kansas, and is still a member of the committee. In May, 1916, he was elected president of the Kansas State Editorial Association. On April 4, 1917, he was made secretary of the Kansas State Highway Commission, with headquarters at the state capital, Topeka. This is one of the most important departments of state.

Besides his routine newspaper work and editorial writings Mr. Markham had frequently ventured into the fields of general literature. He had written two historical plays based upon scenes and incidents in the history of Kansas. The first, entitled “The First Christmas in Palmyra,” a play in three acts, and representing the first Christmas celebration ever held in Kansas Territory by white settlers. The word Palmyra was used because the original name of Baldwin City was Palmyra, so named by the anti-slavery element, though the pro-slavery element called the township Calhoun. Mr. Markham’s second play is entitled “The Spirit of 1856.” This play was reproduced as the concluding feature of Baldwin City’s Fourth of July celebration in 1916. The celebration and the play attracted wide attention over the state, and it is not out of place to quote what Charles S. Finch of the Lawrence Gazette had to say regarding the dramatic presentation: “The play was put on in the University Gymnasium early in the evening and the crowd that came was evidently a pleasant surprise to the author of the play. The play ordinates all else to historical accuracy. Mr. ham had studied the early history of Kansas, and he gave to the big audience a piece of the real thing. The men and women who were the first to come to live there, at what is now the beautiful city of Baldwin, lived their parts in that tense history that the play so well portrays. It is hardly a play; it is a reenacting of real history and the characters trayed lived and worked and some of them died for the state they loved. The dates, the actors, the events, not one word or one act but Mr. Markham had verified, and now had made into lasting and indisputable history.

” ‘There is no plot’ someone said. There is the same plot that there was to the settlement and the early history of Kansas, and no greater, no more eventful, no more important plot was ever laid and worked out by the American people. To those who feel no interest in Kansas history and affairs, the play would not be deep and absorbing, but to those who know Kansas and her woes and glory, the play is one of the best things that can be heard or read. It is the final word on every point touched upon, and will stand as such.”

Mr. Markham had also written considerable verse, and without question is one of the gifted writers of contemporary Kansas. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity. On June 24, 1896, he married Miss Carrie M. Hoover. Mrs. Markham is a graduate of Baker University. Their three children are Maurice William, Miriam and Ralph Harold.



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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