Biography of William H. Moffit

William H. Moffit. In the group of surviving territorial pioneers of Kansas, William H. Moffit of Highland Park, a suburb of Topeka, has an important place. Mr. Moffit carries within his individual recollection practically the entire story of Kansas from the beginning of the border warfare until the present, a period of fully fifty years. He has been a witness of great and stirring events, and in those events has not been himself an inconsiderable participant.

His birth occurred in Henry County, Iowa, January 6, 1842. That date indicates that the family history has been identified with the pioneer times of more than one state. Iowa at the time of his birth was still a territory and very sparsely settled. His parents were Orlando and Catherine Bishop (Beam) Moffit. Orlando Moffit spent his entire life as a farmer but had a varied and interesting career along the frontier. He was a native of New York State, moved first to Ohio, and from there to Iowa when it was a territory. He was living in Iowa when the news of the discovery of gold on the Pacific coast reached the Middle West. In 1849 he started overland as part of the great exodus to the gold fields. Joining a large wagon train at Omaha, he journeyed on across the plains by way of Salt Lake City until he reached the coast. He worked in the mines for a time and afterwards was a lumberman. In 1854 he returned to the states by way of the Isthmus of Panama. During his absence in the Far West his family had used up practically all their means, and as his ventures on the coast had been meagerly rewarded Orlando determined upon another move further west where land was cheap, where the climate was mild and where he might hope to live in peace and reasonable prosperity the rest of his days. Loading two wagons with his household goods, with six yoke of oxen to draw them, and with other domestic animals in the train, he set out for Kansas Territory in the spring of 1855. Orlando Moffit located in what is now Tecumseh Township of Shawnee County. This country was then an unbroken expanse of prairie with only spots of brush to relieve the monotonous vista and with some timber along the water courses. Here and there, but widely scattered, were the dwelling places of the early white settlers. Topeka was a village of slab shanties, and Tecumseh was the more promising of the two towns. In the beautiful valley of the Shunganung Orlando Moffit built his first house, a log cabin, the logs being cut from the growing timber.

The Moffits were known as “black abolitionists” and Charles Moffit, a brother of Orlando, and still another brother, Erastus, were prominently identified with the greatest abolitionist of them all, John Brown. Charles Moffit was an officer during the border warfare period, and his portrait now hangs upon the walls of the State Memorial Building at Topeka.

In the family of Orlando Moffit and wife were three sons and three daughters, and all but one of them are still living. William H. Moffit was thirteen years of age when he came with his parents to Kansas. His recollections cover the entire period of territorial history, the troubles of the border between the Free Soil and Pro-Slavery element, and the wonderful strides of civilization in the great inventions of sixty years.

His education was limited to such opportunities as he had found in the public schools before coming to Kansas. After arriving here he had to do all he could to keep up the pioneer farm.

He was not yet grown when the war broke out. On August 21, 1862, he became a member of Company H of the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry and was in active service until discharged at Leavenworth on September 13, 1865. Most of his campaigning was done in the states of Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, and among other battles he participated at old Fort Wayne, Cane Hill, Boston Mountain, Van Buren, Sinibar Hill, Lexington, Little Blue, Big Blue and Westport. At the battle of Lexington he was wounded in the left shoulder by a musket ball.

With the return of peace Mr. Moffit came back to Kansas, and at various times was employed in the stonemason’s trade. However, his main vocation has been farming and from that he has won the prosperity which enables him to enjoy life now somewhat at leisure. He owns a quarter section of land in one part of Shawnee County, ten acres in another quarter, and twenty-four lots in Highland Park, where he makes his home.

Much of the history of Kansas might be written from the personal recollections of Mr. Moffit. One of the experiences he recalls occurred in 1860, when with his father and other men he engaged in a hunting trip out toward Salina. During that trip the party encountered twenty-seven herds of buffalo, each herd averaging two hundred animals. The party killed twenty-five buffalo and young Moffit himself killed five out of seven attempts. The best of the buffalo meat was “jerked.” “Jerked meat” is a term hardly familiar to modern people. The meat was cut in strips, salted, cured over a slow fire and by the sun, and after that process it would keep for a very long time. The party brought back from this expedition about a ton of jerked meat. Mr. Moffit also recalls a custom of the early days when buckwheat was ground through a coffee mill, the chaff being subsequently sifted from the flour.

On February 11, 1868, Mr. Moffit married Maria S. Beam. To their marriage were born four children: Josephine, Mrs. J. N. Edgar; Ella May, Mrs. R. S. Butner; Lucina, Mrs. A. B. Lange; and a son that died in infancy. Mr. and Mrs. Moffit have twenty-four grandchildren. Politically Mr. Moffit is a republican and he and his wife are active members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He is a member of Lincoln Post, Grand Army of the Republic. While living on the farm he served as road supervisor, school treasurer and school director a number of years.



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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