Biography of William Owen

William Owen. Much of the pioneer history of Kansas might be written around the names Owen and Packard. The late William Owen was one of the men who came from the East in the days of the ’50s for the purpose of assisting in the movement to make a free state out of Kansas. His father-in-law, Cyrus Packard, was also a prominent leader in the free state movement.

Born in Rhode Island in 1827, William Owen came to Shawnee County, Kansas, in 1856, about the time the first territorial government was organized. As a young man in Rhode Island he learned and followed the trade of carpenter, and for a time was in the same vocation in Kansas. Later he conducted a sawmill, his being one of the first mills in the territory. He also was a merchant and kept a store at Rochester. After the war he was a farmer and carpenter, but in 1880 concentrated all his efforts upon farming and continued in that work for eighteen years, when he retired from business and moved to Topeka.

Mrs. William Owen before her marriage was Olive Packard, and the Packard and Owen families lived close neighbors after coming to Kansas. Her father, Cyrus Packard, who was born in the State of Maine June 5, 1796, served as a soldier in the War of 1812. He was a man of deep religious convictions, an active supporter of the Congregational Church and carried his religious beliefs and his social principles into practical action on every occasion. At the time of the abolition movement in Maine Cyrus Packard and one other man were the only ones in their community who had the courage to speak and advocate the cause openly. Cyrus Packard was nearly sixty years of age when the Kansas-Nebraska bill was passed and precipitated the conflict for a free state in Kansas. It was his ardent belief in abolition that caused him to abandon his comfortable home and come out to help make Kansas free.

William Owen was likewise zealously identified with the free state movement. At one time he was captured by the slave faction in Kansas and was taken to Lecompton and put in prison. A few days later the governor of the territory arrived at Lecompton, dined with the prisoner, and in a few days secured his release. Mrs. William Owen herself has many interesting anecdotes to relate concerning early days in Kansas. She recalls the fact that John Brown stopped one night at the Owen house with sixteen negroes, and Brown was not an infrequent visitor at the Owen or Packard homes. In fact everyone associated with the old underground railroad knew the Owen and Packard families. General W. T. Sherman when a young man managing the Thomas Ewing ranch boarded with the Owen family and the general with Mr. Owen’s assistance built what was known for many years as the Sherman cabin.

Mr. and Mrs. Owen had fourteen children, six sons and eight daughters. Ten of these children are still living.


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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