Biography of William Potter Campbell

There had been no period in the long and significantly active, vigorous and varied career of Judge Campbell in which there had been any possibility of submerging his incisive individuality. As a youthful and gallant soldier of the Union in the Civil war, as a lawver and jurist, as a man of large and benignant influence in public affairs and as one of the honored pioneers of Kansas he had left a record that shall ever refiect honor upon his name and memory. He had been most elosely and influentially associated with civis and material development and progress in the Sunflower State and is still engaged in the active practice of his profession as one of the leading members of the bar of the City of Wichita.

Judge William Potter Campbell, a scion of staunch Scotch-Irish ancestry, was born at Stanford, the judicial center of Lincoln County, Kentucky, on the 18th of February, 1843, and as a youth he received the advantages of the old Presbyterian Academy at Stanford. As the year of his nativity indicates, he was a youth of eighteen years at the time when the Civil war was precipitated on the divided nation, and he promptly manifested his intrinsic loyalty and patriotism by tendering his aid in defense of the Union. He first enlisted as a member of the First Kentucky Cavalry, and after the expiration of his original term he re-enlisted, as a private in the Sixth Kentucky Cavalry. History effectually records the gallant service of these two vital and dashing Kentucky commands, and with the latter Judge Campbell continned in active service until the close of the war, during the last two years his official post having been that of sergeant-major. In August, 1863, while scouting along the Tennessee River, he was captured by a company of Confederate soldiers, and thereafter he was held as a prisoner of war at the historic old Belle Isle Prison until March, 1864, when his exchange was effected.

After the close of his military career this youthful veteran who had done well his part in the preservation of the nation’s integrity, found less valorous but equally bonorable employment, by becoming concerned in the operation of a sawmill on Rock Castle River, amid the mountains or hills of Southeastern Kentucky. In 1860 he had started the study of law under the preceptorship of one of his uncles who had a small collection of standard law books. While engaged in the strenuous work of the sawmill he continued to devote as much of his leisure time as possible to the continuation of his law studies, and he so fortified himself in his knowledge of jurisprudence that in 1866. at Somerset, the county seat of Pulaski County, Kentucky, he was granted his license to practice law in his native state. He engaged in the practice of his profession at Somerset, where he remained until 1869. In that year was solemnized his marriage to Miss Kate Barnes, a daughter of Col. Sidney M. Barnes, who had been an officer of the Eighth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry in the Union service during the Civil war. Immediately after his marriage Judge Campbell set forth with his gracious young wife to establish a home in the West. After arriving at Topeka, Kansas, Mrs. Campbell there remained while her husband went forth on foot to look for a suitable location for their home. He arrived at Eldorado, Butler County, in July, 1869, and there he opened an office and engaged in the practice of his profession. There he and his wife maintained their home until March, 1872, when Governor Harvey conferred upon Judge Campbell appointment to the bench of the newly established District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, which at that time comprised the counties of Sedgwick, Sumner, Butler, Cowley, Howard and Greenwood. Later in the same year Judge Campbell was duly elected to this office by the popular vote, and in 1876 he was re-elected, his zealous and effective service on the bench having continued until 1881, when he retired. While on the bench he was called upon to render decision in many very important cases, among the number being the celebrated Winner and MeNutt trial. His judicial opinions were marked by wisdom and by broad and accurate knowledge of the law, so that few of his decisions met with reversal by courts of higher jurisdiction. The judge was known for the inviolable honesty of purpose which marked his administration and which gained and retained to him the confldence and respect of all, even the malefactors against whom he found it necessary to render verdicts. Upon assuming his judicial office he removed to Wichita, where he had since maintained his home. He served for several years as city attorney and within his regime in this office he had the supervision of the organization of Wichita as a city of the first class. He had been an influential and honored figure in the affairs of the Grand Army of the Republic in Kansas and in 1894-95 he had the distinction of serving as commander of the Kansas Department of this great patriotic organization.

Judge Campbell had never wavered in his allegiance to the basic principles of the republican party and he had been one of the recognized leaders in its conneils in Kansas. He had, however, been one of the stalwart workers in behalf of prohibition of the liquor traffic.

From the time of assuming a position on the district bench Judge Campbell had continued to wield influence in connection with the civic and material interests of Wichita, and especially potent had been the moral influence which his earnest, determined and honorable judicial and personal opinions have exerted in this community. At the time when he became district judge Wichita was a virtual headquarters for cattle thieves, and with utmost courage and vigor he brought to bear his judicial prerogatives in ridding the community of such malefactors and other outlaws and undesirable citizens. He is still active and vital in the work of his profession and is now one of the oldest practicing lawyers to be found in the state. The great loss and bereavement of his life came when his wife was called to the life eternal, in December, 1915, at the age of sixty-six years, and her memory is revered in the community that represented her home for many years and felt the impress of her gentle and gracious personality.


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.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top