John James Hays, Jr. was born August 26, 1842, in Newburgh, New York. The son of Scotch-Irish immigrants John and Eliza (Kernahan) Hays and brother of Robert R. Hays, John headed west with his family to Muscatine, Iowa, in 1852. The next year it was on to Omaha, Nebraska, and then to a farm eight miles south of Nebraska City, where John spent the rest of his boyhood.
During the Civil War John served as a private in Company F of the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry. In 1871 he moved to Osborne County, Kansas, and that fall he was elected as one of the first three Osborne County Commissioners. In March 1872 John and his brother Robert were dealers in agricultural implements. Later John was appointed receiver at the U.S. Land Office in Kirwin, Kansas, a position of national importance in which he handled over a million a dollars a year in business during the 1870s. When he resigned the position an audit found his bookkeeping to be accurate to the exact cent.
For his entire life John one of the most influential men in civic and business affairs across the county and region. He was Worshipful Master of the local Masonic Lodge numerous times and was a member of several fraternal organizations in the area. In 1878 he helped the Osborne Congregational Church raise the money to erect the first church structure in the city. By the late 1880s John was a cashier with the State Bank of Osborne. He continued to be a “mover and shaker” until his death on June 21, 1932 in Osborne. He was buried in the family lot at the Osborne Cemetery.