Combmaker, book canvasser, lumberman, brickmaker, military veteran, Congregational minister, stonemason, politician. All these were the trades of Russell Scott Osborn, born July 3, 1833, at Margaretville, Delaware County, New York. As a young man Osborn moved to Harvey County, Illinois. There he met and married Sabrina Letitia McKinley, a cousin of President William McKinley, on February 14, 1857. Russell and Sabrina had eight children – Nettie, Ella, Nathan, Catherine, Oscar, Carl, Charles and Katie.
With the start of the Civil War, Osborn enlisted in Company C of the 17th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He then re-enlisted in Company F of the 140th Illinois Infantry, being discharged in December 1864 with the rank of captain. In 1865 he moved his family to Story County, Iowa, where Osborn engaged in the nursery business. During their stay here he was ordained a minister in the Congregational Church.
On August 7, 1872, the Osborn family came to Kansas and settled on a homestead located four miles west of Bull City in Sumner Township, Osborne County. They lived on the homestead for the next twenty years. Osborn supplemented his farming income by working as a stonemason. He built the Ash Rock Church in northwest RooksCounty, the First Congregational Church in Stockton, the Alton stone mill, and several stone houses in the vicinity, including his own.
As a Congregational minister, Osborn helped organize churches at Ash Rock in Rooks County, New Harmony in southern Smith County, and at Mount Ayr in Osborne County. He was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Congregational Churches in Western Kansas. Osborn preached wherever he went, and from 1890 to 1892 he served as minister of the First Congregational Church in Stockton.
Osborn had considered himself a Republican in political matters, but when he was about 60 years old he became involved in the Farmers’ Alliance Movement in an attempt to help the plight of farmers during a financially depressed era. With the rise of the Populist Party in 1890 Osborn and many other Kansans switched sides. In 1892 Captain Osborn became Kansas Secretary of State on the Populist Party ticket. His career as a politician found him involved in the infamous Legislative War of 1893. The Republican and Populist Party members of the Kansas House of Representatives battled over who would gain control of the House. The discord escalated to the point of physical violence with the Republicans breaking down the doors to Representative Hall with a sledge hammer and the two factions taking up arms against each other. The governor finally called in the state militia to restore the peace, and the Kansas Supreme Court determined that the Republican Party had the legal majority in the Kansas
Osborn served only one term as Secretary of State. He retired from politics and continued to live in Topeka. In 1898 his wife died and Osborn moved back to the old homestead in Osborne County, where he lived for six more years before moving to Stockton. He died there May 20, 1912, and was buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery in Sumner Township, Osborne County.
In 2011 Osborn’s great-great granddaughter Patsy Redden compiled a biography on his life entitled “Captain Osborn’s Legacy.”